What the Living Do

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil
probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty
dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the
everyday we spoke of.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
myself in the window glass,
say the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a
cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face and unbuttoned coat
that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Marie Howe in Sixty Years of American Poetry

It’s far too easy to get caught up in the outside world, to focus on those things we have little or no control over and, as a result, to feel vulnerable, helpless and alone. As much as I might rail against the terrorists or past American policies that have helped to empower the terrorists, I doubt that posting to a blog inflluences events any more than the man who hangs a huge American flag from his oversize pickup insures America’s victory.

Who could watch the media lately and not feel schizophrenic, caught between two very different worlds and unable to control either of them.

Not surprising, then, that too often we forget the wonder that is each of us.

Personally, I read poetry to be reminded of that wonder. Walt Whitman, Theodore Roethke, Robert Penn Warren, and David Wagoner are some of my favorite poets because they do remind me of that. Ancient Zen poets, but recently discovered by me, startle me to new awarenesses precisely because they are new to me and force me to see my world in a new way.

At their best, though, all poets, and perhaps all true artists, force us to rediscover ourselves. I had not encountered the contemporary poet Marie Howe before yesterday, but I found this poem a perfect reminder of that which does give us control over our world.

3 thoughts on “What the Living Do”

  1. thank you for posting these poem here. She is brilliant and I found the work very moving…

  2. “Not surprising, then, that too often we forget the wonder that is each of us.”

    Following a thread from another blog, I found your October 2001 post on “What the Living Do.” This is very moving, loren.

  3. Interesting what different people come away with from different poems. To me, you left the meat out of this one, just posting the two stanzas. I lost my son in a drowning accident and so related to this poem. It’s what the living do, how they keep going, even in their grief. She obviously lost “Johnny”…

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