“I Want to Know it All!”

I discovered another wonderful poem, this time on Krista Bennet’s blog, “On Being.”  The author is Marie Howe who is the poet laureate of the state of New York:


by Marie Howe
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out” —Luke 8:2.
The first was that I was very busy.
The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could not happen to me, not like that.

The third — I worried.
The fourth – envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too – its face. And the ant – its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer of skin
lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.

The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that was alive and I couldn’t stand it,

I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word – cheesecloth –
to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in

No. That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened? How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it – distinct, separate from me in a bowl or on a plate.

Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.

The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was

Someone using you as a co-ordinate to situate himself on earth.

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

Historians would assume my sin was sexual.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying.
The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it–years later –
grocery shopping, crossing the street –

No, not the sound – it was her body’s hunger
finally evident.–what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath —that was the first devil. It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you— if I told you – would understand any of this –

Once again I’m captivated by someone else who is haunted like me by the knowledge that there is something “out there” or, as she put it, “underneath,” that “none of us could ever know we didn’t know.” And suddenly I’m almost a child again and can see myself curling up on the kitchen floor, screaming at the top of my lungs to God, “Why not? Why not? I’m gonna hold my breath until you let me!” For, this is a childish impulse, probably not unrelated to that age-old quest for the “knowledge of good and evil” which got us all into this mess in the first place!

But, it won’t ever happen. We will not know it all, we will not wrap out head around this marvelous mystery that we are caught up in. Even in his death throes, Hamlet, reflecting Shakespeare’s penchant for wrapping his head around the whole of human experience, lamented that “things remaining thus unsaid will live behind me.” Hamlet had so much more to say but had run out of time. (And, he could have said more had he not been driven by that unconscious need to satisfy his incestuous need and vanquish the interloper to his desire, Claudius. But even then, not “all” of it could have been said for there is always “more” to be said, endlessly “more.”)

We always come back to limits. The heart of man has boundaries as a core issue and spends his lifetime learning to accept them, knowing in the depths of this heart that the ultimate “limit” will eventually prevail and he will return to the dust from which he was made. But until that moment we are hard-wired to “keep on truckin’” and the will to life often continues even after our conscious mind fades into oblivion. As bad as it might appear to be at times, we always prefer to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”


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