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10-minute poems

Take a pen,
set your minute timer to ten
and catch your words like fleeing dreams,
new butterflies in this child's gentle net 
meeting for the first time friend to friend,
already beautifully grown
but not quite finished yet,
still awkward,
still a little wet,
summoned to your party unprepared;
even you don't know what you intend.
And when the clock runs down
play darts or walk the dog.
Come back tomorrow to redact.
Let today's words dry in warming sun,
the introductions over,
the hardest part now done. 


Sky jazz


Tired of speaking sweetly - Hafiz, 14th century Sufi poet

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and 
could give the Beloved His choice, some nights, 
He would just drag you around the room 
by your hair, 
ripping from your grip all those toys in the world 
that bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly 
and wants to rip to shreds 
all your erroneous notions of truth

that make you fight within yourself, dear one, 
and with others,
causing the world to weep
on too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us, 
lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself 
and practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants 
to do us a great favor:

hold us upside down 
and shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear 
He is in such a “playful drunken mood” 
almost everyone I know 
quickly packs their bags and hightails it 
out of town.


(The Gift – versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)



Thomas Merton's poem for his dead brother

While debate swirls in the UK about how to commemorate WW1, what it meant and means, whose opinion should be preferred, as ever the poets cut through all the politics and bullshit. Here is Thomas Merton's poem for his brother who died in WW2.


Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heart I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed -
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:
The silence of whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.


Event Horizon, by Clive James

Beautiful, noble, sad poem from Clive James who, it seems, is dying from lung disease. I've always admired his humour and lucidity. Here he crystallizes what it is for him as an atheist to come to terms with his own ageing and death.

Event Horizon

For years we fooled ourselves. Now we can tell
How everyone our age heads for the brink
Where they are drawn into the unplumbed well,
Not to be seen again. How sad, to think
People we once loved will be with us there
And we not touch them, for it is nowhere.

Never to taste again her pretty mouth!
It’s been forever, though, since last we kissed.
Shadows evaporate as they go south,
Torn, by whatever longings still persist,
Into a tattered wisp, a streak of air,
And then not even that. They get nowhere.

But once inside, you will have no regrets.
You go where no one will remember you.
You go below the sun when the sun sets,
And there is nobody you ever knew
Still visible, nor even the most rare
Hint of a face to humanise nowhere.

Are you to welcome this? It welcomes you.
The only blessing of the void to come
Is that you can relax. Nothing to do,
No cruel dreams of subtracting from your sum
Of follies. About those, at last, you care:
But soon you need not, as you go nowhere.

Into the singularity we fly
After a stretch of time in which we leave
Our lives behind yet know that we will die
At any moment now. A pause to grieve,
Burned by the starlight of our lives laid bare,
And then no sound, no sight, no thought. Nowhere.

What is it worth, then, this insane last phase
When everything about you goes downhill?
This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being there,
That it is here we live or else nowhere.