March Poem of the Month: Ask Me, William Stafford

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“Sky Full of Columbines” (c) K. Adams. The columbine is Colorado’s state flower.

In Colorado we are beginning to experience the quickening of damp earth and swift streams as February’s ice is released. It brings optimism, deep breaths of sunshine, and relief.

The legendary William Stafford wrote a new poem every morning. This one, which his journal records as being written on Dec 11, 1974, has been a “mentor poem” for me over the last many years. It has companioned me through many difficult life passages and experiences; it lives within me, arises when I need it, and quietly teaches and guides me, offering fortitude, patience, resilience, and a sweet, gentle reminder that I can trust that something is happening even when it appears that nothing is happening:

… We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.

I love to visit this poem every springtime as an opportunity to give thanks for the “underground stream” and to anticipate the surfacing of that which has been living out of sight within me.  I invite you to join me in the exploration.

As a note, Stafford’s original last lines, per his journal, are:

If the river says anything
whatever it says is my answer.

 

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

–William Stafford

Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.

 

Journal prompts:

  • Start a write, “Sometime when the river is ice….” or “Sometime when the ice is melting…”
  • Read the poem aloud, more than once if necessary. What is the emotion that surfaces for you? What does this poem evoke in you? Describe it.
  • Where in your body/heart/mind/soul might you need a little thawing, some free-flow?
  • Think about a situation in your life that feels frozen, stuck, immobile. Imagine that you can feel into the “comings and goings from miles away” that are working underground, beneath the surface, past the obvious. What shifts for you when you think about the hidden, even invisible, process that may be at work?

 

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