Travel is a surefire way to dispel myths about others. I’ve learned again and again that all people are more alike than different. But the big similarities in people around the globe rarely make the news the way even our smallest differences can define us and tear us apart. You don’t have to travel around the world, however, to understand others. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get to know a people is to read the poets. Poetry is powerful; it comes from the heart. A single line can create connections across cultures. We all dream and hope and do what we have to do.
If a poem were a mirror, which one(s) of these dozen from a dozen different countries would reflect you?
“A balloon! My Daddy brought for me…
It goes up, I go up,
I go down, it goes down.
I am the hummingbird awed
By that highest rosebud.
~ Blanca Rodriguez, MEXICO, from “Surprise”
I still can hear the ocean sounds
I used to hear when childhood
Was small and sweet
I still can hear, within the depths
Of every sleeping shell,
The vast sea-roar!”
~ Javier Heraud, PERU, from “Autumn and the Sea”
“I am like Jojon, the farmhand from Tegal
Who left his wife and children behind
To pedal a pedicab in Jakarta.
Like Salka, the fisherman in Cilincing
Separated from his family on Madura Island…
We are hundreds of thousands…
At the city’s construction sites
Who have left our families behind in the village…
When you see the mist descend from the sky,
Or when it rains for days before Christmas,
Relax, sleep in peace.
In your dreams I will send millions of stars,
As long as you, in your prayers, also mention my name.”
~ Eka Budianta, INDONESIA, from “Family Portrait”
“…I want every instant
To be lovely as crayons.
I’d like to draw – on chaste white paper –
A clumsy freedom, eyes that never wept,
A piece of sky, a feather, a leaf,
A pale green evening…
I want each breathless moment to beget a flower.
I want to draw a future I’ve never seen—
Nor ever can – though I’m sure she’ll be beautiful.”
~ Gu Cheng, CHINA, from “A Headstrong Boy”
“I tell you, even rocks crack,
And not because of age…
And so the moss flourishes, the seaweed
The sea pushes through and rolls back –
The rocks seem motionless.
Till a little seal comes to rub against them,
Comes and goes away.
And suddenly the rock has an open wound.
I told you, when rocks break, it happens by surprise.
And people, too.”
~ Dahlia Ravikovitch, ISRAEL, from “Pride”
In the tangled boughs
Of the jasmine tree
On the green emerald floor
A nightingale sings
The poignant melodies
~ Muneer Niazi, PAKISTAN, from “A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War”
“When the moon rises like a cradle in the sky,
The bird flies and sings and cries:
Sleepytimes, little sleepy heads
Of those who have no food.
I am the angel of your dreams.
I am the birdsong of your sighs.”
~ Ramon C. Sunico, PHILIPPINES, from “The Tin Bird”
“from here let’s dream of every distant thing
Here let’s gather low-tide shells,
From the sea or sky at dawn
Let’s bring back little starfish…
Here let’s sit together for awhile
Let’s be blown by the cooling breeze.”
~ Shuntaro Tanikawa, JAPAN, from “Picnic to the Earth”
“Oh, the dream! The dream!
My strong, gilded wagon
Its wheels have scattered like gypsies…
From now on you will not find me
At ports or among trains
But in public libraries
Sleeping head down on the maps of the world
As the orphan sleeps on pavement
Where my lips will touch more than one river
And my tears stream from continent
~ Muhammad al-Maghut, SYRIA, from “The Orphan”
“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers.
Trust, and be assured
That the whole world is a sky-blue butterfly
And words are the nets to capture it.”
~ Muhammad al-Ghuzzi, TUNISIA, from “The Pen”
“…there are in my landscape
Errors of colors and scents
Always I love
As a golden ball
She runs before me:
Approached again and again,
~ Tymoteusz Karpowicz, POLAND, from “Love”
“It hurts, the things of old,
Attachment to the things of old.
Let go of them,
Let them go as they are;
From afar comes the sound of
The scissors of the *rag-picker.”
~ Kim Chiha, SOUTH KOREA, from “Inside”
(*Rag collectors make noise with their scissors when they are walking around neighborhoods looking for rags to collect and salvage.)