What one poem will they read at your memorial?

The House of Belonging by David WhyteI went to a Celebration of Life memorial service for the Rev. Geri Glinski at Unity Church of Palm Harbor today. Geri was a light. And I don’t mean metaphorically. Geri glowed.

At the service, her daughter read Geri’s favorite poem, “The Road Less Travelled” by Robert Frost. Immediately I wondered, what would they be reading if this were my memorial? What poem would my family and friends instinctively know is my all-time favorite. Hafiz, of course. I’m forever reading and quoting the great Sufi mystic, Hafiz. But if they had to read just one poem, I think it would be David Whyte’s, “All the True Vows.”

When I read this poem in 1997, my marriage had disintegrated and I was desperately seeking a core, an essence, an answer that could make the chaos make sense. Reading this poem, I knew that my answer lay in writing my own “true vows.” I call it my Covenant with Spirit. And from the moment I wrote my seven vows, they began to magnetically rearrange my life. I still repeat my seven-line Covenant every day. It’s still true, and it would still kill me to break them.

All the True Vows
(from The House of Belonging)

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way, you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

I, too, spoke in my own voice before it was too late. And that call, that voice, that new, personal, sacred promise created the life I now live. So, although I so want lots of mystical poetry at my celebration, lots of Rumi and Hafiz and Meister Eckhart, first and forever, there must be David Whyte.

How about you? What words have grabbed your attention, turned your head, and will not let you go? Whatever that poem or statement is, find it, print it, say it. Say it. Say it today.

And share it with us. What one poem do you want them to read at your memorial?

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Raymond Carver and his last perfect sentence

Raymond Carver's last poems

Raymond Carver's last poems

It is Raymond Carver’s birthday today. I just learned that from the May 25th edition of Writer’s Almanac, published daily by American Public Media.

I love email. I love the daily surprises and messages it delivers both from friends and deep soul writers who want to talk about Writing Down Your Soul, and from newsletters I signed up to receive. Most of the latter go away after a bit, however. Only a few continue to be welcome, day in and day out, in my little blue mailbox. (Ok, so it’s not blue and it’s not a mailbox, but I like to pretend it is.) Neale Donald Walsch’s “I believe God wants you to know” is a keeper. TUT, Messages from the Universe is a keeper. The Daily Om is a keeper. Love them all. But the one I’ve read the longest and the one I will continue to read until Garrison Keiller no longer has a voice, is Writer’s Almanac.

Every day, we Writer’s Almanac recipients are blessed with a poem and then, a bit of the literary news of the day. On this day in history, Garrison tells us, so ‘n so died, or was born, or published his or her book. It is amazing to me, but there are no days bereft of great and important writing news. Somehow that makes starting my day a little sweeter. We writers, sitting alone in our back bedrooms, need a little reminder that we are a part of a great history, a great river of words, and our little skiff, floating along gathering and contributing what it can, matters.

Well, today, Garrison told me, is Raymond Carver’s birthday. Say the name, Raymond Carver, and the exquisite book with the simply perfect title, “What We
Talk about When We Talk about Love
,” comes instantly to mind. And I love it. But my favorite is, “A New Path to the Waterfall,” because the last poem, on the last page; the last words he managed to push onto his typewriter are so beautiful they hurt:

Late Fragment

Late Fragment by Kariann Burleson of http://www.dailypoetics.com

Late Fragment by Kariann Burleson of http://www.dailypoetics.com


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

May we all be so blessed, as we step out of our skin, to wave back and say: “Thank you for giving me the experience to call myself beloved on this earth.” But the big aha for me and for many is that the state of feeling “beloved” isn’t dependent on the perfect soulmate-type romantic relationship. Raymond Carver had that with his beloved Tess Gallagher, but many of us have not had, or have not been able to hold onto, that ideal. So will we exit “unbeloved?” No, a thousand times no. Because every time we pick up a pen and speak with our Beloved, we get a wee taste of that deep loving connection. We are all Beloved by The Beloved.

Raymond Carver gave us the perfect sentence, the perfect expression for this day, which Americans call Memorial Day. It began as a day to remember those who served our country in the armed forces, but isn’t it true that in some way we all serve? We are here to serve one another.

In memoriam then, I bless you, Raymond Carver, and thank you for your last, late, glorious fragment. It is a blessing and a beacon to all of us.

Do you have a poem or saying that is your beacon? I’d love to hear it.