Some days are meant as message to the ego: “stop your planning, and soften,” as Pema Chodron might say, “into the chaos.”
This day, Saturday, is filled with such messages for me. Sick, the baby. Sick, my body. Sick, another family member, who is in hospital. Injured, the middle child.
I tried to dance today; it did not work. I tried to not care, and that didn’t work either. One should not dance when the body needs stillness and is fired with fever.
Of course, there is help. There is always help, for me, and her name is Jorie Graham. As far as I can tell, this visionary poet is one of the greatest writers now living; I have loved her with an intensely personal passion since the age of 22, when I read her first book of jewel-perfect poems.
All she asks of the reader is complete attention, patience, and total openness and trust. And that’s not asking much, is it, considering the gifts on offer? She is metaphysical, like John Donne, and as imagistic as the greatest modernists.
This morning I arrived home from ballet, weeping, vulnerable, empty. There is nothing, I thought….. And then I picked up Place, Graham’s latest book of poems.
These poems are impossibly wonderful, deeply challenging, often almost too painful in their piercing gaze into humanity’s miserable decline. The last poem, “Message from Armagh Cathedral, 2011,” is perhaps the book’s best. Perhaps.
The company of her insight about what human beings do to one another acts as sharp medicine to one, like myself, in great need of some truthful companionship:
“Everything/ that caught our/ eye – shining – we/ took. Because it exhibited unexpected movement, quicksilver, we took it by spear./ Because it whistled through the air, barely dropping its aim from the sniper we/ took it to heart.”
Sometimes, on a Bad Day, it is right and good to look at things straight, no balm of consolation, no wistful plan for hope. Like leaning into the wind. Or leaning into the lines of a really, really difficult poem.