How the future looks
I am visiting a large university.
The library is a red brick tower
15 stories tall.
The open green spaces
Are dotted with students sunbathing,
Launching frisbees over heads
Of pink and blue and orange hair.
Professors from other eras
Pass to and fro
Dragging long purple shadows.
The sun is setting.
The same sun is rising.
Ten years pass.
A young Chinese man in his pajamas
Charges down from his dorm
Right into a huge flock of geese by the pond
Who honk and flap and flee every which-way
But eventually they gather in the middle of the pond
Where they consider their options and fix their feathers.
The young man laughs and laughs
His name is Tin Sen.
He will change the world.
Reflection: This happened about 20 years ago. My son and I were checking out New England colleges. We were at UMass in Amherst. It was early, about 9. We were walking around a pond on campus, below the library, and what happened was exactly how I described it. I liked everything about this young man: how he burst from his dorm in his pajamas, created chaos with the geese and exploded with laughter. I felt like he was showing me a better way to live. Now, so many years later, he returns in this poem to help renew the planet. And his world is not a recycled planet or a wounded, over-crowded, war-ravaged, struggling planet. His is a world inhabited by people like him who wake up just in time to make change. Nothing can stop him because he has the will to stir things up and he knows how to give himself over to joy.
Onion was deep in thought
looking out over the field
where Woo was sitting
reading a book under a tree.
Beyond where Woo was sitting
was an old pile of stones
left by the farmer who cleared the field
many years ago.
Onion was thinking about his life
as Onion. What had he accomplished?
that he had done almost nothing.
He thought of the birds, building nests
and the bees that make honey
and the frogs that do nothing
everything seemed to have a job.
“What am I here to do?” thought Onion.
Just then Woo looked up from his book.
“Onion”, he shouted, “Come here,
and bring yourself.”
Onion heaved a big sigh and squinted.
Woo seemed to fade for a second.
“Oh, I know what my job is”, thought Onion.
“I’m coming”, shouted Onion.
And he hurried down
to join his friend.
Reflection: I have been thinking, more like obsessing, about Mali, “the loneliest elephant” that I wrote about in my poem “What am I shouting?”. Her plight has become a watermark on my heart. Even when I am happy about something, her image repeats like a mantra, works on me like a Zen koan, around the clock. Mali really is the elephant in the room of my consciousness, except in Mali’s case, I see her vividly. Her plight seems to stand for the failure of the human race to love.
Loving the planet means loving life, and that means loving all the creatures with whom we share this place. And loving life means remembering that our hearts are capable of expanding almost infinitely. There is hate and evil in the world and all forms of cruelty, but if we uncage our hearts, evil will stop terrorizing us. Only by loving can we alter the endless cycle of cruelty and abuse and war. We are victims of our fear, and because of our fear, we have allowed our hearts to condense into a distraught muscle that beats in our chests until the day it stops beating and we die. Our hearts are so much more than a muscular stressed-out pump!
This morning it was my turn to share a poem with a circle of poets who take turns sending poems to each other. I was anxious to lighten up, remembering the words of a fellow writer, in his response to my poem about Mali: “Imagery needs no explanation, so explaining as you write is like writing before you are ready to send the message.”
I love writing poems about Onion and Woo because there is no explaining to do. I just stand back and let them interact, and usually, as with a dream, in what happens there is more than meets the eye. Woo is very mysterious to me. He (or she) is a shape-shifter. Woo’s father is the wind. Onion is just Onion (His father was an onion!) but I’m not sure who or what Woo is, but, like Onion, I hold great affection for Woo, or at least what Woo represents. Like Onion, with everything that is going on in the world, I am questioning what I should be doing with myself, how best to spend my time at this moment, in my life and in the life of the planet. In this poem Onion realizes that he could do a lot worse than hang out with Woo. Woo is not all in any one reality. He is, for lack of a better word, magical. Onion is lucky to have a friend like Woo. We should all be so lucky.
The heart is open to magic.
What am I shouting?
I saw a photo of an elephant in a concrete cell
She was holding her own tail with her trunk
to close the circle of
a loop of loneliness,
standing, eyes closed
to the long sentence of her life.
I just would like to know. . .
I just would like to know!
How can the intelligence that created such a creature
stand by and watch it suffer so.
And then I realized,
That’s all of us,
holding our tails in our trunks.
But were we not created to thunder
and love each other
as only elephants can,
crossing the great grasslands together
as a family?
And, as we slumber,
to be painted silver by the moon?
So, is that it?
because . . . so many years of standing back
and watching things unravel
have taken a toll on me,
on my elephant nature.
And so I shout out
into the tornado,
but what I shout
even I don’t
Reflection: When I saw this photo for the first time, of Mali, the “loneliest elephant in the world”, it made me heartsick. I mean something in me literally recoiled and it wasn’t a thought, or even an emotion that I could identify, like anger or sadness. It was more like a Continue reading