This is the first reflection in our Poetry and Mercy series as part of National Poetry Month. Read the whole series here.
One of the ways I cultivate, integrate and deepen love and mercy is through poetry.
I have delighted in listening to poetry for as long as I can remember. A very significant person in my life, my great-aunt Peg (whom we called “Auntie”), recited poems from memory. She was an Auntie Mame-type: always fun, deeply affirming and extremely engaging. She spontaneously broke into verse. She entranced me with words and images that created a magical world where life was precise, beautiful (even when hard) and really real.
As Essential as Air to Breathe
When I was in junior high I began writing poems. I learned during those adolescent years that by putting pen to paper I could share what otherwise would remain unexpressed. Since then, poetry has become a lifeline for me. I am often inspired to develop lines I’ve written in my journal into poetry. When I am struggling to understand something that is happening or what I am feeling, crafting poetry helps me to name it and pursue its deeper meaning. Poetry as expression of what is in my heart is vital and has led me to discover so much about the presence of God, the spiritual life (especially my own spirituality) and myself. It has become nearly as essential as air to breathe. As poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser said, “The sources of poetry are in the spirit seeking completeness.” I have learned that there are things that will be revealed to me only through the power of poetry.
Two Poems by Sister Danielle
In this spirit, I share a poem I wrote for Auntie. I have introduced you to a very special person, and I hope that she inspires you
Her voice was draped in Erwin Pearl
And wrapped around the words
Of any poem or song she unfurled
With zealous abandon.
The things she’d say
That no one else
Could or would dare
Only drew me in closer
To Shalimar-soaked air
Where the earth was wet with life
She wrung from the day.
Auntie taught me how to pray.
Not with words,
She did little in a usual way,
But by how well she loved me
And a snifter of brandy.
Her whole heart hung on the edge
Of the pool – in summer sun
Long days browning,
Counting laps or seconds
I could hold a handstand.
She was all there;
Her whole self the prayer.
The second poem is one I wrote as I was struggling with shedding some of the ways I used to name myself and measure my success. It’s about the process of coming to know myself in Mercy and as poet.
I used to have a name or two
That suit-ed me just fine.
Basic black, classic style…
Lovely, really, and sophisticated.
Dress them up or down,
Day to night, no matter the occasion
They were perfect and they were mine.
An easy answer to any question asked.
A ready response to the demands of the day.
One day I woke to find they no longer fit.
I’d have cried if I thought it permanent.
Out grown or grown out, I was unsure.
I looked them up and down, turned
Them inside out. To the eye, they
Looked the same. Once on, they
Felt different…or, did I?
I’d begun to feel constrained
By the old, familiar names.
They live, now, in the dark of my closet;
Hanging memories of well-dressed days
When a name meant something more.
Sometimes I look on them with longing;
Feel the fine fabric, the smart stitch.
Wondering if I could wear them again…
If I tried, would they fit?
I smile and close the closet door.
I haven’t need for names anymore.