The Half-Life of Angels


Freefall Books, April 4, 2023

Barnes & Noble

 “What a beautiful journey this book is. I was moved in some places beyond what I can adequately convey. Mark’s capacity to speak such universal truths through poetry is stunning. He is a master.”
—Brooke Warner, author, editor, and co-founder of She Writes Press




“Mark Nepo has a great heart. His poems are good company.”
—Coleman Barks, translator of The Essential Rumi


“Mark Nepo joins a long tradition of truth-seeking, wild-hearted poets—Rumi, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver—and deserves a place in the center of the circle with them.”
—Elizabeth Lesser, Cofounder, Omega Institute, author of Marrow and Cassandra Speaks


“These poems touch the soul, reminding each of us what it means to be fully alive, to be surrounded by what is sacred. Allow them to reach under your skin, to where mystery is born into meaning.”
—Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D., Sufi teacher and author, Prayer of the Heart


“Words placed so deliberately yet freely on the page, like Chinese brush strokes on silk . . . Nepo expresses truth . . . in words that inspire and uplift in a sustainable way.”
—Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight


“Brilliant, profound and accessible, [Nepo’s] poems are like precious treasures rising from the deep, glistening reminders of what really matters.”
—Julie Clayton, New Consciousness Review


“Nepo is an inveterate meaning-maker who has delved deeply into the wisdom traditions and the world’s religions. In vivid imagery, he captures those connections and epiphanies which illuminate the human condition.”
—Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice


“Everyone will get something from this book, but what you get will depend upon where you are in your growth at the time of the reading. I found I read it as one person and completed it as another. More compassion, more understanding, forgiveness, and no tools. There are no tools to use or exercises you must practice every day for the rest of your life. NO, that is not Mr. Nepo’s style, you get what YOU need based on who you are now—that said, all you need to do is read the book. Really take it in. Savor it. It’s so easy, I doubt anyone who has read it in its entirety would walk away unchanged.”
—Radio Host T Love


In Mark Nepo’s new collection of poetry, The Half-Life of Angels, you have three books of poems gathered in one volume. All the poems in this volume explore and praise the spark of becoming that is the synapse between living things. This spark of becoming is the half-life of angels that arcs between the deer’s nose and the thawed stream, between Sappho’s heart and the poems she uttered, between God’s finger and Adam’s hand, and between the Ocean of Source and the lips of every soul. In time, the soul’s journey in the world strips away all that is extraneous—the way a meteor is stripped to its essence of light as it catapults toward Earth. It can take a lifetime to burn off what doesn’t matter until we face each other—spark to spark. The three books of poems in this collection explore and praise this life-giving spark.

“Now in my seventies, I am committed to putting my life’s journey with poetry in order. The result will be the publication of several volumes of poetry. The Half-Life of Angels is the first of these volumes. I confess that reading through fifty years of poems has been like stepping through holy sites and ruins in order to map the learnings of all my former selves. As any poet, I gather these poems as a way to retrieve a deeper, more ancient knowledge that transcends any one self. And yet, such knowledge can only surface through an authentic self. All these expressions have shaped who I am.”

—Mark Nepo




The Great Waters

In the beginning, I thought I was

going somewhere. I thought we all

were. But falling in while trying to cross,

I finally understood, the journey is to follow

the river. All the rivers, especially the ones

no one can see. The soul is a fish whose

home is in those rivers. So I can take you

across, if you want. But the secret is to go

everywhere by going nowhere. And I will

be here when you fall in. Which is not

a failure but an awakening.



Under the Temple

The temple hanging over the water is

anchored on pillars that nameless workers

placed in the mud long ago. So never forget

that the mud and the hands of those workers

are part of the temple, too. What frames the

sacred is just as sacred. The dirt that packs

the plant is the beginning of beauty. And

those who haul the piano on stage are the

beginning of music. And those who are

stuck, though they dream of soaring,

are the ancestors of our wings.




Praying I Will Find

I used to have so many plans, good plans,

grand plans. In the beginning, I would be

annoyed by the calamities I’d meet along

the way that would keep me from my plans.


I used to pride myself on how I could get

back on track so quickly. But the more I

loved and the more I suffered, the more

my plans were interrupted by those in



Eventually, the call of life, unexpected

and unrehearsed, made swiss cheese of

my plans.


Now, like an emperor undressed by time,

I wander the days naked of plans, praying

that I will find love to give and suffering

to heal before the sun goes down.



A Conversation with Mark Nepo about
The Half-Life of Angels: Three Books of Poems

Question: You speak about poems as teachers. Can you explain this?

Response: I like to say that I retrieve poems more than author them. Oh, I give my all and participate completely. But the words are the trail of my ongoing conversation with life. There is a Hindu word, upaguru, which means “the teacher that is next to you at this moment.” There is always a teacher next to you. When we can be present enough with an open-heart, the world in all its numinous detail reveals itself a such a teacher. So, I begin by following a feeling, a question, a wonder, a stillness, a pain, a dream, or simply the feeling of aliveness. Then that immediate and authentic threshold leads me to the poem. I never know where that expression is going. Only that if I am authentic enough and vulnerable enough and open enough, I am rewarded with an insight or a truth or an image or a metaphor that I must become intimate with in order to receive its teaching.


Question: The poems you are gathering at this time of your life span almost fifty years. What differences do you notice between your early work and your more recent work?

Response: Honestly, I was amazed at how easy it was to see these poems so clearly after so many years. It was obvious when long tales were followed to surface one central insight, and when the excitement of retrieving a metaphor kept me rambling on. Or when two or three poems attached themselves to each other in order to be born. And so, it was swift Tao-like work to separate essence from tangle and to sift what matters from the dirt that was carried along to unearth it. Humbly, for all the craft and skill needed to revise, my advice, after this project, is to simply wait thirty or forty years until your eyes are as clear as a whale’s breaking surface in the ocean.

The truth is that I have no interest in leaving a trail of polished gems. I can’t pretend that I have always perceived as I do now, or that I have always expressed myself as simply or clearly as I do now. So, rather than try to perfect each expression, I have tried to stay true to the developmental voice of each poem, honoring the inner evolution of one spirit in one body in its time on Earth. For the arc of a person inhabiting their full humanness in relation to others and the living Universe is the dynamic poem of a lifetime.

All this to say that in my early work, I would trip into the deep and be completely captivated with a glimpse of what was suddenly in view. Like a marine biologist, I would chronicle the entire dive, culminating with the bit of truth I would find along the bottom. There is nothing wrong with these poems or with this form of inquiry. But it made me realize that now, I live in the deep. And so, my later poems are written through the lens of that depth. I am no longer bringing treasure up to you, but inviting you to risk entering the deep with me. The treasure is in living in the deep. This is the reward of all poetry.


Question: This book gathers poems around the theme of “sacred becoming.” What does this mean?

Response:  When God is asked in the Torah for His name, a reply comes from the unseeable, “I am Becoming….” At once, “Becoming” emanates two meanings. As a noun, it suggests that God is a process, that the sacred reveals itself in a life of transformation and unfolding that never ends. As a verb, it suggests that God is still emerging, still not completely defined, beautifully as unfinished as we are.

By saying His name is “I am Becoming,” God is showing us how to live fully in the world. This suggests that the aim of any sacred becoming is not to arrive at any finished state, but to taste everything in our brush with life and thereby know, through experience, the spark of what is holy.

The kind of courage this requires is both real and noble. Real in the fact that the only way to “become” is through facing our experience directly and to commit to our continual emergence. And noble in how we stay faithful to what is possible if we keep sparking tomorrow with who we are today. The Persian poet of the thirteenth century, ‘Aţţār, affirms this kind of courage when he says, “For your Soul, seek Spiritual knowledge from what is Real.”


Question: You speak about an underlying theme in these poems of being “shaped by the Oneness.” What does this mean?

Response:  Life can be harsh and beautiful by turns. Often, it seems unfair. Why can’t the beautiful openings last longer? Over the years, I’ve learned that this movement from fullness to bareness and back is the inhalation and exhalation of the Universe. The rhythm is what keeps us alive. It keeps us growing. Once we open our heart, the thousand feelings come at us non-stop, the endless waves of a Mysterious Unity. How they wash over us and through us transforms us.

No matter how old or young, how willing or not, we are led to ask: What do we do with what we feel? By facing our struggles, we’re asked to let all the feelings in and out so they can merge and bring us further into that depth which is the Unity of all Feeling. At first, we see and comprehend Oneness. It’s a breathtaking idea. I was excited and exhilarated as a young poet to have glimpses of Oneness, to understand that everything goes together, to understand that all life is somehow connected, even though we can’t see how.

Yet as I’ve grown and suffered and loved and lost, I’ve come to feel the Oneness of all Life. So often we think we’re alone while living our lives. In a deep way, we are, but we are never far from the life that connects us and the life that comes through us, if we can stay faithful to all that we feel. The truth is that I would never have made it this far, if not for the note of Spirit filling me from within.


Question: What is your hope for anyone engaging with this book?

Response: In my poetry, as in my teaching, my hope is that people will come away knowing their own gifts and wisdom more deeply; that my poetry, especially, can serve as a window to the vastness of life and the unbreakable center of all that keeps us alive. My hope is that each poem and each teaching moment can restore our direct kinship with all living things