A map of the present
Everything, as my erstwhile pal the spam horse once said, happens so much.
Three weeks ago I left my beloved job at the food bank for an exciting opportunity at the Poetry Foundation. This was perhaps the hardest choice I've made in my career, to leave a team and a mission I cared about so much and make a leap of faith into an institution that's in the midst of profound uncertainty and transition.
"Poetry keeps people sane," one of my food bank work friends said. A bold claim, but one that's proven true in my experience. Poems ease transitions and provide maps for the mind to follow in difficult moments.
Not having any formal belief system, I have nonetheless come to trust deeply in the idea of blessings. And what an auspicious thing it was when another coworker sent me, in the final hours of my access to my gcfd.org email address, Lucille Clifton's "blessing the boats."
I'd wanted to send a poem of gratitude and good wishes to everyone I worked with but then I got overwhelmed at the idea of picking one. It was a delight and an honor to be reintroduced to this beautiful poem that I first heard when Ruby recited it at Other People's Poems ages ago. A blessing.
Here is what I believe about blessing: it's an extension of goodwill in some direction. This poem extends a tide of safety and kindness from the speaker to the "you," innocent, beloved and anywhere. May you have a safe journey; may you keep your innocence and your tender heart. As I took my final commute on the bus and two trains home from the Food Depository, I reread these lines and let them bless my journey into what isn't known. The large future, yet "beyond the face of fear."
Here is what I believe about the future: it's impossible to predict and painful to try. We have only the present moment in which to open our wholeheartmindbody or harden it away. At another recent time of great transition and celebration (it was the retirement party pictured in this amazing story about someone very important to me), someone read Mark Strand's "Black Maps" to honor the moment. It's one of the best depictions I've found in poetry of mindfulness, present moment awareness, or whatever you want to call the practice of accepting that this moment is all that can be known.
What I wrote down, listening to this poem being read by someone I've never met but with whom I share a teacher and mentor, was the fourth stanza:
You can walk
believing you cast
a light around you.
But how will you know?
How do any of us know our own light? We just do. We just walk, float, ride, sail beyond the face of fear, rising with the breath into the presence we share, this conscious moment. Being the best we can, striving to deliver blessings.
"Black Maps" is the longest poem I've even attempted to memorize during the pandemic. If you want to join us at Other People's Poems tomorrow evening and see if I manage to keep it all in my head, just reply and I'll send you the Google Meet link. OPP happens monthly on the first Monday starting around 6:30 pm Central.
Be well, stay blessed, keep casting your light into this world.