Stop whatever it is you’re doing.
Come down from the attic.
Grab a bucket or a basket and head for light.
That’s where the best poems grow, and in the dappled dark.
Go slow. Watch out for thorns and bears.
When you find a good bush, bow
to it, or take off your shoes.
Pluck. This poem. That poem. Any poem.
It should come off the stem easy, just a little tickle.
No need to sniff first, judge the color, test the firmness.
You’ll only know it’s ripe if you taste.
So put a poem upon your lips. Chew its pulp.
Let its juice spill over your tongue.
Let your reading of it teach you
what sort of creature you are
and the nature of the ground you walk upon.
Bring your whole life out loud to this one poem.
Eating one poem can save you, if you’re hungry enough.
Take companions poem-picking when you can.
Visit wild and lovely and forgotten places, broken
and hidden and walled up spaces. Reach into bramble,
stain your skin, mash words against your teeth, for love.
And always leave some poems within easy reach
for the next picker, in kinship with the unknown.
If you ever carry away more than you need,
go on home to your kitchen, and make good jam.
Don’t be in a rush, they’re sure to keep.
Some will even taste better with age,
a rich batch of preserves.
Store up jars and jars of jam. Plenty for friends.
Plenty for the long, howling winter. Plenty for strangers.
Plenty for all the bread in this broken world.
by Phyllis Cole-Dai
I love this sumptuous poem-about-poems. I love how it celebrates the potential of poems: they have to potential to ‘save you if you’re hungry enough’, and to teach you ‘the nature of the ground you walk upon’. That certainly rings true for me…
It came to me while looking at the many see-through bags of brightly decorated ginger biscuits for the Christmas Market at Finbar’s school. This may not quite be the same as going out and heading for the light to find the pickings, but it did share a mood with the richness of plenty at the end of the poem: ‘Plenty for friends. Plenty for the long, howling winter. Plenty for strangers. Plenty for all the bread in this broken world.’
The poem appears after the introduction in ‘Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems’ which I discovered a few months ago and which I treated myself to. And what a treat it is to go poem-picking in it! Many deep, reflective and poignant ones, some humorous and some heartbreaking, and every now and then one that appears at just the right time to stay with me for days.
The book is edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai, who has many years of mindfulness practice under her belt, as well as a deep love for poetry. On the website of her project ‘A Year of Being Here – daily mindfulness poetry by wordsmiths of the here & now’ she writes:
“One of the best tools in mindfulness practice today, as it has been for millennia, is poetry. Why? Because the very act of reading a poem cultivates mindfulness. To fully experience any poem, we must stop whatever else we’re doing and give it our full and gracious attention, start to finish, just as the poet did when writing it. […] If all good poetry deepens our engagement with “this moment we have,” as the American poet Muriel Rukeyser believed, certain poems do so in especially memorable fashion, because their makers have brought to their topics not only exceptional craft but extraordinary awareness. Whether these poems demonstrate what mindfulness is, or recount an experience of it, or offer advice on how to practice it, all of them show us how to be more present in the living of our lives. They are exquisite lessons in being here.”
Reflecting on this, a spontaneous kind wish comes up for myself, and for others: may we find and create the time to stop whatever it is we’re doing, to go slow and pluck the exquisite lessons in being here that are all around us…