Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I came across a document today that I hadn't heard about. It's called the Assisi Decalogue for Peace. Back in 2002, Pope John Paul II and about 200 religious leaders got together in Assisi, Italy, to renew their efforts to promote peace. At this conference, there were Catholics and Jews and Buddhists and Mennonites and Quakers and Muslims and Zoroastrians and on and on.

After 10 days of talking and praying, they drew up a document and called it "The Assisi Decalogue for Peace." It was a 10-point program based on the conviction, as Pope John Paul II said, that "humanity must choose between love and hate."

That strikes me as a good conviction.

The document was sent to all the world's leaders. I'm not sure they all got it, but I hope they did, and I hope they read it again.

Here's "The Assisi Decalogue for Peace":

1. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are opposed to all true religious spirit and we condemn all recourse to violence and war in the name of God or religion. We undertake to do everything possible to eradicate the causes of terrorism.

2. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to educate people about respect and mutual esteem in order to achieve peaceful coexistence and solidarity among members of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

3. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to promote the culture of dialogue so that understanding and trust may develop among individuals and peoples as these are the conditions of authentic peace.

4. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to defend the right of all human beings to lead a dignified life, in accordance with their cultural identity, and to start their own family freely.

5. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to engage in dialogue with sincerity and patience, without considering what separates us as an insurmountable wall, on the contrary, recognizing that facing our differences can become an occasion for greater reciprocal understanding.

6. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to pardon each other's errors and prejudices of the past and present, and to support one another in the common struggle against egoism and abuses, hatred and violence, and in order to learn from the past that peace without justice is not true peace.

7. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to stand at the side of those who suffer poverty and abandonment, speaking out for those who have no voice and taking concrete action to overcome such situations, in the conviction that no one can be happy alone.
8. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to make our own the cry of those who do not surrender to violence and evil, and we wish to contribute with all our strength to give a real hope of justice and peace to the humanity of our time.

9. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to encourage all initiatives that promote friendship between peoples, in the conviction that, if a solid understanding between peoples is lacking, technological progress exposes the world to increasing dangers of destruction and death.

10. WE COMMIT OURSELVES to ask the leaders of nations to make every possible effort so as to build, at both national and international level, a world of solidarity and peace founded on justice.We, as persons of different religious traditions, will tirelessly proclaim that peace and justice are inseparable, and that peace in justice is the only path which humanity can take towards a future of hope. In a world with ever more open borders, shrinking distances and better relations as a result of a broad network of communications, we are convinced that security, freedom and peace will never be guaranteed by force but by mutual trust.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Philip Levine--Our New Poet Laureate

One of my favorite poets, Philip Levine, has just been made Poet Laureate of the United States. This makes me happy because I like him a lot.

When I first started reading poems, his stuck out from a lot of the other poems I was reading. They seemed to be written by guys and gals with upper-class backgrounds who went to high-class schools and seemed to write about stuff that really didn't enter into my world. We were working-class. My dad worked in a factory, and my mom cleaned offices in a skyscraper. When we got together over dinner, we didn't talk about Monet or Harvard or John Updike or Martha's Vineyard. We talked about how hot it was in the factory or about what kind of stuff the guys with Harvard educations were throwing into their office trashcans.

Philip Levine seemed to come from that world too. He was a working-class guy, and I always felt that his poems were about the world I lived in, a world of hard jobs, tough luck, dreams that kept us going, and families that fought to stay together but sometimes couldn't. I also liked his clarity. He was like all my favorite poets Whitman, Frost, Williams). He talked so that my mother and father, people with hardly any education at all, could understand.

He's written a lot of really good poems, and here are three of them that I like: "Detroit Grease Shop Poem," "The Simple Truth," and "Gospel."

Detroit Grease Shop Poem

Four bright steel crosses,
universal joints, plucked
out of the burlap sack --
"the heart of the drive train,"
the book says. Stars
on Lemon's wooden palm,
stars that must be capped,
rolled, and anointed,
that have their orders
and their commands as he
has his.

Under the blue
hesitant light another day
at Automotive
in the city of dreams.
We're all here to count
and be counted, Lemon,
Rosie, Eugene, Luis,
and me, too young to know
this is for keeps, pinning
on my apron, rolling up
my sleeves.

The roof leaks
from yesterday's rain,
the waters gather above us
waiting for one mistake.
When a drop falls on Lemon's
corded arm, he looks at it
as though it were something
rare or mysterious
like a drop of water or
a single lucid meteor
fallen slowly from
nowhere and burning on
his skin like a tear.

The Simple Truth

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."

Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.


The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there's
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don't
ask myself what I'm looking for.
I didn't come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I've said to myself,
although it greets me with last year's
dead thistles and this year's
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider's cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I've never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. "Soughing" we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.


You can find out more about Philip Levine and read some of his poems at the Poets.Org site. Just click here.

The best source for his poetry online is the Contemporary American Poetry Archive. Just click here and you will be amazed.