Saturday, September 06, 2008

Inhabiting Wonder by Mark Nepo

Book review by Zinta Aistars


Publisher: Bread for the Journey
ISBN-10: 0976057506
ISBN-13: 978-0976057505

The older I become, the more I am drawn to simplicity. I do have my moments of enjoying complex verse, the challenge of peeling away the layers of poetry to find its heart, that process of unfolding mystery and discovery. But now and then, there is no greater refreshment, among all those musty vintage wine cellars, to take a drink of plain, cool water.

Each time you say your name to a stranger,
you begin a painting in which both of you
are colors.

So Nepo begins to paint his colors, the ones we all recognize, but try so hard, so often, to be brave and look away. Nepo reminds us that it is far braver to not look away. He writes of what concerns all of us, the loving, the losing, the grieving, the dying, the being reborn again. All the stuff of living our extraordinary, ordinary lives.

Each of us
a feast to be devoured
before the heart
rots like a fig.

He brings us to awareness, as every poet must, that time passes all too quickly, and the more we struggle against that, the more time we lose, the more of its gifts we miss.

All this scurrying of deep
serious purpose, all for
a little bench from which
to glimpse the unseeable
wave of everything.

When all along
it’s been God’s trick
to dissolve what we want
like rice in rain until
exhaustion is the prayer
against our will
that drops us
into peace.

Which, no doubt, the poet has come to understand through his own suffering, as all of us do, although each in our own way. Nepo is a cancer survivor, and that experience has no doubt added great richness and compassion to his roles as poet, spiritual teacher and philosopher. He is author of many books on spirituality, has received various prizes in that genre, and his latest books of poetry, including this one, are sold as fundraisers for an organization called Bread for the Journey. He has served also as poet-in-residence at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a non-profit foundation devoted to fostering awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the emerging global community.

Sometimes it takes a great raucous
cleansing to open the chambers
of the soul. And often, we mistake
such cleansing as crisis or betrayal.

But the truth is that God scours
our infidelities of conscience
the way floods rush ditches,

and we are forced to tremble
in aftermath, barely born.

Nepo is the voice already in us. The one we sometimes forget to listen to, but in these poems, reminds us—we must.

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