Category Archives: Poems

Poetry Monday – ‘How to be a poet’

Wendell Berry is one of my favorites.  In so many ways he pushes back against the tendency in our western world to separate God from his creation.

This poem begins with the need for solitude and silence:

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity.

The last lines of the second stanza remind us of the sacramental nature of the created world:

There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

Take a moment to read the whole poem here at The Poetry Foundation site.

Poetry Monday – ‘Living Things’

Since I always take some time on my ‘Sabbath’ Monday to soak in some great poetry, I thought I would share a poem each week for a while.  I call it “Poetry Monday.”

I discovered Anne Porter this summer.  This is the ‘title’ poem from her collected works called Living Things. She was 83 when she published her first book of poems! I’ll take the  liberty to add some comments at the end, noted by the (*) in the text.

Our poems
Are like the wart-hogs
In the zoo
It’s hard to say
Why there should be such creatures

But once our life gets into them
As sometimes happens
Our poems
Turn into living things *
And there’s no arguing
With living things
They are
The way they are

Our poems
May be rough
Or delicate
Little
Or great

But always
They have inside them
A confluence of cries
And secret languages

And always
They are improvident **
And free
They keep
A kind of Sabbath
They play
On sooty fire escapes
And window ledges

They wander in and out
Of jails and gardens
They sparkle

In the deep mines
They sing
In breaking waves
And rock like wooden cradles. ***

* I can relate to how poems take on a life of their own and give voice to our heart – or to what God is doing in our hearts – like no other kind of expression. Sort of like the Psalms! Interesting how for Porter also, poems “keep a kind of sabbath!”

** “Improvident” – I had to look this word up – it means risky or done without much forethought.

*** Her last stanzas are cataloguing how poetry shows up everywhere, from coal mines to prisons to a baby’s lullaby.

Sunset Gospel

I’ve witnessed many beautiful sunsets over the summer. One evening I drove to the end of Jamestown Island. Dozens of people had the same idea. My mind suddenly got caught up in the question, “Why are we as people so universally captivated by sunsets?” I’d be interested in your thoughts. I started to scribble notes that morphed into this late night poem…

Sunset Gospel

Many souls join me for solitude
on the rocky shore
of point Beaver Tail.

The Lighthouse sounds,
a mellow horn piercing through
the surround-sound waves.

Sunsets create a cosmic following!
Everywhere, every day, the rock star
puts on a show!

Just the planet turning, really;
but the Light still dances
in our earth-bound eyes.

From a million miles away
it paints pictures to die for
from every shore and mountain top;

Adored by all
who awe and wonder
from where such beauty rises.

The longing crowd stares in long silence,
to watch the icon leave the stage;
silent standing ovation; deafening peace.

What draws humanity
to paint and post as if
we’d never seen this scene before?

Can we not get enough
of that beauty
we were made for?


The true light, which gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
John 1:9

Copyright 2012, 2016 – Lyle Mook

paying attention to the ordinary

I had the pleasure of attending the Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference recently.  I was in a ‘creative non-fiction’ track with Patrick Madden (his website, here, is a very worthwhile compilation of essays called Quotidiana from the word quotidian – or ‘ordinary’)  Madden gave us a short assignment to pay attention to something mundane and common and write about what it suggests to us.  Here is where I went.

Rope Ladder Relic

There’s a great tree in front of our house.

In the early years, it didn’t look too healthy;
we shuddered to think about it coming down,
and what our roof would look like if a storm overcame it.
We needed that tree to survive and thrive – and it did.

Our boys loved the tree and in one of their first adventures,
claimed a divine right to climb.
The problem is that our tree is not a climbing tree.
Too few branches, too far apart, and too big to get your little arms around.

Not to be denied, the boys took a small rope ladder from an old swing set
and somehow attached it to the lowest oversized limb
making it possible to at least climb to the first floor of the monster
where they fashioned a modest platform.

It was  a slum compared to the dream house they first imagined.
A triumph of neighborhood development nonetheless.
They didn’t become Spiderman or Tarzan
but the laws of gravity and timidity had been overcome.

Ten or fifteen years have passed.
And the rope ladder is still there.
One of those eyesores you live with and forget to remove.
It’s a ladder to nowhere it seems. Looking closer,

I see all my children, climbing.

sabbath reflection on the paradox of prayer

Sea Gull Monastery  (3-19-12)

Sabbath time at Jamestown dock
void of boats
just lonely posts;

Seagull sentinels
perch like stylite
desert monks

Doing nothing apparent.
What purpose, this unnoticed sitting
so still and tranquil

Alive to no one
but themselves and their Maker
and me?

What difference do they make?
What difference
does prayer make?

Suddenly Less Urgent ~ reflections on a retreat

monastery at boston - soc. of st. john the evangelist
monastery at Boston – Soc. of St. John the Evangelist

Being a guest at the monastery is an act of submission

stepping into the enclosed world

refreshed on the rules

the ‘rule of life’ that binds the community

worshiping with the brothers – in their way

sensitive to the rhythm of chant

not too loud – even when I catch on

practicing the disciplines of silence

praying the hours

psalms coming alive in community

worship suddenly more urgent.

 

I eat with the brothers and other guests

we worship and peacefully wait outside the refectory

waiting for the welcome and the blessing of the leader

silent hospitality

meals are exquisite and moderate and healthy

no time for seconds

no time to overeat

no need to fast these three days

eating is restored to the rhythm

no longer an end in itself.

 

I’m tired the first day – so I rest

I suspend my retreat goals

suddenly less urgent

fasting from tyranny

from internet access

from my own accessibility

and instant response

from watching news

this kind of fast seems more flesh-breaking 

body desires seem suddenly less urgent

 

And solitude?

So much more than aloneness

not that temptations flee without a fight

and retreats can turn quickly into resolve un-sustained

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner….