A Ritual to Read to Each Other

Posted by on 04.08.09 | 2 Comments
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Recently a friend, grieving twin newborns, told me over
lunch one day that she had been finding solace in poetry. This sent me exploring my many poetry books,
all marked up with underlines and asterisks, seeking out those bits of language
that have given me comfort over the years, wanting to find something to

William Stafford’s poem, A Ritual to Read
to Each Other
, has always been one of my favorites. The title itself is a poem. It reminds me of the times in college I read
novels aloud with my boyfriend; the times I’ve read to my nephews all piled
around and on top of me; all the times I’ve paused in a book to read a passage
out loud, because I wanted to dwell on its sounds.

For me, this poem is about steering ourselves, our loves,
our families through difficulty and sorrow.
On this revisit, the title connected quite strongly with the meaning of
the poem for me: Reading as a joy,
as a ritual, as a shared experience, as a place to find comfort. How
frequently had I turned to books, and movies, and paintings and music when I
had no where else to turn, and no other way to make sense of the world. How lovely and heartbreakingly human to watch
my friend seek some relief in words, at a time when none of us really has any

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t
know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know
the kind of person that you are

a pattern that
others made may prevail in the world

and following the
wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the

a shrug that lets the fragile
sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible
errors of childhood

storming out to play through the
broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each
elephant’s tail

if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root
of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not
recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to
something shadowy,

a remote region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we
should consider –

lest the parade of our mutual life
get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake
people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage
them back to sleep,

the signals we give
–yes or no, or maybe–

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

-William Stafford




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