For 2010: Let’s Decrease Our Specific Gravity

Photo credit: Liz Owen

A Christmas cactus, blooming just once a year. Here’s my metaphor for how we blossom despite everything in the world that weighs us down.

This holiday season, I share with you two poems I first heard in the heat of summer, sweating in the stands at Cornell University. A dear friend of mine graduated with her Ph.D. that day. She visited me this past weekend, sparking my memory of these poems by A.R. Ammons.

That summer of 2001, Ammons, who taught at Cornell for many years, had recently died. A colleague of his read the poems at the graduation ceremony, and I’ve remembered them ever since.


I found a
that had a

mirror in it
and that

looked in at
a mirror

me that
had a
weed in it


The burdens of the world
on my back
lighten the world
not a whit while
removing them greatly
decreases my specific

Let’s drop that weight, if we can. Let’s spread our wisdom yet reserve out strength for the battles that really matter—and, always, let’s feel joy, fleeting as it may be. Joy, joy, joy.

The photo of the exuberant cactus comes courtesy of my yoga teacher Liz Owen at I encourage all who live in the Boston area to take a class with Liz.

The poems are from A.R. Ammons, The Selected Poems (Expanded Edition), Norton, 1986.