There are hundreds of poems I’ve half written in my life. Poems I later destroyed, gave up on, or simply forgot. I don’t know how other poets work, nor much about other people’s brains. I am curious, mine seeming at times so crazy. I guess I’ll never know. In my brain, sobering, the old poems – the discarded – have started to come back to me. Line on line. As if I could finish them, now.
One of these was about sweeping. The monotony of done things. Dust always resettles thicker.
I am riddled by the monotony of myself, of days. We are less what we want to be and more an accumulation of habits, rounds of duties, slaves to day jobs. There is something in this that cuts directly to the sadness of being human: what beautiful dreams we have, and how crushed we are into boxes. I’m prone to all or nothing, to think that if my life isn’t wonderful always, at all times, than it must be a failure. Prone to dismiss or lament – lament seems the more appropriate word – the pivotal turnings of our lives (great loves, major accomplishments, mystery of change, subtly of god) because I have to do things like sweep the floor.
The lines coming back to me have to do with dust motes, caught in the light, whispering of god. Of shifting light, through seasons, though the broom and the floor are the same. The motions, the same. The feet, changing in age and one day the floor not being swept, at all. Though the house stands, the floorboards hold, and the dust drifts in the columns of light. What I write to myself, in poetry, is the very narrow difference between chore and ritual.
The other night, I saw a man stand to take his 52 year medallion. 52 years made my mind balk, and I tried to imagine what whiskey tasted like in 1959. That I could do, but decades sober was difficult. Then, as he spoke, he said he’d been to a meeting every single day of those 52 years.
I was appalled. I was shamed. I was revolted and then more gently prodded…who am I to think this is so hard? What if it gave me 52 years, kids and grandkids, an honest-t0-god-life? But mostly, I was appalled. Dear god, what life tethers itself so smally to bad coffee and one book, read over and over and over?
The next morning I taught a yoga class. A woman asked me a bunch of questions, after: how long had I been practicing? And my teacher? And my teacher’s teacher? How long did I think it would take for her to do a handstand? How long should one lay in meditation, after class?
I rumpled, a little. I said I wasn’t a guru. But, I said, I think it will take the rest of your life. She looked much as I must have looked in the meeting the night before. Appalled. Hard eyed.
Yes, I said. The rest of your life. And this is a good thing.
Yoga comes more easily to me than meetings do. This is not to say yoga is easy, or that I always want to do it, or that what I want out of any given practice is what I should. Only that it hooked me, very much in the same places addiction did. In my hurt, my anger, my sadnesses. I am a touching person, and must be able to feel a thing. I touch rest, and grace, and strength, directly when I am on the yoga mat. I know yoga as ritual, not only intellectually but physically.
Which made me realize my aversion, recently, to meetings is not only intellectual, but also physical. Sensual, aesthetic, artistic. And intellectual.
I am not a good AA. I have newcomers ask me questions, ask me to sponsor. I have never said no. But I answer honestly, which I sometimes think is not what an AA stalwart would have me do. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re better off doing it alone. Yes, it is a religious program. Yes, the 12 steps do assume you will find a god. No, I haven’t found god.” Mostly, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
This is what I know: I wrote a line of poetry fifteen years ago. I beat the thing, trying to make a poem. And no poem would come. But the line stayed, half conscious. A month ago, I found myself writing the line across the top of a page and finishing the poem. Without thought, without pain, without having to struggle it into birth.
I have nothing to lament. I sweep floors. I also brush my teeth, walk my dog, eat. The vast majority of my life as this particular human being is given over to things that are chore and ritual. Most of them not terribly intelligent, or satisfying in themselves, or memorable.
But I have known those things I lament: great love, the mystery of change, the subtlety of god. My lamentation should be that I’m so eager to look away.