Some poems lodge themselves within us and at the right moment, given the smallest opening, emerge to break down the last few bricks that enclose revelation.
This is one of those poems for me. I have heard David Whyte recite it many times, always commenting on how totally un-Irish it is for an Irish poet to not only put aside talk of death but to simultaneously affirm the beautiful mystery and possibility of life.
When the poem “showed up” for me earlier this week it came first as a passing thought, just hinting at its intention to arrive at my door. The next morning, it burst through that door as both punctuation and affirmation in the midst of a conversation about the gift of an open heart.
It felt as if the poem itself came along beside me, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and said, “Yes, David, everything is going to be all right.”
This is why I read and write poetry, because it is “language against which we have no defenses.” (David Whyte)
Everything is Going to Be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.
Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.
My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.
Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk.
Here is another poem for Father’s Day, both difficult and beautiful.
The Seven of Pentacles
Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
With thanks to my dear friend, Alia, for sharing this poem with me.
My friend, Tom, shared this poem with a small group of us last week. The poet invokes the fullness of a child’s resolve to live up to and into the expectations of his life and the loss of innocence necessary to do so. Tom’s reading of it, both tender and measured, was heartbreaking in the way that threshold moments must always be.
A Farewell, Age 10
While its owner looks away I touch the rabbit.
Its long soft ears fold back under my hand.
Miles of yellow wheat bend; their leaves
rustle away and wait for the sun and wind.
This day belongs to my uncle. This is his farm.
We have stopped on our journey; when my father says to
we will go on, leaving this paradise, leaving
the family place. We have my father’s job.
Like him, I will be strong all my life.
We are men. If we squint our eyes in the sun
we will see far. I’m ready. It’s good, this resolve.
But I will never pet the rabbit again.
At midday, the tender needles
of the Douglas fir cradle rain drops
not yet stolen by the sun.
A brush of the hand and they are yours,
diamonds dripping from your fingers.
By touch or time, by gusts of wind from below
the sloping hill, they must, against my longing,
fall to the earth.
It is evening now, and I hold a secret wish
that in those unseen places,
away from touch and sun and wind,
some drops remain.
But I cannot know for sure. I am not there.
And I dried my hands long ago.
My friend, Theresa, loves this poem. I haven’t seen her for a few days and that’s too long. Today, that changes. I will welcome “the splash of her touch.”
on a plane,
you see a stranger.
He is so beautiful!
Going down in the
old Greek way,
or his smile
a wild Mexican fiesta.
You want to say:
do you know how beautiful you are?
You leap up
into the aisle,
you can’t let him go
until he has touched you
shyly, until you have rubbed him,
like a coin
you find on the earth somewhere
shining and unexpected and,
reach for. You stand there
by the strangeness,
the splash of his touch.
When he’s gone
you stare like an animal into
the blinding clouds
with the snapped chain of your life,
the life you know:
the deeply affectionate earth,
the familiar landscapes
thousands of feet below.
There is a valley
Is the oldest story.
Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.
By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs
No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.