This post comes to you after a week in Japan, a country I’d never been before, where the kindness and gentleness of everyone I met almost overwhelmed me. An hour ago I watched the wondrous city of Tokyo recede in the distance below the plane I’m on, and then the sun set, and we headed into a vast stretch of darkness miles above the Pacific Ocean. The sky from inside an airplane is darker, bigger and somehow smaller at the same time. The air outside the window next to me is so thin I’d black out if I breathed it. Everyone in the world breathes the same constantly recycling air. We all inhabit the same small and huge planet.
During my week in Japan I met hundreds of people who had read and loved my books translated from English into Japanese, a language I don’t understand. But I did understand the look in their eyes when they spoke to me, and they understood the tones of my voice when I spoke back to them. Where do I leave off and the Japanese people begin? Where does the ground leave off and the sky begin? Where does my life end and something else, something unknown, begin? This poem, like every poem by the incomparable Maggie Smith, took my breath away.
Sky, by Maggie Smith
Why is the sky so tall and over everything?
What you draw as a blue stripe high above
a green stripe, white-interrupted, the real sky
starts at the tip of each blade of grass and goes
up, up, as far as you can see. Our house stops
at the roof, at the glitter-black overlap of shingles
where the sky presses down, bearing the weight
of space, dark and sparkling, on its back.
Think of sky not as blue, not as over,
but as the invisible surround, a soft suit
you wear close to the skin. When you walk,
the soles of your feet take turns on the ground,
but the rest of you is in the sky, enveloped in sky.
As you move through it, you make a tunnel
in the precise size and shape of your body.
For more information on Maggie Smith, please check out her website.