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stay with me

i finally finished a book i've been reading for a long time. its called "how to read a poem and fall in love with poetry" by edward hirsch. i really enjoyed it. it stretched me in many ways as a reader and as an artist, but one thing i really wanted to share with you was a poem by garrett hongo, a hawaiian poet. if you don't like the poem, that's fine, but skip to the end and read what hongo wrote about his poem. it is breathtaking (at least it is to me).

stay with me

at six o'clock most people
already sitting down to dinner
and the Evening News, Gloria's
still on the bus, crying
in a back seat, her face
bathed in soft blue light
from the flourescent lamps.
She leans her head down
close to her knees, tugs
at the cowl of her raincoat
so it covers her eyes, tries
to mask her face and stifle
the sobbing so the young black
in the seat across the aisle
won't notice her above the
disco music pouring from
his radio and filling the bus.
He does anyway, and, curious,
bends towards her, placing a hand
on her shoulder, gently,
as if consoling a child
after the first disappointment,
asking, "Is it cool, baby?"

She nods, and, reassured,
he starts back to his seat,
but she stops him, sliding
her hand over his, wanting
to stroke it, tapping it instead,
rhythmically, as if his hand
were a baby's back and she
its mother, singing and rocking
it softly to sleep. The black
wishes he could jerk his hand
away, say something hip to save
himself from all that's not
his business, something like
"Get back, Mama! You a fool!"
but he can't because Gloria's
just tucked her chin over
both their hands, still resting
on her shoulder, clasped them
on the ridge of her jaw the way
a violinist would hold a violin.

He can feel the loose skin
around her neck, the hard bone
of her jaw, the pulse
in her throat thudding against
his knuckles, and still he wants
to pull away, but hesitates,
stammers, asks again,
"Hey. . . Is is okay?"

He feels something hot
hit his arm, and, too late
to be startled now, sighs
and gives in, turning his
hand over, lifting it, clasping
hers, letting her bring it
to her cheek, white and slick
with tears, stroking her face
with the back of his hand,
rubbing the hollow of her cheek
against his fist, and she,
speaking finally, "Stay with me
a little while. Till your stop?
Just stay with me," as her face
blooms and she shines
in the blue flourescent light.

Garrett Hongo, 1982.

About this poem, Hongo wrote:

"I wanted mercy. I wanted the universe to bend down and kiss its own creation, like a parent does to a child just after it's born, as if a pure tenderness were the expression of teh world for itself. I wanted to believe that what was not given, could be given, that were a man or a woman to cry out for solace, that the world, for all its steel plants and tire factories, for all its liquor stores and razor wire, for all its buses that belched carcinogenic poisons and people who passed you by on the freeway who cursed you with their eyes; for all of that, I wanted to believe the heavens would still lay its soft wing of blessing upon you if you crid out in need. It was aloha--the breath of love upon your face."

Amen. I want to believe, too. Lord, help my unbelief...


Emoly said…
that is how I feel about the mission trip in Chicago. I couldn't have put it better (of course I'm not a published poet)
cathyQ said…
I loved the poem, even without the explaination. You know I have a thing with hands. This is so profound. Yes, the whole world wants exactly that...Mercy, and it is so awesome when we finally "get" the fact that it has already been given.

Great poem
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