Welcome to week one of our four-week practice, How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, guided by poet, James Crews.
I’m excited to be offering these excerpts from my new book, How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. Please allow these poems to spark your own joy, delight, memory, and imagination in whatever ways they will. As much as you can, I encourage you to create some quiet space each week to sit with these pieces and see what they bring up for you. I have offered a short reflection for each poem that delves deeper into my interpretation as well as an invitation for your own writing and reflection, which gives some ideas for gratefulness practices you might integrate each week.
Photo by Debby Hudson
You might write a poem, a list, a letter, a journal entry, story, or essay; simply let the words carry you forward. Please feel free to stray as much as you’d like from the invitations, obeying the call of your creativity. My hope is that you can use these poems as tools for gratitude and a deeper engagement with life as it is right now. I welcome you to print out the poems, carry them with you for several days, and share them with others as you see fit.
The poems collected in this book have helped me personally to weather the trying times of this pandemic and the racial injustice in the United States, and I hope they can help you as well to love this difficult, beautiful world. As Ross Gay reminds us in his Foreword to the book: “Witnessing how we are loved and how we love makes the world.”
May you find delight and inspiration in this week’s practice.
With hope and love,
by Danusha Laméris
The optometrist says my eyes
are getting better each year.
Soon he’ll have to lower my prescription.
What’s next? The light step I had at six?
All the gray hairs back to brown?
Skin taut as a drum?
My improved eyes and I
walked around town and celebrated.
We took in the letters
of the marquee, the individual leaves
filling out the branches of the sycamore,
an early moon.
So much goes downhill: our joints
wearing out with every mile,
the delicate folds of the eardrum
exhausted from years of listening.
I’m grateful for small victories.
The way the heart still beats time
in the cathedral of the ribs.
And the mind, watching its parade of thoughts
enter and leave, begins to see them
for what they are: jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats
tossing their batons in the air.
You can find a printable version of this poem as part of our poetry collection.
Option 1: Stop here. Allow yourself to sit with this poem and let it live in you. Notice how and when it enters your awareness over time. What surfaces for you? If and when you’re ready, you might continue your exploration of the poem with option 2.
Option 2: Deepen your relationship with the poem with the following suggestions: You might begin by reflecting on your sense or interpretation of the poem, reading my reflection of the poem’s meaning as it feels helpful for your own reflection. Engage in the suggested practices to cultivate an embodied experience of the poem’s words and images.
Danusha Laméris recounts the seemingly rare experience of something actually getting better with time, and invites us to celebrate the good news with her, no matter how slight it might seem. “So much goes downhill,” she says, reminding us of the body’s fragility and vulnerability, of which we are all painfully aware right now. Yet she also urges us to be “grateful for the small victories,” for the fact that the heart carries on “in the cathedral of the ribs” and the endlessly busy mind keeps sending out its “parade of thoughts.”
I love the way the speaker of this poem seems to detach from her own anxieties and intrusive thoughts, even playfully seeing them as “jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats” meant to entertain, and not to be obeyed. And in her question, “What’s next?,” I hear the willingness to have hope that other things in her life, and in the world, might begin to improve as well, little by little, over time.
This week, write your own celebration of “small victories” during this time of life (reflecting on perhaps the course of the pandemic or simply this week). You might make a list of things you made space for in spite of fear, worry, and (if you’re anything like me) resistance to the way things are right now. Maybe you wrote an email, worked on a project, made a new meal, or simply showered. You might also reflect on those aspects of life that took care of themselves without you doing anything — like the heart still beating, the world keeps turning. Try to capture a sense of gratitude and joy for the things that went well, instead of focusing on the things that didn’t.
We invite you to share your reflections in the space below the author bio.
Enjoy the full four-session How to Love the World poetry practice.
James Crews is the author of four collections of poetry, The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment. He is also the editor of two anthologies: Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection and How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. Crews teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Oregon University and lives with his husband on an organic farm in Vermont. jamescrews.net.
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Waking up each morning to a new breath and vision is a blessing in itself.
It started with the optometrist telling her: did she notice her vision getting better herself before he told her? She sounds skeptical: “What’s next?” But with him telling her this surprising finding, she opens her “improved” eyes, a change of inner vision that allows her to notice, to celebrate the details. I love the image of the “cathedral of the ribs” calls up for me the holy mystery of the beating heart, life itself. The other victory, the mind starts to be able to see thoughts as they are, “jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats”, energetic entertainers passing in a parade, just watch them enter and leave without getting caught up in them. The light step and the dark hair are not coming back but there can be a growing wisdom of heart and mind.
My heart skipped with this poem. My optometrist, just two weeks ago, told me it is likely I have glaucoma in my one functioning eye. I keenly sense the joy of improving vision depicted in this poem. I so cherish my monocular sight. I set an alarm so I will take my nightly drops. I want to preserve my precious vision. I marvel at the beauty of nature that often takes my breath away and I cherish my sight.
not my stamina,
reveal my age –
from many days of
beach and garden sun.
On the right, two fingers
start to curl inward,
like my father’s did.
They may display their years,
but I hold precious these appendages.
For hours at a time
they command a volleyball,
write stories and poems,
are an instrument for
the intention of healing.
My hands are strong and capable –
valued as they are,
with graceful deformity.
Even with glorious sunshine and a riot of spring blossoms, a lingering shadow creeps at the edges of my mind. There is so much to be grateful for…in my mid 70s;….good health, comfortable home, loving family, active mind. Why do I think I need more?
a crunch of a rice cake smeared with sweet nuts, a swill
of green tea lapping against hand crafted china, a sniff of the
exotic grower’s art of caffeine, a swallow of the vintner’s foreign
bubbles; an ancient strand of red yarn wound tight around wrist,
a fraying linen patch on homespun cushion, the soft yield of pads beneath
finger tips typing; slow, spreading warmth for brittle legs beneath
blankets; an interrupting, misspelled message from a friend; the rattle
of a window frame soughing with wind-sigh, the flit and flutter
of gold darting to and from feeders, the shimmer of glorylight gilding
cloud edge gathering snowfall; the outstretched arm in distanced
welcome, a brazier flaring over tearworn faces, a quieted
opportunity for rest and soulsuccour; an upturned gaze to the night.
I’m in my mid 70s and in pretty good shape. However, the knees are beginning to talk back to me and my hearing has deteriorated. That said, I don’t like the “Organ Recital” that can happen among friends of a certain age. Boring! But I have friends who take what I consider a romantic view of ageing and death. Somehow they envision dying like a sweet sleep or a single bolt from the blue. Having accompanied parents and friends in the dying process, I can’t subscribe to the romantic view. But I don’t want to get lost in being overly concerned about my health and thinking about death. I search for a healthy, spiritually mature way of viewing my life right now, at age 75. Mostly that manifests as gratitude. I wake up every morning and say, “Thank you, God!” I’m awake. I’m alive and my husband of 45 years has a smile that light up his eyes. Life is good.
Oh, I wish that I would see something in my physicality improving as the poet does. Having the optometrist validate an appreciable improvement could make it true. By the end of the poem, our poet is softening her inner gaze to allow mindfulness to show improvement in very subtle areas that are only validated by herself. Her gratitude is palpably expressed in the words that describe her heart beat (& breath) within the cathedral made of her ribs. Very poetic artistry. I have found that when I am able to allow subtlety in then I am a bit better, as evidenced in this moment of peace caught amidst too many questions that are unanswered still…
I sit on a folding chair on the deck with a cold glass of water.
I feel supported and happy.
I enjoy looking at the clouds in the sky. I feel supported and blessed.
I hear the wind ring the chimes in a soft lullaby. I am enfolded in love.
I know that this enjoyment may only last as long as I can open to feel it.
It is enough.
I thank the team for this time during National Poetry Month.
It was interesting how the poet, with her improved vision, turned that vision toward her own thoughts in the end, saw them in new bodies. I took this poem as metaphor for applying the lessons we learn all the way through our lives to what presents itself to us later. We can see things for what they are after years of practice, after we have lived long enough to see this world for what it is. I have to say, though, improved vision in my actual eyes would be something!
to my shaman
you saw my despairing, knew you could help
the invitation, a simple “come join us”
to angels who wanted to dance with me:
your sacred space made a virtual ballroom
a divine white out swirling and twirling
their presence only you could give me
This poem is so perfect for me and all my friends. We are all getting something as we age but being grateful for what we have like in this poem is just right for us now. I will read it at book club this week for all. In our youth we thought we would be invincible. The honesty in this poem resonates with me greatly. Thank you!
I really could relate to this poem. I am 83, and my hearing is diminishing, despite hearing aids. But I am grateful for what is working in my body. I can walk 3 or 4 miles on trails around the pond where we live, I don’t have any serious illnesses, my eyesight is good, and I love to cook and play the harp. Best of all, I have a wonderful marriage of 64 years to a saint of a husband, and four children who love and care for each other. What this poem so gently reminds us, is to focus on all the good in our life and try to keep those concerns and problems in perspective. I loved how Lameris also reminded us to let the conversations in our heads wash over us, and to stay awake…present to the goldfinches on our bird feeder, to the leaves on the sycamore and our heart beating in the cathedral of our ribs (!!!) Her imagery is so expressive! Thank you James, for bringing this gift to us.
Thank you for this sharing Janet. I am feeling like you are a very positive member of the community and I feel better reading what you wrote.
Again, a reminder the body is a temple. Being a physical theater artist I have demanded much of this temple. I have jumped off of, climbed up on and hurled myself through so many obstacles. Like life. And much like the “heart…in the cathedral of the ribs” I marvel at the fact that this 56 year old body still moves and grooves. Certainly not in the same way but the body is a wonder. Can take so much and still the vibrancy of life hums through it. I am so grateful for this body.
I love the idea of walking around and celebrating the eyes. Taking in all there is to be grateful for. And, the positive trajectory – once the poet learns the eyes are improving – hey – maybe everything else can, too.
Celebrating what is seemingly a small victory and yet with such big impact. Beautiful.
That poem was yet another reminder to take nothing for granted!
This beautiful poem really hit home for me because I’ve been experiencing a new ache in my knee joints that wasn’t there before! At the same time, I feel so grateful to be healthy and to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic. I had my second vaccination in February and, even though nothing is 100%, I felt relief. Today I had the opportunity to volunteer at a vaccination clinic, and I marveled at how the line never seemed to end. My job was to check each person’s appointment confirmation and then fill out a card with their name and date of birth. It struck me that such diversity of people, of different ages, different nationalities, and life circumstances were all somehow connected in this one line, for a common purpose. And there are lines just like it all over the country and even the world. They thanked me for being there – doing my small part – and I thanked them for coming, overcoming fear and resistance, in some instances, to do something that will help us move through and past this pandemic. Thank you, James Crews, for creating this space!
Thank you for your thoughts and reflections. Gave me even more to chew on. And, for volunteering. Such a crucial service.
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