Monday, December 10, 2007

In Memoriam

Roll Call
William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

Red Wolf came, and Passenger Pigeon,
the Dodo Bird, all the gone or endangered
came and crowded around in a circle,
the Bison, the Irish Elk, waited
silent, the Great White Bear, fluid and strong,
sliding from the sea, streaming and creeping
in the gathering darkness, nose down,
bowing to the earth its tapered head,
where the Black-footed Ferret, paws folded,
stood in the center surveying the multitude
and spoke for us all: "Dearly beloved," it said.
I was part of a memorial service on Saturday, for a young woman whose life was cut off far too short. I can't claim I was already familiar with Stafford's poetry--I wasn't. But I tripped over Roll Call this morning... and somehow the two connect in my head. The loss, the grief for the pointless, purposeless loss.

Stafford was born in Liberal, Kansas--sounds like the set up for a Garrison Keillor joke, but it's both true, and true. Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II. That such a man was poet laureate of the United States... in 1970... rather boggles my mind.

William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon
to ward off complicity—the ordered life
our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife,
our chance to live depends on such a sign
while others talk and The Pentagon from the moon
is bouncing exact commands: "Forget your faith;
be ready for whatever it takes to win: we face
annihilation unless all citizens get in line."

I bow and cross my fork and spoon: somewhere
other citizens more fearfully bow
in a place terrorized by their kind of oppressive state.
Our signs both mean, "You hostages over there
will never be slaughtered by my act." Our vows
cross: never to kill and call it fate.

And there's grief, and resistance unto death of another sort.

This is, among other things, a blog about religion. About Unitarian Universalism. I've no idea about William Stafford's religious beliefs--and that really doesn't matter here. What he has to say speak to us, and we are wise enough--and not too proud--to take wisdom and inspiration where we find it.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other
William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Hope in a dark era. But as Parmenides wrote, The light is at home in the darkness. Hold onto the line ahead of you.

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