A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford

This was one of the first poems I came across when I began working at The Reader, it was read during a group as part of my initial training, and it felt serendipitous.

After working in bars and restaurants for four years after graduating I was finally embarking on an actual career, a job I could be passionate about. After drifting for so long, not really knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, it felt like I was finally on the right path, I was finally ‘following the right god home’. And to have a poet tell me so seemed very apt. I was forming a ritual to read to others, breaking out a new path for myself, changing the patterns that had dulled my senses. Stafford might have been speaking to me directly, he even put an elephant in there to make me smile, the creature that sits on my bookshelves and in picture frames all around me.

It can be so easy to sink into a lull and just go through the motions with work, particularly if it’s not a job you actually enjoy, but as Stafford stresses: ‘It is important that awake people be awake‘. We can’t simply stumble through life from the snooze button to bedtime, eyes forever turned down at a blinking screen, the real world blurring away behind a glare of Facebook likes and retweets. Better to break the pattern, see things for yourself.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford

Meeting the elephants in Chang Mai
    Meeting the elephants in Chang Mai

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