After Arguing against the Contention That Art Must Come from Discontent
By William Stafford
Whispering to each handhold, “I’ll be back,”
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place
I loosen a rock and listen a long time
till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush
of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind —
I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side
or it waits and then buffets; you sag outward…
I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark–
“Made it again!” Oh how I love this climb!
— the whispering to the stones, the drag, the weight
as your muscles crack and ease on, working
right. They are back there, discontent,
waiting to be driven forth. I pound
on the earth, riding the earth past the stars:
“Made it again! Made it again!”
I made my annual pilgrimage to the West Bank of the University of Minnesota last night to see Greg Brown. I wrote more in depth about a year ago a post about my history with Brown as a musician. He was a bit more melancholy than usual and little less funny last night, but he made up for it through Bo Ramsey’s mystical guitar accompaniment. The two of them have been playing together and writing songs together for longer than Iowa has planted corn. Ramsey’s unique ability to soften and highlight Brown’s song writing and voice is a nearly perfect pairing of two remarkable musicians.
Brown was focused more on looking back than looking forward in both his song selection and story telling between songs. I think that’s a mistake as we get older. I think poetry can be a reminder to live in the moment, regardless of when that moment is in the arc of our timeline. Stafford reminding us we can make it, what whatever it is, climb that obstacle and bask in the accomplishment of being alive. Mary Oliver’s poem is as relevant a question to the 88 year old having a birthday today as the 17 year old uncertain of where their future will lead; “Tell me what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life?” That’s right, tell me what you plan to do today on this sunshine filled Saturday May morning, a precious commodity not to be wasted?
That being said, Greg does have a sense of humor about where all this finally leads….
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?