Flowering tiptoeing

Poetry is the art of sneaking up on someone. Like crocuses — a magic trick in the lawn. Wonder is a pocketful of significance that can be taken as an antidote to most kinds of despair. Gentle is when cup-like purple flowers lie underfoot while we still need to wear winter boots.

Darkness is a precursor to sleeplessness when time springs forward. Secret is a chrysalis in a forest while butterfly is deep in Mexico still.

I keep reading poetry because I like being snuck up on. Mary Ruefle’s essay “On Secrets” is funny and infuriating on how all this — poetry and art and marketing and philosophy — works.

“The human mind hides from itself.”

Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets” in Madness, Rack, and Honey

The peekaboo game of spring bulbs is charming, but of the mind, not so much. I know I often wish things were more straightforward. But as I said before, I also like being snuck up on.

“Poetry is never encoded — it is never a covert operation whose information is ciphered and must be deciphered — and yet it does incline toward self-concealment, insofar as it concentrates intently on what words conceal, or, to put it another way, on what language seeks to reveal.

“It concentrates on the inside in an attempt to reverse the situation; to turn it inside out.”

Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets”

And she quotes Tomas Tranströmer’s complaint: “So much that can neither be written nor kept inside!” She quotes Carl Jung, Cecilia Vicuña, and James Tate. She quotes Paul Valéry:

“To raise the question of the mind is to call everything into question; all is disorder…. But this disorder is the condition and promise of the mind’s fecundity, which depends on the unexpected rather than the expected, on what we do not know (and because we do not know it) rather than on what we know.”

Paul Valéry in Ruefle’s “On Secrets”

Poetry is truly a wonder. It takes the unruly and often painful surprises that lurk in the mind-field and makes a butterfly, or a muddy, broken crocus.

Sometimes it makes a refuge for the heart, like a daydream summer-cottage afternoon, while the mind is more or less a blizzard nor’easter of early spring.

The solitude of a painted house 
by Salma

Hanging on my wall 
the shade of a painted tree,
a single cottage,
some flowers,
a sky.

My eyes rest on the flowers 
while my heart seeks
the solitude 
of the painted house.

from Wild Words: Four Tamil Poets, translated by Lakshmi Holmström

This Tamil poet and novelist, Salma, observes with honest courage her own longing for privacy and selfhood in the context of her family and social structure. It is instantly universal: we realize “oh, another feels a deep need for solitude.” Reading a poem, making a poem. Being transformed.

I agree with philosopher J. Krishnamurti here; I think we could all be more gentle. If we don’t actively practice gentleness, and if the violence that seems to be accelerating its potentiality keeps stirring the world, we will be adding to it.

It takes gentleness to know anything worth knowing. It wants to sneak up between your toes.

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