The house wasn’t big enough to hold me. It was late, later than I should have been up, and it was quiet. It wasn’t the leaving, I start to write. But I don’t want to write about it, don’t want words on paper about it. They feel small, cages for heart to fit into, one after another. The words tell me to feel better, become whole again, rebuild, make peace. The words and their empty, echoing spaces.
I was the reader leaning late and reading there, Wallace Stevens. I was the stillness, and the noise. I had all these questions. Why don’t we get what we want? Where do we end, and other person begins? And how can this be, that we are so strong and break so easily, the weight of just one question enough to undo us?
I remembered a line from a Kate Light poem – “and it flickered, and was frail, and smelled wonderful.” I found the book, smoothed out the crumpled blankets, set her pages up between the folds, and drank in her words.
I remembered Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus:
To sing is to be. Easy for a god.
But when do we simply be? When do we
It is not achieved, young friend, by being in love,
however vibrant that makes your voice.
The poets teach us how to live.
You plant words in us. You sing out a blazing, single flame of song, something about the ordinary mundane moment of watching a woman run for the train, something about winter, something about disappointment or the death of a butterfly on your windowsill. You write about Italy or fear or walking alone into the underworld (as Persephone who is Eurydice who is Psyche, who are all different and the same).
Perhaps you are always a bit lonely, your words departing you as children do, not ever really yours, always sent to you for the moment when you write them. Perhaps you sit at your computer and dare yourself to cut sentences apart, to watch each word like glittering fish in a stream.
Perhaps this, too, is good. For if you do not write the poems that swirl through my head on the late night when I cannot write, if I could not hear you echo back to me that this world is capable, that we are capable, of making beautiful things despite ourselves, I might lose hope.
The poets give me hope.
It isn’t a sly hope, the kind we have when we already know all the possible outcomes. It isn’t a cynical hope, where we have given up. It isn’t a safe hope, either, a blind trust that things are good and will get better.
Poetry is reckless hope. It strips you bare and looks at you, at the story of you, at the empty room late at night and dares you to make something of it. To make something more of what happens to you. To make something, period.
You make me reckless, wild, afraid and impatient. You send out that single flame of song and in my room leaning late into the night, I catch fire.