Poetry Friday:Waiting for the Present by Al Zolynas

Tabatha Yeatts hosts today’s Poetry Friday round up @ The Opposite of Indifference

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The sky this morning looked dark and moody, not even the glimmer of sun lurked behind the hills of our valley.  By the time I had my first cup of coffee and started out for morning chores, that dreariness had shifted into delight.  Clouds were lifting at last, and it looked as though we were to be gifted with a fine day.  Or so I told myself, and continue to tell myself, each new day in the shadow of this pandemic.

A few days ago, a beloved friend, the mother of two teenage children home for perhaps the rest of the school year,  wrote to me.  She said: “I’m grieving this morning for teenagers who should be social and developing their separated identities right now.  I’m working towards understanding that I can no longer let school create our household schedule.  It’s always been the center that other activities revolve around.  Each day when I wake, I feel a deep sadness that requires strong coffee and the building of fortitude so I can do the work that needs to be done.  We aren’t on a ship alone, but lately it can feel a lot like that, can’t it?”

Today I overheard one of my children talking to her father, describing what it feels like to live and work in Brooklyn right now – where  the streets are eerily quiet, with stores and restaurants shuttered, and “normal” life seeming to be a thing of the past.  It is hard to breathe sometimes, she said, I feel such a knot of anxiety.  Implicit in all she said was a sense of dread about the future: what would it hold? how will it have changed?

There is nothing I could say of solace to either my friend or my daughter; we know that things will get worse before they get better, and things seem already so bad, so hopeless.  My friend knits, my daughter does yoga and meditates, and these acts bring momentary peace.  I guess that’s what I do every morning, too, when I wait on the path to the barn for the sun to rise in whatever fashion it chooses to rise.  In that moment, I feel absolutely still and living in the moment.  And, no matter what else happens as the day unfolds, I can always go back to the solace of that moment.

Waiting for the Present by Al Zolynas

I would sit in the dimness
of my father’s wooden toolshed
waiting for the mice
to come out and feed
on the wheat we kept
in a hundred-pound sack for the chickens.

I kept silence, refusing
even to swallow, hoping the thud
of my heart wouldn’t betray me.
The only way to the sack
was over my still body.

Outside, it was Australia,
Christmas, summer holidays—
the heat unbearable to all but reptiles
and schoolboys, and the mice
who lived their small, secret lives.

When the first mouse
nosed up the unfamiliar landscape
of my body, motes of dust
floating in the beams of light
that streamed in from the cracks in the wall
exploded minutely.

After hours of sitting
through the long summer, motionless,
alert, though my limbs were asleep,
the mice accepted me.
I simply became the way to their food.
Once, as many as a dozen were on me,
each carrying a single, precious grain.

Now, years later, I find myself still
sitting in the dim light,
legs locked in meditation, monkey-mind
swinging between imagined past and imagined future,
waiting for that most obvious of hiddens,
the ungraspable present.

9 thoughts on “Poetry Friday:Waiting for the Present by Al Zolynas

  1. Wow. What a poem. I can only feel the ickiness of mouse bodies skittering over me. But, I get the narrator’s sense of calm in the middle of heat and mice and summer. What makes a kid like this? It reminds me of the stories of Thomas Edison that could stare at a hen on a nest all day. I’m sorry that your friend and daughter are feeling the heaviness. I’m so glad they can talk to you…you who has this poem tucked away for comfort.

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  2. What a poem and the stillness it evokes in my heart! Today, Friday, my usual day of gentle fasting and prayer, I finally was able to be still all day. Not one bit of television news interrupted me, only the sounds of the Pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” and Benediction about noon gifted me with a holy stillness. I hope you can instill this sense of holiness in your family and your friend.

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  3. The ungraspable present is here, unfortunately, Tara. Heaviness is felt by everyone I know. Long Island life is not the way we knew it so finding solace is key. Your line captures what quiet moments mean today. “In that moment, I feel absolutely still and living in the moment.” Stay safe!

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  4. A companion on a trip and I sat in a large yurt late one night with students nestled in sleeping bags in the other part while we adults were in the kitchen. We watched the mice come out to scurry around for crumbs, wondered if we had been better off outside? It is a memory that came back from your poem, a comfort of course if one wants to grab stillness as a way, now, to be. Wishing your kids can come home to you soon, Tara, and best wishes to all for good health.

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  5. I was so THERE in this poem, becoming more and more still. Sharing the amazement of the mice accepting the lump of him as part of the landscape. I’m not sure I’d have that much patience!

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  6. What an amazing poem! I love how it showed the degree of repeated effort required to create that moment of being in the present. I feel the heaviness your friend and daughter spoke of, as so many of us do. These lines resonated with me: “My friend knits, my daughter does yoga and meditates, and these acts bring momentary peace. I guess that’s what I do every morning, too, when I wait on the path to the barn for the sun to rise in whatever fashion it chooses to rise.” Stay well.

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  7. I don’t think I could handle the mice running over me, but I do appreciate the stillness. I prefer mine like yours. Before we moved, I always paused to soak in the sky and the moment when I went to take care of our chickens in the morning and evening. Now I pause to look at the sun over the pond. Sometimes the moment is all that is bearable in these days. I hope you and yours remain safe.

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  8. Thank you Tara. I ask, “could I ever be still enough for mice to trust me enough to use me as a pathway?” Being still: So necessary, so difficult, but perhaps something for which to strive in these times?

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