St. Finian's Wild Geese

St. Finian’s Wild Geese


Breaking Cabin Fever (St. Finian’s Song)

— 3/16/15, Linne Woods & Prairie, Morton Grove, IL


Stopping by woods on a muddy morning,

(whose woods these are I think I know),

I’m rambling, off the beaten path.

I walk where only deer have gone

–not horse, nor man–

picking and winding my way toward a plan.

I look ahead, far down the path,

improvising my route,

but careful not to trip on a root

or step in a puddle of mud at my foot.


I step around the muck, forge ahead.

I draw near to Him,

the Caretaker of these woods.

I consult with St. Finian Lobhar,

The Leper of Dublin,

who cures me of my dis-ease.

Whenever I come here–

often as if drawn here–

I cannot help but feel that Presence:

Mr. Eliot’s “veritable transitory power”,

stronger in Lent than at any other hour.

My winter of hunger draws me back every year.


A cardinal cloaked in red flies by,

ministering to my heavy soul,

forgiving my winter’s worth of sin

before I have even confessed.

I feel lighter already.


My legs and body find their rhythm,

with Spring in my heart and a spring in my step,

despite this mucus in my chest.

Spirit was willing, flesh was weak–

I needed to walk, but did not want to.

Spirit won the battle.

Unbound, unlocked,

now my chains fall away,

and the inertia of an ill body is conquered for the moment,

as hunkered-down hope

crawls through the last dirty snow pile.

The remainder of my sentence

of loneliness and melancholy is suspended.

I feel that Nearness coming on.

It is contagious, too.


Yet I also wish she was here with me

-lonely together, quieted,

perfectly imperfect,

our hands clasped, trudging messily on.

We would look homeward

through these still leafless woods,

toward the clearing ahead

where friends and family gather.

We two would be a matched pair of muddy hiking boots,

neglected through the twenty-year winter,

finally put to use again.


Above me, a flying V:

the lead goose squonks like Ornette Coleman’s sax,

and the band plays on behind him.

To my right one lone redwing

sits atop a strong sapling,

daring it to bend under his weight.

An absurd pine cone is somehow caught (or placed?)

in the crook of a puny maple’s boughs.

Yet there are no pine trees

for five hundred yards in any direction.


For months, perhaps years,

I built my life around myself,

afraid of changing or venturing out,


racked with doubt

of Spring.


But that fever is broken now.


I don’t have a hammer.

I don’t yet feel strong.

But nevertheless,

let us build a new home

right here, right now.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 30, 2014

Immigrant Woman – orig. poem by Mark Nielsen

Immigrant Woman  ……………….- by Mark Nielsen ; 8/26-30/14


I see you walking, weary, 
groceries in both hands, 
yet somehow waving for a bus;
wearing a hijab or babushka,
wondering, watching the sky,
waiting for a sign that your wandering, 
and your bone-bending work,
will soon end.

I do not know why you came here
to my nasty, brutish city.
But it must have been worse
wherever you were before. 

Walk on, sweet aunties of the world, 
unrelated daughters of my immigrant grandmother.
Take a peach from your own bag.
Rest when you can. 
And finally, when you get home
(many hours and years from now),
watch the world come to your doorstep.
Comfort us.
Do not turn us away.
We once were ungrateful
and did not welcome you.
But we will be hungry
and in need of your love, soon enough. 


Walkers need love too, Rick.

“Zombie” – parody song by Mark Nielsen and Karen Nielsen Brennan, Aug. 7, 2014   (a work in progress)


It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say

But I just got bit and now I want your brains.

I’m a zombie now, can I chomp your face?

Used to be your neighbor now I’m on the chase.



Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel that brains are really good.

Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel your skull get crushed with wood.

Because I’m zombie. Clump along if you feel that fingers make good food.

Sorry if I eat your brains, I don’t mean to be rude.


Here come bad news, with our cold dead eyes.

We’re the walking dead, can’t you see the flies?

Watch out for Michonne and Sheriff Rick,

They stab me in the eye with a sharpened stick.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 25, 2014

New Age for Old West – Sedona, AZ

Meet Big Buddha and Butte Bobby.

Meet Big Buddha and Butte Bobby.


New Age for Old West  (Postscript for a Southwest Trip) ,

a 7-25-14 poem by Mark Nielsen, Chicago, IL


There is something of God in all things, of course,

but is there also sometimes something else?


Outside some shops in Sedona, Arizona —

a Vortex-ville, a New Age mecca —

I saw two statues side by side.


One was an expensive six-foot seated Buddha

made of bright white stone.

He was in front of a gallery with many similar, skillfully-created

representations of the Buddha and

(one may presume) other figures,

like the Hindu god Ganesha,

or Egyptian sun god Ra.

Maybe Jesus even makes an appearance in there,

perhaps in a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

I will never know. I didn’t go in.


The gallery next door had Cowboy art.

Out front: an equally large bronze sculpture

of a lanky, sleepy boy,

son of a cowpoke,

with a lariat in his right hand,

and his trusty (and much-more-wide-awake)

mutt of a dog on his left.

Our cowboy, let’s call him Bobby,

was seemingly resting

after a hard day’s ropin’ and wranglin’.


I was out West for just such a rest.

But these two mythic figures

vexed me instead of relaxing me.

I wondered where my country, my world,

had got to,

in elevating these men —

Big Buddha and Butte Bobby–

to such a height as to sell their images

for thousands of dollars each

to bored tourists with money to burn

and little concern for what actually mattered

to Buddha or Bobby.


Surely Siddhartha Gautama

would have advocated compassionate charity,

not conspicuous consumption,

with the cash it takes to buy that statue.


Surely Woody Guthrie, or a Chisolm Trail rider,

(or some other real honest cowboy or Okie)

would have preferred a dusty, un-polished tribute

to a way of life mostly gone now —

not a mini-John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, or Clint Eastwood look-alike

all done up in bronze and settin’ on a bench,

a’waitin’  fer some luckless monied sucker

to buy the lie

of a squeaky clean, cutesy, romanticized Old West.


Good guys, smart guys, real guys —

they never wear white,

and never look this clean and romantic.

It never takes them long

to get dirt under their fingernails,

to rescue a dumb steer snagged in the fence,

to kiss a leper like Dusty Frank of Assisi,

or to wake up and smell

some New Age used car or snake oil salesman,

hawking marble, bronze or alabaster,

masquerading as concern

for God or Man.

(Plus the real good guys–

more often than not–

are girls, not guys at all.)


“Buddha” means “awakened one”,

or so they say.

May we all be as awake

as Bobby’s perfect little “good guy” dog —

let’s call him New Yeller–

attentively sitting next to his Master,

warning us off,

sniffing for the snakes,

just about to bark

and suggesting we hide our wallets.


Everything old is new again, ...but not necessarily better.

Everything old is new again, …but not necessarily better.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 13, 2014

Travels In the Southwest, Launch Date 7-13-14

Leaving today with my son Graham, my mother, and sister Laura’s family for a 10-day trip to Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Goodbye Midwestern humidity, …hello sun-baked desert, crazy beautiful mountains, and a few good friends out West.

Anasazi Native American pottery photo below, just for fun, a random sampling of what I hope to get a glimpse of in the Southwest this week:

Just like Mark: "Broken and glued. No restoration." Indeed.

Just like Mark: “Broken and glued. No restoration.” Indeed.

Approximate Dimensions: 12 1/2″ by 10 5/8″Broken and glued, no restoration. Has sew-holes.A.D. 1340-1450


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 11, 2014

The Swing and the Wall

Originally posted on Southside Hub of Production:

-1Four (4) Sundays for Intergenerational Creative Idleness, Pleasurable Learning, and Meaningful Exchange.

at The Comfort Station 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave
Brought to you by SHoP & I am 9

#1 June 8

12:00 – 2:00 pm Chocolate Meditation and Geometric Learning through Origami With teaching artist Jerry Marciniak.
1:00 – 5:00 pm Bookbinding Workshop with Amy Sinclair of North Branch Projects
7:00 – 9:00 pm “Class Clowns” Comedy Showcase hosted by David Yontz
Curiosity, observation, and skepticism abound in the life of a comic. This event will showcase a handpicked group of local comedic talent, eager to share their insights on life and learning in the city of Chicago.

#2 June 15

12:00 – 2:00 pm Writing the Archives: A Poetry Workshop. Inspired by the history of classroom materials used in “The Swing and the Wall,” this drop-in workshop is an opportunity for writers and admirers of poetry to take…

View original 234 more words


Let love overwhelm you.

Let love overwhelm you.


You Break Over Me Like Waves


You break over me like waves.

Not just one, but the relentless cyclical

flow and battering of you. …………………………………………………………………………………….

Not big Hawai’ian surf, just big lake waves, …………………………………..

swinging their fists with power from their broad shoulders.

Not the tiny ripple of a turtle surfacing, looking around,

but the raucous flop of angels

doing constant cannonballs–

only they’re too far out. We can’t see them.


The water loves the shore, someone once sang,

but you and I, we are desperate for low tide

so we can rest.

I want to strip down naked

and clothe myself in soft, wet sand–

to blend in, or even be swallowed up.

Similarly, you want to find an island to hide on, or under.

But “No man is an island”

says the silence-singer,

and I’ve come to believe him.

In fact, we followed him here

to this chaotic sand strip at the edge of everything–

city grit at our back,

ahead of us,

kid lifeguards watching the younger kids,


and over there,

fishermen in a skiff

throwing their net on the other side of the boat,

as instructed.

I would swim out just to be caught–

to be rescued from love

by being consumed, lovingly.

But I’m a lousy swimmer,

and there ain’t no water-walker

anywhere around to give me a hand–

just the noisy gulls

air-dancing to their own private dub-step beat,

plus a green heron couple

arguing in a nest nearby

over whose turn it is to clean the nest,

or to pick through the debris at water’s edge,

to see what the city-dwellers have left them

to live on.


This battling waves is for the birds.

Love is hard but beautiful.

We both have to let ourselves be worn down

like sea glass.


Every eight-year-old here

throws himself gleefully into the waves,

but all I want to do is run.

I am weary of this steady pummeling.

They said you were gentle,

that love is easy and comfortable,

but I’m beginning to wonder if they lied.

On the other hand,

I drink you everyday and am refreshed.


By the way,

when it comes time to build

my mansion in heaven,

put mine in the middle of the prairie.

Amber waves of grain are what I want instead–

nowhere near this cold, furious Lovewater

that refuses to let me stand firm,

but won’t let me fall backward too hard,

that grapples with me,

then for now lets me think that I’ve won.


I only win by agreeing to lose everything.

………………………………………………………. Okay. You win. I love you.

Spotted along one of my contemplative walks: a wayward sign from the back of a semi trailer.

Spotted along one of my contemplative walks: a wayward sign fallen from the back of a semi trailer.


A Just-Finishing Candle

by Jelaluddin Balkhi (a.k.a. Rumi, Persian poet, dervish and spiritual teacher, circa 1246 CE… translation by Coleman Barks)

A candle is made to become entirely flame.

In that annihilating moment

it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light

describing a refuge.

Look at this

just-finishing candle stub

as someone who is finally safe

from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame

we claim from those.

— — — — —

Kundalini Sunrise          by Mark Nielsen


“Light comes at you sideways, enfolds you like a gown” –singer Bruce Cockburn, song: Open (see below)


My daring darling,

let us take our inner children for a morning walk

and feel the dew of a new day

between our toes.


Yes, I do see

how the people of this world continue on

with their bloody business:

buying and selling their wares,

buying and selling their souls,


or selling you out,

my sister,

in a corporate atrium or

a secret corner of Cubicleville.

They expect you to look the other way,

to swallow your pain and your pride,

to conspire with their destructive plans

(while these deeds done in the dark

cost everyone involved

a pound of flesh,

and two gallons of tears.)

But you won’t do

what the Weekend Warrior

or the drones of risk management

are asking of you.


For they do not know this:

“Risk” is our ancestral tribal name.

We bend with the Mightiest of Winds

but do not break,

for we are braided together

and strengthen each other.

Try as they might,

they cannot buy

or take from us

any part of ourselves worth owning

(or at least nothing that we

do not freely offer to them–

from a position of strength, and concern for

The Family of Man).

You and I drink from a different well,

one which the drones, merchants and soldiers

have ignored.

Offer them your water,

but if they refuse

(and some surely will)

then shake the dust off your holy feet,

and walk away

without the pollution of shame or guilt.

You have done what you can.


So do not let their darkness

overshadow your sacred Inner Light.

Give them your time

–but only some–

and keep your heart intact

for the sake of our tribe.


Our souls are

Under New Ownership.

Each bless’ed morning

they are given back to us,

free of charge.

We take our walk in the sun

and pick them up off the ground,

like manna in this barren desert.

We dust off our souls,

and though they are not

naive or new anymore,

they are tough,

and still contain

all we will ever need.


This altogether different rapture

Is always within our reach.

Though at times in

our fuzzy, funky, anxious headspace

it is hard to reach with my heart’s hand

through the veil,

and take hold of the Love without crushing it.



you with the delicate touch,

hold this for me.

I will be back for it in a few minutes.

Then we will go home

and have some breakfast.

— — — — — — — — —

The phrase “Kundalini sunrise” is borrowed from the 2001 Bruce Cockburn song Open, from the album “You’ve Never Seen Everything”. For lyrics to that song, which partly inspired the above poem, go to The Cockburn Project.

“What I see happening in the face of all this darkness is something new in human spirituality, openness, some sense of our common destiny. We’ve got to keep nudging ourselves in the direction of good and respect for each other.”

– from Bruce Cockburn’s bio on Rounder Records.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 7, 2014

Mystery Train, Part Two (original poem by Mark Nielsen)

MYSTERY TRAIN, Part Two (original poem by Mark Nielsen)

Theres a reason all them strange,
sad ol’ folk songs talkabouta train…
cause a train ain’t got no choice where it’s goin’
unless it jumps the track and wrecks.

The Misery Train is a

Odetta Sings Folk Songs

Odetta Sings Folk Songs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

one way trip,
crowded, boring and bumpy
‘cause misery loves company
and company brings baggage
and baggage makes bad history
and history is a trap.
Carrying all that extra weight,
the calloused hand first requires blistering,
fatigue, defeat and a sorry state.
Humiliation. Mockery.
But the 5:15 is never late.

Justice rolls on.

Wheels roll on but you want to make a turn,
skip a stop, drop your load, maybe let it all just burn.
Disillusioned isolation has inertia all its own,
and you’re tired straight down to the marrow of your bones.
Self-protective, introspective,
and infected with perfection,
muttering vague but condemning invective.

But the mystery is that you learn, still,
despite yourself, against your will.
The train rolls on, makes all its stops,
keeps a schedule, seeks discipine,
climbs and drops,
*seeks out* valleys, eschews inaction,
every tunnel you encounter,
a death and resurrection.

You reach your destination,
but no one meets you there,
so you stay aboard awhile,
maybe say a little prayer,
and the mystery train moves on
to God only knows where.

You will know your new home only
by how you learn to love
(whether or not a target is found,
for love is engine, fuel, and station combined –
momentum and rootedness, life and hope
right down to the end of the line).

When you look out the window and hope again,
when stepping onto the platform is instinctive,
and riding on any further
is not something that you’d dare,
it is then you will know that you are there.



Do I need u to be perfect? 

                                                             [original song lyric by mark nielsen,

                                                                summer 2013 (edited 5-6-14) ]

Do I need u to be perfect?

I don’t even need u to be good,

‘Cause I’m one o’ those old bad boys

And I’d be glad if you just would

Be my temporary shelter

When the storm it starts to rage –

Be the Master’s little helper,

we’ll endure this curs’ed, bless’ed age.



Oh together we’ll weather the storm.


Old Noah had it right

Just get on a ship and sail

Away from all this desperate fighting

For some land and a good meal

Don’t make war to find peace

And with the Devil don’t u deal

Just feel the wind in your face

Grab two dogs and a good horse,

raise the mainsail, bring your family

‘Cause together we’re a force

To be reckoned with.



Oh together we’ll weather this storm.


Yeah my legs they are unsteady,

I’ve had too much to drink.

Just lemme sit here on this stump,

Gimme a minute just to think.

We’ll look up at the stars

And be guided on our way,

Greet the sun tomorrow morning

Live to love another day.



Oh we’ll weather this (bad) storm together

………….Repeat chorus 2x

………….(insert Bridge up after  chorus 2?)

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