Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Deep Ocean


for the ten thousand things

for every no-thing else

sooner or later
you're heading to deep ocean
words love to play on the shore

they're happiest there
frisky!      at home among
crowded beaches     busy docks
people coming and going
all that hustle and bustle

but the farther you swim
alone into uncharted waters
the panickier words become

cold   exhausted   one by one
they sink beneath the waves

until at last only a handful

struggle on blindly


like this


What else should our lives become
but a continual series of beginnings,
of painful settings out into the unknown.

-- David Malouf --


     Every true writer who practices the craft long enough, pursuing it with unswerving dedication, eventually arrives at a humbling reality--the profoundest insights and experiences are beyond words. At best, language can recognize those depths, describe them meticulously, even strikingly evoke them. But the mind alone, although bringing to bear its entire, potent arsenal of symbolic expression, ultimately encounters a threshold which human speech cannot cross.

     Here's an example. For many years a graceful plant has sprouted improbably from a crack in the wall behind a washing machine in the basement of my apartment building. Every winter that plant seemingly shrivels up and dies for good. Yet each spring it grows back again, never failing, inspiring me with hope. I don't even know what kind of plant it is, but this doesn't matter. It's my friend. We've bonded.

     But today, when I went down to do my laundry, I glanced at the space behind the washing machine and saw--nothing. The plant, which had flourished there each summer for as long as I can remember, was gone--uprooted, destroyed. In a corner of the room I found a pile of brown, disintegrating stems and leaves--all that remained.

     I was stunned, angry, incredulous. Why would anyone do such a thing? The plant was harming nothing, hurting no one. It wasn't even in the way, just quietly living its own beautiful, sacred, innocent life, reborn miraculously every spring behind the washing machine. Its perennial resurgence encouraged and inspired me whenever I did my laundry. But no more...

     This has been a painful, disturbing experience. And I could go on to write many more words about my intense emotions; my concerns over nature and the environment, the wider implications of what this type of wantonly destructive, desecrating attitude means for the future of our planet. And all that would be well worth saying. But it could never get to the crux of the matter. It could never adequately articulate the void of loss, this grief over a severing, I now feel. There are no words for these.

     So yes, absolutely--let our marvelous languages frisk and cavort on the busy shore! May they continue to delight, challenge, instruct, amuse, suprise, provoke and engage us. As one who's called to create with words; who loves to work and play, quarry and build, explore and discover with them, I'm overwhelmingly grateful for such a transforming gift.

     But I've also had to learn inescapable limits--those times I'm forced to venture alone through uncharted waters, out to dangerous depths where even the bravest words finally panic, then grow cold, exhausted, and sink beneath the waves.

     After that, there's only silence, the unknown, and my naked, speechless soul...


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