“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver (and a note from Christy)

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.

 

***

Note from Christy:

2016 was a tumultuous year. It had its share of joy, but most would agree that ’16 also had an inordinate amount of pain and loss and anxiety. It’s why I chose to leave you–for the time being–with Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow.” My long-term readers may know that I’ve opened and closed each year with Ms. Oliver, and given the “box full of darkness” that was 2016, it felt like the right piece to close this year. We can learn from darkness. We can learn from sorrow. We can learn from grief. We may never “get over it” or “feel better,” but we can adapt. We can grow scar tissue. We can choose to be softened, to keep going. We can choose to look at darkness as a gift.

Had I not gone with Ms. Oliver, I may have chosen the following by Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

Words for the Year will return in the new year after a short hiatus. Like last year, I plan to be back by April. I may post daily, or I may post on a reduced schedule, or I may just go with the flow and allow room for spontaneity. This project means so much to me, and I’m touched to know it means so much to many of you as well. (Special wave to Willene.) Sometimes you all are the bright lights that keep me going, just as these poems often keep you–us–going. “The darkness around us is deep,” to quote William Stafford in “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” but somehow, like elephants, we hold each others’ tails and we continue to find our way. Until next time, I wish you love and light and good health. ~Christy

 

“Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

 

Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. (Graywolf Press, 1990)

* Special thanks to reader Will G. for recommending this poem to us. Will said in his email, “One of (Kenyon’s) poems that I particularly love is “Let Evening Come”. To me this poem harbors a deep compassion that goes beyond sentient creatures to touch all forms including rakes and barn walls. Reading her poem is like returning to a favorite painting by Rothko. Every time I read the poem, I find new things in its colors.” Beautifully put, Will, thank you again. Words for the Year will be going on hiatus January 1; I’m grateful I could share Kenyon’s piece before our break.

Number 14, Mark Rothko (1960).
Number 14, Mark Rothko (1960).

“Possibilities” by Wislawa Szymborska

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska, From Nothing Twice, 1997. Wydawnctwo Literackie.
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh. Copyright © Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

“For the Man Whose Son My Son Killed” by Gary Earl Ross

You must understand this: my son
called me after his first firefight,
distraught that he had taken life
when I had taught him to cherish it.
He called me, said he felt weird
and needed to talk to somebody.
Who better than the father who
carried him in a backpack, read
him a bedtime story each night,
and would always love him?
I’m here, I said. Tell me about it.
He did, and I listened, offering
mmm-hmms and yesses and words
of comfort when his voice caught.

Afterward he felt better and returned
to his duties in this dubious war.
Meanwhile, I was relieved he had
survived another day of the insanity.
On his second tour his vehicle hit a
roadside bomb. Bleeding from his
eyes because of a concussion, he flew
to the military hospital in Germany and
later came home. Again I was relieved.
Today, on the first leg of his third trip
to the Twilight Zone we’ve made of
your home, he called. I was glad to hear
his voice. Glad every damn time, ever-
terrified your experience will be mine.

Later, when NPR broadcast a wailing
Iraqi father who’d lost two sons in this
chaos, I thought of you for the first time,
wondered if you were that father. It was
purely chance that your son aimed at mine
and mine squeezed off an auto-burst first.
Two—no, three fathers in agony because
our leaders are all fools. Still, someone
should recognize your pain. I do, sir,
and so does my son, himself a father.
We are both sorry for your loss.

“For the Man Whose Son My Son Killed” by Gary Earl Ross. Published in Rattle #31, Summer 2009; Tribute to African American Poets.

“mind and heart” by Charles Bukowski

unaccountably we are alone
forever alone
and it was meant to be
that way,
it was never meant
to be any other way–
and when the death struggle
begins
the last thing I wish to see
is
a ring of human faces
hovering over me–
better just my old friends,
the walls of my self,
let only them be there.

I have been alone but seldom
lonely.
I have satisfied my thirst
at the well
of my self
and that wine was good,
the best I ever had,
and tonight
sitting
staring into the dark
I now finally understand
the dark and the
light and everything
in between.

peace of mind and heart
arrives
when we accept what
is:
having been
born into this
strange life
we must accept
the wasted gamble of our
days
and take some satisfaction in
the pleasure of
leaving it all
behind.

cry not for me.

grieve not for me.

read
what I’ve written
then
forget it
all.

drink from the well
of your self
and begin
again.

Bukowski, Charles. Come On In!: New Poems. New York: Ecco (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2006.