TWELVE POEMS FOR MAY
I came to realize that Mind
is no other than mountains
and rivers and the great
the Sun, the moon
and the stars.
Dogen Zenji (13th century,
Japanese poet, monastic & mystic)
MAY DAY (BELTAINE) : May Day bonfires have been an essential part of the Beltaine festival. All hearth fires and candles are to be put out before the bonfire is lit, generally on a mountain or hillside. Scottish Highlanders and West Ireland people kindled a need-fire or force-fire at Beltane. Such a fire was then considered to be a sacred fire. The ritual of driving cattle between two fires—as described in Sanas Cormaic almost 1000 years before—was still practiced across most of Ireland and the highlands of Scotland into the 19th and mid-20th century. The cattle were driven “around” a bonfire or made to run between the flames of two fires, while participants leaped over the embers. In the Isle of Man, festival participants made sure that the smoke blew over them and their cattle. When the bonfire had died down, those attending daubed themselves with its ashes and sprinkled it over their crops and livestock. Burning embers from the bonfire were taken home, to be carried around the house or boundary of the farmstead and then to re-light the hearth. The fire was considered to be a sacred fire and to have powers to protect all who participated during the Beltaine (May 1) to Samhain(Oct 31) agricultural cycle of planting and harvesting.
In his Carmina Gadelica,Alexander Carmichael collected the Gaelic song Am Beannachadh Bealtaine (The Beltane Blessing)
Beannaich, a Thrianailt fhioir nach gann, (Bless, O Threefold true and bountiful,)
Mi fein, mo cheile agus mo chlann, (Myself, my spouse and my children,)
Mo chlann mhaoth's am mathair chaomh 'n an ceann, (My children and beloved mother at their head,)
Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann, (On the fragrant plain, at the mountain huts)
Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beam. (On the fragrant plain, at the mountain huts.)
Gach ni na m' fhardaich, no ta 'na m' shealbh, (Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,)
Gach buar is barr, gach tan is tealbh, (All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,)
Bho Oidhche Shamhna chon Oidhche Bheallt, (From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,)
Piseach maith, agus beannachd mallt, (With goodly progress and gentle blessing,)
Bho mhuir, gu muir, agus bun gach allt, (From sea to sea, and every river mouth,)
Bho thonn gu tonn, agus bonn gach steallt. (From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.)
Dreams Come True For Belle (aged two)
You’re free-falling through the mirror
to the wondrous tales of youth
seeking your happily ever after.
The dreamworld of Grimm and Anderson –
your book’s words and pictures
mixing, in your delirium of good and evil.
The breath of the wolf at your heels,
climbing the beanstalk
to the land of the giants
with your sparkling magic wand,
or three wishes from the lamp,
on a magic carpet, floating in the clouds.
Trapped in the top of the highest tower,
your shoe, its fit as perfect
as the delicate petal of a rose.
Until the thick briars wake you
from your dream, the reflection of beauty
the taste of apple,
true love’s kiss.
Airson Belle (aig dà bhliadhna dh’aois)
Tha thu nad shaor-thuiteam tron sgàthan
gu roisgeulan na h-oigridh,
a’ sìreadh do thoileachadas gu deò.
Saoghal aisling Grimm, Mhic Anndrais –
a’ measgachadh faclan ’s dealbhan do leabhair
nad bhreisleach shaoidh is olc.
Air chùl do chois, anail a’ mhadaidh allaidh
nad streap guiseag mhòr na pònaire
gu tìr nan famhairean mòra
le do shlat-dhraoidheachd lannaireach,
no trì duirigean an lampa,
air brat-ùrlar, air fleod sna sgòthan.
Glaiste aig ceann an tùir as àirde
do bhròg ’s a meud ceart, mar bu chòir,
mar dhuilleag meuranta ròis.
Gus an dùisg drisleach dòmhail thu
bho fhaileas bòidheach a’ bhruadair,
à dùsal/ blas ubhail/ pòg fìor rùin.
Composed in Gaelic & translated by Ceitidh
Campbell with her focus on Gaelic song and poetry.
Four Songs by Joy Harjo.
1. I fell through a hole in the sky from one end of the world
to the next. Burning off layers
like a comet
until I hit the surface of earth.
I awaken in a house on the edge of the Pacific
near a mango tree
with your sweet-smelling head
on my arm.
The flower might appear vulnerable
as it bends with the trade-winds
drinks in the sun
but its roots extend to hell.
It keeps thinking: beautiful.
What motivates us is mystery,
how the aloof stone desires more than anything
to be opened, shivering and wet with love.
I didn’t know how much I needed you.
Joy Harjo (Muscogee Nation) is the United States poet laureate,
the first Native American to hold that post.
Origin Story by Leah Naomi Green
“What is dying is the willingness to be in denial.”
—angel Kyodo williams
The heron flew away
and I wanted to tell someone
how long it stayed,
how close I got,
how much I missed it
even as it stood
to watch me,
that I am, terrible
at believing what I can’t see.
You see fire in the home
where we live: the world
in cardiac arrest.
A heart attack
is not the onset I want to say
to someone, it’s the flare.
It illuminates what’s already here:
illuminated, the earth
lit as an origin story.
Here you are,
I say instead,
at how close
I’ve been holding you
in the dark.
no new landscape.
It bares the contours
like a map
so we can see
where we’ve been all along,
can see one another
as we walk, and say,
for once, nothing
at the fire’s steady flight,
like a heron
lifting in loud beats,
our silent mouths open
as if to give it a tunnel.
Leah Naomi Green is the recipient of the 2021
Lucille Clifton Legacy Award, and teaches Environmental Studies
The Trees by Philip Larkin
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full-grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Philip Larkin’s first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945
Poem XVII from “One Hundred Love Sonnets”
By Pablo Neruda
I love you not as if you were a rose of salt, topaz
or arrow of fire-propagating carnations:
I love you with the love of certain darkling things,
in secret, in between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that does not flower but bears
within itself concealed, those flowers' light,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from earth lives on, and darkly, in my body.
I love you knowing not how, nor when nor whence,
I love you straightforwardly with neither pride nor problem:
so do I love you because I know no other way to love,
than in this form in which I am not and you aren't
so close that your hand on my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dream.
Pablo Neruda, was a Chilean poet-diplomat and politician who won the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. (Translated by A.Z. Foreman )
After Reading Kobayashi Issa’s
The Spring of My Life on my 49th Birthday
On a dull December day it’s never noon
more briefly, though what a relief
to look around and realize our lies, in the long run,
won’t last long.
I feel like the nail
holding up someone else’s painting.
My thoughts are the loose thing
in the dishwasher only I can hear.
When I say, Snow, what will become of this world?
it says, I was not taught future tense.
Through the window,
after the heavy storm, I can follow mysterious
paw prints to the spot along the fence
where, in summer, the neighbors like to whisper.
They’ve taken their secrets inside.
It’s left a silence so complete, so free
of ambition, it feels possible to know forgiveness,
which hammered thinner than memory
carries a brighter light.
by Dobby Gibson. Originally published
by the Academy of American Poets.
A Black Poet considers centuries
Of Protest against racialized violence:
By Camille T. Dungy
Two miles into
the sky, the snow
builds a mountain
Some drifts can be
thirty feet high.
Picture a house.
Then bury it.
Plows come from both
ends of the road,
foot by foot, month
by month. This year
they didn’t meet
in the middle
Maybe I’m not
well. Every year,
the highest road.
We must start near
the bottom and
plow toward each
Camille T. Dungy is the author of four collections of poetry,
including Trophic Cascade, winner of the Colorado Book Award,
I Never Wanted to Die by Dorianne Laux
It’s the best part of the day, morning light sliding
down rooftops, treetops, the birds pulling themselves
up out of whatever stupor darkened their wings,
night still in their throats.
I never wanted to die. Even when those I loved
died around me, away from me, beyond me.
My life was never in question, if for no other reason
than I wanted to wake up and see what happened next.
And I continue to want to open like that, like the flowers
who lift their heavy heads as the hills outside the window
flare gold for a moment before they turn
on their sides and bare their creased backs.
Even the cut flowers in a jar of water lift
their soon to be dead heads and open
their eyes, even they want a few more sips,
to dwell here, in paradise, a few days longer.
Dorianne Laux is the author of several books including Only As the Day Is Long:
New and Selected Poems which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
by Lewis Grandison Alexander
Life goes by moving,
Up and down a chain of moods
Wanting what’s nothing.
My soul is the wind
Dashing down fields of Autumn:
O, too swift to sing.
Listen to the rain
Falling broken on the ground:
Pity the sky once.
Knowing not at all
Who stands above me seeing:
Tears of gratitude.
The nightingale sings
My heart desires but the night
Space swallows my voice:
I shall spend my moods
Like a rose discards leaves
And die without moods.
O moon of to-night
Let me rest my head on you
And hear my life sing.
Lewis Grandison Alexander (1900-1945)
Editor, actor, playwright, published poems
in The Crisis, Opportunity, and Fire,
Let Me Begin Again by Major Jackson
Let me begin again as a quiet thought
in the shape of a shell slowly examined
by a brown child on a beach at dawn
straining to see their future. Let me begin
this time knowing the drumming in my dreams
is me inheriting the earth, is morning
lighting up the rivers. Let me burn
my vanities: old music in the pines, sifters
of scotch, a day moon like a signature
of night. This time, let me circle
the island of my fears only once then
live like a raging waterfall and grow
a magnificent mustache. Let me not ever be
the birdcage or the serrated blade or
the empty season. Dear Glacier, Dear Sea
of Stars, Dear Leopards disintegrating
at the outer limits of our greed; soon we will
encounter you only in motivational tweets.
Reader, I should have married you sooner.
This time, let me not sleep like the prophet who
believes he’s seen infinity. Let me run
at break-neck speeds toward sceneries
of doubt. I have no more dress rehearsals
to attend. Look closer: I am licking my lips.
Major Jackson is the Chair in the
Humanities at Vanderbilt University and serves
as the poetry editor of The Harvard Review.
MAY DAY by Sara Teasdale
A delicate fabric of bird song
Floats in the air,
The smell of wet wild earth
Red small leaves of the maple
Are clenched like a hand,
Like girls at their first communion
The pear trees stand.
Oh I must pass nothing by
Without loving it much,
The raindrop try with my lips,
The grass with my touch;
For how can I be sure
I shall see again
The world on the first of May
Shining after the rain?
In 1918 Teasdale won a Pulitzer Prize
for her 1917 poetry collection Love Songs.