November 29, 2013KR BlogUncategorized

A Long Way to Reach You Here: Serendipity, Found Objects, and Chance Readings, Pt. 3

This post is a continuation of a series; read the introduction here and the prior post here.

The second object is a letter, one written on orange paper in black or brown ink. It’s signed by someone, but I can’t make out the name. And I can’t be sure that this is the same handwriting of the person who wrote the Kaddish on the first object, the index card. Nonetheless I read the letter—or, more accurately, the note:

My friend said, “Church is not a place out there for Sunday at 11:00 A.M.—it’s here. This is my church” + he meant his small quarters. I did agree with him on that. It’s the way I feel about being here. Doesn’t have to be “church” but rather a loved + holy space for living. Thank you again. [Name—illegible—Noah?]


There’s nothing on the back, just more orange, the scribbles of the letters and words seeping through. First thoughts, first questions. For what is the recipient of this note being thanked? A favor? A lifesaving act? For leading him, or her, or whoever the writer was to a kind of spiritual redemption? Was it the person who gave this book to the owner? And why—most of all—why would you keep such a letter in a book, unless it was given to you in the book, unless you associated it closely with the book? Maybe, I think—maybe this is the case. And the suggestion that church, whatever that is, even for the non-religious like myself, is “here”: what of this? The remnant of some more elaborate advice, probably. But if the letter was left in the book, doesn’t that suggest that the book was also, to some extent, that sort of space for the letter’s addressee?  It carries the weight of gratitude for knowledge shared, for advice well-given.


The letter sits between two poems, two kinds of hunger. “A Cure of Souls” tells a modern parable in short, clipped couplets about a pastor “of grief and dreams” who continues to tend to his flock even as the bell tolls, calling him, perhaps, to return to town and move his flock away from the grass on which they need to feed. A bit trite, a bit nostalgic, more than a bit Biblical—but, to offer a more generous reading, the poem offsets its potential campiness by making use of its jilted and stuttering lineation. He has heard the belling tolling, after all,

but the sheep

are hungry and need
the grass, today and

every day. Beautiful
his patience, his long

shadow, the rippling
sound of the flock moving

along the valley.

Fifteen lines—not a quite a sonnet; three sentences to speak of a certain animal need for sustenance. It’s not only the sheep who need to eat “today and // every day,” but us too, of course.

The other poem is longer, heavier. It is set out in nine stanzas that run to two pages in length. Titled “The Secret,” it begins

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

So we receive the whole story, it seems, at the start. But this isn’t so; as the poem rolls on, we find out that the writer of this poem, “The Secret,” was also the writer of the poem in which the girls supposedly found the secret of life. Still, this writer says, he or she doesn’t know the line or the secret. Whatever’s contained in poetry—poetic knowledge, insight, emotion; Hopkins’s inscape—might very well be transfused from some source other than the writer himself or herself; one might say that a poem facilitates a transaction of a certain kind of energy between the poem and the writer. The writer merely lays the wires and flips the switch; he or she doesn’t invent electricity. Assuming the speaker is Levertov, she continues to say that she heard about the two girls through a third person, that she doesn’t doubt they’ve forgotten whatever secret it was now, more than a week later. Still, she says,

…I love them
for finding what
I can’t find

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

Finding something over and over again: this is, in a sense, what happens with poems. We “find” something in a book, even if we know it’s there beforehand; we hardly ever “locate” it, or “track it down,” though we might use these expressions as an alternative to “find.” And all this until death “finds them”: even death, it seems, is engaged in the constant pursuit of looking-for, though what death seeks (the living) might be easier to find than whatever “secret of life” is embedded in Levertov’s poetry. The careful and smart juxtaposition of these poems, however, something Levertov achieves by having them face each other in O Taste and See, attest to two complimentary types of nourishment: the physical sort, presented under the suggestive title “A Cure of Souls” (a cure for souls? or a “cure” as in a “flock,” per se?), and the sort for which we turn to poetry, though it often vanishes before we can, as it were, taste it again.