For Joel at 94

For Joel at 94 September 30, 2013


My new book of poems, Reduced to Joy, has just been published. The book contains seventy-three poems, retrieved and shaped over the last thirteen years, about the nature of working with what we’re given till it wears us through to joy. For the next few months, I’d like to share poems from the new book with you.

I wrote this poem a few years ago to honor a friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Joel Elkes, who will be 100 years old this November. He is one of the most wholehearted people I know.


They say that miners in South America

strap small lamps around their chest, that

this works better than the light coming

from the center of your head.

They say the head can be fooled,

but the heart can’t turn without

the body. This makes me think of you

digging your way through your long life,

lighting everything with your heart.

It’s a good way to live. And when we

sit at the end of the day, our hearts

illumine the day and we see each other

in its radiance. I can tell, it reminds you

of many circles you’ve been a part of.

It’s a good way to measure time.

To make our way on Earth

by the light coming from our heart—

This is what you’ve taught us.

Is it any wonder that what you

touch, including us, glows.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of an elder you admire and why. If they are still alive, tell them of the impact they have had one you. Either way, tell their story to someone else to keep the character of their spirit alive.

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