Please Call Me by My True Names
Thich Nhat Hahn
I have a poem for you. This poem is about three of us.
The first is a twelve-year-old girl, one of the boat
people crossing the Gulf of Siam. She was raped by a
sea pirate, and after that she threw herself into the
sea. The second person is the sea pirate, who was born
in a remote village in Thailand. And the third person
is me. I was very angry, of course. But I could not take
sides against the sea pirate. If I could have, it would
have been easier, but I couldn’t. I realized that if I
had been born in his village and had lived a similar life
– economic, educational, and so on – it is likely that I
would now be that sea pirate. So it is not easy to take
sides. Out of suffering, I wrote this poem. It is called
“Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have many names,
and when you call me by any of them, I have to say, “Yes.”
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean – the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
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?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver. All rights reserved.
The Dakini Speaks
My friends, let’s grow up.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.
Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple – how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like human ripe beings.
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child, she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion exquisitely precise.
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride – let’s give ourselves to it!
Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage –
There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children anymore.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope.