It’s the end of the grading term at school, the students are frantically trying to finish the rough drafts of their research papers, I’m faced with grade reports – so I spent my free period reading poetry. This morning as I left the house, I picked up my well-worn copy of Poems to Live By: In Uncertain Times, which I bought eight or ten years ago and continue to mine for treasure. The one that grabbed me today was a poem by Robert Bly:
Things to Think
Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.
When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it’s been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
Maybe it was the image of the deranged bear, the child-bearing moose, or the promise of forgiveness that reminded me of a poem by William Carpenter quoted in Stephen Dunn’s book, Walking Light. Both poems share the same sense of yearning and hope, offering voices that calm and encourage.
A man stood in the rain outside his house.
Pretty soon, the rain soaked through
his jacket and shirt. He might have
gone in, but he wanted to be wet, to be
really wet, so that it finally got through
his skin and began raining on the rooftops
of the small city that the man always carried
inside him, a city where it hadn’t rained
for thirty years, only now the sky darkened
and tremendous drops fell in the thick dust
of the streets. The man’s wife knocked
on the window, trying to call him in.
She twirled one finger around her ear
to sign that he was crazy, that he’d
get sick again, standing in street clothes
in a downpour. She put the finger in her mouth
like a thermometer. She formed the word idiot
with her lips, and, always, when she said that
he would give in. But now he stood there.
His whole life he’d wanted to give something,
to sacrifice. At times he’d felt like coming up
to people on the street, offering his blood.
Here, you look like you need blood. Take mine.
Now he could feel the people of his city
waking as if from a long drought. He could feel
them leaving their houses and jobs, standing
with their heads up and their mouths open,
and the little kids taking their clothes off
and lying on their bellies in the streams
and puddles formed by the new rain that the man
made himself, not by doing anything, but standing
there while the rain soaked through his clothes.
He could see his wife and his own kids
staring from the window, the younger kid
laughing at his crazy father, the older one
sad, almost in tears, and the dog, Ossian—
but the man wanted to drown the city in rain.
He wanted the small crowded apartments
and the sleazy taverns to empty their people
into the streets. He wanted a single man with
an umbrella to break out dancing the same way
Gene Kelly danced in Singing in the Rain,
then another man, and more, until the whole
city was doing turns and pirouettes with their
canes or umbrellas, first alone, then taking
each other by the arm and waist, forming a larger
and larger circle in the square, and not
to any music but to the percussion of the rain
on the roof of his own house. And if there were
a woman among the dancers, a woman in a flowery
print skirt, a woman wetter and happier and more
beautiful than the rest, may this man be
forgiven for falling in love on a spring
morning in the democracy of the rain, may
he be forgiven for letting his family think
that is just what to expect from someone who
is every day older and more eccentric, may he
be forgiven for evading his responsibilities,
for growing simple in the middle of his life, for
ruining his best pants and his one decent tie.
One summer night, when I was Youth Minister at University Baptist Church, a bunch of kids were over at my house for a Bible study or something. We were all sitting in the living room when a Texas thunderstorm blew in quickly and the rain fell in sheets. Everything was soaked in a matter of seconds. One of the kids caught my eye and, without a word, we got up, ran out into the rain, and started jumping up and down in the puddles. It was a moment of unadulterated joy. When I turned around, I saw that everyone else had followed us. We stayed outside until the rain left as quickly as it had come and then realized we had about fifteen minutes before everyone’s parents came to pick them up. I handed out every towel I could find in my house and we were still wet and laughing when the cars started to arrive. I remembered that night as I read about the man soaking the city inside him in the rain.
I don’t have a big point to make other than these are all stories that felt worth sharing.