SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH PAUL CRENSHAW

Photo Credit: Brandon Pierce

By Paul Crenshaw:

FOR OKLA

All that late-night talk of light, and life,
all those words, which became like worlds.
Which we both know were.
If you even need words anymore,
wherever you are, what world
you find yourself in.

Let me just say I hope there’s light.
Let me say I want to send this to you
so you know all the poetry was enough.
That the porch light is still on
in my mind. That the windows are open,
and the songs from inside the house still play.
You are still sitting in the overstuffed chair.
You are still smiling. Let me say
the lighting of a cigarette or
clink of ice in a glass is as much poetry
as anything we ever said.
Let me remind myself I remember all the words,
even if I’ve forgotten how to say them.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STACY R. NIGLIAZZO


By Stacy R. Nigliazzo:






“Harvesting Her Heart after the Accident” first appeared in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts/Matter Press. All other pieces are previously unpublished. Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Stacy R. Nigliazzo‘s debut poetry collection Scissored Moon was published in 2013 by Press 53. It was named Book of the Year by the American Journal of Nursing. It was also short-listed as a finalist for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize (Jacar Press) and the Texas Institute of Letters First Book Award for Poetry/Bob Bush Award. She is co-editor of Red Sky, an anthology addressing the global epidemic of violence against women.

Editor’s Note: Stacy R. Nigliazzo imagines the unimaginable, writes those words which cannot be spoken. An emergency room nurse, it is when her personal losses make their way to the page that her experience becomes poetry, and that poetry becomes an act of healing for poet and reader alike. How visual her imagery, how visceral her grief. And yet her poems leave us not in darkness, but with the necessary reminder that even in our darkest hour there is a “ripple of light.”

Want to read more by and about Stacy R. Nigliazzo?
Stacy Nigliazzo’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: IN THE ABSENCE


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From IN THE ABSENCE
By Dara Barnat:


IMPRINT

I hear you’re gone and I fall with you.

In that place part of me stays,

like a hand in clay,

even as I make rice for dinner, boil water,

measure the grains,

pour wine, set out flowers with all their petals.

The imprint holds the loss of everything.

It holds what we thought was joy.



IN THE ABSENCE

              Dark is just dark–

rooms and all we’ve built are nothing.

Chairs with their backs, tables with their legs, beds with their heads.

Outside, trees with their leaves.

I can’t write that wood into a vessel

that will carry us to a place

where life is a river never not flowing.

I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters

through the window, try to catch
              its meaning,

              but light is just light.



PRAYER I DO NOT KNOW

There’s no one here, but me
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I say a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together,
in another life.



Today’s poems are from In the Absence (Turning Point Books, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Dara Barnat, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



In the Absence: Dara Barnat’s In the Absence evokes a yearning of the spirit so strong that it becomes presence, its light unstopped.


Dara Barnat is the author of the poetry collection In the Absence (Turning Point, 2016), as well as Headwind Migration, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2009). She also writes critical essays on poetry and translates poetry from Hebrew. Her research explores Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetry. Dara holds a Ph.D. from The School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. She currently teaches at Tel Aviv University and Queens College, CUNY.


Editor’s Note: Dara Barnat’s first full-length collection begins by declaring that “Dark is just dark.” But the assertion casts a shadow question: Is dark just dark? For it is light that is at the heart of this work: “I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters / through the window, try to catch / its meaning, / but light is just light.”

But “light is just light” is no more the truth of these poems — and the poet’s journey that unfolds across them — than “dark is just dark.” This work is neither a book of questions nor of answers. Instead, In the Absence is an honest experience of grief that explores the inevitable, never-ending pilgrimage inherent within loss: “I hear you’re gone and I fall with you. / In that place part of me stays, / like a hand in clay.”

Not since Li-Young Lee’s Rose have I been so slain by a book of mourning. Like Rose, In the Absence mourns the loss of a father while acknowledging that such a loss is anything but simple, that the complications of life remain a reckoning for the living. “The imprint holds the loss of everything. / It holds what we thought was joy.”

Held close within this incredibly moving and painstakingly wrought collection is a poem titled “Walt Whitman.” I had the honor of featuring this poem here on the Saturday Poetry Series in 2013 as I marked my father’s first yahrzeit (Jewish death anniversary). Tomorrow will be five years since my father’s death. What at one year could be commemorated with a single poem, five years later needs an entire book. Such is the nature of grief — it does not diminish; it grows. And in its growing it becomes more painful and more beautiful all at once.

In the Absence transforms the poet’s personal grief into communion. I will re-read this book tomorrow as I remember my father on his five-year yahrzeit, and I will grieve. But, more than that, I will say a prayer that is the poet’s and is my own: “May we live / a thousand years together, / in another life.”


Want more from Dara Barnat?
Buy In the Absence from IndieBound
Buy In the Absence on Amazon
Poems in YEW
Poems in diode
Interview in Poet Lore
Dara Barnat’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALEX BEN-ARI

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I ASK FORGIVENESS
By Alex Ben-Ari
Translated by Vivan Eden


I ask forgiveness of all the poems
Born misshapen because of my desire to write them
I ask forgiveness of all the people
Whose lives were disrupted by my desire to influence
And of the world
For the superfluous things added to it
And those unnecessarily severed
Because of my lust for symmetry
And happy endings.

I ask forgiveness of my mother
For not knowing how to love her in her misery
Of my children
For the moments when I don’t want them
Of my wife for every time I was too small
To contain her love.

I am lighter than a falling leaf
I am softer than grass
Now a small bird could
Build its nest in me.



Today’s poem originally appeared in Haaretz and appears here today with permission from both the poet and translator.


Alex Ben-Ari is 43 years old. His debut volume of poetry, Concealed Seas (Yamim Samuiim), was awarded honorable mention at the 2008 Metulla Poetry Festival and the 2015 Helicon/Ramy Ditzanny Poetry Prize. His second book, The Gatepost (Korat Hasha’ar), published in 2015, is composed of his original Hebrew haiku. His third book, planned to be published during 2017, is a volume of conceptual poetry.
Alex is one of the six members of the “Waning Moon” blog and publishing house dedicated to Haiku in Hebrew. He is also co-editor (with poets Gilad Meiri and Noa Shkargy) of Nanopoetica, a literary journal of short form literature.

Editor’s Note: Part personal, part pastoral, part ars poetica, today’s poem is emotive, honest, and raw. The poem’s I approaches the reader — and the page — seeking forgiveness. Free from false modesty, free from pride, the poem’s I is humble, admitting failings as poet and father, husband and son. The confessional, narrative nature of the poem is carefully constructed within the framework of the lyric, while the elegant, gentle translation midwives the essence of the poem as it crosses the borders of language. As the reader, we cannot help but be moved — to compassion, to transcendence, to forgiveness and beyond.

Want more from Alex Ben-Ari?
“Ripe Peach,” a poem from Concealed Seas (bi-lingual version)
Haiku poems from The Gatepost (bi-lingual)
Alex Ben-Ari’s official blog (Hebrew)
Ben-Ari lectures (in Hebrew) on music covers
Alex Ben-Ari on Twitter

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SUFGANIYOT BY RABBI RACHEL BARENBLAT

A version of this post was previously featured on the Saturday Poetry Series.

Sufganiyot homemade by your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor
Homemade sufganiyot from the kitchen of your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor


SUFGANIYOT
By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

In oil, pale circles roll and flip,
doughy moons inflating.

The fun part: poking a finger
inside, giving a wiggle and twist,
pushing a dollop of jam
knuckle-deep, then two, ’til
the cavity gleams raspberry.

Latkes are pedestrian.
These puff like a breath held.

There, and here,
a million women finger
these cupped curves,
probe the soft center,
push the sticky treat inside.

We glance at each other, faces hot.
We lick the sweet from our hands.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in Zeek and was reprinted on the Saturday Poetry Series with permission from the poet.)


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012, and now serves as co-chair, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, of ALEPH. She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is author of four book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013),Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016) and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as several poetry chapbooks.

Editor’s Note: Each year for Hanukkah I make sufganiyot. Measuring out the ingredients from my mother’s recipe, I will myself to have the patience necessary to wait for yeast to rise. I knead the dough with equal parts pressure and love then apply more patience, more waiting, before rolling and cutting “pale circles,” transforming them in oil into “doughy moons inflating.” Each year I make sufganiyot, and each year when I do, I think of this poem. It has been four years since I first featured this poem on the Saturday Poetry Series, and it has been with me each year since, an indelible part of my Hanukkah tradition.

As sensual as this poem is — as hot — it is very much a poem about tradition, about ritual, and about the coming together of women. For it is women who have traditionally ruled the domain of the Jewish kitchen, and women who, year in and year out since time immemorial, have applied their pressure and patience, their love and their care, to wright the delicious sustenance that is Jewish holiday food. And what, really, brings us together in our rituals and traditions more than food?

Each year as my best friend and I make our sufganiyot together, my mother makes the same recipe 2,500 miles away. Meanwhile, women all over the world are doing the same: “There, and here, / a million women finger / these cupped curves.” Each year, today’s poem reminds me of that disparate togetherness of women. This year I reprint this poem in honor of the women all over the world who do the work necessary to make the holiday season what it is.

May this season of light be a beacon in the darkness, and may the new year be better than the last.

Want to read more by and about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat?
The Velveteen Rabbi – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: A ROSH HASHANAH POEM BY SARAH MARCUS

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By Sarah Marcus:


ROSH HASHANAH, 5774

The moon was a sliver of itself
the first night I thought of you
combing a new year’s honey
through our hair.

We are taught to repent, but
it’s a poor translation,
for Teshuvah is to return
to ourselves,
to come back to who we really are,
to return
to an original state

where we have nothing
but possibility laid before us.

And it is written
as everything will be:

someone’s grandmother’s hands
smelling of cinnamon and clove,
a testament to a world
created as an expression
of limitless love,
of refinement.

The Rabbi says that when you share your words
you are sharing a part of your soul. Each moment
has the potential to be deeply spiritual, my children,
stand in the hugeness of it all.

Autumn has lingered years
for your arrival,
each leaf turned
in anticipation,
even the branches
held their breath

              waiting for us to ask the right questions,
                      for us to stop looking to the sky.



Today’s poem originally appeared in the Green Briar Review and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Sarah Marcus is the author of Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press) and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her next book, They Were Bears, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2017. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press, a spirited VIDA: Women in Literary Arts volunteer, and the Series Editor for As Is Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. Find her at sarahannmarcus.com.

Editor’s Note: But this is so much more than a Rosh Hashanah poem. This is a poem of the sacred and the secular. Of belief and being. Of awareness and action. This is the moment when memory becomes contemplation, when contemplation becomes questioning, when questioning demands more from us. Yes, this poem is stunning in its imagery and lyric. Yes, it is evocative and moving. Yes it is visceral and philosophical and spiritual. But it is so much more than that. For while “we have nothing / but possibility laid before us,” the very leaves hold their breath “waiting for us to ask the right questions, // for us to stop looking to the sky.”

Shanah Tovah u’Metukah to you, the faithful readers of this series. May the new year be sweet, and may you be the change you want to see in the world.

Want to see more from Sarah Marcus?
Spork Press
Booth
Nashville Review
The EstablishmentHuffington Post

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ABRIANA JETTÉ


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LIES OUR MOTHER TOLD US
By Abriana Jetté


I do not believe in the story of the virgin
but in the value of the human: the body —

because no matter what you were told
that soul is not yours. But the body,

the body is yours. The slight round
of the breast like the sun or the depth of your

toes to your crown: these are the ways
we measure ourselves. I do not want to

believe she was a vehicle. Tell me
there was pleasure; there were moans.

Tell me when she was fully grown
she remembered a wave a release an ecstasy

that entered her, that she could feel it in her
teeth. Motherhood means you are no longer

maiden but Queen. Tell me the story of the one
who smiled at the rustling of her sheets.



Today’s poem was published in the The Journal for Compressed Creative Arts, Spring 2015, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Abriana Jetté: Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York Abriana Jetté is an internationally published poet and essayist and educator. Her anthology 50 Whispers: Poems by Extraordinary Women debuted as a #1 best seller on Amazon, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Seneca Review, River Teeth, Barrelhouse, The Moth, and many other places. She teaches for St. John’s University, for the College of Staten Island, and for the nonprofit organization Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.

Editor’s Note: And then there was the poet who reimagined the Virgin Mary. Not as virgin, but as human, as woman, capable of “a wave a release an ecstasy // that entered her, that she could feel it in her / teeth.” Advocating for agency, the poet insisted, “I do not want to // believe she was a vehicle.” Reverent of the woman’s transformation, she taught us that “Motherhood means you are no longer // maiden but Queen.” And we saw her as the poet saw her. And it was good.

Want to see more from Abriana Jetté?
Hermeneutic Chaos Journal
Truthdig
Abriana Jetté’s Official Website
Stay Thirsty Publishing
Barrelhouse Mag

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ELIZABETH O’CONNELL-THOMPSON

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INVITATION ONLY
By Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson


When they come knocking,
I take them by the hand that had been a fist moments before
and show them something beautiful—
                                                                              a black creek in the woods,
                                                                              a doe’s skull in the field.
I lead them just far enough away that they can still see the house,
but not say if it is made of straw or stone.

While they are dipping their feet in the water
or watching how the sun sets on bone, I walk back
to bolt the door and light a fire,
holding myself as they had offered to do.



Today’s poem first appeared in Banshee, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson is a Chicago-based poet. She is the Literary Coordinator for the CHIPRC, where she leads the Wasted Pages Writers’ Workshop Series. Her work has been featured in RHINO, Banshee, and The Wax Paper, among others. Please send your truest thoughts and spookiest chainmail to EOTwrites.com.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is the perfect blend of beauty and mystery. Taking us by the hand, the poem leads us through its vivid imagery, while leaving us to imagine who–or what–is the poem’s subject. The sense of the unknown becomes a character in the poem, leaving the reader with the same chill the causes the narrator to “bolt the door and light a fire, / holding myself as they had offered to do.”

Want to see more from Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson?
Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson’s official website
‘Invitation Only’ in Banshee
Wasted Pages Writers’ Workshop
CHIPRC

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STEPHANIE WELLEN LEVINE

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HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES!
By Stephanie Wellen Levine


Yes, I’m on a quest for truth, but only IF.
IF there’s a story behind the stories I see, I want to know.
A line of meaning running behind them.
A beam of concern.
Something.

The man in the grimy wheelchair begging for money by the Harvard Square subway
Pushing himself right up to people with his one leg, as if to ask:
Could YOU hold a job if you had a sawed-off leg
And eyes that watered from the slightest hint of sun?

The woman staring at her cappuccino at Crema Café
Laughing at the creamy heart added by the barista.
She touches the heart with her pinky
So lightly, making sure she doesn’t ruin it
And then takes out a book called On Losing a Child.

Even the little girl in the T-shirt covered with clowns
On the first warm day of the season
Running through the sprinkler in front of her house
Again and again
Happy at first, screaming: “This is so fun!”
Each time the water sprays her face.
And then looking around
Scanning her yard, then the street
As if to ask: “Isn’t there more?”

Well, isn’t there?
That’s my question —
Hokey, grandiose, absurd, and unanswerable.
Or maybe answerable.
But do I want the answer?

Um, wow. I swear I’m not making this up.
I just saved this document and the title shocked me.
I didn’t choose it; I was being careless.
The title is yes.
Just plain yes.
Not the first several words of line one
Like it usually is when I’m careless about saving.
Just yes, no “if.”
No “but only.”

A happier, simpler person might rejoice now.
Isn’t there more?
Yes. Yes!
I got my answer, the one I wanted
In the guise of a word processing glitch.

Before this happened, I was going to say
That “yes” is the only answer I can handle.
The only one I seek.

“Yes” carries many possibilities.
God, like in the Torah.
Or an organizing energy uncapturable by any existing religion.
Or the dazzling power of individual and collective consciousness
Creating the world as we know it
Like some physicists believe
And some New Age types.

Or all of the above
Or something else entirely.
Or, or, or.

On one level, the details don’t matter
As long as “yes” is unmistakable.
As long as there’s something beyond the people in the street
Hurrying to their destinations while checking their phones
Not thinking, not once, that one day they won’t be well enough to hurry
And another day, later on, no one in any street, anywhere,
Will remember them
Or care whether they reached their appointments on time
Or even that someone cried after reading their poem.

Now, let me add a caveat, since I’m self-centered like that.
The details of “yes” don’t matter
As long as they include immortality for my consciousness
And the consciousness of everyone I love.
(And I love everyone who isn’t mean.)
I’m just not a “self pales in the face of the all” kind of soul.

But what if the true answer is “no”
Like many of the most brilliant minds insist?
No, there’s nothing mystical, or magical, or godlike, or transcendently loving.
Nothing beyond what we ourselves can do for each other, and for the earth.
The beauty of one soul reaching out to another
Doing their work, growing their passions
And then their time is up
And it’s time for a new generation.

No, there’s nothing “beyond”
No side door in the sky
No world hiding within the air
No time beyond the clock’s harsh tick
No heart beyond our smashed and battered hearts.

What if all my diligent searching brought me there
To “no”?
Would I want to realize that?
To remove all doubt?
If the actual, capital “T” truth is “no,”
Do I want to know?

NO.
No, no, no.
Some would say: Yes! Yes, of course!
Let me seize every moment with the fullness of infinity.
If that’s all I have, let me know, and savor all I can, now.
Because now is the prize, and that’s OK.
Now is good.

For me, now is only good if it carries at least a hope of then, or after.
Something else, something beyond.
Just plain now is horrifying.
It’s the man in the café rubbing his face until it bleeds
Because he’s nervous.
Because now is everything and nothing.

So why do I search?
What is my quest
If I want no part of a real possibility?

Why am I not one of those who leap and sing
At every piece of evidence,
Who embrace all those pride-filled spiritual leaders
High-fiving them and joining their circles?
Why am I the one who sits in the corner
Stewing, questioning, finding holes in all their answers
Alienating myself from all the peaceful souls?

I want the truth that I want
But I want it to actually be the truth.
I want to cross-examine and put it through a million paces
And then I want to smile. And know.

I’ll take the “yes” I received today as a hint.
Not proof. That would be crazy.
But a hint. A piece of hope.
It’s not the first I’ve received.
All those slices of hope add up to something.
Not proof, not peace, not joy
But a real thing
As real as, say, your memory of the wind against your face
On a warm night, at a barbecue, while your aunt told you tales
Of her first year at college.

Was the wind actually cool like you remember it?
Was your aunt really eating a chicken thigh and laughing about her roommate
While you battled a bee that came dangerously close to your plate?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, there’s truth in the overall flavor your mind creates
As it conjures the scene.

Hope is like that.
It carries a kind of truth.
Not provable. Not logical.
But sane and even precious.

Hope is the wind that carries my dreams
Even in the harshest weather.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Hevria, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Stephanie Wellen Levine is the author of Mystics, Mavericks, And Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls: winner of the Moment Magazine Emerging Writer Book Award. She contributes regularly to the online magazines Hevria and The Wisdom Daily. Stephanie brings lifelong passion to her current book project, which explores her spiritual quest. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, MA, but she misses NYC more and more.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is an honest inquisition, probing into the depths of existence while admitting there is only so much we are willing to know, to learn, to hear. I am particularly taken in by the vignette stanzas early in the poem, the vivid little moments that so clearly illustrate how human it is to wonder, in life, whether there is more than this. The poet’s inquiry is urgent, insistent; “Isn’t there more?”

Want more Stephanie Wellen Levine?
Buy Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls from Amazon
Hevria
The Wisdom Daily
Facebook

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JANET R. KIRCHHEIMER

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THE NATURE OF THINGS
By Janet R. Kirchheimer


I was eleven the spring my father singed his eyebrows off
while burning down pear trees.

Anne Carson says dirt is a minor thing.
This is not true.

Perhaps she has not seen a string bean pushing
its way up through the dirt.

The Rabbis say that Adam gave names to all the animals,
but do not say who named the trees.

These are some of the plant names I love:
Joseph’s coat, Persian shield, Silver shrub, African mallow.

Once in January, my father woke me at four o’clock in the morning
to help cover the parsley in our garden with blankets.

Frost was on the ground.
Stars, so bright at that time of the year, lit the garden.

In June, I call home to ask my father about the gladiolas.
He says some are coming, some are going.

The Talmud says occasionally rain falls because of the merit
of one man, the merit of one blade of grass, of one field.



Today’s poem was was previously published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us. She is currently producing a documentary, “After,” about poetry of the Holocaust then and now, and is a teaching fellow at Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Editor’s Note: Unearth the humble offerings of today’s poem and discover what grows from its rich soil. What love, what relationship, what sage advice about life. This is a poem as intimate as tending one’s own garden, and as universal as studying scripture. How wise, how simple, how sage. How lovely today’s poem, with all its offerings.

Want to read more by and about Janet R. Kirchheimer?
Buy How to Spot One of Us on Amazon
Writing Without Paper
Best American Poetry
CLAL
Collegeville Institute