Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

60004839212__30E2EEDE-424A-48BE-B9AD-706C3B31C6F8Last fall I began getting letters like this from the president, the vice-president, the NRA, anti-abortion organizations. Not my typical mail. Why me? Then it came to me: in August a friend died, a Marine combat veteran, and in his honor I made a donation to the Wounded Warrior project, which must have triggered a hundred conservative mailing lists.

Given my political leanings, it would be easy to post those letters on Twitter with a snarky comment and watch the equally snarky responses roll in, but that would only make things worse. Here’s the thing: most people are not zealots. You can be a pacifist and still support veterans. You can be an atheist and still respect your neighbor’s need to pray to a God you don’t believe in. You can have deep qualms about abortion and still support the right to have one.

You can despise your uncle’s racist comments and cut off contact with him, or you can remember how he taught you to ride a bike and showed up at all your basketball games. You can remember how it felt when you woke up to your own internalized racism. You can choose to open a conversation with him, one that might open a mental window, one that will take a lot of patience that you might assume neither of you have. 

But you do have that patience. We all do, once we recognize how deep the darkness is, and how easy it is to get lost. 


A Ritual to Read to Each Other, by William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


​For more information about William Stafford, please click here.​


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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

IMG_0695You know those maps where you fill in all the states you’ve been to? The only one missing from mine is Alaska (I don’t count the time that I landed at the Anchorage airport on my way to China). I’ve been to all the lower 48 states, most of them multiple times, because road trips are big in my life. The earth is a living being beneath the tires, rising and falling, sweeping west and shrinking east. Most of the time I’m solo, like last week, when I drove 2089 miles in three days. When I get tired, or when it gets dark, I tuck my old tiny car behind a semi for comfort. Truckers sometimes get a bad rap, and once in a while it’s justified, but for the most part they drive their trucks way more safely than most people drive their cars. 

Once, a few years ago, it was late at night in the Rockies, and I trailed behind a semi for over a hundred miles before I reached my exit. As I turned off, he tooted and waved, and I waved back. Strangers in the dark, acknowledging their connection. This beautiful poem reminds me of that night, and of all the road trips I have taken in my life.


Father’s Voice, by William Stafford

“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

For more information on William Stafford, please click here​.

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