What Some Call Coincidence

First, I read this article about Stephen Colbert and was awed by how deep the conversation was and how much I needed to hear it.

Then, I opened David Whyte’s River Flow collection and read this:

Yorkshire

I love the dead
and their quiet living
underground
and I love the rain on my face.

And in childhood,
I loved the wind
on the moors
that carried the rain
and that carried the ashes
of the dead
like a spring sowing
of memory,
stored through all
the winters past.

In the dark November
onset of the winter
in which I was born,
I was set down in the
folds of the land
as if I belonged there,
and in that first night
under the evening shadow
of the moors and most likely
with the wind in the west,
as it would be for most
of my growing life,

I was breathing in the tang
and troubles of that immense
and shadowing sky
as I was breathing the shadows
of my mother’s body,
learning who and what was close
and how I could belong.

What great and
abstract power
lent me to those
particularities
I cannot know
but body
and soul were made
for that belonging.

Yorkshire is as hard
as a spade-edge
but the underpinnings
of the people and the land
in which we lived,
flowed and turned like the
river I knew in my valley.
The blunt solidarity of my elders
floated like mountains
on the slow but fluid lava
of their history.

But on this solid yet floating
land I must have been
as Irish as my mother
and amid the straight certainties
of my father’s Yorkshire,
I felt beneath the damp moor’s
horizon the curved invisible
lines that drew everything
together, the underground stream
of experience that could not
be quarried or brought to the surface,
but only dowsed, felt, followed
or intuited from above.

Poetry then became the key, my way
underground into what was hidden
by the inept but daily coverings
of grown-up surface speech.
Something sacred in the land
was left unsaid in people’s moths
but was written into our inheritance
and that small volume of Thom Gunn’s
youthful poetry from
the library’s high tiptoe shelf
was the angel’s gift to me.
Opened and read in my
young boy’s hands,
it revealed the first code
I sought and needed to begin
speaking what I felt
had been forgotten.

Full stretch I reached again
along the spines and touched
another, other life, pulling
down into my hands
The Hawk in the Rain
Ted Hughes’ dark book full of northern omens
hovering above my
own child’s shadow on the ground,
my heart and mind
caught in those written claws
and whisked into the sky.
The first rush of poetry’s
extended arms a complete
abduction of my person.

That was the beginning,
The first line on the open page
of my new life, the rest
would be more difficult
but that was the soil in which
I would grow, and that was the
life into which I would grow,
blessed and badgered by the northern
sweeps of light and dark
and the old entanglements
to which I was born. Always
on the wuthering moors
the gifts and stories and poetry
of the unknown and unvisited dead
who brought their history
to the world in which I grew.

Orphaned by poetry
from my first home,
to find a greater home
out in the world,
I wandered from that land
and began to write
youthfully and insubstantially,
slowly making myself
real and seeable by writing
myself into an original world
which had borne and
grown me so generously.

Belonging to one old land
so much by birth,
I learn each day now
what it means to
be born into a new land
and new people. The open
moor of the American
mind, gusted and shaken
by imagined new worlds
and imagined new clouds
and the fears and griefs of
the peopled and unknowable distances
of a vast land, and still amidst
everything, an innocence
which survives hear untouched
amidst a difficult inheritance.

Let my history then
be a gate unfastened
to a new life
and not a barrier
to my becoming.
Let me find the ghosts
and histories and barely
imagined future
of this world,
and let me now have
the innocence to grow
just as well in shadow or light
by what is gifted
in this land
as the one to which I was born.

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