The (Almost) Daily Dose: Words & Music

Find what speaks to your heart and hold it close

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Find your poetry. Your song. Your books. And keep them within reach. Let them remind you of what is good and beautiful and powerful in the world. 

 (In honor of National Poetry Month which starts today).

I was 14 and it was a winter weekend in Pittsburgh when my brother Stu, my anointed babysitter, took me to a college party in Oakland. I was curious as I walked through the rooms jammed with college kids and then it all seemed to go away when a song come on. The speakers were massive and this voice full of soul and longing just stopped me. It was the first time I had ever heard Bruce Springsteen and the song was “4th of July, Asbury Park” (Sandy) from The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.

I was hit in the heart and gut (and also, probably, lower) with the sound of his voice and the music— it was the first love I can call my own. (Everything else, from Louis Armstrong to Tom Waits had come from my mom or my brothers.) From that point on, I read, I played basketball (mostly warming the bench while my teammates, many of whom are still friends) won two City Championships, and I listened to Bruce. I still do, all the time. The music is like a trusted friend, always available, always reminding me about the possibilities in life as well as sharing its sadnesses and offering up the possibility of redemption.


Bruce is a poet I listen to but there are many poets whose work rest on stand-by in the Ikea rolling cart next to my bed—Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, Denise Levertov, Billy Collins. For a long time I had pieces of two poems taped to the side of my fridge and I read them every day, trying desperately to take them in. They helped me put one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes you will need little things in a big way. It might be Bruce singing “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” or it might be a Mary Oliver poem or a chapter from Cheryl Strayed’s book Dear Sugar. There are going to be times when the person you need might not be around or nobody is available by phone or you’re embarrassed to talk about your own shit or it’s too late at night to reach out. Find what speaks to your heart and hold it close.

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Here are the poems that were on our fridge:

“Variation on a Theme” by Rilke

A certain day became a presence to me;

there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:

a being. And before it started to descend

from the height of noon, it leaned over

and struck my shoulder as if with

the flat of a sword, granting me

honor and a task. The day’s blow

rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,

and what I heard was my whole self

saying and singing what it knew:

I can.

—Denise Levertov, from The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem I, Stanza I


Excerpt from “The Summer Day”

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Categories: On Location