I wonder why we come again and again
to these places where footpaths suddenly end.
excerpt “Chasms” by Radcliffe Squires
Honest poems invite return again and again. They beckon sly surrender to the unknown, each in their own fashion. And, as if by tribal rule, one can never enter the same poem the same way twice.
Sometimes the tugging lure of a particular verse can be traced to a single line — one that vibrates with incandescent clarity upon first reading, but seduces with hazy opacity at second approach. Sometimes a melodic pattern of word play seems to strikes a sacred chord, but later echoes with deceptive cadence. Once the listener begins to inhabit a poem’s rooms, mysteries of a more intimate nature begin to reveal themselves.
For this is the beauty and grandeur of poetry. The chasm charms with the loveliness of unfinished ideas, the shape-shifting enticement to look beyond the finite.
Which, we ask, should we feel the more:
The vastness or the delicate fantasies?
The answer is: neither. The answer is to feel, to notice, to honor what appears.
Poetry is the opposite of closure or capture. It’s charm lies in a ceaseless unfolding and refolding of possibilities. We dance with our own shadows between the lines of verse, never repeating the same pattern, but always wrapped in the grace that comes with a partner who can anticipate our every dip and swoon.
Poems release us from our cages, even if only to remind us that we can fly off and come back, like the tourist who narrates Squires’ “A Day in Salamanca”. Each day, a beggar boy approaches the tourist with a sparrow in a cage, chanting “Which shall it be, freedom or blood-sacrifice?” Again and again, the tourist drops a coin on the same table to buy the bird’s escape. Each time, the bird flies away and waits for the whistle that will call it home. Each time, the boy and the tourist smile “Not decently, nor gratefully, but with a certain love.”
Whatever the century, whatever the city, there is an abiding human truth to the poem’s conclusion. Liberty or Sacrifice? The rituals of grace allow us to stare at a chasm, and find someone has opened the door. “The role is a role worth perfecting”.
This is the role of poetry.
Return, again and again.