April 27 ” . . . roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise . . . “

Wednesday, April 27  –  Mary Oliver and Pine Ridge, SD

A friend sent me a Mary Oliver writing, new to me.  It doesn’t quite read like a poem.  More like two small essays connected.  They remind me of a saying-set I wrote ten years ago or so imagining Lakota (Sioux) wisdom opening places in my imagination.  Living on Pine Ridge for much of my twenties and now for about a week late in May each year, I spend time with Lakota friends and visit 5 or 6 sacred places there:  meadowlarks, prairie grass and badlands, the profile of the Black Hills 60-70 miles to the west, thunder and lightning storms,  horses running free.    I’ll head out there this May 25 for 7 days.  A restorative time.

Mary Oliver’s two paragraphs began today’s post. Thanks to a soul friend who introduced me to this new piece of her writing.

Enjoy the day.


john sj

Today’s Post:  “Foolishness?  No, it’s not.”   Mary Oliver

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count
the leaves on a single tree. To do this I
have to climb branch by branch and
write down the numbers in a little book.
So I suppose, from their point of view,
it¹s reasonable that my friends say: what
foolishness! She¹s got her head in the clouds

But it¹s not. Of course I have to give up,
but by then I¹m half crazy with the wonder
of it ‹ the abundance of the leaves, the
quietness of the branches, the hopelessness
of my effort. And I am in that delicious
and important place, roaring with laughter,
full of earth-praise.

a wisdom-saying born on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation

“Time spent baking bread follows the pace of yeast”
“Motorcycling alone; I move as a  tiny person in a vast world”

“If I pause long enough, I  hear the sound of grass growing,  and trees, each at its own pace.”




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April 25 — Tagore & final exams

Monday,  April 25   Rabindranath Tagore # 2   {Gitanjali}
When Thou commandest me to sing  .  .  .  .

Finals week, fatigue, worries and self-doubt.  Finals week, courage, the joy of intellectual engagement.   Final exams reminded me of Tagore’s great poem which often reminds me of the courage at the heart of students encountering their university.

“We are a university, where people listen, take each other seriously.  Teachers listen to students.   When I taught full-time, some students told me one day that I was most scary when one of them would say something and I would turn around and write her/his words on the board, circle one word then turn around and ask: ‘Why did you choose that word?’”

Teachers do that:  listen for the voice, call it forth; expect respect for words.   Not only teachers though.  Universities call on students to listen to each other, to expect meaning from each other.     Administrative assistants,  staff in the registrar’s office,  nurse practitioners in the student wellness center,  campus security officers, coaches;  lots of listening.    On good days, each of us knows that.  And on hard days, maybe one of our peers will notice our distress and ask how we are doing, and listen to our story.

Rabindranath Tagore writes of God expecting a song from human beings, thrilling us by sacred attention.     {Posted before on February 5, 2016}  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post   Tagore # 2   Gitanjali  # 2

When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride
and I look to Thy face
and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony
and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing
I know that only as a singer I come before Thy presence
I touch by the edge of the far spreading wing of my song
Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing
I forget myself
and call Thee friend
who art my lord.


Rabindranath Tagore  –
রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর

May 1861  – August 1941


  1. 1925


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April 20 – Books for little people —> Rx 4 Reading Detroit

Wednesday  April 20

I’m traveling the rest of this week, to Denver for a Board of Trustees meeting at Regis University.   It makes a good opportunity for re-play two late April posts from last year, both guest edited.  Today features Detroit Mercy professor Mary-Catherine Harrison, who along with lots of creative entries into the learning process typical of a passionate faculty member, is the founder of Rx For Reading Detroit.  Her 2015 post recorded the installation, across the street from Detroit Mercy’s campus, of another  “Little Free Library” for children.

Emily Dickenson’s “There is no Frigate like a book” takes the instinct of Rx for Reading Detroit back c. 150 years.  The photos of children and college student tutors are more recent and completely beautiful.  Check the Rx facebook site for up to date pics.

Another guest editor Friday.  Back home next Monday.

john sj

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April 18 – days that look like Spring should feel

Monday, April 18   —  leaves, & flowers waking up
Must be spring.  I checked Weather.com’s allergy tracker this morning, a respiratory seasonal ritual for me and for many others.  Worth it, though,  Today’s dawn might be the seventh glorious morning in a row.  Campus trees and flowers begin to show their stuff.  Adults and children skip and laugh.    Yesterday, two girls (8 years old?) played among older people come to watch Detroit Mercy’s women’s softball team play Green Bay’s.  The girls, one African American, one Caucasian, ran and laughed with reckless abandon and filled our urban space with . . .  with Spring.

A year ago on a similar morning the season’s sheer beauty led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j.   “The Windhover’s beauty of word and sound  match these days.  Even if it takes two or three readings to adapt your ear to his word play, it’s worth it.   Hopkins is  [in]famous for the packed meaning of his vocabulary.    His life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be GMH’s unnecessary complexity.   On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his language.  Try reading GMH’s explanation out loud.   Did GMH tease his frustrated Poet Laureate friend by creating a single sentence that never seems to run out of breath?

“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end,  something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”

Have a blest week,


john sj

Today’s Post:   “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord”

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Gerard Manley Hopkins  28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889
Posted on May 13, 2015 by mission-and-identity

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April 15 – “Looking out the Window” Sam Anderson

Friday, April 15 “These things are a tiny taste of the bigness of the world.
They were there before you looked;
they will be there after you go.
None of it depends on you.”

I came across this short essay in the NY Times yesterday (posted in the Times last Sunday).   This marks a rare occasion for the Work Day/Hard Time poetry list.  No poem.  Instead, another great literary form, the short contemplative essay.   Sam Anderson’s essay, which I’ve read slowly twice so far, makes me cry in its final paragraph.  Settle in and let his English prose sing to you.

I think of this as a wisdom read to inch us readers into what looks to be a spectacular spring weekend in Southeast Michigan,  a great time to look out the window, breathe in and out, and be glad for one’s eyes and lungs as the season changes around us with drop-dead beauty.

Have a great weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post   “Looking Out the Window”

But this is the power of windows: They contradict your easy assumptions.”


The view from the writer’s office in upstate New York. Credit Noah Kalina for The New York Times

Our windows keep shrinking. Our vision narrows and narrows. Mine roams, for much of each day, in a space roughly the size of a playing card: the rectangle of my phone’s screen. The view through that piece of glass is not out onto the actual world but inward, down a digital depth over which I exercise near-­dictatorial control. If I want to see a bird on my phone, I see a bird. If I want to see a manatee captioned by a motivational slogan, I see that. This means, of course, that my phone is not really a window at all. A real window is something that frames our fundamental lack of control.

Windows are, in this sense, a powerful existential tool: a patch of the world, arbitrarily framed, from which we are physically isolated. The only thing you can do is look. You have no influence over what you will see. Your brain is forced to make drama out of whatever happens to appear. Boring things become strange. A blob of mist balances on top of a mountain; leafless trees contort themselves in slow-­motion interpretive dance; heavy raindrops make the puddles boil. These things are a tiny taste of the bigness of the world. They were there before you looked; they will be there after you go. None of it depends on you.

Sometimes what you see can be astonishing. One day, I was taking a nap in the red chair in my office when I woke up to the sound of a car crash. I sat up and looked, immediately, out my window. Across the street, in a parking lot, a car had just backed into a chain-link fence. The car must have been moving fast, because it was in bad shape: Its hood had popped up, its windshield wipers were snapping back and forth under a perfectly clear sky and part of its bumper was sitting on the ground. The fence was mangled, bent out in exactly the shape of the car’s back end.

I couldn’t believe I was seeing this, on an otherwise ordinary weekday morning, out of my office window. I watched the driver get out of the car. He was stocky with a shaved head; he wore cargo shorts and a flannel shirt unbuttoned to expose his chest hair. I disliked him immediately. After a few seconds of assessing the damage, he walked around the car and opened the passenger door — from which a very small child scrambled out. A toddler in the front seat! My disdain for this man increased exponentially.

As the child ran around the parking lot, the man tried to repair the damage he caused. He attempted to tug the ruined fence back into place, but it wouldn’t move. He tried to shove the fallen piece of bumper back onto his car, but that only made the rest of his bumper fall off too.

Average number of windows in an American home: 22
Children injured by window falls per year in the U.S.: 15,000
Bird deaths caused by windows per year in the U.S. (conservative estimate): 365 million
Bird deaths caused by windows per year in the U.S. (liberal estimate): 988 million

I sat in my red chair, looking out my window, silently cheering.

The man tried, a little harder, to fix the fence. He grabbed its vertical support pole, which was wickedly bent, and pulled against it with his full weight. The pole suddenly broke, and the man fell hard onto the blacktop. The entire fence fell on top of him, and one of his sandals flew off and landed 10 feet away on the sidewalk.

I think I laughed out loud. This was a slapstick masterpiece. It was brightening my whole day, the failure of this terrible man. He climbed out from under the collapsed fence and limped back to the apartment building above the lot, rubbing his elbow.

That, I thought, would be the end of it. The man — that villainous man — was going to leave all the chaos behind for someone else to clean up. It was only the middle of the morning, but I imagined him sprawled out on his sofa with a case of beer, eating horrible snacks, while his child played with fire and broken glass and battery acid near a malfunctioning electrical socket.

But this is the power of windows: They contradict your easy assumptions. They scribble over your mental cartoons with the heavy red pen of reality. The man emerged a few minutes later with some tools. He got to work immediately, detaching one of the fence’s bent support bars and hammering it straight on the asphalt. For the next hour, I watched out my window as he doggedly fixed the fence, straightening and reattaching its support bars, scrupulously unbending its bent chain-link. He even improved it. He stole a support bar from another fence farther back in the parking lot and added it to this one. Now the fence would be extra secure, stronger than before, impervious to damage.

This odious man was actually a hero. I was the lazy one, with my knee-jerk judgments and distant clichés, my superiority from three stories up. My window had taken a break, that day, from its usual programming — crows and squirrels roaming over a dead tree, cars piling up at a stoplight — to put on a little passion play for me, an allegory about the nobility of the human spirit. My ugly assumptions, I realized, were all about myself. I would never have fixed that fence; I would have panicked and run away. My window had woken me up from a nap to teach me a lesson in humility.

The incident changed my entire day. I went back to my shallow screens with new determination. Years later, I still look out my window at that fence almost every day. It still looks brand new. It makes me wonder what else that man has improved, and how I can make myself more like him.

Letter of Recommendation  By  SAM ANDERSON APRIL 7, 2016  Continue reading the main story


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April 13 — Spring Walleye Run

Wednesday April 13  —   “We are reconciled, I think,  .  .  .  .  To too much.”   Mary Oliver

I posted this piece from Crain’s last year, April 29.  It entrances me, imagining c. 10 million walleye migrating each year from Lake Erie into the Detroit River to spawn. When I walk the city’s sparkling River Walk, the mile wide river continually refreshes my spirits, as if its beauty in my ears and eyes were its only purpose.  River refreshment offers many people, on many days, an anointing.  That same river hosts fast-boat with their rooster tail turns, water sports, party boats and bigger slower boats packing huge amounts of freight — the work and play and rest of human beings.

These Spring days, I am indebted to last April’s reminder from Crain’s that the river is home to much more life than us human beings.  Thinking all this I couldn’t resist running last April 29’s post again.   Mary Oliver’s “The Lark” provided counterpoint to the walleye last spring.  It makes a fine read this year too.

Have a blest Wednesday, the middle of the work week near the middle of April.


john sj

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April 11 — Start Close In

Monday, April 11 — “begin to pray from where you are”   

The lives of Catherine McAuley, RSM and Ignatius Loyola, SJ, Detroit Mercy’s two foundational spirits, offer similar advice about beginnings:  try to notice where I am and begin from there.  “Where am I?” can make a subtle and revolutionary question.  When I am frightened, I begin with that fear; when I am tender and accessible, begin there.  Same with my sadness, my anger, my joy.

Here’s a favorite from Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises; notice the place talk:  “I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I found what I desire, without any eagerness to go on until I have been satisfied.” (Sp. Ex. #76)   Catherine, an exceptional traveler, writes in 1840:    “Amidst all this tripping about:  our hearts can always be in the same place centered in God, for whom alone we go forward, or stay back.”    Place matters.  When I notice where I am the place awakens me.

David Whyte has made regular appearances on this list.  Here’s one about beginnings and place that a friend pointed out this past weekend.  It makes a good start to the new week for me.  For you too, I hope.

Blessings on these days of spring, daffodils and baseball.


john sj

Today’s Post —  “START CLOSE IN

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.


David Whyte in River Flow: New and Selected Poems

This newly revised edition contains the most up to date versions of poems from David’s first five volumes of poetry: Songs for Coming Home, Where Many Rivers Meet, Fire in the Earth, The House of Belonging and Everything is Waiting for You, as well as the latest versions of the new poems that originally appeared in the first edition of River Flow. September 2012.




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April 8 – Edna St. Vincent Millay “Spring”

Friday,  April 8  —>  “To what purpose, April, do you return again?”

Several weeks back The New York Times ran a piece on the 1924 Democratic National Convention.  When teaching US history, I found it helpful to single out 1924 as the meanest of the mean years that roamed the land in the wake of World War I, that brutal, demoralizing war.   Clumsy reconstructive surgery for veterans who did not die near the place of their wounds, marked their bodies life-long.  None worse, perhaps, than damage from the new chemistry, poison gas.  And for a young nation alive with bursting industrial achievement, exultant with liberating moral codes, (U.S. women won the right to vote in 1920.) the post war years woke anger and fear on many fronts.  Racism in the US reached one of its most intense boiling points.  The Ku Klux Klan peaked in numbers and influence in 1924; lynchings of African Americans peaked that year as well.

The Democratic National Convention played all this out in a way that makes this year’s GOP stump nastiness look tame; 103 votes to name a candidate, two evenly matched caucuses:  Irish Catholic Tammany Hall vs the Klan.  Violence was strategic and colorful:  fist fights, roosters released in the galleries, thrown chairs on the convention floor (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/nyregion/gop-path-recalls-democrats-convention-disaster-in-1924.html?_r=0)  —>  Read it; guaranteed to blow your mind.)

Such was the world in which Nobel Laureate Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote this hard poem. She lifts a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth who understood that beauty in words carries hard edges and liberates the imagination (“Life in itself/ Is nothing,/An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.”).  The poem can invite the reader to recognize human kinship with the mean and violent as well as the tender and kind.  “Out loud with pauses?”  Give it a try. Edna might hear our efforts to pay attention and be smiling.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

p.s. Hard news notwithstanding, it is still opening day for Tigers baseball in Motown.


Today’s Post   “Spring”   1921

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Edna St. Vincent Millay  in 1933

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April 6 — Can trash be beautiful?


I was meeting with some people yesterday and the topic of relentless on-campus trash came up;  same stories — throw-aways from MacDonalds, and soon enough, Burger King,  cigarette butts, plastic grocery bags caught in spring tree branches.  Like . . . .  Stuff and more Stuff !  Trash often feels so inevitable that ignoring can look like the sane alternative to ranting.   But some artists and poets think otherwise and create evocative, well-crafted statements about our throw-away habits.  Some years ago the Milwaukee Museum created a large special exibit on American cities.  As with many special exhibits you followed a pre-designed path through the artifacts  — traffic lights,  bus stops,  parking lots,  creative new designs for the street-faces of buildings etc. urban designs each with its role and purpose. . . .  and then you round a corner in the exhibit pathway and encounter a very large pile of urban trash;  my memory suggests that the pile was c. 20 feet across and 12-15 feet high, randomly assorted stuff, just there . . . BAM !    The trash exhibit, I read somewhere, annoyed, even outraged, museum goers.  But I bet no one ever forgot it;  a masterful exhibit therefore.

So, as a tip of my hat to the people with whom I was trash talking yesterday, here are two  pretty cool poems.  If you want more, go to http://hellopoetry.com/words/7179/trash/poems/.  Some poems here I love, some I think are a little weak.  These two I love.    Enjoy this middle day of the work week.


john sj

Today’s Posts

Feb 25, 2015

its funny how
you wanted to
take my heart
away from me
and now you’re
just throwing
it away like
your old cds
(n.b., I can’t seem to find the name of the poet on the site)

Poets, Shakespeare and Trash
A poet must read equal amounts
of trash and Shakespeare to learn
how to distinguish between the two.

Attributed to:
βέƦẙḽ Dṏṽ the Smartass Rabbi
Jul 4, 2014


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April 4 – “Life is not hurrying . . . . on to a receding future . . . ” R. S. Thomas

Monday, April  4
“ . . .  and gone my way  .  .  .  .  .  and forgotten it”

Another good friend, Springs Steele, emailed this poem to me early today.  I had not been familiar with R. S. Thomas.  Since opening Springs’ email I’ve been learning a little about this Anglican pastor (Church of Wales), who lived with passion for simplicity (“Thomas’s son, Gwydion, a resident of Thailand, recalls his father’s sermons, in which he would “drone on” to absurd lengths about the evil of refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and other modern devices”  Wikipedia).  He acquired a reputation for dour theological attention to questions of meaning and earned a reputation for remoteness.  Robinson was not given to excesses of joviality, but his personality was balanced by a rich capacity for attention to stillness and beauty.  In the words of Archbishop Barry Morgan, “R. S. Thomas continues to articulate through his poetry questions that are inscribed on the heart of most Christian pilgrims in their search for meaning and truth. We search for God and feel Him near at hand, only then to blink and find Him gone. This poetry persuades us that we are not alone in this experience of faith – the poet has been there before us.”[15]

In my reading of this fine poet, a new acquaintance,   stillness trumps frowning.   As with every strong poem, “Bright Field” rewards reading out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week.

john sj


Today’s post:  “The Bright Field”
R S Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.


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