Poetry. With just a few words it can make the most difficult feelings easily understood. Or it can transform the most mundane activity into a deeply humanistic ritual. I used to think poetry stripped things down to their basic essence but now I think it has the ability to alchemize life.
There is a belief that the creating artist suffers more than the rest of humanity. I do not believe this to be true. I had a Harvard professor (shout out to Vernon Howard!) who once said “one man’s opera is another man’s ball game.” He wasn’t merely being democratic – he was speaking the truth. Every day I am humbled by the breadth of artistic expression.
One artist I deeply admire is the Iranian born poet, Kaveh Akbar. I hesitate to explain what he means to me beyond revealing that he is in recovery and that his words seem to both inform, and include me. Miraculously he incorporates multitudes* in that his everyday language builds an opera of understanding around what it means to suffer, to dream, to survive.
RIMROCK – by Kaveh Akbar
Without the benefit of fantasy
I can’t promise I’ll be of any use.
Left to the real world I tend
to swell up like roots in the rain,
tend to get all lost in hymns
and astrology charts. Lately
I’ve been steaming away, thin
as cigarette paper, cleaning up
the squirrels that keep dying in my yard.
Each cascade of fur feels like a little tuft
of my own death. Am I being dramatic?
Mostly I want to be letters—not
their sounds, but their shapes
on a page. It must be exhilarating
to be a symbol for everything at once:
the bone caught in a child’s windpipe,
the venom hiding in a snake’s jaw.
I used to be so afraid of nature.
Peering up at a rush of rimrock
I imagined how unashamed it would be
to crush even me, a tiny stuttering boy
with glasses. I pictured myself
reduced to a warm globe of blood
and yearned to become sturdy in my end-
lessness, to grow heavy and terrible
as molten iron poured down a throat. Still,
I don’t know the rules. If I go looking
for grace and find it, what will grace
yield? Broken ribs, probably, flakes
of rust, an X marked in an atlas which itself
has been lost for ages. Oh, but I do
know what I am: moonstruck, stiff
as wet bamboo. I remember someone
once sang here, once strung together
a garland of near-holy moments.
It’s serious business, this living.
As long as the earth continues
its stony breathing, I will breathe.
When it stops I will shatter back
into gravity. Into quartz.
(*with another shout out to Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.)