The first poem entitled "Prayer" (the collection has three) in Jorie Graham's 2002 collection, Never, has a way of re-emerging in my psyche every few years. I always want to return to the book, which is beautiful— lots of white space and almost square to accommodate Graham's expansive lines.
It is always such a pleasure to open the book, begin with minnows, and arrive so quickly, so perfectly at "The longing / is to be pure. What you get is to be changed." It is one of those lines that names an experience I have all the time and holds it in a little glass bubble for a moment. I think we usually name the longing "perfectionism", but the word is over-used, sounds trite, and really, how often do we encounter the concept and think of it as a goal, the thing to aim for?
I also love the change in tone at the end, the speaker trying to hold onto something, the sense of urgency, and the sense of brushing that urgency off when the sand can no longer be held: "Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only / something I did."
Do something. Read this poem.
Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water's downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers), a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change—
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.