Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Singapore - April 7, 2010

In Singapore, in the airport,

a darkness was ripped from my eyes.

In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.

A woman knelt there, washing something

in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach...

A poem should always have birds in it...

Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees...

A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.

Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and

neither could win...

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

But first we must watch her as shares down at her labor,

which is dull enough...

She does not work slowly , nor quickly, but like a river.

Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life

And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop

and fly down to the river.

This probably won't happen.

But maybe it will.

If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.

Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only

the light that can shine out of a life. I mean

the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,

the way her smile was only for my sake: I mean

the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Just as I was thinking of how Mary's poems are all saying the same thing and asking the same question (and of course they are, aren't they, just as the sun asks and answers the same thing in startlingly new ways every morning?), here she does something different, answers a different question in my mind, heals another part of my life, leads me to the broader resonance that her poems affirm. My soul breathes, "Finally!" My question is, like her one question, how do we love the world? An important corollary question for me, that has been feeling neglected in this book of poems to date, is how do we love the humans in our world? How do we love all that we are and including our expression in society that leaves beauty scrubbing ashtrays in public toilet bowls? How do we see light in war, in poverty, in gang leaders and in drug lords? This is the work of my life, to love the world of nature, including human nature. This driving passion is no more noble than the sharp tang of cigarettes and urine mixing in polluted rivers, or the refolding of a dirty cloth in the hands of others on any street, either in Singapore or Mexico City. The light that can shine out of our lives is in all our hands.

When have you been surprised by beauty in humans?


  1. How is beauty defined here? Physical - aesthetic? Emotional - peace? The poem resonates with me as I worked my way through college by cleaning dormitories. Most of my co-workers were not college students and they felt like the students saw them as second-class citizens. I think this perception was mostly accurate.

    I learned a lot about human nature and myself in that job. My co-workers had diverse, interesting lives. They struggled and survived. Some had families; some didn't. They loved and laughed. They felt deeply. They deserved respect. Beauty was there in how hard they worked and in how seriously they took responsibility for the importance of their work. Imagine if no one cleaned public restrooms. What if no one restocked the toilet paper and soap dispensers? There should be no shame in being a janitor. It is profession that serves humanity at a basic, gritty level. Janitors see shit and worse. They clean it so you don't have to see it or be exposed to it. It's a difficult, dirty job but most care enough to do it well. Mary interpreted the smile of the woman as one of embarrassment. Perhaps it was one of pride. Beauty exists in the unsung laborers - in the toil and sweat of a job no else wants to do.

    A clean restroom is a happy place. You know it and the people who keep it clean know it. And if you want to see even more beauty in the restroom, look into the mirror. You are beautiful too - in numerous ways!

  2. Anonymous - I loved your comments. It is true that one only needs to look in the mirror to see beauty.

    I spent much of the day focused on the word surprised. I have seen beauty in many many children who don't fit the mold or know how to play the game of school. When I found the spark of light and grabbed it, I could convince parents and teachers alike not to give up. Once they grabbed onto that spark I could sit back and watch a child unfold and blossom. But, it wasn't a surprise to me, because I truly believe every child radiates light in their own special ways.

    There was a man in whom there was a special beauty that although it was a job, there was a special caring for the people he worked with. I am speaking about a judge. We had been through five years of hearings, judges, court orders, and forced visitation with a very abusive father. Three judges told me they couldn't do anything because Florida didn't have any incest laws. He stood in court and declared he was going to educate his children the way he wanted.

    While on summer visitation their father left for a week to teach out of town. He left them with his parents who had taught him some of the ways to disipline children, such as hitting them in the solar plexus hard enough to knock the wind out of them. They decided the court hadn't told them they had to visit their grandparents. They took the opportunity to walk about ten blocks, catch a city bus to downtown, get on a Greyhound bus, have the driver drop them off at a country road between towns, and walk about a half mile through the corn fields to their Aunt's house.

    I can't recall what the motion was now. I remember the judge had had the children come in and sit to be questioned. He asked the older ones a few questions. My seven year old son had been sitting up in the much too big chair attending to every word. The judge turned to him and said something like, you like to visit and see your grandparents, don't you? My son's reaction while keeping his eyes on the judge was to curl up into a fetal ball and in what seemed like forever, he chocked out a "No".

    I was surprised when this judge read my son correctly. He stopped the questioning, turned to my ex and ordered that he was to never allow the children to be alone with the grandparents, not even to run up to the convenience store, never. He then turned to the children and in as gruff a voice as he could come up with at the moment just told the children, "If you recalcitrant children will not visit your father, he will not have to pay child support." The beauty and light of this man shone through more than I ever could have imagined. He gave us the crack in the wall we had been facing. A short family discussion in the hallway with a reality check on the money which would mean we couldn't eat at McDonalds on Friday evenings, led to a decision to forego the small amount of money and never have to visit again. My ex was happy with that and we were happy with it. They said good-bye and that was the last they have seen him. That was thirty-two years ago. That judge was certainly a beautiful human being.