I love the way the black ants use their dead. They carry them off like warriors on their steel backs. They spend hours struggling, lifting, dragging (it is not grisly as it would be for us, to carry them back to be eaten), so that every part will be of service. I think of my husband at his father’s grave— the grass had closed over the headstone, and the name had disappeared. He took out his pocket knife and cut the grass away, he swept it with his handkerchief to make it clear. “Is this the way we’ll be forgotten?” And he bent down over the grave and wept.
This gorgeous poem by Aracelis Girmay was published a decade ago and yet feels so eerily right for this time of immense loss of life and of touching this world full of fleeting things.
What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?
Perhaps one day you touch the young branch of something beautiful. & it grows & grows despite your birthdays & the death certificate, & it one day shades the heads of something beautiful or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out of your house, then, believing in this. Nothing else matters.
All above us is the touching of strangers & parrots, some of them human, some of them not human.
Listen to me. I am telling you a true thing. This is the only kingdom. The kingdom of touching; the touches of the disappearing, things.
I was eating lunch in between meetings yesterday when I found out that a friend of mine, Martin Fortier-Davy, passed away from cancer this weekend in his early 30s. He was an incredibly vibrant life force whom I had first met when he was a visiting scholar at Stanford a few years ago. He had been in treatments on and off for awhile now, but I still find myself in that strange haze of shock that envelopes us when we learn that someone we know is gone.
In my last correspondence with him, I had shared this poem by Ranier Marie Rilke, which I’ve shared on this blog and with some of you before during difficult moments. I offer it now again to all of you in memory of Martin. His family said that his last words were “Aimez-vous, et prenez soin les uns des autres”– Love one another and care for one another.” An invocation for us all.
“Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29”
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.