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In the Moment

January 2006

"The Woodpecker Keeps Returning" by Jane Hirshfield (from her new book After - Harper Collins, 2006) is a short, almost too simple poem. In the poets observation of the returning woodpecker, she finds herself a part of the moment - one with the woodpecker, the house it drills into, even the mate she believes it is seeking. Ted Kooser in speaking of the poem uses the word empathy.

It sends me to the dictionary - empathy 1) the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it; 2) the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.  Rarely does the dictionary sound so poetic to me!

If you know about Hirshfield, you would immediately see her Buddhist training and beliefs in the poem.

"For me, poetry, like Zen practice, is a path toward deeper and more life,." she says. "There are ways to wake up into the actual texture of one's own existence, to widen it, to deepen and broaden it, and poetry is one of the things that does that. It connects the things I know intellectually, what I feel, what comes through the senses, history, sociology, politics, passions, Buddhist experience. It's the only place where that many kinds of thinking are joined."   

This month's prompt is to write of an occasion when you were "in the moment" completely. We often hear of this from musicians, artists, athletes - but it occurs often enough for all of us, if only for that moment, in our everyday lives.

Continue with more discussion and commentary on this prompt at our blog

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. She graduated from Princeton University in 1973. Hirshfield has been a lecturer in creative writing at the University of San Francisco, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She serves as a member of the faculties of numerous writers conferences and in-school programs, including California Poets in the Schools, 1979-85, and the Port Townsend and Napa Valley Writers Conferences.

Her books of poetry includes The October Palace , Of Gravity & Angels and The Lives of the Heart. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry is her book of essays on reading poetry, writing and her approach to life.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


The motion sensor lights pop on for three of us.
As they stretch at leash ends I glance up
The stubborn sugar maple—the last to surrender
Its leaves in this neighborhood this season.  The rain
Has darkened the bark to black velvet which accents
Yellow leaves, leaves that burn my eyes with their sun.
Murky gray sky fades in this night’s half-light.  I yearn
To fly, fly to the uppermost leaves to smell their mold
And glory, to cast shadows on this doggy business,
On me waiting for my own moment of glory instead of this
Half-life.  Then, big dog leans on my leg.  My hand
On his black velvet head is gold and warm and I am
This breath, this moment, this tree, this vivid.

Michael Z Murphy

1-1-05 12:17 A. M.
       after Tu Fu

Near midnight on the verge of this new year
I step outside and align my left shoulder with the
ragged moon
straight ahead is Sirius the Bright Night
Star and the beacon atop Mt. Greylock
inside the glow from our fire fades
a year-old shadow clouds your face
even as I step from the shadow of my own darkness
you chant for light in the coming year
Samantha croaks like a heron at Maugert’s Pond
and at the stroke of twelve jumps
black cat in your lap what else!

Dan Spinella


I watch
a frog
in its green brown camouflage
propped on the ledge of my pond
pop eyes unblinking
and so still
it's hard to believe she's alive.

Closed book on my lap,
I listen to water
gush down the laddered stones
hush, hush
just water           until
someone clicks open
the door behind me
and the still one—
stiller than I
slip dives
right out of her moment and mine.

Beverly Bayroff Rosenblum


The woman at a desk
Stares at a blank white wall,
Boy, that is a determined woodpecker
Going at the wooden sliding
As if it were a pinata
And in the hollow, goodies.,

This bird persists with instincts
While my doodling says I am bored.

There were fences about
My childhood’s vacant lots
With white stenciled words,
“Post No Bills,”
Which comes to mean
We all have a bill
Outstanding to Love,
Sooner or later we feel the debt.

There is a strong voice
Of painted steel
That answers the bird
“She does not need,
Or we already have
Or the nest has empty shells.”
But what the heck,
I'll scrawl it down
Love’s work requires
A peck on a cheek.

Edward N. Halperin


My mother sits at an upright desk,
writing in her diary. An old-fashioned
desk with mahogany-scrolled drawers
and cubbyholes, a relic from her first
marriage, to the man she loved.
His letters are tucked neatly away now
with a photo. This sultry afternoon
she still believes in love. No,
her mother taught her, happiness comes
of hard luck, loss, and widow’s work.
See how she urges her pen across
lined paper. See how her own words
bore her. She imagines, fifty years
from now, an unthought-of daughter
from a second marriage might read these
lines and wish a single flash
of storm-lightning might strike
the page, leaving ashes
and the electric smell of light.

Taylor Graham


The small room is filled with gray.
Both windows are opened onto the lawn,
the grass damp after a chilly rain.
All noises are muffled by the gray,
save the random yet solemn clanging
of the wind chimes.
Slowly, you can look down to see
a figure lying on the bed, her youthful hair
spread out around her lifeless face.
When you realize you are in the room alone,
the space between the chimes takes on
a blindingly powerful significance.
There, in the silent grayness of recent death,
you are alone
and surrounded by
nothing, pure and untainted.

Olivia Olson


I am in the choice of pattern
and in my fantasy
of how the suit sketched in tweed
will be incarnated in velvet.

I am in the tissue pieces
laid precisely, pinned snugly
facing the right way
on the wrong side.

I am in the concentration of my tongue
and in the rhythm of my heart
as scissor blades
crunch, crunch, crunch.

I am in the synapses that pass
from instruction sheet to brain
to fingers, in spaces
filled with the conductive medium of faith.

I am on the rolling highway of stitches, even and perfect
seams, smooth and straight
then in the pin-prick that sees
something is wrong: I must rip and return.

I am in the mirror
reflecting shoulders that bag
a waist too tight
and a skirt that sags

Then at last, after being in gathers, easements
overcast hems and under the hot iron
I am, snug and snazzy,
in this garment I have made.

Violet Nesdoly


For love’s sake, I want to lie, say every moment with you
is the only moment I have lived. No past or future.
Just this breath and this, which of course are both you.
I have lived a moment like that, but long before you and this lie.

Another was my breath then, though when the moment came,
I was driving alone, or more precisely, with a lover who followed me
in her own car. A red-tailed hawk exploded from the brush along the road.
But there was no brush, no road, no car, no lover following. In that instant,

I breathed, and I breathed hawk. My chest filled with feathers.
The bird rose and banked. The moment ended, and in the next, hawk disappeared.
I drove on, not followed by woman nor wife nor memory nor love.

The driving brought me here where, forgive me,
when I smile and tell you “now,” I am gone
before the breath has even left my lips.

R.G. Evans


I didn't think about it
eyes shut, jaw unhinged,
a blank screen
and gently-pumping heart.

I put my mind on a strict diet -
less thought, drawing on energy reserves.
The clicks of my own clock slowing, becoming faint,
following the rising, falling of my chest.

No time,
I lose grip on the illusion
that there is a sequence to these events,
this time.

Lianna Wright


My feet on warm concrete
bench sand gritty
under my damp bathing suit
watching my daughter toddle headlong into a stranger’s leg
who laughs and guides her
dandelion fluff skull out of the way
she looks up to see who is there
the sun squints her eyes
her mouth drops open
I see her tiny wet teeth
her face glows, confused
I am thinking all she sees –
is a black shadow
with gleams around the edge
like seeing God, if God
had chocolate ice cream
dripping down His wrist.

Patty Tomsky


If I could catch the morning breeze,
And ride it to tomorrow,
If I could swim the lake
From one end to the other,
If I could run the country road,
With a dozen children joining me,
If I could do these things and many more,
I would co-join with the universe.
But being limited,
I must be satisfied with simple moments of oneness.
In India, elated in the moment.
Swaying, swaying on an elephant’s back,
Ignoring the fearful yelps of a fellow passenger,
But tense from fear of sliding off myself.
The second or two in yoga
When I focus in my pose
And view the inside of my body from top to toe and back.
I feel co-joined with the universe.
But nothing compares with the connectedness of love.
Touching, touching my love,
We are one connected soul.
But we can be physically separated in an instant
Leaving only the yearning memory of a hug.

Ellen Kaplan


Walking daily
from home base--
Orange Road to Mountain--
my steps flag, then lighten.
Dogwood leaves turn to red.
Cardinal in a golden maple
sings, "awake, awake"
sharply, like a temple bell.

Across the curbs, on the Way,
each step erases the last.
The path and I fuse,
now turning homeward,
no past, no next Now.

Broeck Wahl


I can feel the stillness in this room,
Hear the echoing silence,
The steady hum of the freezer,
The occasional gurgle of my computer,
Smell the coffee
Strong and french vanilla
I must have spilled on my sleeve this morning.
I can feel the comfort of cotton cradle my legs as I curl up on your bed,
Candle flames bobbing and shivering
In the aging afternoon.
Silence like this welcomes great thought,
One might think,
Ushers in the muse on blazing chariots
Heralding genius.
But on this dreary winter day
I feel only the stillness of this room
Punctuated by the desultory splat of rain on asphalt
Like I feel the stillness in my heart
The emptiness
The calm before
The storm.

Cecly Placenti


It was like falling in love again.
You were so small and asleep,
unaware that the safe place you left
was now gone forever.

Your eyes were closed in dreams,
as they placed you in my arms
for the very first time. Beyond us,
the hospital noises, the voices,
the humming of the light above
all stopped as my heart opened
to take you in.

Mary Kendall


I’m sitting in the little space,
Calming the chaos in my mind.
There is no other safer place -
I left the noisy world behind.
The silence fills every corner
Of the room – my little temple.
I conjure the magic hour -
No daily struggle, no battle…
I take delight in the moment
Where everything is possible.
Troubles and sorrows seem distant,
I try to believe it’s real.
I’m in the peculiar zone
Between the future and the past,
Being on my own - quite alone.
It’s the magic time, let it last.

Jolanta Gradowicz


My nephew was not quite three when he asked,
"Aunty, how long is a moment?"
I knew he didn’t mean ‘a minute’
because he could already tell time.
His crystal-eyes blended into mine
immersing me in their immensity,
Leaving me never quite the same.

In the over sixty years between then and now
He played around with infinities
such as constructing a computer program
for the Navy - including a stock-market scheme
for himself ((He’s claimed to have cleared near a million);
and raising two brilliant sons of his own
(with the help of his Philippine princess).

I stand on the last strand of My moment
feeling the brush of His Quest
Which left a bit of his question
to rest in my mind all this while:
"Aunty, have you measured Your moment ?
Infinity’s not far away !"

Catherine M. LeGault


I knew you before I met you, the first encounter, my
You are the one I glimpsed when seeing lovers share,
Time swallowed in sweet, sometimes bitter morsels.
Preoccupied with breathing, you made me forget that I
Engrossed in reading the white of every page,
I missed your lyrical words yet to be laid bare,
Until the cataracts ran down my face releasing color.
I then said hello and you were born.

Ray Hitt