My father-in-law, who is wise and insightful, recently posted a comment on my post, “Sit. Feast on your life,” which included a poem by Derek Walcott. He (my father-in-law, that is) wrote: “The personal pronoun ‘we’ says: You are not alone, we belong together. And that’s what I wanted to add to your consideration: Don’t only look into the mirror to see yourself but look around you to recognize all the people who love you or hate you. You are connected to them in good and in bad hours. That’s what gives life to your life.”
He posted this for me to consider so I have been considering it. And it put me in mind of a David Whyte poem called “Everything is Waiting for You,” which I would like to share with you today.
Everything Is Waiting For You
(After Derek Mahon)
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
First, some info:
1) “After Derek Mahon” refers, I think, to Irish poet Mahon’s beautiful poem “Everything is Going to Be Alright” (this poem will be the subject of a future post, but it’s certainly worth a Google now if you are so inclined).
2) You can hear Whyte read his poem at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq2NfrNt9EU. Try to ignore the images in this clip because they are distracting, but please do give the poem a listen. It ABSOLUTELY changes how much you can get from any poem if you hear it read aloud.
This poem speaks right to you, the reader, from the very first line: “Your great mistake is to act the drama/as if you were alone.” Even in the most trivial details of our lives, and we can choose belonging or abandonment: “To feel abandoned is to deny/the intimacy of your surroundings.” It’s funny and challenging that Whyte chooses such everyday, seemingly insignificant objects to make this point: the soap dish, the window latch, the speaker in the phone. A poem with a topic like this could have been schmaltzy and overly sentimental, and this one is not.
I think part of what he’s doing is putting us, human beings, in proportion to the things around us: we are just part of the picture, but we ARE part of the picture. We are supported by everything around us. This line: “Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into/the conversation” touches on a huge theme in David Whyte’s work–that of conversation. Everything he writes urges us to engage in conversation with others, with our selves, with the natural world.
But he also reminds us that life is not there simply to act out the great drama of OUR lives; other people are not extras shipped in to play parts in our little stage productions. The world is so much more than we can conceive of, thank God, and “All the birds/and creatures of the world are unutterably/themselves.” Whyte, who was trained as a marine zoologist, often says that we are always on a frontier of discovering what is us and what is not us. And this requires courage, curiosity and vulnerability–the vulnerability of not knowing, the curiosity to explore, and the courage to continue on into the unknown.
If you listened to Whyte reading this poem (and if you didn’t, stop right now and do that), you will hear that he repeats the word “everything” several times in the last line. “Everything is waiting for you” is an invitation, but one with a catch that all worthwhile invitations have: “everything” is waiting for you, “everything.” Things that will nourish you, terrify you, confuse you; things you cannot possibly conceive of. But we are never alone.
Here is some of what I can see and hear as I sit and write this: the sound of the knife on the cutting board as my husband chops celery for tomorrow’s lunches; a leaf falling off of the ficus that is in dire need of repotting; my son’s face reflect in the light from the screen of his iPod Touch, his own “dream ladder to divinity” at the moment; the bottle of water I have been trying to force myself to drink today, which is now, inexplicably, filled with chunks of carrot, courtesy of my 4-year old.
“Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” I know everyone in this house, I’ve seen them all before. I’ve seen the toys and books all over the floor, I’ve smelled the bleach I wish Martin would stop using, I’ve heard the excruciatingly tedious, torturous sound of Super Mario Bros Wii, but there is so much I don’t know. Without the imaginative vision that poetry gives us, these things are just things, these people just the same old people; with the poetic imagination they crowd out the burden of our “solo voice,” and that is true, life-giving connection.
No indeed, we are not alone.