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QUINTESSENCE

Water-logged

Annapolis Harbor at calm
1
Low tide -
The sea's slow motion,
The surge and slur
Over rocky shingle.

A few gulls ride
Rocking-horse waves.

Under blurred gray sky
The field shines white.

2
I am not available
At the moment
Except to myself.

Downstairs the plumber
Is emptying the big tank,
Water-logged.
The pump pumped on and on
And might have worn out.

So many lives pour into this house,
Sometimes I get too full;
The pump wears out.

So now I am emptying the tank.
It is not an illness
That keeps me from writing.
I am simply staying alive
As one does
At times taking in,
At times shutting out.

- from "A Winter Notebook," May Sarton

The stanzas above come from a long work in May Sarton's final book of poetry, Halfway to Silence - a period of rich imagery and lyrical poetry, prompted, she felt, by a keen awareness of the starkness of her own old age and the often violent passage of earthly seasons. During the onslaught of Superstorm Sandy on the mid-Atlantic coast, I worried for friends and family, and the fate of Americans, again, battered by nature's unpredictable chaos. There was a lesson in progress for me - that for all our vaunted technology and urban constructions, we are vulnerable to turns of nature we only superficially understand and not at all control. We are guests on this Earth, and among its most fragile. We learn this every generation.

Sarton's poem settled in my thoughts this morning as I sat at my writing desk. I found myself too full of yesterday's stress and anxiety to attend to the demands of the morning, too restless: The night before held hostage to worry, unable to believe the storm would pass, and then when it did, deeply aware of the calm underside of nature's violence - the grace and continuity. Sarton writes, "I lift my eyes/ To the blue/ Open-ended ocean./ Why worry?/ Some things are always there."

Sarton observes that as natures takes, she gives, and all things find equilibrium. "Sometimes I get too full.../At times taking in,/At times shutting out." It is our human ability to lift our eyes over mayhem and suffering to the poet's ocean, to trust in the serenity that is there just beneath that will empty overflowing sorrow and offer the hope and constancy needed to build again. I hope that today wherever you are in the stormy aftermath of Sandy, there comes a moment to love the world.
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