Poem for a Tuesday

“Prayer in My Boot” by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field
attached to nothing
pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window
as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling
with crisp colored alphabets
happy cat posters
the cage of the guinea pig
the dog with division flying out of his tail
and the classrooms of our cousins
on the other side of the earth
how solemn they are
how gray or green or plain
how there is nothing dangling
nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery
no self-portraits or visions of cupids
and in these rooms the students raise their hands
and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order
and family businesses that failed
and the house with the boarded windows
and the gap in the middle of a sentence
and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given
and every future rough edge
and every afternoon
turning over in its sleep

Published in 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, ed. Billy Collins. New York: Random House, 2005.

“Risk”

Poem for a Tuesday — “Risk” by Lisa Colt

“My teacher says,

You’ve got to stink first.

I tell her, I don’t have time to stink–

at 64 years old

I go directly to perfection

or I go nowhere.

Perfection is nowhere,

she says, So stink.

Stink like a beginner,

stink like decaying flesh,

old blood,

cold sweat,

she says,

I know a woman who’s eighty-six,

last year she learned to dive.

Published in Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.


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Poem for a Tuesday

“The low road” by Marge Piercy

“What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.”


in Cries of the Spirit, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Beacon Press: Boston, 1991.


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The Guest

Poem for a Tuesday – “The Guest” by Wendell Berry

“Washed into the doorway

by the wake of traffic,

he wears humanity

like a third-hand shirt

-blackened with enough of

Manhattan’s dirt to sprout

a tree, or poison one.

His empty hand has led him

where he has come to.

Our differences claim us.

He holds out his hand,

in need of all that’s mine.

And so we’re joined, as deep

as son and father.  His life

is offered me to choose.

Shall I begin servitude to

him? Let this cup pass.

Who am I? But charity must

suppose, knowing better,

that this is a man fallen

among thieves, or come

to this strait by no fault

-that our difference

is not a judgment,

though I can afford to eat

and am made his judge.

I am, I nearly believe,

the Samaritan who fell

into the ambush of his heart

on the way to another place.

My stranger waits, his hand

held out like something to read,

as though its emptiness

is an accomplishment.

I give him a smoke and the price

of a meal, no more

-not sufficient kindness

or believable sham.

I paid him to remain strange

to my threshold and table,

to permit me to forget him-

knowing I won’t.  He’s the guest

of my knowing, though not asked.”

— from Wendell Berry Collected Poems: 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.


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Hope

Poem for a Tuesday — “Hope” by Lisel Mueller

“It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
     it shakes sleep from its eyes
     and drops from mushroom gills,
          it explodes in the starry heads
          of dandelions turned sages,
               it sticks to the wings of green angels
               that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
     it lives in each earthworm segment
     surviving cruelty,
          it is the motion that runs
          from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
               it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
               of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.”

From Lisel Mueller, Alive Together. Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

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“Ordinance on Arrival”

Poem for a Tuesday – by Naomi Lazard

“Welcome to you
who have managed to get here.
It’s been a terrible trip;
you should be happy you have survived it.
Statistics prove that not many do.
You would like a bath, a hot meal,
a good night’s sleep. Some of you
need medical attention.
None of this is available.
These things have always been
in short supply; now
they are impossible to obtain.

This is not

a temporary situation;
it is permanent.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.
For reasons beyond our control
there is no vehicle out.”


Naomi Lazard is an American poet, children’s literature author, and playwright. She is the winner of two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a former president of the Poetry Society of America. Her poem “Ordinance on Arrival” appears in A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996), p. 304.


“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33-34.

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“Courage”

Poem for a Tuesday – “Courage” by Anne Sexton

“It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.”

Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. This poem is found in Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. p. 320.

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The Hammock

Poem for a Tuesday

The Hammock by Li-Young Lee

“When I lay my head in my mother’s lap
I think how day hides the stars,
the way I lay hidden once, waiting
inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember
how she carried me on her back
between home and the kindergarten,
once each morning and once each afternoon.

I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.

When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder:
Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries
from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember
there are stars we haven’t heard from yet:
They have so far to arrive. Amen,
I think, and I feel almost comforted.

I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.

Between two unknowns, I live my life.
Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am
by coming before me, and my child’s wishes, older than I am
by outliving me. And what’s it like?
Is it a door, and good-bye on either side?
A window, and eternity on either side?
Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.”

L-Young Lee, “The Hammock,” in The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, ed. Michael Collier and Stanley Plumley (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999), 153.

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Little Things

Poem for a Tuesday

Little Things

by Sharon Olds

“After she’s gone to camp, in the early
evening I clear Liddy’s breakfast dishes
from the rosewood table, and find a small
crystallized pool of maple syrup, the
grains standing there, round, in the night, I
rub it with my fingertip
as if I could read it, this raised dot of
amber sugar, and this time,
when I think of my father, I wonder why
I think of my father, of the beautiful blood-red
glass in his hand, or his black hair gleaming like a
broken-open coal. I think I learned to
love the little things about him
because of all the big things
I could not love, no one could, it would be wrong to.
So when I fix on this image of resin
or sweep together with the heel of my hand a
pile of my son’s sunburn peels like
insect wings, where I peeled his back the night before camp,
I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have–as if it were our duty to
find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”

in Claiming the Spirit Within. Ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

The Three Goals

Poem for a Tuesday

“The Three Goals”

by David Budbill

“The first goal is to see the thing itself

in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly

for what it is.

No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing

as unified, as one, with all the other

ten thousand things,

In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,

to see the universal and the particular,

simultaneously.

Regarding this one, call me when you get it.”

from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Page 225.