Why some people do not read poetry...

About a month ago, at the Jazz and Liturgy workshop in Nashville, we encountered a participant who... well, let's say not only loved and lived to dominate the conversations, but also held no ambiguity about the correctness of his opinions.  ALL his opinions - the big ones, the important ones, the stupid ones, the irrelevant ones and everything in-between. "Ok," I thought, "been there, done that... and I'm not really into being bullied at a spirituality and music conference."  So, with a measure of tenderness - and just a bit of my own bravado (I'm sure) - I periodically challenged the most egregious of his tirades.

The one that started it all, however, was the pronouncement that not only did he HATE all poetry, but that the men in his church did, too.  (Never mind that he tended towards biblicism - and as one of my mates said, "How does that jive with... um.. the Psalms?")  Today, my dear heart sent me this by W.S. Merwin called, "Why Some People Do Not Read Poetry."
Because they already know that it means
stopping and without stopping they know that
beyond stopping it will mean listening
listening without hearing and maybe
then hearing without hearing and what would
they hear then what good would it be to them
like some small animal crossing the road
suddenly there but not seeming to move
at night and they are late and may be on
the wrong road over the mountain with all
the others asleep and not hitting it
that time as though forgetting it again


Now here's the deal:  I get that most American men have not been trained to like waiting - or listening - or being intuitive.  I know from first hand experience that to be successful as an American man means to bury your feelings - or else have the shit beaten out of you physically and emotionally - so that we only grasp anger and fear. But  the church doesn't have to cave in to the status quo and sacralize this scarification of the soul, right?

I KNOW men in church who ache to be set free from this wound.  Every week I am with men - young, old and in-between - who weep when they are given permission in a safe and loving environment to own how hard it is to be a man.  What's more, I actually felt a deep grief  in my chest whenever my conference mate blathered on in his over-the-top, king-of-the-mountain, I-take-pride-in-my-insensitivity way.

All I could hear was Jesus whispering:  come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden and I will give you... rest.  Damn - so many of us men, both women and men, need a rest - some connection with the Lord's unforced rhythms of grace, yeah?  In what is one of my favorite Robert Bly poems, "The Russian," he puts it like this:

"The Russians had few doctors on the front line.
My father's job was this: after the battle
Was over, he'd walk among the men hit,
Sit down and ask, 'Would you like to die on your
Own in a few hours, or should I finish it?'
Most said, 'Don't leave me.' The two would have
A cigarette. He'd take out his small notebook -
We had no dogtags, you know - and write the man's
Name down, his wife's, his children, his address, and
   what
He wanted to say. When the cigarette was done,
The soldier would turn his head to the side. My
   father
Finished off four hundred men that way during the
   war.
He never went crazy. They were his people.

He came to Toronto. My father in the summers
Would stand on the lawn with a hose, watering
The grass that way. It took a long time. He'd talk
To the moon, to the wind. 'I can you you growing' -
He'd say to the grass. 'We come and go.
We're no different from each other. We are all
Part of something. We have a home.' When I was
   thirteen,
I said, "Dad, do you know they've invented sprinklers
Now?' He went on watering the grass.
'This is my life. Just shut up if you don't understand
   it.'"

Amen and amen.

Comments

Steve Finnell said…
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RJ said…
Thanks, man.
RJ said…
I am with you, Peter.

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