Two Inspirational Poems

Two inspirational poems for our times.

Ellen Bass teaches at Pacific University and has several published books of poetry and non-fiction. Relax is taken from her collection Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press 2014). Nancy Morgan Shaffer, a Unitarian Universalist minister, died of brain cancer in 2012. First Sabbath is taken from her book of poetry Instructions in Joy (Unitarian Universalist Meditation Manual, 2002).


Tell me: did you really rest?

You who made day and night

and sky that separated

waters above and below,

you who told the waters

below the sky

to stay in one place

and out of them

asked dry land,

who told the earth

to send out growing things

and then made sun

and moon and stars,

who made birds that fly

and everything that swins,

and cattle and all creeping things

and every animal untamed

and then made man and woman

and finally, supposedly, rested:

tell me: how —

in the midst of all that buzzing

and flapping

and slithering and stepping,

all that bursting forth of leaf

and fruit and stem

that never had known themselves

before — tell me:

how could you possibly have rested,

after seeing what no one ever had seen before:

beak, hoof, pebble;

after losing yourself

in a thousand versions of blue:

water in sun,

sky against sky,

the horizon where

sky and water meet:

how did you shut your eyes,

how not keep

turning and looking?

Didn’t you long to caress

each small thing — notice

how toes work, and

stamens, and fingers?

Weren’t you hollering out in amazement?

Weren’t you so filled up glad

you couldn’t sleep?

~ Nancy Morgan Shaffer


Bad things are going to happen.

Your tomatoes will grow a fungus

and your cat will get run over.

Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream

melting in th car and throw

your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.

Your husband will sleep

with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling

out of her blouse. Or your wife

will remember she’s a lesbian

and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat —

the one you never really liked — will contract a disease

that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth

every four hours for a month.

Your parents will die.

No matter how many vitamins you take,

how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,

your hair and your memory. If your daughter

doesn’t plug her heart into every live socket she passes,

you’ll come home to find your son has emptied

your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,

and called the used appliance story for a pick up — drug money.

There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.

When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine

and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.

And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out

and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point

she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.

She looks up, down, at the mice.

Then she eats the strawberry.

So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse

in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,

slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel

and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.

Oh taste how sweet and tart

the red juice is, how the tiny sides

crunch between your teeth.

Ellen Bass

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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