I know, in America, we think ourselves David
holding a stone,
ready to leap toward the fight,
but what if it turns out, instead, we’re the giant.
Too few people have decided to fail, to step
to the side so another can stretch toward the finish line.
From the swallows we learn
how to swap who will lead.
You and I have spent centuries telling our stories,
one to another, face to face, in this smallest of rooms.
Even Frost, in his sestets,
didn’t reach clear conclusions.
I want the original version, Magritte’s Still Life
or those pair of initials, hidden by Leonardo
in Mona Lisa’s eyes,
he thought would never be found.
In you, in me, one has to wonder what God
—a weeping for piano notes entwined
or for the moment the goose far behind catches up.
I suppose I have always questioned, in myself and in others, the desire to be first, to win, to conquer. As stanza two says, “Too few people have decided to fail, to step/to the side so another can stretch toward the finish line.” What if we cultivated in ourselves a sense of generosity toward others, allowing them successes that might normally go to ourselves? What if, like the swallows, we swapped who takes the lead? Might we learn from others if we weren’t always trying to assert our own dominance? After all, like Frost’s sonnets, perhaps we don’t reach the kinds of certainties, the kinds of “conclusions,” that we think we do. There might be a fuller version to find—“the original version”—not only in Magritte or in da Vinci, but within ourselves; and maybe this fuller version is hidden from us because we don’t know how to let go of our prepared faces.
The description for my first book, Fall Sanctuary, included the following question: “Is there, in fact, a ‘genuine’ face behind the faces we prepare to meet the faces others have prepared for us to meet?” The question, of course, echoes Eliot’s poem “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In the context of my book, though, the question arises out of a poem titled “Theodicy”:
See, this magnolia bloom,
its petals thick and rubbery,
tenacious, not easily cast aside,
so much fragrance
I get a little giddy
just breathing in its presence--
this is the manner of world
we wake to every day:
small revelations, curling and intricate;
and what should we become then,
how speak to one another,
how move beyond these faces
we prepare, if such a world exists?
Yes, in this "manner of world/we wake to every day," a world of “small revelations” (leading to "small revolutions") how should we present ourselves to one another? How should we speak? These questions, in essence, arise out of the book’s epigraph, taken from Luke’s gospel, on the road to Emmaus. The verse states,
And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went
with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner
of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
So much we do not know about what we do not know, about what we do not see in our midst within this only world we inhabit. Perhaps, like piano notes, our lives are “entwined” in ways we do not recognize even as we walk along in the presence of divinity. Maybe someone we know—a friend, a stranger—just like “the goose far behind,” is on the verge of catching up with us, having been left behind long ago.
I like to think such a moment might be a glad reunion, a foretaste of the kind of tenderness our deepest selves know we have been marked by.