"I am beginning to despair
And can see only two choices:
Either go crazy or turn holy."
—Adélia Prado, “Serenade”
Sometimes the mystery of existence—that we exist at all, that we feel so homelessly at home in this place—gets embedded so deeply in life that we no longer feel it as mystery. Language, too, partakes of this sterilizing sameness and becomes in fact as solid and practical as a piece of wood or a pair of pliers, something we use during the course of interchangeable days. Poetry can reignite these dormancies (“words are fossil poetry,” as Emerson put it) of both language and life, sending a charge through reality that makes it real again.
I woke this morning so leaden I could hardly rouse myself from bed. I clutched for despair, but all the loyal life buoys—failure, self-contempt, God’s “absence”—drifted out of reach. I felt...nothing, my whole being as solid and insentient as a piece of wood or a pair of pliers. (Hölderlin, going mad: “Nothing is happening to me, nothing is happening to me!”) It was a teaching day, as unluck would have it: Gwendolyn Brooks, in a graduate divinity-school seminar called “Poetry and Faith.” When I was a child, the two most intolerable aspects of my life (or the two of which I was then conscious) were church and school. Both seemed to me so geologically dull I felt my arteries hardening. It seems either cold fate or high irony, then, that I should end up in church school. Some people can’t conceive of a god who can’t suffer. Me, I can’t conceive of a god who can’t laugh.
One wants a Teller in a time like this.
One’s not a man, one’s not a woman grown
To bear enormous business all alone.
One cannot walk this winding street with pride,
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.
One is not certain if or why or how.
One wants a Teller now:—
Put on your rubbers and you won’t catch cold.
Here’s hell, there’s heaven. Go to Sunday School.
Be patient, time brings all good things—(and cool
Strong balm to calm the burning at the brain?)—
Behold, Love’s true, and triumphs, and God’s actual.
—Gwendolyn Brooks, from “The Womanhood”