Yesterday a former student and dear friend wrote to say she was going to read some of my poems and prose to a dying woman. I read her email early, the sun only a suggestion in the apple branches, and I was overcome by a sense of unworthiness. Who am I–a poet, a minor one; a fumbling man?
I thought, “I hope my writing is soul-worthy.”
I thought, “I live in graceful tension, affirming, doubtful, hopeful.”
Then I took my dogs for a walk. Entered the carnival of day.
But all day, standing at a Xerox machine, moving books on a desk, opening my office windows, I thought of Ivy, the woman in hospice who was hearing my poetry and prose.
I’m with you Ivy. Our minutes are steeped in music which we help compose, adding grace notes, though the greater hand is elsewhere.
I thought of Rilke:
My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a
I am only one of my many mouths
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because death’s note wants to climb over–
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there, trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
—translated by Robert Bly