A few days ago, February 5, was the painful anniversary of my brother’s death. He died in 2000, so time has salved the intense wound. Nevertheless, it is a difficult part of the year, and once again I was geering up for dark thoughts (I suppose, given my personality, I should say especially dark thoughts).
I expected to write a grim poem, which is typical. But something happened. Call it what you will, unconscious influence, supernatural touch, self-deceptive sleight, but to me it seemed that a presence, perhaps Gudger (his middle name, what we called him, though his friends used “Gudge”) told me to focus on wonder instead of gloom. It wasn’t a verbal message but rather an outlier feeling--part urge, part thought--of bright inspiration.
Preceding this communication, I had twice tried to pen harsh poems to relieve my anguish. But the channel wasn’t there. In each case, I quit after a stanza or two. After a decade of continouous writing, I can sometimes tell when the effort feels forced and out of synch.
It was time, I had been told, to praise life instead of blame it. This isn’t a new orientation for me, but I have minimized my pursuit of paeans. And yet we all need to remember the awesome and the magical. Our consumer society does everything it can to eclipse these traits; to make us rush around in stress, serving a monetary master whose dictums are enumerated in accounting books.
But that’s not what life is about. Maybe for an ant it is, maybe for a robot, but not for a human. It is a condemnation of the cultural system we live in, not of humans, that robots can do 'meaningful' work better than humans.
Although I’m diligent in condemning the shallow, I have long been weak on praise for the magical. In a sense I have been hostage to gloom. But Gudger gave me a push. I wrote the following poem (The Stars) on a bed, lying on my side ,with a tangible pen in my hand and real paper (an old sheet, dusty, with some irrelevant officework on the back).
Of the thousands of poems I’ve written, I have not memorized a single one. Maybe this is the first. And I might use it as a prayer at night, because I have been searching for a prayer.
It’s not a fantastic poem in terms of artistry or meticulous craft. Not really the point. I think the point is that we should be thankful and give praise, not to any one 'right' god, but to the nature of things--and in that way, we make our own lives special, regardless of the rat race. If there are gods, surely they would create us with the purpose of lifting our heads to see this way. (And if there are no gods, it is still noble and special, maybe more so).
Ultimate meaning is quite simple in a way. It is all around us. The trick is being able to remember. We’ve all been there. And it waits for us to return. Again and again.
so full of seeds to grow in our minds.
we blossom because the universe
has blossomed. that vast great garden
welcomes our gaze.
and in our hearts dwell the fierce burnings,
strong because of our wonder;
how trustworthy and ancient
those candles above our perch,
rich in the gleam of our awe;
and lifting us through ballets of galaxies,
many peaks our dreams to refresh--
and how lucky that brief yet eternal
bridge of sleep, chasing such ecstasies
beyond the envy of time.