Callings Books and Poetry
My Name is Asher Lev
What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story
Because you can be what you're not
for only so long,
one day the tiger cub raised by goats
wandered to the lake and saw himself.
It was astounding
to have a face like that, cat-handsome,
hornless, and we can imagine he stared
a long time, then sipped
and pivoted, bemused yet burdened now
with choice. The mother goat had nursed him.
The others had tolerated
his silly quickness and claws.
And because once you know who you are
you need not rush,
and good parents are a blessing
whoever they are, he went back to them,
rubbing up against
their bony shins, keeping his secret to himself.
but after a while the tiger who'd found
his true face
felt the disturbing hungers, those desires
to get low in the reeds, swish his tail
Because he was a cat he disappeared
without goodbyes, his goat-parents relieved
such a thing was gone.
And we can imagine how, alone and beyond
choice, he wholly became who he was---
that zebra or gazelle
stirring the great blood rush and odd calm
as he discovered, while moving, what needed
to be done.
“The Last Hours”
There's some innocence left,
and these are the last hours of an empty afternoon
at the office, and there's the clock
on the wall, and my friend Frank
in the adjacent cubicle selling himself
on the phone.
I'm twenty-five, on the shaky
ladder up, my father's son, corporate,
clean-shaven, and I know only what I don't want,
which is almost everything I have.
A meeting ends.
Men in serious suits, intelligent men
who've been thinking hard about marketing snacks,
move back now to their window offices, worried
or proud. The big boss, Horace,
had called them in to approve this, reject that---
the big boss, a first-name, how's-your-family
kind of assassin, who likes me.
The sixties haven't begun yet. Cuba is a larger name
than Vietnam. The Soviets are behind
everything that could be wrong. Where I sit
it's exactly nineteen minutes to five. My phone rings.
Horace would like me to stop in
before I leave. Stop in. Code words,
leisurely words, that mean now.
Would I be willing
to take on this? Would X's office, who by the way
is no longer with us, be satisfactory?
About money, will this be enough?
I smile, I say yes and yes and yes,
but---I don't know from what calm place
this comes---I'm translating
his beneficence into a lifetime, a life
of selling snacks, talking snack strategy,
thinking snack thoughts.
On the elevator down
it's a small knot, I'd like to say, of joy.
That's how I tell it now, here in the future,
the fear long gone.
By the time I reach the subway it's grown,
it's outsized, an attitude finally come round,
and I say it quietly to myself, I quit,
and keep saying it, knowing I will say it, sure
of nothing else but.
from Different Hours
“The Way It Is”
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
D. H. Lawrence
When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
And we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don't know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taught with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice----
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do----
determined to save
the only life you could save.
breaks from the blue-black
skin of the water, dragging her shell
with its mossy scutes
across the shallows and through the rushes
and over the mudflats, to the uprise,
to the yellow sand,
to dig with her ungainly feet
a nest, and hunker there spewing
her white eggs down
into the darkness, and you think
of her patience, her fortitude,
her determination to complete
what she was born to do----
and then you realize a greater thing----
she doesn’t consider
what she was born to do.
She’s only filled
with an old blind wish.
It isn’t even hers but came to her
in the rain or the soft wind
which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.
She can’t see
herself apart from the rest of the world
or the world from what she must do
Crawling up the high hill,
luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin,
she doesn’t dream
she is a part of the pond she lives in,
the tall trees are her children,
the birds that swim above her
are tied to her by an unbreakable string.
In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting----
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said
"So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I’ve never heard anything back."
you express is the return message."
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
“Today, Like Every Other Day”
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
The speechless full moon
comes out now.
“The Breeze at Dawn”
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill.
where the two world touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
“Dance With the Bandage Torn Off”
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancers hear a tambourine inside them,
as a wave turns to foam on its very top, begin.
Maybe you don’t hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to hear and see:
dance-music and a brilliant city
inside the Soul.
God said of Muhammed,
He is an ear.
He was wholly ear and eye,
and we are refreshed and fed by that,
as an infant boy is at his mother’s breast.
For sixty years I have been forgetful,
every minute, but not for a second
has this flowing toward me stopped or slowed.
I deserve nothing. Today I recognize
that I am the guest the mystics talk about.
I play this living music for my Host.
Everything today is for the Host.
Rainer Maria Rilke
“I Live My Life”
I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.
Rainer Maria Rilke
“Sometimes A Man Stands Up”
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
Rainer Maria Rilke
From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.
The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.
Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound.......then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.
Rainer Maria Rilke
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance----
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.
I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.
Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of the baying seals,
who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,
and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,
and how we are all
preparing for that
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,
so that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
us, and confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
after all the struggle
and all the years,
you don’t want to any more,
you’ve simply had enough
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.
“The Winter of Listening”
No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.
“What to Remember When Waking”
In that first
in which you wake,
to this life
from the other,
there is a small
into the new day
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To be human
is to become visible
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
You are not
a trouble guest
on this earth,
you are not
amidst other accidents.
You were invited
from another and greater
than the one
you have just emerged.
Now looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
that can be,
calls you to your
one love? What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
against a future sky?
Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
In the open
on the waiting desk?
“Is My Soul Asleep?”
Is my soul asleep?
Have those beehives that work
in the night stopped? And the water-
wheel of thought, is it
going around now, cups
empty, carrying only shadows?
No, my soul is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches,
its eyes wide open
far-off things, and listens
at the shores of the great silence.
“The Wind, One Brilliant Day”
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
"In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses."
"I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead."
"Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain."
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted
“The Time Before Death”
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think.......and think.......while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten----
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will
have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for, it is
the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“The Holy Longing”
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
In the obsession with darkness,
And a desire for higher love-making
Sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
Jaun Ramon Jimenez
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
----Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
“When Your Ship”
When your ship, long moored in harbor
gives you the illusion of being a house,
put out to sea.
Save your boat’s journeying soul,
and your own pilgrim soul,
cost what it may.
“A Raisin in the Sun”
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore----
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over----
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
from “Two Tramps in Mudtime”
Yield who will to their separation
my object in living
is to unite my avocation and my vocation
as my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one
and work is play for mortal stakes
is the deed ever really done
for heaven and the future's sake.
“On a Tree Fallen Across the Road”
The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not bar
Our passage to our journey's end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are
Insisting always on our own way so.
She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,
And make us get down in a foot of snow
Debating what to do without an ax.
And yet she knows obstruction is in vain:
We will not be put off the final goal
We have it hidden in us to attain,
Not though we have to seize earth by the pole
And, tired of aimless circling in one place,
Steer straight off after something into space.
“And Something Ignited In My Soul”
and something ignited in my soul
fever or forgotten wings
and I went my own way
deciphering that burning fire
and I wrote the first bare line,
of one who knows nothing
and suddenly I saw the heavens
unfasten and open
“Love After Love”
The day will come
when with elation you will greet yourself
arriving at your own door
in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
saying, 'Sit here. Eat. You will love again
the stranger who was yourself.'
Give wine, give bread
give back your heart to itself
to the stranger who has loved you
all your life
whom you ignored for another
who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the desperate notes
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life
“Now I Become Myself”
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before--”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now so stand still to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation.
You have only to watch his eyes;
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon
making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,
wear the same rapt expression, forgetting
themselves in a function.
How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.