Sunday, July 20, 2014

I woke up on Peaks Island on Friday and read the news of the Malaysian airplane disaster. I was sitting in a crazy old rattletrap lodge, listening to the sea splash on granite, staring out at the island across the cove, my eyes resting on the peaceful remnants of a fortification, built during the War of 1812 and now masked sweetly by trees and gulls.

I woke up on Peaks Island and read the news of the disaster, and then I read it again. Innocence does not entirely die. I could not stop myself from thinking, "How can I be here, in this place? And how could they be there?"

Innocence does not entirely die, though it may be mistaken for selfishness or stupidity. Innocence does not entirely die, until our bodies do.

The bodies fell into a field of sunflowers. Yesterday I was stung by a hornet. The sunflowers in my own garden are not blooming yet. I killed the hornet, and then I destroyed her nest. She lived with her family in a hole in the grass. The bodies fell into a field of clover. The hornet's poison spread up my leg, and my leg ached for hours. It still aches. 

My friend David sent me a poem by Czeslaw Milosz. I read it but could not talk about it. Perhaps you have more fortitude. You may have noticed that I have not yet mentioned those murdered children in Gaza.
from Preparation by Czeslaw Milosz 
No, it won’t happen tomorrow. In five or ten years.
I still think too much about the mothers
And ask what is man born of woman.
He curls himself up and protects his head
While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running
He burns with bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit.
Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.
Last Tuesday, after I had finished my writing workshop at the shelter, a participant stopped me. She was a young woman, larger than me, with a round open demeanor and an expression that reminded me of the Little Princess's face in War and Peace as she is dying in childbirth. Tolstoy describes that look as "How could this have happened to me? I have done no harm."

All through the workshop, the young woman's entire body had been vibrating slightly--a ceaseless shiver. She stopped me as I was leaving and looked at me anxiously. "I don't want you to think I wasn't paying attention," she said. I assured her that I wasn't worried. "I had a lot of trauma last night," she said. The borrowed word trauma hung in the air between us like a curtain. 
from Preparation by Czeslaw Milosz 
I haven’t learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.
With not-quite truth
and not-quite art
and not-quite law
and not-quite science


Carlene said...

I can't talk about the tragedies, but I want to say that you have demonstrated so perfectly the need for form to talk about painful things, and that sometimes borrowed words help shape our own understanding of events.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Perhaps this is why we in the Western world find it hard to put our prayers in formal words. We are afraid that we can't adequately write what we feel. And we New Englanders have an even harder time letting go with our overwhelming grief and despair. Thank God, and i mean that sincerely, God, for poetry.