I believe we don’t live in our lives; we live in the stories we tell about our lives. What happened is far less significant than how we interpret what it means to us—and how this leads us forward.
Which is why I have dedicated a lifetime to studying the possibilities of language, poem, and story. One of my great teachers on this path has been Leonard Cohen. This singer-songwriter-poet first insinuated himself into my nervous system with this chorus from his song Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Throughout my adult life, I have clung to this wisdom. I made it my North Star. I developed a practice of living alongside the unsolvable, of welcoming myself as I am, of leaning into my deepest fissures in search of illumination. In effect, a single chorus of a single song has initiated me into the alchemies of acceptance and transcendence.
And because I have persistently sought the light through my broken places, this is where I have learned to find it.
When Leonard Cohen left us a few weeks ago, I was already immobilized by reflections of my culture and my country that I could not yet comprehend. I looked to poems, as I always have, to help me navigate my grief and return to center.
These are some of the poems that help me let the light in. I offer them to you with respect for your broken places and gratitude for your commitment to show up at the page and navigate by the truth of what moves through you.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford
The Well of Grief by David Whyte
May you read and write exactly what you need to find your true way forward—now and always. And may each offering you make bring you closer to what illuminates you.
Wishing you and yours a nourishing Thanksgiving.
P.S. What poems, stories, or books do you turn to for help letting the light in? I’d love to hear!
I look to poems by Wiiiam Butler Yeats to bring some energy into my life. I also love the books of Natalie Goldberg and their multi-faceted words and images to give my life meaning. I do love your new book that just came out and find it inspirational and lovely to read.
Thank you Sage for all your writing and interests as I recently got divorced and am also a writer and visual artist. Poetry is one of my favorite mediums to use to express my pain and joy.
Thank you for sharing your go-to authors and poets, Lisa. I also love Natalie Goldberg and seek assurance from Yeats. I’m thrilled that Fierce on the Page is proving good company for you. Wishing you the very best on your healing and creative journey.
Sometimes I don’t know the cracks, until I write my way into them. And then the light there leads me back out into someplace new, renewed.
Thank you for such a beautiful rendering, Sage.
I love this description, Claire! Thank you!!
“And I again am strong”
Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood
Thanks so much for sharing this, Melanie!!
I often turn to Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly” where I am reminded that resilience doesn’t fix the cracks, it makes them count for something.
Ah, Brene’ Brown…Such powerful wisdom for navigating our vulnerable places. Thank you, Laura!
Forget your perfect offering. I love that. Who knew? It is in our brokenness, our vulnerabilities, our less-than-perfectness, that is our true and best selves. That’s where the Light is!
Here are 3 poems that have been shared with me over the last 2 weeks. I share them here. With love. <3
If Each Day Falls by Pablo Neruda
If each day falls
inside each night
There exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.
We must sit on the edge
of the well of darkness
And fish for fallen light
The Inside Chance by Marge Piercy
Dance like a jackrabbit
in the dunegrass, dance
not for release, no
the ice holds hard but
for the promise. Yesterday
the chickadees sang fever,
fever, the mating song.
You can still cross ponds
leaving tracks in the snow
over the sleeping fish
but in the marsh the red
maples look red
again, their buds swelling.
Just one week ago a blizzard
roared for two days.
Ice weeps in the road.
Yet spring hides
in the snow. On the south
wall of the house
the first sharp crown
of crocus sticks out.
Spring lurks inside the hard
casing, and the bud
begins to crack. What seems
dead pares its hunger
sharp and stirs groaning.
If we have not stopped
wanting in the long dark,
we will grasp our desires
soon by the nape.
Inside the fallen brown apple
the seed is alive.
Freeze and thaw, freeze
and thaw, the sap leaps
in the maple under the bark
and although they have
pronounced us dead, we
rise again invisibly,
we rise and the sun sings
in us sweet and smoky
as the blood of the maple
that will open its leaves
like thousands of waving hands.
Any Common Desolation by Ellen Bass
can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.
Dearest Zia, thank you for these exquisite insights and poems. I am so grateful.
“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry is always so soothing to me.
I also turn to Krista TIppett and the podcast On Being for such amazingly wise, compassionate and thoughtful conversations and perspective
Thanks so much, Petty. I agree that these are two powerful resources for reassurance and perspective!
For poetry, perhaps Mary Oliver, Lorna Crozier and Jane Hirshberg. A book I read several years ago has stayed with me, and I have given copies at times to friends. That is Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. A simple book, really, and it it, the author compares sea shells to aspects of her life and what she learns from such a consideration. Simple explorations, but a memorable read.
Thanks so much for sharing these recommendations with us, Carol!