THE EMERGENCY OF BEING ALIVE (William Stafford): –POETRY AS BRAIN ROADS THE DOCTOR CALLS FOR– ENGINEERING ALTERNATIVE LIFE ROUTES, SCENIC ROUTES, EVACUATION ROUTES

William and Kim Stafford, Emily Dickinson, Derek Walcott, Jorie Graham, Leigh Hunt, Elizabeth Bishop, Luis Montero, David Wright, Gerald Stern, Judith Viorst, Philip Larkin, Seneca, Rumi, Hafiz, Stephen Grellett, C. K. Williams, Eleanor Lerman, Mark Doty, Hilarie Jones, Marilyn Nelson, Chuck Tripi, and more

But . . .as a human being . . you know . . . is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”

“Not at this time” the nurse answered. (AP, San Francisco Chronicle, March 5, 2013)

Okay I am! Me, here, miss! Count me in! And you too! Isn’t that what we are all saying?

“Not at this time?”—if not now, when? If not here, where? If not me, who?

Well, I’m paraphrasing here, Rabbi Hillel, a great Jewish scholar,

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

Our show today takes the high ways and bi ways from the heart-breaking news about fear which represses our deepest humanity, a refusal to help a dying person: what invokes our bravery, our moral courage—? How does poetry engineer neural roads to experiences that in turn lead to empathy, being known and knowing? Poetry, taking us, like roads do, to places we may never have imagined needing to go—the miraculous in dust and shells and starfish, the ability to see prodigy and salvation in the unlikely. We hear about William Stafford’s muse reassuring him to believe in what comes from paying attention, and finally his reassuring us, “it will be all right.” If we can believe this, perhaps we can make it so: we will do right and good, what Rumi calls “a mighty kindness.”

Write me at bmossberg@csumb.edu, or check out Barbara Mossberg’s Poetry Slow Down on facebook. Thank you for your kindness in joining me for this weekly celebration of poetry in our civic consciousness, the news we need “without which men die miserably every day” (Williams). With it, then, we live, to our fullest.

© Barbara Mossberg 2013

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