Next week, I’ll be moving into a friend’s apartment. It’s a good arrangement for both of us, to save money and to drag us out of a bit of a work-to-home social slump we’ve both been in for a while. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also curious about how it will be. I’ve lived alone for 15 years. They’ve been good years, and I’ve mostly loved it. This is going to be good for me, but it’s going to be very different.
In the car on the way over to her place to borrow some plastic bins for packing, I was listening to NPR and heard an episode of On Being with the poet and philosopher David Whyte. The meat of the conversation centered on the necessary symbiosis between being alone and being with other people, particularly the skill of learning to be alone in order to be able to be fully with another person or people. It was pretty well timed, for me, and I sat in the car to catch the end of it. Whyte recited several of his poems over the course of the conversation. For the most part, I enjoyed the philosophy and discussion more than the poems, but this one has stayed with me.
Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to fright you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the bird
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
by David Whyte
“Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” What a wonderful line.
Several months ago, a friend sent me a blog post by Anna Pulley, a poet, curating 24 love poems and categorizing them by the perfect time to read and/or employ them. It’s a wonderful collection, and it brought me several things I’d never read before. This is one of them.
May You Always Be the Darling of Fortune
March 10th and the snow flees like eloping brides
into rain. The imperceptible change begins
out of an old rage and glistens, chaste, with its new
craving, spring. May your desire always overcome
your need; your story that you have to tell,
enchanting, mutable, may it fill the world
you believe: a sunny view, flowers lunging
from the sill, the quilt, the chair, all things
fill with you and empty and fill. And hurry, because
now as I tire of my studied abandon, counting
the days, I’m sad. Yet I trust your absence, in everything
wholly evident: the rain in the white basin, and I
– by Jane Miller
It is the third day of April. Traditionally, on this blog, I’ve done an annual April project to celebrate National Poetry Month. I skipped it last year because there were a number of things clamoring for my attention and I couldn’t hear one more. This year there are at least two more things clamoring for my attention, but damn it, I like this project. I don’t want to let it slide for two years. That is the slide of death. This year is also the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month. If I can’t show up for that, what am I even doing with this chapbook in my hip pocket?
So here I am, days late, shoes untied and twigs in my hair. I will say right up front that there’s no way I’ll post a poem every day this time around, but I’m showing up and I will contribute to class.
It’s been my habit to kick things off with a nod to April Fool’s Day by posting a parody of William Carlos Williams’ This Is Just To Say. I see no reason to alter this habit just because I’m two days late for foolery. Plus, I’ve got a prize one to share that I’ve been saving for two years. This is the work of my friend Matt, whom I met on Twitter, oh, who knows exactly when. He’s a stand-up human being, has good taste in comics, and he’s a fine writer. Obviously. Thanks, Matt!
This Is Just To Say
I have rebuilt
that was in
your dogs were
I have nicknamed you
you goddamn rednecks
Click the title of the poem to listen.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool
find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
I think this may be the only poem R.J. Ellmann has ever written, but when you’ve done this well first shot out of the box, why mess with it? Delight.
Click the title of the poem to listen.
To a Frustrated Poet
This is to say
You wish you were in the woods,
Living the poet life,
Not here at a formica topped table
In a meeting about perceived inequalities in the benefits and
allowances offered to employees of this college,
And I too wish you were in the woods,
Because it’s no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.
In the poems of yours that I’ve read, you seem ever intelligent
and decent and patient in a way
Not evident to us in this office,
And so, knowing how poets can make a feast out of trouble,
Raising flowers in a bed of drunkenness, divorce, despair,
I give you this check representing two weeks’ wages
And ask you to clean out your desk today
And go home
And write a poem
With a real frog in it
And plums from the refrigerator,
So sweet and so cold.