Poetry in English and Arabic

It happens this way …

Next Saturday, March 7, from 2-4 p.m. the Ledding Library in Milwaukie, Oregon, will host its annual bilingual poetry reading. The event is a collaboration with the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Coalition and the Iraqi Society of Oregon .

Twelve poems will be read, six in English  with an Arabic translation and six in Arabic  with an English translation. Since both languages are considered to be among the most poetic, the result should be an auditory delight for the audience.

The library explains the origin of this collaboration:

These readings are part of the response to the March 5th, 2007 car bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, the ancient booksellers street. The car bomb was an attack on life and on the property, 30 people were killed and 100 wounded, but it was, as well, an attack on culture and on the free expression of ideas. Following this attack, the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! coalition was begun by Beau Beausoleil, a poet and bookseller in San Francisco, and has grown over the years to include over 600 works of art and an anthology of writings by poets, journalist, and novelists. These works are exhibited around the world and contribute to conversations and the creation of connections, in support of the Iraqi people. Portland is now the home to over 2,000 Iraqi refugees who have fled the ravages of war.

It’s my pleasure to join five other Oregon poets who write in English. Here’s my contribution: one of the few lyrical poems I’ve ever written. I can’t wait to hear how it sounds in Arabic!

All I need

A few skyward things:  one steady star

to guide, one constellation to bet

a myth upon, one quasar to break

the dark. The rest is ornament.


One mountain to announce it’s ripe

for bulbs and seeds to multiply

without a first or second thought.

Birth deserves tranquility.


A frenzy of birds at sleeptide’s ebb,

tornados of gnats at dusk’s flow.

Two feral cats. Two red-tailed hawks.

Days that warrant wilding up.


A word for grace or luck or hope

when the mountain blocks my star.

In-the-bone love for all that’s lost.

Something born to lead me home.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

It happens this way …


I just finished reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Gottlieb is a therapist who not only shares her experiences with challenging patients, but who sits on the therapy couch herself as she tries to sort out feelings about a traumatic relationship break up.


I’ve been to therapy several times in my life, so listening to the conversations from both sides of the couch was enlightening. I don’t think I realized the challenges for the therapist who needs to patiently build a trusting relationship in order to help a person change and grow. And, as Gottlieb illustrates, that building process could take months.

Among the many insights I gleaned from this highly readable book, I’d like to share three that touched me:

  1. Compassion is a desirable virtue, of course, but Gottlieb makes the distinction between idiot compassion versus wise compassion.

 In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. People do this with teenagers, spouses, addicts, even themselves. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.

 Bombs away!

  1. We marry our unfinished business. (Or, I’d add, we get into all kinds of relationships that help us discover that unfinished business.)

Rather than play the blame game when things go awry in any relationship, I need to remember to pause and ask: “What’s my part in this situation? What do I contribute to the conflict? What do I need to learn?” Sometimes it may be as simple as I didn’t communicate what I needed in the moment and it was that silence that caused misunderstanding. Or, it’s time to move on from a relationship because it no longer serves the highest good of either party. Whatever. The challenge is usually an indication of my own Continue reading →

Turn every day into a Valentine!

It happens this way …

When little irritations get in the way, I try to remember  what I wrote in this poem.

Happy Valentine’s Day –– and may you all  burst with love!

just so you know

 this morning in the rain I chased your car

halfway down the street intent on ranting

about pots and baking pans greasing up

the sink and sheets of Fed-Ex bubble wrap

obscuring piles of mail and your grey coat

invading my green chair but I wasn’t

fast enough to catch your rearview glance

so I punched your cell to sear your day

with guilt for how I felt put-upon/

crowded-out/ and all those pent-up things

I never say until they burn and how

I could forgive if you were off to work/

to shop/ to pray not out to lunch with friends

but I struck delete when I recalled

your kiss good-bye and words we vowed to say

(Let us be kind) when love’s reduced to sniping/

blaming/hurt and smallest things conspire

to ruin sunsets on a Maui beach

or walks around our autumned neighborhood

so this is just to let you know I’ve scrubbed

the pans/re-hung your coat/cleared out debris

from my morning’s discontent practicing

Let me be kind again and then again

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What I Learned from the Presbyterians

It happens this way …

On the evening of January 15, while my students and I gathered in our local library for another meeting of the Happy Valley Poetry Society, one of our dear members lay dead on the floor of his home a few miles away. Sam Cole, one of the goofiest, dearest men I’ve ever met, suffered a massive brain bleed that day, and his wife Jane found him when she returned home from some errands.

Two ironies:

  1. Sam had been given a sparkling bill of health by his doctor the day before.
  2. This was the first class Sam missed since we started our group last April.

That morning at 8:53 a.m. Sam had sent me a poem for class discussion. Unlike the quirky humor that filled his previous work – he aspired to be a stand-up comic – this one was nature-based. Since he wasn’t there to share it, I read it out loud to the class and we ooh-ed and aah-ed at the imagery.

Here’s the poem:

The Stream

by Sam Cole

This month gurgling around

mossy green rocks and boulders

sparkling by day and moonlight

shoulders caressing ferns and old tree roots

calm for its water skippers

while lichened oaks, elms, and alders shadow it.


But next month riches of forest rain

fill its one deep pool

no longer home to minnows and summer camp kids

now ready for spawning salmon to rest

before their final moments upstream.

Here, room waits for all.

No questions asked.


Those last two lines are killers, no? How prophetic!

Yesterday Sam’s church community at Milwaukie Presbyterian held a memorial service for him that was just stunning in its outpouring of love for this man who played several integral roles in the church.

The church’s leader is a young woman: a charming person whom you’d love to be friends with. After the service, we had time to chat and I felt embraced by her loving energy. How blessed that church is to have her.

Rev. Katie had done a scriptural reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans in a translation that almost made me jump out of my seat. She told me later it was from the work of Eugene Peterson in a version of the Bible called “The Message.” Peterson tries to make the language sound like the original Greek and Hebrew would have sounded to the original listeners and readers.

I found the translation on line for free (https://www.biblestudytools.com/msg/) and am going full-blown ecstatic reading it.

A tidbit from Romans 10: 9-20

9. Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.

10. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master,

12. cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

13. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.

15. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.

16. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the  great somebody.

17. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

18. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.

19. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20. Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.

“Don’t fake it … practice playing second fiddle …no cursing under your breath …don’t be stuck up… don’t be the great somebody…”

Wow! There are poems to be written here.

God speed, Sam! I know you’re delighting the angels with your goofy poetry and stand-up comedy. We will miss you.

Milwaukie Presbyterian Church

Milwaukie Presbyterian Church