Poetry for Challenging Times: “How the Stars Get in Your Bones”

When you come to a challenging place, it’s always comforting when a friend gives you a poem that speaks to your experience.  That’s exactly what happened when two of my dear friends gathered at my home the day after the inauguration for poetry, meditation, and mandala-making. We wanted to support the goals and intentions of the worldwide marches as well as each other, so to that end, each of us set an intention and offered a word that might guide our hearts as we move into the future together. One friend offered the word light, one offered the word tolerance, and I offered the word perseverance. We talked about some ways that we might put those qualities to use, and then my friend Mary shared her poem  “How the Stars Get in Your Bones”  by Jan Richardson.  We all agreed that this poem  captures all three of the words that guided our mediation day.  We found the poem inspiring and I hope that you will as well. Enjoy and keep hope in your hearts.

How the Stars Get in Your Bones
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
—Jan Richardson

Stars Get in Your Bones
Wise Women Also Came

Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz:
think of every hard thing
that carries its own brilliance,
shining with the luster that comes
only from uncountable ages
in the earth, in the dark,
buried beneath unimaginable weight,
bearing what seemed impossible,
bearing it still.

And you, shouldering the grief
you had thought so solid, so impermeable,
the terrible anguish
you carried as a burden
now become—
who can say what day it happened?—
a beginning.

See how the sorrow in you
slowly makes its own light,
how it conjures its own fire.

See how radiant
even your despair has become
in the grace of that sun.

Did you think this would happen
by holding the weight of the world,
by giving in to the press of sadness
and time?

I tell you, this blazing in you—
it does not come by choosing
the most difficult way, the most daunting;
it does not come by the sheer force
of your will.
It comes from the helpless place in you
that, despite all, cannot help but hope,
the part of you that does not know
how not to keep turning
toward this world,
to keep turning your face
toward this sky,
to keep turning your heart
toward this unendurable earth,
knowing your heart will break
but turning it still.

I tell you,
this is how the stars
get in your bones.

This is how the brightness
makes a home in you,
as you open to the hope that burnishes
every fractured thing it finds
and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes.

Still, still, still
the secret of secrets
keeps turning in you,
becoming beautiful,
becoming blessed,
kindling the luminous way
by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
that will not fail to come.

[The Wise Women Also Came image is © Jan Richardson from the book Night Visions. To use this image or order an art print, please visit this page at Jan Richardson Images.]


Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive….

David Whyte is a modern poet whose voice is as clear and cloudless as the sky above Crater Lake. He is of English/Irish heritage, has a background in marine zoology, and uses poetry to assist people in affecting change in their personal and work lives. He calls all of us out of our routine slumber and directs our gaze to places we may fear or wish to avoid. David asks us to risk being authentic in an increasing virtual world. “Sweet Darkness” is a poem that asks the reader to enter the particular place of darkness that is calling to you now.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

You see the world through your own particular set of eyes and your own particualr set of experiences. No one else in creation sees the world exactly as you do. Your vision is unique. But when something unexpected bumps up against us in life, then our vision is temporarily lost. We feel alone and engulfed by the surging energy of life. We cannot be found, just as we can no longer see.
Turn to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.The dark will be your womb
tonight.The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
Don’t fight the darkness, the poet seems to be whispering. Just as our eyes grow accustomed to a dark place, so the dark place will make a home for us, will see our shadow self. No matter what our particular set of circumstances and our particular reasons for being dropped into darkness, we are recognized and loved. Think of the poet’s metaphor used to describe this kind of night: your womb. A womb is a place of complete safety, a place where an innocent life can grow and be nurtured. A place to wait until you are ready to emerge, whole at last. A place of incubation, peace and rest.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Here the poet tells us there is only one thing to know right now: you are meant to be free, to take your own particular place in the grand scheme of life. Have you been going through some life-changing event? Large or small, scale does not matter here. All that matters is that you realize your place in the grand design and take that place. Maybe you are called on to leave a job that is choking you. Maybe a relationship needs to shift or even to end. Maybe there is a geographical change to make or a dream that you feel has always had your name on it. Whatever that world is, it is time to take your place. Know that others have done it before, the poet seems to be saying. You can do this. Just embrace the one world that is yours for the taking, no matter how small or how grand. The time is now and everthing is telling you that.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learnanything or anyone
that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

The darkness that has enveloped you has provided a place of safety and shelter to incubate your emerging self, to nourish new growth, or to give sustenance to your will. What is it in your life that has been too small for you? That has not allowed you to grow? The other question concerns a person. Who is it in your life that has stifled you? Who has placed you in a box that you have outgrown?

Life is constantly calling us forward to take our place and to be fully alive. What is that one thing in your life that is now too small for you? Who is that person you have outgrown? Maybe it is a role you have played that no longer suits you. Maybe you need to stand alone. Maybe it’s time to become one with a partner. You hold the answer, the poet tells us. Just go into the darkness until you can hear the small voice inside and then follow its becokoning, loving hand.
Poem “Sweet Darkness from The House of Belonging, Many Rivers Press, 1998.