Let's begin with a poem.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that other made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
I read poetry because it is gorgeous and sings to me like an old favorite song coming on the radio out of the blue. I can come back to a poem so easily. I can't re-read whole novels very often, but I can read a poem every day if I choose. So far this week, I've read the Stafford's poem every morning. Just to know the kind of person I am and learn what kind of person you are so that patterns others have made will not prevail and we might together follow the right god home and find our stars.
Here's another poem, a shorter one:
Whatever happens. Whatever
What is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
I like the idea of a morning prayer, especially this one, even if I'm no believer in a god above. It's profound but playfully complex. I'm with him in the first line. I try to accept what happens, to let these things be and be with them. I'm a little envious of his Zen-like acceptance. Then I get to the second line and can't quite read it. Is, is, is? I re-read aloud, emphasizing what is then double emphasizing the next is before running the third is into the what. "What is is is what."
Neither he nor I really know what is is, but I'm so happy that I can read the second line that it almost doesn't matter. I'm patting myself on the back for being so smart, so wise. But then the third line knocks me back two-thirds through when, he says "But that."
But that? I'm at sea again, thrashing.
So it goes on a first read. I've read that piece a hundred times and the mystery has become a part of the piece. Reading it, I feel some of what I feel staring at a Rothko painting or listening to Keith Jarrett improvise at the piano. I'm not exactly sure what's going on, but it still feels good just trying to understand.
Reminds me of this: "I don't always know what the right thing to do is, my Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you." I don't always know exactly what a poem is doing, but the fact that I want to understand pleases me. I'm happy to be in a state of wonder. Whether I "get it" or not has little bearing.
Poetry is beautiful like wandering in the rose garden at Thornden Park, watching the tide recede in Maine, hearing the sound of a geese flying south, or holding my daughter's hand. It's enough to be in the presence of beauty.
All of it gives me courage (and maybe wisdom) to write on.