It's been a tough week for a lot of people, a week of loss and trouble and scary things. Like many of you, I've been trying to get some kind of psychic handle on the bad news -- and the way we (we being poets and writers and other verbal folk) do it is to try to find the right language: If I can find the right poem, the right story, this will make sense; I will feel comforted; I'll be able to go forward. The next step is, of course, to write our own comfort: put it into our own language, process it, speak the unspeakable and thus, in an odd way, put ourselves in charge of it, if only for the time it takes to write the poem.
I found, as I often do, some poems by Jane Kenyon that bring solace. They helped, they really did. But as I moved from trying to salve the wounds to trying to make my own sense of them, I got stuck. I couldn't make sense of things in language because I haven't moved beyond feeling into language yet inside - I'm still feeling. A helluva place to be when the feelings aren't that great, and you know that the only way out of the fire is to walk through it.
I believe poetry - all art - is our attempt to make connections to other human beings, to move out of our alone-ness into that oh-so-fugitive moment of understanding and empathy, the yes, yes, I get it, I see you, I understand. In the unfathomable workings of the universe, or the Muse, or the post office, while I was struggling with all this, I got a book in the mail: Katy Evans-Bush's Me and the Dead.
Katy was a guest blogger here in February (if you haven't read her posts, do so immediately - at least, after you've finished reading this one). She is razor-sharp smart, insightful, and funny as hell. She is also an amazing poet, which I found out as soon as I opened her book and read the first poem. It was one of those "OF COURSE!" moments - why do we write? why do we read? what can it matter? - that, as Emily Dickinson said, literally made the top of my head feel like it was coming off. Here it is:
"The Only Reader"
As the book can only fall into temporary hands,
Its spine cracked where one page or another's been favoured
By a boy in love with love or a homesick old man
Till its glue dries up and its stitches disintegrate,
Its leaves falling brown and acidic on someone's floor,
Lines scattered randomly and perhaps thrown on a fire;
As the Canada goose honks serenely, unaware
Of foreign towns below him -- as only the sky
Has meaning and tones -- where foreign people gaze
Through open doors at his leaf-and-cloud-coloured flight,
And the Amherst woods carried with him as he goes,
And the air momentarily clearer where he was;
As the curator loves the careful strokes of the scribe
But can know nothing of the man himself who lived
A thousand years back, knowing only that he was a man
Temporal like us and who lived for the oblique,
Giving the gold-leaf ascender everything he had
Because there was no other place to offer it;
So we keep dim faith with our craft; so the reader
Pulls in illumination, and I send out my letter:
Dear Being, which art the Emperor of the Empirical,
And hope some electrical current will pick it up
To fly on a lighting-bolt like a rag on a kite-tail
So high on the hill that not even time can reach it,
And there's only the poem itself, and a goose going by.
* * *
I have read that last stanza over and over again, and this week, like real poetry somehow does in its strange but real way, it has saved me.
Me and the Dead is published by Salt Publishing. You can find it here.