The Loneliest Giant in Greenland

All the things I don't know
Dig their claws into my skin
And draw tears:
Frustration, sympathy, a saltwater rain
To bathe wounds that are already healed,
Making the moment meaningless
That somehow the distance has grown
As if silence itself could translate into inches
Widening the gap that, conversely,
Words are powerless to fill.


The Country of Marriage by Wendell Berry


I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.


This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth's empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.


Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.


How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.


Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don't know what its limits are--
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen time and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.


What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.


I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy--and this poem,
no more mine than any man's who has loved a woman.


"Don't Call Me Smart."

Let me just begin by saying that this might sound silly to some people. One more person with something to whine about. Yay. But maybe there's some merit in it, so bear with me here.

I was sitting with a friend's daughter the other evening, talking about Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and, eventually, the upcoming school year. She's going into sixth grade. At the risk of sounding cliched, she reminds me a little bit of me at her age, except she can text and that wasn't really a thing when I was in sixth grade. She's a pretty bright kid, near if not at the top of her class, but as she informed me, her one weak spot is math. The funny thing is, she doesn't really mind. 

I knew that was coming when she mentioned it, because we had just been having a conversation that lies close to my own near and dear experience. The "smart" talk. It's awkward, being that person. And yes, I get it, probably everyone has some single label affixed to them at that point in their lives, but it sucks a little bit to be that person whose friends are super excited when they get higher scores on tests. You're the benchmark, so I guess there's a hidden compliment in there, but that doesn't make it feel better. And there's also that feeling you get when everyone else does poorly, and you wish you could just silently cherish your good grade and move on, but you don't have that option because everyone wants to commiserate and you just squirm when asked, and they look knowing and even if there's no resentment, you're still the excluded outlier. So when she told me that she doesn't want people to call her smart, I totally got it.

The thing is, I still don't like it when people call me smart. What does that even mean? How can it be used? It's too vague to be helpful, but we spend so much time attaching percentiles and scores to it. And then, after teaching kids for 18 or so years, maybe more if they go to college, that smart is something worth being, they're left without any context in which that word has meaning and in which they can be placed on some kind of scale. Being "smart" only gets you so far, and then there's the real world, where we all have to survive, and the smart people don't necessarily have an advantage in that space.

"Smart" is a lazy term for people who don't want to take a moment to consider exactly what sort of skill a child or even another adult is using. Tell them they're good at asking questions, at critical thinking, at creative problem-solving or connecting the dots. Those are all specific observations, and they help inform another person's self-conception in a meaningful way. Maybe there is some kind of raw intelligence that corresponds to this smart word, but it's rather hard to pin down, and probably does more harm than good when repeated ad nauseum.

So as I get to know my friend's daughter better, I plan to honor that cringing feeling and not call her smart. I hope to discover and praise many other, more specific and concrete traits and skills, because it is good to know thyself. And if she takes a guilty pleasure in not being good at math, well, I'll be happy to help her understand difficult problems, if she wants the help, but I'm certainly not going to be the one pressuring her to bring her Bs and Cs up to As for the sake of a well-rounded report card. For one thing, that would be promoting a terrible values system, but that's another story entirely.