What I Can Offer You

a poetry collection
by Rich Orloff

Every Wednesday afternoon I send out a spiritually-infused poem to an email list of friends, rabbis, ministers, and other spiritual leaders.  To my delight (and amazement), over 2000 people read my poems each week.  The poems have been presented in synagogues and churches, printed in magazines and anthologies, and spoken at events both lofty and intimate.

Here are some of my favorite poems sent out so far during 2024.   If you’d like to be added to my poetry list, email me via the Contact button with your name and email address. 

What I Can Offer You

I cannot fix your pain
I cannot solve your problem
I can’t prevent the sorrow you’re feeling
Or even guarantee I’ll make you smile

However, because I’ve known
Joy embracing me and disappearing in the middle of the night
Feeling safe and despairing if I’ll ever feel safe again
Lowering my guard and being ambushed by camouflaged demons

And because I’ve also known
The miracle of healing when pain seemed inescapable
The joy of connection when isolation had me surrounded
Love returning and apologizing for its absence

Because I have experienced enough No in my life
To understand tragedy

Because I have been surprised by enough Yes in my life
To maintain hope

Because I’ve known
All these things
And more

I will gladly hold your hand
So you don’t have to face the pains of life alone
And I will wait with you patiently
Until the next miracle arrives

A Prayer Under a Tree

I lay under a tree the other day
A big tree
And I looked at a single leaf

I imagined I was the leaf
And I imagined the leaf saying:
I’m not like the leaves on those branches far from me
I am my own leaf

Then I looked at the whole tree
And the thousands of leaves on the tree
And I looked at myself again
and thought:

Forgive me for the sin of believing
in the illusion of independence
Forgive me for pretending I’m not attached
to something larger than just me
Forgive me for confusing uniqueness
with separation
Forgive me for resenting all the reminders
I can’t do this by myself

Bless my tree, even if I can’t control it
Thank you for the majesty of its branches
And the strength of its roots
And the good fortune
That I was born as part of something so beautiful

A Prayer for Revelation

I pray for revelation
To see what I haven’t seen
To go beyond the limits of my beliefs
To be consoled by a love I do not yet trust
But yearn for

I’m scared to yearn
I don’t expect yearnings to be answered
So here I am
No more nor less than me
Always prepared to be judged instead of embraced

Release me from the prison of my thoughts
And when I return from an inspired moment
Let nuggets of this experience
Stay in my pocket and feel warm to my touch
So they may comfort me on my journey forward

A Prayer to Embrace the Mystery

As I try to figure things out,
A soft voice whispers to me:

Accept the mystery of life
Accept the mystery of other people
Accept the mystery of you
Accept the mystery of God

Understanding can be an impediment to wisdom
Understanding is the ego refusing to surrender
Understanding is only sometimes an antidote to fear
Understanding demands that life be understandable

You can have a relationship
Not of understanding but of awe
You can either stay trapped in the illusion of knowledge
Or move freely in the dance of full existence

I pray for the strength to
Embrace the mystery and let go
I pray for the courage to recognize
It’s time for the soul to be set free

A Prayer for the Bridge

Cross the bridge
To the people you love
To the people ready and eager to love you

They exist
But they can’t pull you over the bridge
They can only welcome you when you arrive

Don’t push yourself across the bridge
Don’t drag yourself
Run and dance if you want
Or walk as slowly as you wish

And when you’re halfway across the bridge
Take in the view of both sides
You’ll be tempted to turn around
Be kind to that temptation

You can always return to where you’ve been
But you’ll never know the joy of the other side
Unless you summon the courage to keep walking

And when you arrive
Rest a moment
This is the land that’s been promised
To everyone willing to take the journey

As I Approach You with Wonder

We are gifts we give each other,
You and I
Fragile even if appearing sturdy
But stronger than we have convinced ourselves we are

I have been with others
Who are reluctant to reveal more than a sliver
Even in intimate situations

I have also been the person
Reluctant to reveal myself
Or to delve into the mystery
Of who I might be
Beyond the identity I cling to

So I do not take your gift for granted
I know it is unique
Beautiful to behold
And somewhat damaged by time

And if at times I vanish behind a wall
This is not disrespect
Just caution
I’ve had my gift exchanged for rhinestones
Or treated as if it had an expiration date

As we work up the courage
To unveil the beauty of our weirdness
As we mix our majesty with our vulnerability
Let us release ourselves from the known
So we can embrace each other’s soul

A Prayer for My Neighbors
(a poem of peace)

I do not wish you harm
I do not wish you pain
I do not want revenge
Or believe that either of us can triumph over the other

I respect you as a creation of God
I see there is divinity in you
I wish you the opportunity to live life fully
I wish you all the joy I wish myself

Do not mistake these wishes for weakness
I will do all I need to do to protect myself
I believe there must be consequences to harmful actions
To reduce the likelihood of such harms being repeated

We each have our reasons to hate
We each have histories filled with suffering
We each will need extraordinary courage
So that our pasts don’t limit our future

I do not wish to inflict more trauma
On your descendants or on mine
I will gladly work with you
Each of us taking small steps

I do not expect trust overnight
Nor can I offer it to you
But I’m willing to walk with you on the path to trust
Wishing both of us safety with each step

A Prayer about Grace

I have no idea what this day will bring
But of this prediction I am confident
Today will bring opportunities to practice grace

I will say and do stupid things
Friends will aggravate and disappoint
Life will not always live up to
My expectation of what life should be

So thank you, Universe, for the chance to practice grace
Perhaps the most delicious spice
In the spice rack of forgiveness

Grace acknowledges that we will fall short
That we are broken and flawed
Grace embraces that we are human
And best of all
Accepts that we need be nothing more

A Request from a Former Caterpillar

Recently I imagined I was in a cocoon
About to transform
With my family yelling at me
“When are you going to come out of that cocoon already?
“Stop acting like a baby and metamorphosize!”

I don’t know much about metamorphosis
But my gut tells me that no butterfly
Would feel safe emerging from a cocoon
If you yelled at it to come out

So if you see my cocoon cracking a bit
My antennas peering out of the crack
My thin, fragile body starting to emerge
My wings still crumpled and wet
Do me a favor and shut up!

I’ll still be getting used to the newness of it all
My whole training has been as a caterpillar
And as much as I look forward to flying
I doubt I’ll ever be able to do so in a straight line

And if you want me to land on you
Be patient
Don’t make sudden moves
Recognize the sacredness of the moment
And if you wish
You may weep with joy

A Prayer for Lesser Feelings

How often I have thought
“If only I didn’t feel this way”
And only later recognized
The blessing of that feeling

Each time I struggle being me,
I hear (if I listen):
Make room for rage, for grief, for confusion and despair
All are gifts from the Divine

Embrace being human in every way
Do not orphan parts of your soul
The feelings you wish to avoid
May need your most tender embrace

Give love to your lesser feelings
Give them time to play
Establish boundaries if you must, and then:
Love them more

I pray to recognize each feeling as a gift
And to be an eager student to their teachings
I can only become as large as me
If I make room for all I am

A Prayer for References

I tell God that
Before I’m willing to accept the Divine
As my deity
I’m going to need to see some references

The sun shines brightly
The breeze blows coolly
The earth brings forth both flowers and food
Water flows from vast reservoirs into my cup

That’s nice, I say
But what about droughts and storms and bitter cold
What about destruction and chaos
I need a deity that’s reliable

As I wait for an answer
I’m feeling smugly satisfied
Although worried that if I really want a relationship with the Divine
I’m playing too hard to get

I take a walk in a nearby park
Relishing the colors and the smells
Sensing that each leaf is connected to more
Than just the trees I can see

As strong as my skepticism can be
My yearning is stronger
So I tell the Divine
Maybe we can work out a two-week trial

The leaves make a soft sound in the light breeze
I’ll take that as a yes

A Prayer for the Abandoned Self

The abandoned self waits patiently for your return
It has not abandoned you
It stands there
Like a child waiting to be picked up after school

Do not return to your abandoned self with demands
Return with flowers in your hand
The self, too knowing of neglect
May be suspicious at first

Step slowly
Fears will melt over time
Under the warm sun of
A caring, loving you

The soul is not here to serve you
You are here to shepherd it
Up and down mountains
Through treacherous waters and golden fields

One day you will realize
How far you had to travel
To return to the place
Where your spirit lives
Hoping someday you’d return and say

A Prayer for the Unhealed
(a poem of compassion)

Yes, you were harmed
Yes, you were abused
Yes, you were neglected
Yes, you were denied

Yes, they turned criticizing you into a sport
Yes, they turned cruelty into an everyday event
Yes, they withheld love when you didn’t give in to their demands
Yes, they withheld love even when you did

Yes, they treated you as if you were a threat to their existence
Yes, they acted as if meanness was an act of kindness
Yes, they taught you to blame yourself for the pain they caused
Yes, you were alone without protection

Yes, they denied the divinity within you
Yes, they made you think were a chore
Yes, they responded to your anguish with ridicule
Yes, you weren’t permitted to scream

Yes, they robbed you of your strength
Yes, they left scars on your soul
Yes, they refused to acknowledge the damage
Yes, they refused to atone

Yes, they didn’t know better
Yes, they may have been abused themselves
Yes, they may have thought what they were doing was right
No, that does not justify their crimes

Yes, there is much to grieve
Yes, you are entitled to take care of yourself
Yes, you are allowed to feel rage
Yes, you have permission to scream

Yes, you are worthy of love
Yes, you are worthy of love
Yes, you are worthy of love
Yes, you are worthy of love

Alice at Sunset

The sun is setting on a friend I haven’t seen in over a year
It’s only dusk
But I can tell darkness is approaching
The words are simpler
The feelings flutter about like butterflies
The moment is all
A second ago is a distant memory

She’s had a full life
Three husbands, and several more lovers
Two careers
A child and a grandchild
Poverty and wealth
Letting go of some kinds of happiness to hold onto others

She’s furious that she needs a health aide
And grateful for her presence
She’s furious at how closely her daughter watches over her
And is overjoyed at how closely her daughter watches over her

It’s been quite a day
She has had trouble understanding my words
A problem with her new hearing aid, she says
A moment later
She marvels at the chirp of a bird
As the sun sets just a little more

A Prayer to Overcome Fear

Fear is the most clever of demons
Offering safety
And the comfort of inaction

It will travel as far as it needs to
To summon precedents
And anything and everything it needs
To appear wise and friendly

It will woo you tenaciously
It will make you feel strong in weakness
It will shout to get your attention
And whisper seductively to gain your confidence

I pray for the wisdom to know the difference
Between when there’s a genuine reason to feel afraid
And when fear is just a habit

I pray for the clarity to know the difference
Between when a bear is chasing me
And when the bear is only in my imagination

I pray for the strength to challenge
The siren call of fear
To be able to look fear in the face
And say
You have outlived your usefulness
You are not my friend

An Existential Request

I know you have a great deal to tell me
I’m sure you have a lot of thoughts running through your brain
But if you can take a moment
Let’s just exist

I know that sounds challenging
There are so many places your mind wants to go
But if you can summon the courage
Let’s just exist

I know there’s much pain in your past
And yearnings for your future
But if you can spare a moment between what was and what might be
Let’s just exist

I know there are things you want to do
And you want to make the most of each second
But if you’re willing to transcend the fear of missing out
Let’s just exist

I’m not sure you see me fully
Or want me to see the full you
I’m willing to risk it if you are
Let’s just exist

The Muse’s Unannounced Visit

I can’t tell you how annoying it is
When the muse visits me
Just as I’m getting ready for bed

Here’s an inspired line, the muse says
I’m busy flossing, I reply
Write it down or you’ll forget it, the muse says
And who knows when I’ll visit again

The floss is in my hand
My ego wants a good night’s sleep
The muse repeats the line
Damn it, it’s a good one

The muse is a shameless tease
Like a lover who refuses commitment
But offers an almost addictive excitement

So I put down the floss
I write down the line
And another
And another

Damn it, muse, you tricked me again
I surrender with a smile
Quietly enjoying that regardless of when the muse visits
And how much I initially resist
When it comes to responding to inspiration
The muse knows that I’m easy to seduce


All poems copyright © 2024 Rich Orloff