My poem: “The world is at war because it has lost peace” (Pope Francis) — Why I wrote it

But it’s not just the world that has lost peace.
I lost my peace.
I used to have it.
I used to cook meals with it,
I used to season my food with it.
It was with me when I mowed the lawn.

My peace,
my vision.
I even had it after Orlando . . .

I was watering the garden
and I looked up
at the clouds passing over the field,
and that was when I realized that peace was missing.

Have you seen it?
It was right here only yesterday?

You ask, “What did it look like?”

Well, like a sunrise,
like a bird singing in a tree,
like a wetland beside the interstate.
It looked like a gun with a flower sticking out of it.
It looked like a catchy bumper sticker,
like a sunset,
like a red and pink Hawaiian guitar
with islands stenciled on it
and a hula dancer.

It made me happy at the end of a day
no matter what the day was like.
It looked like a book of Sappho’s poetry
by a reading lamp
switched on.

It looked like a fish jumping clear of a stream.

It looked like a ray of hope.
Like a sleeping cat.
It looked like my grandfather’s sad face
when he was teaching me how to throw and catch a baseball.

I was watering the garden at dusk
and I looked up
at the clouds passing over the field
and one of them looked like a pink guitar.
I saw how beautiful everything was
and that was when I realized that peace was missing.
It was when I was paying attention to all the reasons to panic,
when nature was showing me every reason to hope;
I panicked.

I lost it.

If anyone finds it
let me know.
I’ll be home
or you can leave a message.

This was an attempt to bring home the dire implication of what Francis was saying. What is the “world” but a lot of individuals like the me in this poem? And, if we have lost peace in our private lives, what does that look like, how does it feel on a daily basis? We might still go through the motions of our day, such as watering the garden, which is typically a peaceful and calming activity and, if we’re not present we may not even register what we’re doing.

James Agee (in A Death in the Family?) wrote a description of men watering their lawns in the suburbs in the fifties, in front of every other lot up and down the street, that caricatured that sacred ritual as living proof that everything is copacetic in the universe. But when peace is missing it’s like the fifties where everything appeared to be in order, but up close the men were grinding their teeth or their eyes were bloodshot from insomnia or they were wobbling from just having downed several martinis to calm their chronic anxiety and the peaceful picture was just a front. There are ominous similarities between these days and the fifties to be sure, so Francis’ warning is worth taking in and personalizing.

It’s time to ask ourselves, like the anonymous person asks in the poem, “What does peace look like?” so we can recognize it if we see it.  And that is not just a rhetorical question. What does peace of mind look like? (Or peace of conscience, peace of heart?)  What Francis is implying is subtle. War is the failure of but the absence of peace.  How do we experience the absence of peace in our lives? Before we can restore peace, build peace, nurture peace we have to admit that it is missing. Maybe to stop war we have to quest for peace! Maybe peace is our grail. We have come a long way from the fifties. We aren’t that naive. We know, or should know by now that the problem isn’t “out there” and that we can keep violence out of our lives by building walls and arming ourselves to the teeth. We have to study what peace looks like and find it.


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