Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers), a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change—
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

Jorrie Graham (1950 – ), one of America’s most celebrated poets, currently holds the post of Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She discovered an interest in poetry while studying film at NYU. As she passed by the open door of a Lit class, she overheard a reading of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” She has been quoted as saying, “It was like something being played in the key my soul recognized.”

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  1. Sivan Butler-Rotholz says:

    There are a couple of moments in this poem that just bowled me over. “Never again are you the same. The longing is to be pure. What you get is to be changed.” So true, such a simple direct and spot on statement about what it feels like to grow up, to be an adult.

    “I am free to go. I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never. It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.” Again, such a poignant statement on life, on the forward motion of it. It also struck a particular chord with me. Perhaps with you as well. We are a bit nomadic. We have left things, places, people behind. We were free to go, and we cannot of course come back.

    I also love the back story. I, myself, have never had a breakthrough moment of understanding Eliot. But I love that his words transformed a person and made her into a poet. Hallelujah!

  2. Lezlie says:

    Sivan, you have an an uncanny talent for always picking out the lines in the poem that resonated the most with me. Great minds, and coast-to-coast domination. I’ve been thinking more lately about enjoying the present, and this poem speaks to that. Never again will I have this exact moment. Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives. That’s a little soap opera wisdom for you.

    Have you read any Jorie Graham before? I kept meaning to look her up after I read an interview with Don Revell saying that when her book Erosions came out, he sat down on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore and cried while reading it.

    Supposedly the Eliot lines that plucked Jorie’s strings were: “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each/ I do not think that they will sing to me.”

  3. Sivan says:

    Wow, that’s a great Eliot line. It would have resonated with me as well! I have not read any of her stuff before, but now I must read Erosions. I’m a sucker for anything that can make a person sit down and cry.

    I loved the Days of Our Lives reference. Birds of a feather indeed.

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