• lenten journal: we are saying thank you

    by  • March 16, 2019 • america, gratitude, grief, lenten journal, poetry • 2 Comments

    I opened my laptop this evening to the news that W. S. Merwin died yesterday. He was a prolific and powerful poet whose words have left their mark on my life. I am going to use this page to share some of those with you.

    My first introduction to him was “For the Anniversary of My Death,” which took on new meaning as I read it today.

    Every year without knowing it I have passed the day   
    When the last fires will wave to me
    And the silence will set out
    Tireless traveler
    Like the beam of a lightless star

    Then I will no longer
    Find myself in life as in a strange garment
    Surprised at the earth
    And the love of one woman
    And the shamelessness of men
    As today writing after three days of rain
    Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
    And bowing not knowing to what

    His poems are full of both grief and gratitude, as you will see in the verses that follow. His words feel simple and rich at the same time. Here is one simply titled “My Friends.”

    My friends without shields walk on the target

    It is late the windows are breaking

    My friends without shoes leave
    What they love
    Grief moves among them as a fire among
    Its bells
    My friends without clocks turn
    On the dial they turn
    They part

    My friends with names like gloves set out
    Bare handed as they have lived
    And nobody knows them
    It is they that lay the wreaths at the milestones it is their
    Cups that are found at the wells
    And are then chained up

    My friends without feet sit by the wall
    Nodding to the lame orchestra
    Brotherhood it says on the decorations
    My friend without eyes sits in the rain smiling
    With a nest of salt in his hand

    My friends without fathers or houses hear
    Doors opening in the darkness
    Whose halls announce

    Behold the smoke has come home

    My friends and I have in common
    The present a wax bell in a wax belfry
    This message telling of
    Metals this
    Hunger for the sake of hunger this owl in the heart
    And these hands one
    For asking one for applause

    My friends with nothing leave it behind
    In a box
    My friends without keys go out from the jails it is night
    They take the same road they miss
    Each other they invent the same banner in the dark
    They ask their way only of sentries too proud to breathe

    At dawn the stars on their flag will vanish

    The water will turn up their footprints and the day will rise
    Like a monument to my
    Friends the forgotten

    Here is one I only recently found, though it is not new, called “The Laughing Child.”

    When she looked down from the kitchen window
    into the back yard and the brown wicker
    baby carriage in which she had tucked me
    three months old to lie out in the fresh air
    of my first January the carriage
    was shaking she said and went on shaking
    and she saw I was lying there laughing
    she told me about it later it was
    something that reassured her in a life
    in which she had lost everyone she loved
    before I was born and she had just begun
    to believe that she might be able to
    keep me as I lay there in the winter
    laughing it was what she was thinking of
    later when she told me that I had been
    a happy child and she must have kept that
    through the gray cloud of all her days and now
    out of the horn of dreams of my own life
    I wake again into the laughing child

    “Yesterday” speaks to the role of a child in another stage of life, as well as the comfort of a friend.

    My friend says I was not a good son
    you understand
    I say yes I understand

    he says I did not go
    to see my parents very often you know
    and I say yes I know

    even when I was living in the same city he says
    maybe I would go there once
    a month or maybe even less
    I say oh yes

    he says the last time I went to see my father
    I say the last time I saw my father

    he says the last time I saw my father
    he was asking me about my life
    how I was making out and he
    went into the next room
    to get something to give me

    oh I say
    feeling again the cold
    of my father’s hand the last time
    he says and my father turned
    in the doorway and saw me
    look at my wristwatch and he
    said you know I would like you to stay
    and talk with me

    oh yes I say

    but if you are busy he said
    I don’t want you to feel that you
    have to
    just because I’m here

    I say nothing

    he says my father
    said maybe
    you have important work you are doing
    or maybe you should be seeing
    somebody I don’t want to keep you

    I look out the window
    my friend is older than I am
    he says and I told my father it was so
    and I got up and left him then
    you know

    though there was nowhere I had to go
    and nothing I had to do

    Perhaps the poem of his I come back to the most is “Thanks” because of its tenacious hope and compassionate courage.

    Listen
    with the night falling we are saying thank you
    we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
    we are running out of the glass rooms
    with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
    and say thank you
    we are standing by the water thanking it
    standing by the windows looking out
    in our directions

    back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
    after funerals we are saying thank you
    after the news of the dead
    whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

    over telephones we are saying thank you
    in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
    remembering wars and the police at the door
    and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
    in the banks we are saying thank you
    in the faces of the officials and the rich
    and of all who will never change
    we go on saying thank you thank you

    with the animals dying around us
    our lost feelings we are saying thank you
    with the forests falling faster than the minutes
    of our lives we are saying thank you
    with the words going out like cells of a brain
    with the cities growing over us
    we are saying thank you faster and faster
    with nobody listening we are saying thank you
    we are saying thank you and waving
    dark though it is

    As I said, gratitude and grief run though his poems. I will close with “Variations on a Theme,” which is about both.

    Thank you my life long afternoon
    late in this spring that has no age
    my window above the river
    for the woman you led me to
    when it was time at last the words
    coming to me out of mid-air
    that carried me through the clear day
    and come even now to find me
    for old friends and echoes of them
    those mistakes only I could make
    homesickness that guides the plovers
    from somewhere they had loved before
    they knew they loved it to somewhere
    they had loved before they saw it
    thank you good body hand and eye
    and the places and moments known
    only to me revisiting
    once more complete just as they are
    and the morning stars I have seen
    and the dogs who are guiding me

    To say thank you for his life and words seems the best thing to do.

    Peace,
    Milton

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    2 Responses to lenten journal: we are saying thank you

    1. Phyllis
      March 16, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Yes indeed.

    2. March 18, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      beautiful … thank you

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