noticing with katha pollitt

I’m always surprised when a poem turns around and offers me something that opens up a whole other personal meditation. In this week’s poem “What I Understood” by Katha Pollitt, the moment happens in two lines before the end:

people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.

These two lines follow a meditation on childhood memories of “futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment” and answer that brief yet heavy list with the list of things noticed “sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.” It’s the kind of move that leaves me asking myself what things “save” me in everyday life.

Having just moved back to Oregon, Ani and I are surrounded by a whole new set of things to notice. On the walk to work, for example, there is a brief dip down a long stretch of road, the brief steepness leading to a small bridge that crosses a creek, a creek that one can only hear and smell and see if one is on the side of the road by foot, a creek that gives me moments so much like being inside a cathedral, or reading a poem, moments turned over, silent while not silent, alone yet not alone. This brief pocket of woods and water save me.

Also saving us these days is a California scrub jay who has a route by our new home. While it’s likely more than one bird passing through, we have gotten to calling each one we see “Leonard.” He passes the tree in the front yard then lands on the fence beside the house like so:20170521_172852-1.jpg

Here’s to what you may notice today and in the days to come. Like the speaker in the poem below, we may be left not understanding what we notice, but it may save us nonetheless.

What I Understood – Katha Pollitt**

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility. Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I’d ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others? I knew
about snobbery, too, and cruelty—for children
are snobbish and cruel—and loneliness: in restaurants
the dignity and shame of solitary diners
disabled me, and when my grandmother
screamed at me, “Someday you’ll know what it’s like!”
I knew she was right, the way I knew
about the single rooms my teachers went home to,
the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,
and that there was no God, and that I would die.
All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.
the only thing I didn’t understand
was how in a world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.
This year I’ll be
thirty-nine, and I still don’t understand it.

*

Happy noticing!

José

**from The Mind-Body Problem (Random House, 2009)

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