Monday, October 31, 2011

My Gentle Hill

Poet as farmer
My gentle hill, I rest
beside you in the dark
in a place warmed by my body,
where by ardor, grace, work,
and loss, I belong.

- Wendell Berry, "Song (2)"

* * *

I once owned a slim hardcover of The Wheel, a poem cycle of Berry's published in 1982. The cover was a dark, leafy green and a first edition to boot. It was holy to me. It was lost somewhere along the way, somewhere between the dozens of times I've moved, somewhere between the dozens of times I needed to raise some cash and sold my beloved books to do so, somewhere in the intervening years - almost 30 now - I lost track of it, my holy book. I hope I lent it to someone and forgot, or if not that, I pray who ever has it knows just what they have in their hands.

Though it was the poems, the effort made by Berry to fashion those poems that spoke directly to me, that moved me as few poems ever had before, that got me thinking about poetry as I never had before, the physical thing - the paper and board glued and stitched together - became a talisman, a reliquary of ideas and experience and hope that I might one day know where, by ardor, grace, work and loss, I belonged.

* * *

Some lives are in motion. Some lives settle in. As someone who has lived peripatetically, who has sent down no roots, I have envied those who did. Berry decided to forgo a promising literary career in NewYork City to return to Kentucky to farm and write. He sank down roots and watched the effect of his efforts to transform the land season after season until the land had taken on some of his intention, watched the effect of writing and working in the same place until the he had taken on some of the land's intention. It was where he belonged.

And you? Where do you belong, my dear fucked friend?

It's not that we all need to become poet/farmers, but we do have to become our true selves.

And how do you do that? You may well ask.

Listen to the poet: by ardor, grace, work and loss.

* * *

Ardor, the heat of desire, the zeal that does not flame out, is the most beautiful word I know. It sounds old-fashioned to our modern ears, but once language was unafraid to be say exactly what it meant and did not hide behind euphemisms, and ardor does not hide - not on the page, not on your tongue and not in your life. It is the spark, the holy spark of your essential self trying to light you up. Fucker that you are, you worry about burns and never consider the light. It is this quality, this unquenchable fire, this fire in the belly that allows you to find your work, to work with grace, to bear your losses with grace and still work, still believe that you were no fool to light such a fire as burns within you. No one lights a fire and then hides it under a bushel, but the very fact of light demands that it shine.

What are you doing with your light? Have you forgotten it? It hasn't died out, but it needs your attention. It needs you to tend it. It needs you to leave New York and come home, if that is what calls you. It needs you to stay on the road and see the endless forms and resolutions of the world. It needs you to record the quality of light you live by so that some other, some other one unknown to you or blessedly next to you, will know your ardor, your grace, your work and your loss and then, and then, and then and then you will belong to your time, your place.


* * *

Heed your call. Tend your fire: a summons un-refused. Light it up.

* * *



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