Closely Observed (for Jov'an)

An occasional feature in which poets comment on their poems. So with dignity the egret ascends the steps of the church the black sticks of his legs sedately lift his knees bending neatly backwards. For the first time the four-pronged claws feel their way in a different world.

The bird advances through the door across the foyer. Courteously you usher him in. He eyes you mildly as he saunters by along the aisle pausing at last for the news to break. Now he's searching the hush he's in.

No one moves.

At last the visitor returns unceremoniously just as he came looking as if he'd found what he'd come for.

And you remember the same thing happening to you in a secret place coming upon a sudden hush a moment of light in a pocket of prayer and leaving O so quietly closely observed. COMMENT:

THIS incident concerning the egret is authentic, but I myself did not witness it. It was the experience of a friend on Sanibel Island, Fla., who recognized in the bird's entry to his church the nature of his own stumbling upon Christian love. I'm indebted to him for his sharing this with me, together with a photograph he took of the egret in the aisle.

It all seemed so incongruous and bizarre, but at the same time, it was clear that something in what happened was being said about awe - the awe in the little congregation, the awe in the bird itself. The whole unlikely experience sent out a signal to me about that very private thing we call prayer. I saw in the incident an illustration of the kind of hush to which we can all come in a day's living quite spontaneously, always unexpectedly.

This poem's intention is to let its scenario serve as a space in which both reader and writer may wander, egret-wise, to touch a new silence. For me, the situation of the poem serves unpretentiously to illustrate an urgent need today to find ourselves being gently valued in a moment of stillness. Like that time when as children we believed ourselves completely alone with nature, capturing thistledown or reading a puddle, when all at once we felt we were being watched and cherished.

As I see it, the poet's role - unlike that of politician or sociologist - is to illustrate rather than to persuade, to evoke rather than to inform. It's lovely when, without a lot of fuss, we can enter into a poem, explore its moment of hush, and return ``unceremoniously'' to the ordinary business of a day's living. Whenever a poem lends itself to such exploration, it is becoming for us a kind of prayer.

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