Three Poems

Editor’s note | I met Lee in the waning summer of 2013 on Martha’s Vineyard. Over dinner, we discussed life things, including our love of dogs and Lee’s experience as a cancer survivor. I was moved then, and now, by Lee’s softness and grace. At this time, he is facing a terminal diagnosis with the same deep quality of equanimity.

He says, “cancer is a spiritual disease, because it forces one to shed much of the garbage we bury our spirits under in our day-to-day lives, and return to what is really important — friends, family, love, forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance. I must admit, I am not in a hurry to get there, but I am looking forward to the transition and journey into another dimension. And I have been fortunate to have had a life lived in one of the best of times.”

Drawing on his love of art and poetry, spiritual teachings of the East, and Christian mystics, including Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross, Lee has shared the hope that his acceptance of the cancer and final diagnosis without anxiety or fear might benefit others who face a similar trial. I’d like him to know that it does. And will continue to do so.

His prolific outpouring of words, as Martha’s Vineyard’s Poet Laureate Emeritus can be found here.


Statement by the poet

As a spirit traveling through matter on a journey towards an unknown event horizon, poetry has been a record and exploration of the inner experience, thoughts, and feelings of this human voyage in a world that is beautiful, mysterious, radiant, and at times terrifying. I learned early that language is a living animal that must be ridden naked and bareback, allowed to go where it wants without forcing it in another direction. Then writing becomes a state of meditation, prayer, revelation, channelling, and exploration of the unsayable that lies behind our daily lives. Over time I learned enough craft to get myself out of the way, and let the poem carry me and inform me. Most of the poems come as gifts, for which I am grateful, and I often find myself surprised I am allowed to be the vessel through which they pass into this world like wayward children.

The Day the World Ends

The day the world ends insects will sing psalms and hymns,
extinct animals will forgive the sins that killed them,
and broken dreams instead of shovels will fill the palms
of gravediggers whose secret philosophies stay unspoken
until theatrical sacrificial scenes are reenacted on boot hill.

Mountains will move imperceptibly towards the sea,
convicts escaping barren plains into horizons
free of constraint or restriction, and boulders tumbled to shore
will become petrified saints crucified by cormorants
drying their wings in whispering prayers of a dying sun.

On the day the world ends we will lie together beneath
the orchards of senses and stare and tremble and breathe
pale dusk air as petals and leaves of moonlight’s white orchids
fall on our lips and eyes, and all we wished but never said,
those things we knew but couldn’t name, will rise

from the Earth around us, a swarming beatitude of bees
sweeping us towards what life remains after the day the world ends.


Despite unwanted endings and disasters
we have created, today I will attend
the ceremony of my life with compassion
in a ritual of love for a dying world.
In devotion I will not cry for any except
the innocent — the poor, the children, the animals —
who no longer have gods or myths to save them.

I will bend willingly before the altar light
that emanates from those to come, who will know
the catastrophe of our apathy, greed, and technology;
and I will praise the ones who suffer pain and hunger,
yet still resist; who bind their hardships brightly
with tears and songs and laughter, despite
the wounds and scars mapping all life that exists.

I will bleed internally with the joy of living,
with the memory of those who helped me
make it through the wilderness, a journey of
radiance, terror, and love, as the road bleeds
distances and vistas in a thousand footsteps home.
I will bleed the language of lilacs and orchids,
nettles and burrs, for everyone who shares a dark unknown,

and I will graze like a gazelle on each heartbeat
and breath my body takes, on the vibrating green veldt
of shimmering summer light left in imagination,
and the deep blue-gray sea light in the chill of autumn,
and the amorphous winter animals of prowling snow,
and this energy that flows with compassionate grace
through everything we experience, are, touch, and see.


There is a song animals sing when they are threatened,
frightened, hurt, or wounded; and another
when they are left alone,
a song of gratitude for simple things
that brings forth all the songs their young will sing
in midnight haunts to the other side
of the Mountains of the Moon,
as they roam over earth filled with twilight
until dawn’s silver ladders of light
bleed through the
veined, blue mist of distant foothills.

And without grievance, a song of grace
for form, the skin and bones they bear
through life without complaint;
and for shelter, food and water, and every
hidden haven safe from slaughter;
and for the very air they breathe in singing
that emanates without restraint
through all the world’s hardships and sorrow,
as they disappear from our lives leaving
only these echoing Kyries their bodies sang
in sadness, radiant, even in the dying.

About Lee McCormack

Born 1945 in Seymour, Indiana, Lee McCormack is a writer, guitar-maker, and master carpenter/builder residing on Martha’s Vineyard since 1972.

A founder of The Savage Poets of Martha’s Vineyard, he was elected Martha’s Vineyard First Poet Laureate (2012-2014) by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society, and was a finalist in the Montreal International Poetry Prize in 2013-2014. Lee studied intensively with Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Charles Simic, Robert Pinsky, Thomas Lux, and Peter Klappert.

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