A Poet's Table
Increasingly, I value “stillness.” Still here—I’ll take it! Still hopeful. (Beats the alternative.) Spend more time being still, staying still, sitting still and my own quirky notion: seeing still.
Likewise, I increasingly acknowledge that “not now” and “one day, I’m going to…” are synonyms for “never.” And I work toward savoring rather than skipping over, studying rather than surveying. It’s the motto stamped on the coin of my future days.
The momentum of our global culture has increased the availability and delivery of information beyond our capacity to process even a fraction of it, let alone, to think carefully about even a fraction of that. Yet our culture expects responses. Sooner deadlines, instant replies, immediate likes, endless opinions and comments.
Cultivating stillness is a counterbalance. A restorative. Poetry, hiking, yoga, cooking, drawing: These are my tonics.
Yoga sessions often begin with an instructor urging, Leave everything else at the door. Or: Only what’s happening on your mat matters.
I remember similar guidance from teachers of poetry, playwriting or pottery—instead of mat, swap in canvas, page, table, stage, kitchen counter, conversation, dance, etc. The intended invitation: leave aside expectations, presumed proficiencies and predicted limitations. Bring a mindset of openness—vulnerability, even. In essence, stillness: awareness trained on a given moment so that all it affords won’t be lost on you, but found. (The great poet, W.H. Auden, called this “fixity of attention”—his definition of both love and poetry.)
Seeing stillness is found in most any discipline: composing a haiku or a holiday meal, plotting a piece of choreography or a new landscape plan. Each offers similar expansive opportunities within the constraints or particular challenges intrinsic to the medium, but the underlying tenets are universal: Take the time to gather and collect; time to present what you’ve found; time to experience the entire cycle of gratification.
Perhaps “polished” is the better term. Make whatever you do shine, so brilliantly that what might have been casual and rough, acquires a crafted, yet unobtrusive, sheen from your time and care. Such a patina—the result of your concentrated attention in one place and time—becomes more than an opaque manifestation of its physical expression and sensory qualities. It turns translucent or even reflective so that those who encounter your creation might glimpse their own reflections, memories or experiences within it. Every form of art is this shared act: complementary contributions by both conceiver and receiver.
Edible readers clearly possess this desire to savor and appreciate. So, I merely encourage you to seek the pleasures of a fuller awareness, a deeper joy in the composition—the seeing still that stretches between an original stimulus and your response. Come to relish that process rather than the fleeting pleasures of just finding and finishing. Relish the not-knowing, wondering and giddiness of multiple approaches. Hold to one moment rather than skip to the next.
I end with a form of grace. A small demonstration of “seeing still” in a form that continually challenges me to think harder, longer and more clearly, even about my mixed emotions; yes, a poem. A poem about my cat, no less, begging. Yet what creature demonstrates more fixity of attention? Be inspired.
Michael J. Rosen has spent half his adult life in Columbus and half in the Appalachian foothills east of the city. The author of some 150 books for readers of all ages, he is also an illustrator and ceramic artist.
Illustrated clayworks: bit.ly/IllustratedClay.
For the ever-optimistic…
cat, who can’t be hungry, the marble altar
where salvation from a pitiless yearning may poise
is such a storied climb it might as well
be heaven where a prayer or wish’s outcome
is always iffy, at least in terms of timing.
Patience is for the damned. It’s purgatory.
He cannot see if there is fish or cheese
that might float down—even a mere morsel—
or if the clap and clatter of he who tends the hearth
foretells that any promise has been dashed,
sacrificed to the infernal disposal
that rocks and spatters….and roars with needless gloating.
No matter. Each meal, the cat attends
the rug beside my unpredictable feet.
“Trust me,” I say to him on those numerous days
when he gazes upward as I cube tofu
or spoon some grapefruit marmalade on toast,
“Really, you don’t want this.” And yet he stays
as if to prove his devotion unwavering.
And so I place a tidbit of this “manna”
before his feet. He bows his head and snuffles.
Returning my gaze, now his one and only
expression cannot belie his disbelief:
This! This is how you reward your faithful?
He backs away, his pure heart betrayed,
swearing this will never again come to pass,
never, nope, not in a million years…
which happens to coincide with the length of a nap.
How else to suffer life’s belittlements
than to wake each time with hope’s appetite.
The publisher is happy to offer Edible readers an exclusive 30% discount and free shipping on Michael’s new book of poetry through this link bit.ly/EverySpeciesOfHope. The site also contains a video of the author reading this poem and two others.