“If you fall over,
I’ll prop you up.”
(Tiffany Haggard Fink)
“the daylight rushes unheard far above us
how long will we be swept along in the daylight
how long will we cling together in the night
and where will it carry us together”
(W. S. Merwin
from “Here Together”)
“please go on showing me
faces you led me to
daylight the bird moment
the leaves of morning”
(W. S. Merwin
from “To These Eyes”)
Songs are rising from the “inky black” (Welch, p. 66) of the “deep ocean” (p. 50), sonorous notes trailing a vertical signature, tolling of a monk’s bell, the Siren ringing of a copper bowl calling the contemplative to prayer ascending. The bass note of the Blue Whale. Morse code clicks of Ahab’s demon. “[G]uttural moans and high-pitched whoops” (p. 47) of Humpbacks–“unrivaled musical masters of the sea” (p. 58), cello joy of Yo-Yo Ma. Chorus of Bowhead, Fin, and Minke (p. 58). Orcas–“aerialists, performing leaps and belly flops” (p. 49). Belugas vocalizing “individual calls, like names” (p. 78), first names (p. 72). All “rhyme and rhythm, phrasing and melody” (p. 78): “I’m one of you” (p. 66). Poet-songs of light rising from the dark.
Saint Francis of Assisi’s song of community–love in spite of hate; faith where doubt corrodes; bulwark of hope holding back despair; joy shouldering uphill the bolder of grief.
Trees know this: Every tree is “valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible” (Wohlleben, p. 4). Sick trees “are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance” ( p. 4).
Paul, who has been my friend for two years now at City Light Community Ministries, asks, amazed, as I refill his Styrofoam cup of sweet tea at the noontime meal, “Are you a doctor?” I tell him not a real one, a retired university professor of English, Director of Creative Writing, poetry. Today for prayer requests, Pastor John Moore suggested the mealtime community include “Doctor Bob” in their prayers. Paul says, grinning, “So now I have to call you Professor? Doctor Bob?” “Just Bob,” I tell him. He laughs. “Okay, Professor.” I spill tea on his pants and move on.
Kevin shouts, “I hope you write better poems than you make sweet tea.” Mr. Battles, a Vietnam veteran, comes to what he considers my defense: “Bob was a Marine before a professor.” Mark grins and says, “Well, we knew he wasn’t a preacher.” Kevin lifts his empty cup in my direction: “Another refill, Professor.” “Me, too, Doctor Bob,” William sings, his song communal, rising from every table.
Merwin, W. S. “Here Together.” Garden Time, Copper Canyon Press, 2016, p. 61.
—. “To These Eyes.” Garden Time, Copper Canyon Press, 2016, p. 14.
Saint Francis (circa 1181-1226). “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.” Loyola Press, A Jesuit Ministry, 2017.
Welch, Craig. Photographs by Brian Skerry. National Geographic: The Ocean Issue, May 2021, pp. 40-79.
Wohlleben, Peter. Translation by Jane Billinghurst. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World. Greystone Books, 2015.