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Poetry and the Heart Unfurled: Poetry, Self Reflection and the Impersonal Self

I no longer know what to say

to myself 

or to the world

my skin is holding me

in uncomfortable ways that

I haven’t noticed before

it is only the warmth of my heart,

my inner sun,

that lends me the courage to be

The Arts and the Horizon of Humanity

What is the Horizon of Humanity?

After the events of September 11th I felt compelled to engage with colour.

I had no plan, had never painted with oil paints before, but someone had gifted me oil paints and a canvas board. 

My hands knew something that I didn’t, and my heart felt so full of things I had no words for. I just let my hands do what they wanted to. I stepped back when it felt complete and the thought “this is the ever present horizon” arose inside me. I had no idea what that meant other than it is where the earth meets the sky.

Later that day my friend visited and I showed her this painting and asked “what lives on the horizon?”

Her answer still reverberates inside of me:

“The arts live on the ever present horizon of humanity. We are equal here as residents of the earth, all touched by the sun and held by the sky around us. Race, gender, class, language, culture – everything that can separate us becomes one here.The arts unite us.”

A few years after that a dear friend, an artist, was struck immobile with a HIV related brain infection. We brought him home to our community house, and he arrived not able to speak, paralized on the left side of his body, and with jumbled vision. We gathered around him, laying him on a comfy mattress outside under the warm summer sun, and for the next many hours we laughed and cried, we sang, played flute and violin, spoke poetry and painted for him. 

It was difficult and so necessary.

This was the beginning of a 40 day journey of living on the threshold of life and death. 17 years later this friend continues his earth walk, bringing joy and beauty to those around him.

The Art of Poetry and the Unfurled Heart

Poetry can be an invitation to a condensed soul picture, a portal to our inner world through the words of another. I have experienced that empathy, through the gate of compassion for self and others, needs the nourishment of the arts to grow. It is empathy that unfurls our heart, that opens us to our own soul and that of the other.


In these days of awakening to injustice to people of colour, Langston Hughes can help us open our heart to the other, to develop our empathy:


The Weary Blues


Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

     I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

     He did a lazy sway . . .

     He did a lazy sway . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

     O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

     Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

     O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—

     “Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

       Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

       I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

       And put ma troubles on the shelf.”


Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more—

     “I got the Weary Blues

       And I can’t be satisfied.

       Got the Weary Blues

       And can’t be satisfied—

       I ain’t happy no mo’

       And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.


Allowing the other to enter our heart includes feeling pain as it arises in our own being in response to the unfurling our hearts. There is a necessary soul suffering in coming to know the other.

In the TLC July 12 Cafe’ Conversation we will touch into our soul space, opening a warm space between us, through guided self reflection, speaking and listening to self and others, and culminating in group poetry writing.

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