Love Poems to Jan


To celebrate August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman IV, I’d like to share a few of the poems I’ve written for Jan.


Quiet Day by Stephen Vanek

Thanksgiving Morning

Before I forget
I want to write down
how beautiful you looked this morning
Thanksgiving morning
coming down off of the stairs and
turning toward me
in your short sleeved tee-shirt and pajama bottoms
your hair pulled back, a tight smirk, your smile,
holding something delightful within you, secret,
like a child with a bouquet of love
behind your back
ready to spring it on me
your eyes sparkling
the morning light behind you in the stairwell
made you glow for a moment, so ordinary a moment
unexpected but briefly wondrous
better even than us snuggling earlier face-to-face
because I could see all of you.
I thought again how I could not be happier
that there was no other beauty or affirmation
beyond this one,
your presence affirming,
humming through me,
in me
and I was thankful.



Second Chance V by Stephen Vanek

Your Smile

Last night
after we were done and settled
after my breathing had slowed and
your hand had left my chest,
and we lay side-by-side
but apart
I looked at you and
there was a softness in your face
as you smiled, your eyes wet,
your skin smooth, glowing it seemed,
with an aura that held me,
took me quickly,
like a strong but gentle drug.
I felt it surround us, reflect us,
like water does light,
shimmering in a million chaotic sparkles
so that I felt your smile was in me
and that mine must be in you,
felt we were one
glowing in higher hands.



Coming Down 15 by Stephen Vanek

When our roots entangle
and your leaves fall
all over me, smoldering,
like little fires
you create
to burn your name
into my trunk,
the curve in your hip
causes me to shine
and later go limp.
You can change a season
in me
and then change it back.
What a gift, your nature
what giant presence you have,
my love.



Abstract Red Flower by Stephen Vanek

Giving Birth

Time for our child
to show her beautiful face,
her brown eyes, busy mouth,
and greedy fingers.

Have we not practiced enough?

I fill you and come away
full of you
the smile in your kiss
reminding me how perfectly
childish I can be
yet, even so,
you bear me every night
my weight over your body
pinning you,
you absorb me
until the dam in me
gives way
I explode
inside you.
me feel like the sun.
me feel like
we’re making something
between us
that will last
and last.

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What can ever be lost?

From the 18th century Japanese Zen poet Ryokan:

In all 10 directions of the universe, 
there is only one truth. 
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost?
What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket: 
can you see how priceless it is?

Excerpted from the book, The Gospel According to Jesus, by Stephen Mitchell

This says to me we are whole and complete. What we are seeking is already within us, what we feel we’ve lost is still present. Nothing beyond us can diminish us.

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Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote years ago about wisdom.

I had an older friend, a mentor, years ago who used to tell me, “there are no big deals.” I found his words comforting in a wider, more spiritual sense. My father, in a more pragmatic channel like to say, “you just keep surviving.”

I’m inclined at times to blow things out of perspective, or as the cliche goes, make mountains out of mole hills. I do that much less frequently but when I feel threatened, particularly in the areas of money or romance I can start making bold and unreasonable assumptions and say and act in ways that aren’t in my best interests.

Maintaining perspective helps me step back, reduce the emotionality and steady myself when I feel threatened or under stress and eventually let go.

Here’s what I wrote:

The title of a popular self-help book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson seems particularly relevant to a discussion of wisdom. It’s a book written to help us put life in perspective. He opens the book by writing:

“Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big of a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion.”

One capacity of those with wisdom is the ability to refrain from getting worked up about small things, things we often cannot change, and instead accept them, and even more importantly, put them in perspective. So someone didn’t return a phone call, cut in front of you in line, or re-ended you on the way to work. It’s an annoyance sure, but there’s no reason to lose sleep over it or cause a scene you may regret.

Wisdom is especially important in helping people put loss in perspective. An unforeseen divorce, the loss of a child, or the loss of a long-held job can feel absolutely devastating and overwhelm one’s ability to have any broader sense of life’s meaning. A sense of wisdom or perspective can come from enduring such experiences by grieving, perhaps maintaining a quiet hopefulness of “I can get through this,” and eventually coming to an acceptance of what has occurred.

Having perspective lifts us. We may not always follow wise advice, but we enjoy reading and hearing about it. It can trigger a sense of relief, an “I get it” moment, a sense that we’ve come across a solution to a dilemma or a particularly painful problem in life.

We should note that wisdom is not just knowledge, or worse, information. We don’t consider a person wise who intrudes into our daily struggles to share their “wisdom” regarding just how we should handle a particular circumstance or relationship.

An essential aspect of wisdom is the ability to be understanding; that is to listen carefully for feelings and thoughts without judgment and to respond in a way that makes sense to others. There may be preachers who are wise, but wise people do not preach.

The serenity prayer suggest another characteristic of wisdom is the ability to know our limits, and recognize what we can and can not change.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

-The Serenity Prayer-

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Humility is just as much the opposite of self abasement as it is of self exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in it’s reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger or smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is – is nothing, yet at the same time is one with everything. 
Dag Hammarskjold

To be humble is not to make comparisons. I  like the freedom implied in this quote. I seem to shackle myself to comparisons. My perfectionism has been a form of protection, a characteristic of my narcissism, where I’m comparing myself to others or to some ideal, trying to get “it” right, or win. And I do the opposite sometimes, withdrawing or not participating if my odds of coming out on top aren’t good. It’s a source of ongoing stress and certainly the opposite of serenity. It occurs to me that it’s grandiose to think, “I’m not enough. I’m not good enough.” There’s very little humility in that utterance.

Excerpt from  Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz

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I like the implication of this story. It feels to me that the message is one of faith and belief that wherever we’re going what we need when we get there will be there.

When asked if he was ever discouraged by the little fruit his efforts seemed to yield, the master told this story.

Very slowly, a snail started to climb a cherry tree one cold, windy day in late spring. The sparrows in a neighboring tree had a good laugh at his expense.

Then one flew over and said, “Hey, stupid, don’t you think there are no cherries on this tree?”

The little fellow did not stop as he replied, “Well, there will be when I get there.”

Excerpt from  Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz

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Judging others is one of my character flaws that causes me to get out of balance emotionally and justify not being as attentive and compassionate as I could be. I also think it’s a way I sometimes try to boost my own self-esteem, reassuring myself by comparing myself to others and coming out on top. (Of course) I like this story from Experiencing Spirituality. It was a nice reminder that when I find myself judging others I best turn my attention to my own flaws and work on myself.

A brother had committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.”

So he got up and went, taking a leaking jug filled with water and carrying it with him. The other monks came out to meet him and said, “what is this, father?”

The old man replied: “my sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the faults of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

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The Righting Reflex

I am most definitely guilty of engaging my impulse to correct. There’s something so delightful and ego gratifying about correcting someone’s misperceptions or mistakes. In the story below I like how the business owner used that impulse to his advantage:

Once upon a time there was an inn called the Silverstar.  The innkeeper was unable to make ends meet even though he did his very best to draw customers by making the service cordial and the price is reasonable. In despair, he consulted a sage.

After listening to his tale the sage said, “It’s very simple. You must change the name of your inn.”

“Impossible!” said the innkeeper. “It has been the Silverstar for generations and it is well-known by that name.”

“No,” said the sage firmly. “You must now call it the Five Bells and have a row of six bells hanging at the entrance.”

“Six bells? But that’s absurd. What good will that do?”

“Try it and see,” said the sage.

The innkeeper gave it a try. And this is what happened: just about every traveler who passed by the Inn walked in to point out the mistake, each believing that no one else had noticed it. Once inside, they were impressed by the cordiality of the service and stayed on to refresh themselves, soon providing the innkeeper with the success that he had been seeking for so long.

Excerpt from  Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz

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