“How many of you, when faced with something good, begins to think of what could go wrong?” she asks. I sit here with my hands on my lap, knowing I should raise them, raise them as far as my arms can reach, towards that space where dread and anxiety live, an imaginary dark cloud above my head.

I can’t remember how many times I did this—hold joy close to my chest and suffocate it with my doubt, each time a declaration of I don’t deserve this, each time a question of how long will this last?

A month ago I was in another country, another city, in the middle of a highway. I was trying to cross to the other side, a sea of motorcycles before me. I walked quickly, aware of my space in the world, when I turned to my left and saw wheels fast approaching. I tried to step back, and then froze, certain of an accident, of pain, of possibly my heart stopping so far away from home. It didn’t happen—instead, I came face to face with someone who stepped on the breaks just in time. His face hidden behind a helmet, my face baring my strangeness in that place. My hand on my throat. Alive. Safe. Here.

It seems too enormous, the universe’s plan for me. If there is a plan. Last night I found myself embracing the new year yet again. What now, T.? What now. If I’m still meant to be here, what now?

I am telling my body, this moment of vulnerability will always be here. I am telling my body, we got this. We’re here.

Another thing I am saying: to practice gratitude instead of dress-rehearsing for tragedy. I’ve picked it up somewhere, and now’s the time to maybe, finally, listen.

Go and do, the sign reads above my desk. And you know what, maybe I will.

The Highway
W.S. Merwin

It seems too enormous just for a man to be
Walking on. As if it and the empty day
Were all there is. And a little dog
Trotting in time with the heat waves, off
Near the horizon, seeming never to get
Any farther. The sun and everything
Are stuck in the same places, and the ditch
Is the same all the time, full of every kind
Of bone, while the empty air keeps humming
That sound it has memorized of things going
Past. And the signs with huge heads and starved
Bodies, doing dances in the heat,
And the others big as houses, all promise
But with nothing inside and only one wall,
Tell of other places where you can eat,
Drink, get a bath, lie on a bed
Listening to music, and be safe. If you
Look around you see it is just the same
The other way, going back; and farther
Now to where you came from, probably,
Than to places you can reach by going on.

This is from The First Four Books of Poems by W.S. Merwin, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2000.

Dear Professor,

Where to begin? The class has ended, and my heart is so full.

When we talk about Niedecker’s trade of choice, or of Williams dancing alone in his room, or of Stein showing us how language is incapable of articulating grief, or of Creeley asking what can we do against the darkness, or of Ashbery and the idea of not-knowing—I feel like we are talking about my life. I suppose I’m not the only one.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Thank you.

I am feeling like my self again. I am reminded of this poem, which I always bring out and read, in exchange of a prayer. I think about the insistence of gratitude, despite the despair and darkness that surrounds us sometimes:

W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Everything I learned was worth everything I have suffered earlier this year, if it meant arriving at this point, arriving Here.


Friends are leaving. It seems I’m here still. The one who gets left behind, or the one who stays. Either way, you know how that feels like.

Words From A Totem Animal
W.S. Merwin

is where we were
but empty of us and ahead of
me lying out in the rushes thinking
even the nights cannot come back to their hill
any time

I would rather the wind came from outside
from mountains anywhere
from the stars from other
worlds even as
cold as it is this
ghost of mine passing
through me

I know your silence
and the repetition
like that of a word in the ear of death
that is the sound of my running
the plea
plea that it makes
which you will never hear
oh god of beginnings

I might have been right
not who I am
but all right
among the walls among the reasons
not even waiting
not seen
but now I am out in my feet
and they on their way
the old trees jump up again and again
there are no names for the rivers
for the days for the nights
I am who I am
oh lord cold as the thoughts of birds
and everyone can see me

Caught again and held again
again I am not a blessing
they bring me
that would fit anything
they bring them to me
they bring me hopes
all day I turn
making ropes

My eyes are waiting for me
in the dusk
they are still closed
they have been waiting a long time
and I am feeling my way toward them

I am going up stream
taking to the water from time to time
my marks dry off the stones before morning
the dark surface
strokes the night
above its way
There are no stars
there is no grief
I will never arrive
I stumble when I remember how it was
with one foot
one foot still in a name

I can turn myself toward the other joys and their lights
but not find them
I can put my words into the mouths
of spirits
but they will not say them
I can run all night and win
and win

Dead leaves crushed grasses fallen limbs
the world is full of prayers
arrived at from
a voice full of breaking
heard from afterwards
through all
the length of the night

I am never all of me
unto myself
and sometimes I go slowly
knowing that a sound one sound
is following me from world
to world
and that I die each time
before it reaches me

When I stop I am alone
at night sometimes it is almost good
as though I were almost there
sometimes then I see there is
in a bush beside me the same question
why are you
on this way
I said I will ask the stars
why are you falling and they answered
which of us

I dreamed I had no nails
no hair
I had lost one of the senses
not sure which
the soles peeled from my feet and
drifted away
It’s all one
stay mine
hold the world lightly

Stars even you
have been used
but not you
calling me when I am lost

Maybe I will come
to where I am one
and find
I have been waiting there
as a new
year finds the song of the nuthatch

Send me out into another life
lord because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way

Hello :)

To the New Year
W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Death has touched this house once more. My grandfather’s cousin, sick in the same way my lolo was sick, tried to kill himself again a few days ago. He deliberately pushed himself down a flight of stairs, breaking his bones, our hearts. We just got the phone call. He passed away in his sleep at the hospital, free from this world finally.

Oh, but to have such days repeated. This man, who was so much like my lolo. I’m scared of what this means for all of us. I’m scared to see my father cry again. Two years after having someone you know die: I’m scared of going through that again.

For the Anniversary of My Death
W.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

From Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969.

Glenn Gould is playing Bach’s Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974, II Adagio. It is almost two in the morning. It is November. The house is quiet. What have I lost, so I can be here now, in this moment? What did I leave behind?

W.S. Merwin

Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which has a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget tomorrow, the blind man.
I forget the life among the buried windows.
The eyes in the curtains.
The wall
Growing through the immortelles.
I forget silence
The owner of the smile.

This must be what I wanted to be doing,
Walking at night between the two deserts,

From Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969.