personal, ruminations

The Joys of Life, the Moon, and Reading

Source: eye of einsteinMoon Sliver

Last Wednesday evening, as I got up from the computer, I looked out the window. There in the sky, fragile and held aloft by what seemed to be nothing was a sliver of the moon. The horizon I could see over the nearby houses was an enchanting shade of mild orange, which melted into a thin rainbow of yellow and green under a sky of beautifully darkening blue.

To improve the image, the trees, long since little more than needle-like lines in the sky, pointed up everywhere. And below, a thick layer of recently fallen snow made the evergreens look like the quintessence of winter.

Were I feeling vulnerable, I though, I might just have to shed a tear or two at this sight. A sight made all the more valuable because of all the times I know I’ve forgotten to look out the window and say “My God, it’s grand to be alive.”

It’s exceptionally easy to forget what a wonder life is, as we bustle from meetings to errands to television and bed. And it’s when we lose sight of these sights, that thin sliver of a moon held aloft over a perfectly darkening horizon, that we begin to stress about things unworthy of our care.

Getting a raise, or a Christmas bonus, are perhaps not trivial concerns. Making certain you’ve got a shelter for warmth, and food and water to keep you alive certainly are not. But when I stood there and looked at the moon, not a single thing in the world seemed to matter much at all.

Were I to have died, right then, right there, I would have been satisfied. Sure I haven’t accomplished all I’d like. I’m not confident that the world’s a better place than it would have been without me. But to know I got to fully enjoy that view of the moon over my horizon when no one else did was enough. And that can alway be enough.

It’s that feeling, that deep awareness of the importance of that moon over that horizon, that has inspired my undying love for both The Little Prince and the poems of William Stafford. Like no other writers, Saint Exupéry and Stafford seem aware of the amazing power that’s contained in watching the last flickering momemts of the sunset, as the thin moons floats aloft exactly where you want it to be.

Sharing that feeling of love and peace communicated by those men is perhaps the highest ambition of this man.

OPW, poetry

OPW: The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report

“The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report” is among the most confounding William Stafford poems that I have ever found. I am honestly unable to understand or explain exactly what it is supposed to mean, but I’m still awed by the beauty of the phrases.

The most salient meaning I have found (thank you Google) that it is about intellectualism in the 1950s. I can find possible allusions to this in the poem, but I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation. If you think you can explain it, or want to try, please let me know.

Tonight beyond the determined moon,
aloft with nothing left that is voluntary
for delight, everything uttering hydrogen,
your thinkers are mincing along through a hail of contingencies,

While we all–floating though we are, lonesome though we are,
lost in hydrogen–we live by seems things:
when things just are, then something else
will be doing the living.

Doing is not enough; being is not enough;
knowing is far from enough. So we clump around, putting
feet on the dazzle floor, awaiting the real schedule
by celebrating the dazzle schedule.

And, whatever is happening, we are here;
a lurch or a god has brought us together.
We do our jobs–listening in fear
in endless, friendless, Jesus-may-happen fashion.

Our shadows ride over the grass, your shadows, ours: –
Rich men, wise men, be our contemporaries.

personal, poetry

Meeting William Stafford

This is not about the time that I met the late and great poet William Stafford. Though we shared six years on this earth, I never got that chance. This is rather about the metaphorical meeting that great poetry can convince you you have had.

There are poems that you read which resonate. About which you say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel, or at least how I’d like to.” The first time this happened to me though, I was shocked.

My high school education included too much average poetry and too little that resonated with me, if anyone. We read Dickinson too early to understand her, and Plath too briefly to care. We surely read others, but they never stuck.

I became convinced that I hated poetry. It’s not that I hated the words, I hated the pressure that my education put on the form and the analysis.

First I learned how to write sonnets. Not that I would ever write a sonnet, but someone thought I should know how to.

And then I was forced to pull meaning out of Shakespeare. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Really we were simply looking for tricks that reinforced the poem’s meaning. But I was never told, so I became convinced that there was to be meaning attached to each slant rhyme, each sibilance, and god forbid, the hundreds of metaphors. This killed any innate love for poetry I may have ever had.

After that, I hated the form.

With time a few broke through. William Carlos Williams famous “so much depends…” got me once. Bukowoski, beaten over my head by a friend, seemed good enough.

William Stafford, though, he’s the one that snuck up on me. Surfing the internets [sic] one day I found this:

‘Any Morning’

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

I couldn’t look away. The poem was so simple, honest, and full of the simple joy of simple moments. And it made me do one thing nothing I’d not done in some long time: seek out a book of poems.

And there I found another:

Love in the Country

We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.

Again, same effect. Transfixed. The last stanza especially.

“…we study how to deserve/ what has already been given us.” I must have read it over at least ten times. I considered how much I truly owed the world. How much I’d been given, how much I had left to give.

I haven’t read any more Stafford recently, but these have kept me. Perhaps I should look for more, I’ve waited long enough.

In any case, there’s the story of how I met William Stafford. And how he helped me love poetry. And better understand the world. And my place within it.