Be Attentive

The Monday morning after the movers left our apartment, I walked through its empty space, being my sentimental self, petting counter tops, opening and closing closet doors. The boys were in August’s empty room keeping themselves entertained. Chris was running a last minute errand. And I thought I’d say goodbye. It had been a wonderful home.

In my empty kitchen, I caught sight of a piece of torn out Moleskin paper scotch taped to the wall above my kitchen sink. I’ve been looking at every day for weeks. It said:

After Paradise

by Czeslaw Milosz

Don’t run any more. Quiet. How softly it rains

On the roofs of the city. How perfect

All things are. Now, for the two of you

Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window.

For a man and a woman. For one plant divided

Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.

Yes, this is my gift to you. Above ashes

On a bitter, bitter earth. Above the subterranean

Echo of clamorings and vows. So that now at dawn

You must be attentive: the tilt of a head,

A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror

Are only forever once, even if unremembered,

So that you watch what it is, though it fades away,

And are grateful every moment for your being.

Let that little park with greenish marble busts

In the pearl-gray light, under a summer drizzle,

Remain as it was when you opened the gate.

And the street of tall peeling porticos

Which this love of yours suddenly transformed.

 

I chose this poem to go in our memory banks long before I knew I’d be leaving the city we loved. I chose it because it was read at our wedding. I chose it because it’s about the present moment and love and being grateful. Because it describes absolutely perfectly the look and feeling of a holy place after a summer rain.  Because the gift is given “Above ashes, / On a bitter, bitter earth.”

That gift is attentiveness. It’s gratefulness. It’s a willingness to see into the moment we’re in and call it beautiful. I love this poem.

Did you know that the month of June in San Francisco was the rainiest the month has ever been? This was the line floating through my head on all those rainy days: “How softly it rains / On the roofs of the city. How perfect / All things are…”

In those final days in San Francisco, I kept asking myself: “What does it mean to “be attentive”? What does it mean that “two faces in a mirror / are only forever once, even if unremembered”?

I feel like those instructions are some of the wisest I’ve ever known. I have an almost four month old, who will be a six month old by the time we’re settled into our new home in Austin.  (Temporary housing for a while.) He’s turning into a person before my eyes. And my little boy is making up stories about a “mysterious jaguar.” (What? Who is this kid?) These moments keep flickering past me and I have this longing to pin them down with a tack, so I can stare into them before they’re gone again.

But the gift is not the necessarily the “forever” found in the mirror. The gift is the being “grateful for every moment of your being.” It’s the watching “what it is, though it fades away.”

I unpeeled the tape holding the poem, written in my scratchy boy handwriting. I thought about keeping it. But instead I wadded it up and threw it in the trash. That seemed so much more dramatic, like the end of a Dawson’s Creek episode or something.

(Did you memorize the poem? Did you like it? Did you think about it at all?)

  • http://twitter.com/emileeshake Emilee Shake

    That’s beautiful! Thanks for sharing the poem and your thoughts.

  • http://www.citizenbezner.com Steve

    Ah, Milosz. I love this poem but was unfamiliar with it. Do you have the Billy Collins collection, “The Problem with Poetry” yet?

    • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

      I haven’t read any Billy Collins in a long time. I’ll put it on my list! Thanks Steve…

  • Pingback: Tired, but Thankful | mama:monk


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