Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

Wading into the ocean of grief,
I feel how the tides tug
at the story of how I arrived here—
the waves don’t tear my story away,
no, but float its fabric around me
till I wear it more loosely
and meet the raw self inside the story.
How many of us are here
in these waters learning
new ways to swim?
Already we’re deeper, deeper in.
Though it is a terrible gift to be here,
I fall in love with us all,
with our common humanity.
How sweet it is to meet each other
with our vulnerability glittering on our skin,
our bodies more buoyant
than we ever dreamed.

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Eadem mutata resurgo

Latin motto: Changed, I rise again



Sometimes in spring

I can still find the dried seeds

of the mountain mahogany

clinging to the ends

of the branches—

feathery golden spirals,

logarithmic and light.


How the universe

loves a pattern,

an elegant mathematics—

this same spiral is found

in spider webs, sunflowers,

snail shells, cyclones, the arms

of galaxies, the human ear,

even in the nerves of my cornea


that help me to see

the very pattern that

gives me the ability to see.

I want to find the self-similar spiral curve

that informs kindness and strength

as it spreads through a people. I want

to find the equation that calculates

an exponentially growing radius of love.

I want to find the dynamic beauty in us


that amplifies as it moves out

with ever increasing speed

from the infinite center.

I want to embody the trustworthy constant

that inspires our species to be better,

want to know the recursive courage that drives us

to thrive in difficult times.

Our potential, endless, yet humble

as last year’s seed in my hand, ready

to be planted, to sprout, to grow.


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And if we can’t save the world,

and who says we can’t, then

let us try anyway. Perhaps

we have no superhuman powers—

can’t see through buildings,

can’t fly, can’t bend the bars of cages—

but we have human powers—

can listen, can stand up to,

can stand up for, can cradle.

And if we can’t imagine

a world of peace, and who

says we can’t, then let us

try anyway. Perhaps we start

tonight—on a Wednesday.

Thursday works, too. Or Friday.

Doesn’t much matter the day.

All that matters is the choice

to meet this moment exactly

as it is, with no dream of being

anyone else but our flawed

and fabulous very self—

and then, wholly present,

bringing this self to the world,

touching again and again what is true.

What if we do? And if we can’t

save ourselves, and who

says we can’t, let’s try anyway.

There was a time I thought

I could never be healed. That

was only because it hadn’t happened yet,

so I decided it wasn’t possible.

Healing happened anyway.

What have we decided isn’t possible?

What if we stopped believing

that limit? What if, right now,

we used our human powers

of compassion, clarity, gratitude,

praise? What if we did it together—

opened all those closed doors inside

us? What if we let the opening do

what opening does?

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It was Concourse B that altered me

as I ran past old women in sarongs

and young wailing children and men

in red ties and couples holding hands.

At first, all humanity felt like a hindrance,

living hurdles between me

and gate B-14 where the plane

for Seattle was already boarding.

But then, and who can say why,

as I stitched past B-70, B-68, B-66,

I began to notice how beautiful they were,

the ones with dark briefcases and the ones

with strollers, tall ones and fat ones and

slight ones and crooked ones,

all of us constellating in the same place

at the same time, star dust

with dreams and goals and heartaches

and hopes. And as I wove through

the fabric of us,

I felt their blessing as they parted

to let me through,

and I blessed them, too,

with a thousand silent thank yous,

astonished at how different we are,

how very much the same.

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It turns out it’s just made up, the word sonder.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows says it’s a noun

that means, “the realization that each random passerby is living

a life as vivid and complex as your own … an epic story

that continues invisibly around you like an anthill

sprawling deep underground.” But it’s not made up,

the realization, as I noticed today at the pool in downtown Chicago.

I swim in a lane with an older man and a young obese woman.

For them, I will most likely always be nothing more

than an extra who showed up on the first clear summer day

after a week of rain, the woman in the black bikini and purple

goggles who shared their wide swim lane. The sun wove its light

through the chlorinated water as we swam back and forth,

back and forth. I would not have noticed them all, except

that there they were in my way and in my lane, though

I regarded them not only with small frustration but also

with growing curiosity. Who were they? What flavor

of ice cream did they like? Who had broken their hearts

and what were they sure they would never tell anyone else?

Were their closets clean or chaotic with hats and scarves spilling

out of uncloseable drawers? Did their mothers love them

or tell them they were worthless? Did they know how to fence? Or weld?

Had they ever been to France? Could they speak another language or sing?

I lived a life with them then, there in our lane where we never

spoke a word, our arms pulling us all in the same direction, toward an end

from which we always returned, though later not one of us would remember

who we shared that hour with, nor would we recall

how the sun shone so brightly, as if it were only for us.

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The sea lion swims in the glass-framed pond
with his eyes closed. Lap after lap, he barely
seems to move his great webbed feet, his smooth
gray body flexes and curves. I try to imagine his eyes
are closed in contentment, but that is such
an utterly human wish. It is human to wish—
to see what we want to see, to believe what we want
to believe. The sea lion swims in his cage
with his eyes closed. I can’t stop watching.

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A woman walks down the street.
It does not matter her name,

the color of her hair, her age,
or how she votes. What matters

is if you would go help her rise
when she trips and twists her ankle.

What matters is if you look openly
into her eyes when she is seeking yours.

What matters is if you see how she,
like you, is holding onto something dead

and has not quite yet managed to let
it go. There are cultures where people

greet each other, strangers and lovers,
by saying, I am the other you.

What matters is if, when you see the woman
walking on the street, you believe this is true.

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Did anyone else hear the interview with the undertaker on NPR last week? It was part of the inspiration for this poem of mine, published in New Verse News today. New Verse News is, incidentally, a really interesting emag that publishes poems written around current events, in this case the debacle surrounding the burial of the Boston Bomber. 

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In it Together

Will you go with me,
circle no or yes.
That was all the note said,
signed Louie.
It passed hand to hand
beneath the tables
in the back of sixth-grade English.
I circled yes, sent it back,
and waited for Louie
after class by the door.
Perhaps a sign
of true love.
Three days later the Gooch
told me it was a joke.
Everyone knows, she said.
I called him that night
at his home. Is it true?
I asked him. He mumbled
something about how it had
all started that way, but
that he thought I was nice
and maybe we should
go together. He still
ignored me, like he always
did. Did not choose me
in gym to be on his side.
Did not sit at my table
at lunch. Did not chase me
at recess. Did not call.
Did not send any more notes
on wide-rule paper.
I don’t remember now
if I cried. But I wonder
tonight what kind of man
he became, and if he
perhaps came to have
a daughter who was,
like me, the third most
unpopular girl in the class.
And just what would he
say to the neighbor boy who would
treat his girl like that?
And who have I hurt?
Who sits in the kitchen
late at night and then,
for no reason, recalls the time
that I made them feel small.
I am sorry, whoever you are.
Forgive me. I am learning
this art of humanity
hour by hour by hour.

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