If You Knew (by Ellen Bass)
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the lifeline’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
they’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
A beautiful poem. It hit me this morning when the thought came to my mind that, even with the sun shining in the blue sky, “nothing will last.” It brought tears to my eyes but also a feeling of inspired resolve – to see everything around me differently and more clearly, richly and deeply. There is wisdom in remembering that life will end that makes us realize that the life we have is precious. And inspires me to live with depth, in awareness, with gratefulness and great joy.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Poet Roger Housden also writes beautifully as he reflects on this poem:
“Our greatest wounding, which is our mortality – the imperfection that no amount of prayer or goodness or psychotherapy will ever do anything to erase. We “are pinned against time.” Time is our ultimate demise and yet also our friend. It is our friend when we awaken to the reality that we are not here to stay. When we know this from the inside, the caution that may have colored our days will dissolve like mist over the bay. With nothing to lose, knowing there can be nothing to hold onto, we can fall headlong into life at last – “reckless”, like butterflies still hovering over a flower even as the collector leans forward with his net.”
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