Then of course, there’s Song of Myself
by Walt Whitman, which gives me peace to read on occasion because, “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable.”
And there is Rumi, ugh. Rumi! During my yoga teacher training, I must have read the poem A Worm’s Wakening
at least two hundred or more times. Paralyzed in fear of public speaking, unable to coordinate the movements and the talking and the being of myself, over and over in my mind the line would chant: “This is how a human being can change:” This is how a human being can change:
(on repeat) I thought that poem might teach me grace, but instead it taught me humility. Still working at it.
While I don’t have any books upon a shelf by e.e. cummings, his poems
intrigued and discomforted me as a teenager. I would read the words and suddenly realize, that’s why spring is so unsettling—because, “spring is like a perhaps Hand.” Don't laugh. You know it's true. Well, sometimes my OCD would kick in with the spacing inconsistencies but by the end of it, the poem would have made sense in a way many things (war, politics, etc.) did not.
When I listened to Ani DiFranco at the same age, I knew there were many things
that I should be angry about. Her words summarized all of them even though I did not intellectually connect. And before I knew anything about a pained love, her song School Night
made me wish that I would someday. It wasn't the lyrics but the tone of her voice when I learned that a song can also be a poem and that a poem had this universal quality, evidenced by the line: “But I stand committed / To a love that came before you / And the fact that I adore you / Is just one of my truths” which may or may not have been, in some round-about way, another way of looking at Whitman’s “Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
I don’t yet own hard copies of Mary Oliver’s poems—I’ve always loaned from the library or perused the archives online. But I do have her book of essays, Upstream
, a particularly pleasant balm for my soul. It may have a lot to do with her writing it on Cape Cod, where I was born and became a young adult, the place where I first fell in love with poetry. She writes of Great Pond and pastures and foxes and bird’s eggs, things I never noticed as a kid, with my nose in books, then with my nose in screens. Over my bed there was a skylight and through it you could hear the train run along the tracks at Monument Beach at pre-dawn hours. It all felt too small for me, at the time. Now I pay good money for a vacation like this.
A poem is so nice for me because I can be entirely alone with it and not feel lonely at all. And while I love to occasionally cleanse myself of Instagram, thank goodness for this platform, without which I wouldn’t have discovered Rupi Kaur. She writes and you feel like someone’s handed you something sacred. It is uncomplicated, and emboldening:
want to spend
the rest of your life