Dreaming at the Ballet
The truth is, goddesses are lousy in bed.
They will do anything it’s true.
And the skin is beautifully cared for.
But they have no sense of it. They are
all manner and amazing technique.
I lie with them thinking of your
foolish excess, of you panting
and sweating, and your eyes after.
I was doing nothing in particular,
Spring was coming,
When out of the blue
I grabbed my side,
Surprised by this most awful of rewards
From which at first I wanted to
Run away and couldn’t.
The pain stayed until I knew its childlike
Cruelty and innocence,
Its pettiness too.
Fear came to keep it company:
A theater director
Wearing a black cape
And offering a series of boring melodramas.
I wanted Reason to defend me.
Instead it sought causes
Of my depravity,
Smaller reasons like piano keys
I could play to my heart’s content,
While the pain continued.
Impervious to argument,
The pain came closer,
Throbbing with impatience
As if to ingratiate itself.
Mean old Fate, I complained,
All you’ve ever given me
Is the satisfaction of moaning
And keeping my love awake.
“When all of reality hurts
But it was too early for understanding.
There were just my eyes burning
With fever and curiosity
In the dark windowpane
I sometimes used as a mirror.
The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
–Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
The huge doll of my body
refuses to rise.
I am the toy of women.
would prop me up for her friends.
“Talk, talk,” she would beg.
I moved my mouth
but words did not come.
My wife took me down from the shelf.
I lay in her arms. “We suffer
the sickness of self,” she would whisper.
And I lay there dumb.
Now my daughter
gives me a plastic nurser
filled with water.
“You are my real baby,” she says.
I look into the brown
mirrors of her eyes
and see myself
diminishing, sinking down
to a depth she does not know is there.
Out of breath,
I will not rise again.
I grow into my death.
My life is small
and getting smaller. The world is green.
Nothing is all.