Posts Tagged ‘failure’




when all the balls drop

pick them up with a smile

and let the last thing

they see be the sparkle in your eye

and your hands no longer grasping


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It didn’t snap,

the trap, when the vole

ran across it—I watched

from my kitchen window

as the fat gray body

emerged from the grass

and traipsed across the waiting trap

before it looped through the pansies

and returned to the lawn.

And I, who set the trap

with Adam’s Smooth Peanut Butter,

laughed with strange delight

in my failure to kill

that damn little kale eating vole.

What is it in us that learns to relax?

The tips of lawn grass trembled

as the vole ran its path back to the field,

oblivious to my scheming.

It knew only that the mint overtaking

the pansies was delicious,

so green, so fresh.


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Votre âme est un paysage choisi / Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques / Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi / Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

            —Paul Verlaine, “Claire de Lune”



I hate the way my fingers stumble

through the prelude—in my ear,

it is beautiful, the phrases open

and flowing, and I hum sincerely, as if

with song I could make my hands

more nimble. There are fields,

golden, inside the arpeggios,

and they part as if the wind has blown

a place for a path, and then

a thousand thousand birds

take flight just before night—

or at least that is what I

want to hear. But I am clumsy,

an oxen trampling in the field

who trips in every irrigation ditch.


I have read that by the time

the suite was published, Debussy

hated the sound of it, deplored

his earlier style. I try to imagine him

here in the living room, his thin moustache,

his thick black bangs, oh how

he would cringe, revile my lack

of sensitivity. And how I would hate

to disappoint him. Both of us

miserable, both of us abhorring

what we hear—I would stop playing,

I would, and walk over to him

as he scoffed, and I would say,


Look, look Claude,

how the moon is full, so large there

on the horizon. And we’d step

out onto the porch.

There would be no birds,

no wind to part the field,

and he would slip his hand

toward the moon, and say,

There, there, that is what I was trying to say.

And I would let my empty hands


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Oh child, I hope you fail.
I hope you break the thing you believe is most precious
and learn that in its absence, you are still whole.
I hope you lose the love you thought you must have
and find that love inside you that can never be lost.
I hope you are eaten alive by the lie that you tell
and decide that is no way to live.
I hope everything you think you know about yourself crumbles
so completely it can never be rebuilt.
And I hope I have the strength to let you fail,
to fail myself, to meet you in this vulnerable field
where there are no accomplishments worth noting,
no titles, no names, no should, no stories,
only two hearts here for the loving.

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I used to have it, the longing
to be cleaned out, to become
like the school room before
the students arrive on the first day
of school—the desks polished,
the dry erase board perfectly white,
no un-erasable traces of old problems
and schedules and conjugations.
I longed to be even cleaner than that—
to be emptied. To be like the room
without furniture. Or perhaps even
to be like the vacant lot after
the building had been torn down.
Call it a second chance. Or a third.
A clean slate. We have so many ways
to speak of starting over. And of course
I believed I’d do it all better this time.
And then one day I stopped believing
in the sanctity of the eraser. What
great teachers, all these perfect failures.
One day I could feel it, how
the life I wanted to live was nowhere
near as beautiful, as full, as rich
the life that wants to live me.

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I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
—Thomas Alva Edison

Here, you can take back
those words you never said.


They say the best thing to do is fail well.
Well, at least we got part of it right.


Battered by wind and bent by snow
the daffodil has no idea it is my teacher.


Another day, another chance
to celebrate getting it wrong.


Inside, there is a live bird trying to get out.
It does no good, the open door.

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Again Again

Your prayer should be, “Break the legs of what I want to happen. Humiliate my desire. Eat me like candy.
It’s spring and finally I have no will.”
— Mathnawi, III (4391 – 4472), “Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion,” by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

I was supposed to pray
for broken legs. Instead,
I prayed for a train to take
me anywhere but here.
Years went by. The train
never came. Rabbit brush
and salt brush pushed up between the rails.
So I thought perhaps I should
pray instead for a horse, but remembered
soon after that I am afraid of horses
and don’t really know how to ride.
So I prayed for car and felt
pretty clever that I remembered
to pray that it come with a full tank of gas.
But the only road out of here
is so muddy, so slippery, so steep,
so riddled with rocks
that any car would soon be stuck.
So I started to pray for strong, strong
legs to carry my weight and take me
far. And I began to walk and grew stronger,
and walked and felt fulfilled, and
the more I thought I was finally in control,
the less I thought I needed to pray. But nowhere
I went was a place that I wanted
to stay. I ran faster and faster
from here to here, out of breath
and dizzy from searching, feet blistered,
body weary, I found a new prayer:
Break the legs of what I want to happen.
Humiliate my desire. You know how it is.
I was still. And it worked for a while—
the sweet release of failure. And then, in the quiet
spring of surrender, the sound came
far off but clear, the whistle of the train
just coming through a tunnel
on its way to somewhere.

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Eight Failings

But remember,
it is by failures that lovers
 stay aware of how they are loved.
Failure is the key
 to the kingdom within. Your prayer should be, “Break the legs 
of what I want to happen. Humiliate 
my desire. Eat me like candy.
It’s spring and finally 
I have no will.”
—Rumi, Mathnawi, III, 4391 – 4472)

both legs broken—
still this desire to crawl
on my hands


wanting to send
a dozen long-stemmed


thrown into the ring


walking five paths
never taking
a single step


pulling back
the veils of the heart—
your footprint


not looking
for an answer—
so she said


beside the sunflowers
naked except
this strand of what ifs


sweet failure

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I came here to fail.
To fall. To miss.
To screw up.
To backfire.
To founder.
To lose. To come
to nothing.
Ah. Now
we’re getting
I am here and
I am everywhere
but here. I am
a mess—precisely.
I am yours and
owned by no one.
I am no so and so.
If it could be any
other way, it would
be. But it
is like this.
Oh thank you world
a hundred hundred
times for this chance
to stumble, to lurch,
to slip.

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At thirteen, after eight years
of piano lessons, I lost myself
in a Mozart Sonatina. It was
a competition. I was sitting
at a grand piano at the front
of a church. The judge sat
in the first pew. My dad sat in the back.
I made it through the long runs
of the first movement. Through
the slow diminished chords
of the second. I was clumsy,
my rhythms uneven, my fortes not
convincing, my arpeggios stuttered.
My fingers did not know what they were doing,
though we had been practicing
together for months, though they
had had many good teachers.
I wore a pin-striped tuxedo,
a white ruffled shirt. It was fitted too tight
in my shoulders, but it made me
feel what, like a man? At least
not like a girl. God, I wanted
it over. At the end of the third movement,
I reached to the top of the treble keys
before coming back down
in the final run, but somewhere at the top
my hands returned to the notes of the first movement.
There was nothing to be done
but to finish the thing the way it had begun.
The judge shuffled through
the sheet music, trying to discern
what had happened. I did not cry,
not until I left the room
and I held my dad and he told me
the terrible lie that I had done fine.
He said it with so much love,
but it wasn’t true.
I don’t know where the lines are
between truth and love. Why do we
protect each other the ways that we do?
What else could he say? It doesn’t much matter.
He loved me. I grew out
of the shirt. I told myself the truth.

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