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On Finding Out I've Been Doing Something Right

Freeing people is not done by waving signs,
flaunting slogans on T-shirts, writing scathing letters
to editors and politicians, collecting signatures
or slashing chains with cleavers and swords.

It’s a precision thing, asking the right question,
being by being, one at a time,
letting nothing distract you from seeing
the obvious and making the obvious,
but exact-as-a-well-honed-scalpel response,

and you have to love that person’s slavery,
respect and admire it, since he believes it to be
himself, and will not feel safe in revealing it
to hostile eyes, and will not be able to see it
himself and see that he is not it and that it is
slavery until he can reveal it to you and see
that you think no less of him for it.

And first you have to locate it, so that you can
ask the right question, the one that triggers
a small shock of recognition that grows
to wide-eyed presence. And that, I repeat,
is a precision thing, a damned precise thing,
that needle point that has room for scads
of angels, but that is lost to the most miniscule
lapse of attention, a point engulfed
in pointlessness.

I know this because I’ve been doing it,
not a brag, just what I have to say
so that I can say more. What I want to say
is that for hours a day for years, in this country
that is not for the old man I’m becoming
I have done this thing, groping through
those miniscule lapses of attention, compelling
the needed alertness and willingness and kind regard
when sleepless myself, asking when nearly voiceless,
maintaining a crisp, easy confidence
while accumulating a swarm
of buzzing uncertainties:

Did I just see what I saw? Have I missed
seeing what I didn’t want to see?
Will something that seems fine now
explode later into recrimination?
Am I just good enough for government work?
(That dull blade won’t cut it!)

So what do I get for this labor?
Not money (perhaps enough to pay for my
daily commute and parking). Satisfaction,
yes, but qualified. Will my certainty
waver tomorrow, like the trembling
of a surgeon’s fingers as he opens the heart?

Last weekend my wife had paintings
in a show in a pavilion in a park
in Annapolis. I drove up to help,
went for a walk in the park, realizing
I hadn’t been for a walk in a park
for over four years. I sat down on a bench
in a “Reading and Butterfly area”
and sank into an exhaustion long lurking beneath
adrenalized concerns—sank with luxurious pleasure,

closed my eyes, heard chatter, rustles, silence,
heard and saw (opening and closing my eyes
as tentatively as a butterfly just released from cocoon
tests his wings) musicians setting up amps and tuning
100 yards or years away, saw a few October
butterflies among the neatly labeled grasses
and tiny blossoms around my bench,

saw, heard, knew--and now I must be as sloppy,
willfully sloppy, as some hysterical
19th Century Russian ranting about greatness
of Soul, speaking plainly, risking sentimentality
to say that at that moment, I had my reward,
or an installment of it, because I was a child,
though floating in a heavy, tired body. I was new
and making new, lightly pervading my continent,
at least two oceans, Asia, Africa—to think
was to extend my reach, my forgiveness
(for we all meant well), a right
to forgive I had somehow earned,

and I was as much love as ever I have known love,
my awareness a tenderness as specific as touch
of finger to hair or eyelid or lip, but my touch
was everywhere, the tear on my cheek reflecting
an earth that had come home, and I was home.

I rose and walked this body to make-shift bleachers
and  heard a girl with a guitar (she looked like my niece,
for whom, suddenly, I felt a renewed love)
sing clear and beautiful songs. Then I walked trails and
(coming unexpectedly upon a lake that turned out to be
a river opening on the Chesapeake bay) felt
like Balboa (and how trite is THAT, says some
bright teen, but I’m only a child) and later
at a dog park saw a dog who could have been none other
than the high-prancing dog I love who died in 1996,
and what a blossoming of pleasure, when, as he left the park,
he was clothed in the bright red collar my dog had worn.

How odd to be a presence pervading at least a planet,
yet so tickled by the intimacies of faces, breezes, clouds.

Monday I returned to freeing people, arduous as ever,
but with a renewed awareness of the freedom
I was attaining for myself and for you, always with me
just beneath my thin, patched, scratchy garment of worry.


(c) Dean Blehert 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Last updated: December 25, 2014