Two years ago, when I was weighing my commitment to celibacy as a Jesuit, I experienced a moment of “flow” and wrote a poem addressing my inner child — a child I imagined as lonely, forgotten, and unseen, demanding companionship from me in his solitude. Soon thereafter it occurred to me that that poem would not be complete until I’d written a companion piece in which the child got a chance to reply, but I didn’t know how to write it. Only this week did I have the insight that the child would have to address me as his father — an identity that I, through my many years of restless adventuring, never imagined for myself.
I wrote the new poem yesterday and thought I would share them both. I’ve come to question the automatic value we attribute to “authenticity”; what we imagine to be our authentic, deepest self is actually quite often our superficial self, our ego, which is all we see when we look in the mirror because we’ve invested so much into this particular crystallization of our personality, with all its defense mechanisms. Rather, discovering the truth of our core self involves claiming the deep parts of our spirit that have been lost or overlooked for so many years. (For instance, I think of a highly principled friend whose earliest childhood memory involves coloring with joyful abandon on a worksheet at school. “No, you’re doing it wrong!” her teacher scolded her. “You need to stay within the lines!” This fleeting — but significant enough to be memorable — moment of shame may have done quite a lot to set her entire adult personality into motion. She even became a judge!)
The person we’ve become — judge, poet — is no less beautiful because it has a history. We aren’t mistakes. My point is just that when we listen, our inner child often speaks with an unexpected voice, one that reminds us that we contain multitudes. What does yours have to say to you?
Lonely Child (March 2017)
under the apple tree,
I want you to live forever.
So young, and still
you summoned peace,
calling, “Here, come here.”
The farmers are seeding the gardens
and often I remember the summons
you opened your eyes —
an act of courage —
beautiful brave child
beholding the tent worms’ nest
without anyone to tell it to.
Busy, bustling world.
There are many forgettings.
Parties and work
and fashion and coupling.
lensed in expert light.
Everything that speaks
of completing what was
incomplete, of ending
The solitude reminds me
when I stray from it,
and I think of you
watching me vanish
over the hills.
You, toucher of petals,
feathered as a baby’s crown.
Giver of sorrow. And of radiance.
Listener to the mourning dove.
Watcher of evenings
when the sky is still bright
and the houses are dark in its shadow,
and magenta covers the clouds like lichen.
Song you sing to yourself.
Tapestry of your eyes.
Eternal moment while time rushes on.
There is nothing sadder than a forgotten child.
My life keeps drawing back to you.
Lonely child under the apple tree,
I see you.
There you are.
The Child’s Reply (June 2019)
out and in amid the crowds
and losses of the world:
Did you think you had abandoned me?
That you have not carried me everywhere
while the eternal ebbed and flowed?
I am the happiest part of you —
untroubled, unwearied —
sleeping in the glade of you.
Wake me so as to hold me
if you doubt the warmth of all that was.
Speak to me of the deer you remember,
the mosses I caress with your former hands.
You will only be consoled
when you know you are a father,
the solitude suddenly solicitude,
filling with hands held out to me,
with purpose in the dawn.
Fathers are not always happy
but can be faithful.
And my little arms are too small
to hold you, unembraced embracing.
Yet let us share the light together,
its maypoles in the shade.
The brook’s song like the birds’ song,
ever surrounding us,
ever running through.
My feet dangle over every bridge.
My head is fragrant with death’s abeyance.
My voice is very small, my chin upturned
to the marveled laughter of the frogs in spring,
to the nibs of geese inscribing glory
on the pages of autumn skies.
Let us talk to one another, side by side:
I telling you of fontanels in the forest floor,
you promising me the endless,
opulent palaces of your love.