In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.
© Ellis Rosen
My best friend lost something he has been working on his whole life. Could you send me a poem that he could use right now?
Dear Caring Friend,
When you work on a project for a long time, that project can become your companion, confidante, sanctuary, challenge. I’m sorry about your friend’s loss. Still, how gorgeous your friend’s lifetime of making: that practice of sustained attention extends far beyond any finished product.
There’s a tree I love that, in its growing, encountered a rock and grew around it. Now the rock is part of the tree. Sometimes I imagine what the tree would look like if the rock were removed. What else might that space be? Respite for a squirrel? Hiding place for a child’s toy? A space for a teenager to cast her mind onto as she imagines the tree’s long and wild histories? The shape of the tree’s growth has been forever shifted by the way it’s held that rock, whether the rock is there or not. What your friend has made is lost, and he deserves to grieve that loss. As the grief settles, I hope he will find sustenance in exploring what his making has made of him. I would love to offer him Nicole Sealey’s poem “In Igboland,” from her extraordinary book Ordinary Beast. In it, the speaker beholds an elaborate mansion Igbo townspeople have built as an offering to a god. The speaker, suspended between her Western want and her African knowing, recommits to her own desire. The poem ends:
The West in me wants the mansion
to last. The African knows it cannot
Every thing aspires to one
degradation or another. I want
to learn how to make something
holy, then walk away.
Holy the making, holy the letting go. I hope your friend will walk toward the possibilities of new creation fortified by the knowledge that the work he has done on the project he has lost will serve whatever comes next.
—CS Read More