A Good Deed in a Naughty World

October 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa, poet

A lot of people have been kind to me since my financial troubles began. I don’t think anyone wants credit, so I’ll leave it at that. It’s not that I’m surprised, exactly—I know the people in my life are good people. But it reminds me of when I got married. I was worried about all sorts of things—the details of the wedding, whether I was doing the right thing, my phobia of speaking in front of people…all of that occupied me, so that when the ceremony was over and people began to congratulate me and I suddenly realized I was the center of a crowd of well-wishers, everything, for the moment, about me (because Charles, of course, had disappeared onto the bandstand with his musician pals), I was stunned. I’d never experienced anything like it. It made me feel transparent and radiant and afraid of coming apart. I had to keep it at a distance emotionally because it was so uncanny, but I did note how odd it was that it hadn’t occurred to me that it would happen.

The next thing that was like that was, after years of therapy, finally being able to talk about my brother’s death naturally, from the heart, and accept people’s sympathy and interest. Before that it felt strangely criminal to even mention it, as if I were spending a stolen coin.

So, today.  Horrible dreams last night; an unexpected kindness this afternoon. Also, last night, some words of wisdom from a friend. What he told me is something I want to keep private, not because of the sentiment but how it made me feel. I was quailing in front of life’s cool choices—his words made me glad I was aware of the fear for what it was, no longer just enmeshed in bad-bad-bad. Here is a poem by a poet I had to my house for Thanksgiving 30 years ago.

Kindness
For Carol Rigolot

When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
across honed knives on the table.
If we can see it push shadows
aside, growing closer, are we less
broken? A barometer, temperature
gauge, a ruler in minus fractions
& pedigrees, a thingmajig,
a probe with an all-seeing eye,
what do we need to measure
kindness, every unheld breath,
every unkind leapyear?
Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses, saying, Look,
here are the broken treaties Beauty
brought to us earthbound sentinels.

—Yusef Komunyakaa

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