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QUINTESSENCE

Strings of Galaxies

“and the body wouldn’t send out light from every edge
as a star does…for there is no place at all
that isn’t looking at you. You must change your life.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Selected Poems, 1957

The imprint of poetry is visceral, assimilated by both the body and the brain. Just as the beat that moves our limbs in dance is also music in poetic syntax and meter. What causes our tongues and imaginations to fire like torches in the dark? Poetry. Strings of galaxies, pearls that spiral through our brains. The double helix, the Milky Way, inchoate dustings of fractured light. A poem is a doorway through. To where? You alone decide. Imagine the power in the pen of a poet!

This morning I gave to reading poetry, breathing air into my lungs. I have doubted all I know about myself as a writer this week. The drive and faith that pushes me through the unknown, across the dark crevasse, has abandoned me this day. And so, I read poetry. I allow the moment to find bottom.

Standing in my office, my hands take a book from the shelf and open randomly to an essay by Mary Oliver in “Blue Pastures,” a writing on the essence of the poet’s voice. Not limited to a discussion of the unique, the poetic vision or timbre of thought, Oliver writes of "one voice, above all others," that has the power to reach into our chest and pound us back to life. The poet’s handful of lines, formed long ago and for what cause, find purchase in darkness. Without awareness, or permission even, a spark is coaxed back, ever so gently. And we know it was that voice.

For Oliver, and for me, that voice is expressed in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” a strange meditation upon a timeless marble statute. This is a poem that explores beauty; the holistic truth, thoughtful and unpremeditated - our transformation in the presence of utter beauty. Rilke writes in simple observations, identifying what is and isn’t revealed within the fluid shape of the sculpture; a tracery of close observation that rises like an incantation, intensifying like light itself. Truth from living stone. We anchor deep in the world, pinned to the stars.

When I finish Rilke's last stanza, quoted at the beginning of this essay, I surface - sucking huge gulps of language, raw but alive. The very best art has this effect on us. A spark revived, a truth that speaks our name.
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