A City Neither Knows

Yesterday, a circle of friends gathered for a sort of combination leave-taking and blessing for Alana and Mark. We prayed and listened and gave thanks and watched Mark struggle valiantly to cast on, and to consume mass quantities of exquisite goodies.
They asked me to read a poem, which I gladly agreed to do. Much to my relief, they asked for a particular poem, and it was one I didn’t know very well — which minimised the risk of this very sentimental ageing man choking up while he was reading. Even when not reading aloud at some momentous occasion, I can’t get through Alice Oswald’s “Wedding” without a struggle against as upwelling of emotion. The poem they asked me to read — Anne Michaels’s “Into Arrival” — appeared to be relatively free of the triggers that might render me a weepy blob (rather than the deep-voiced, articulate reader one might hope to be).
That was “at first glance.” As I read it over and over to soak up its rhythms and pauses and emphases, it dawned on me how intensely it evoked the beauty of intimacy, and how it alluded to Alana and Mark’s own situation (they depart for a year in Jerusalem in a few days). So I spent the morning yesterday going over and over the poem, trying to make it so familiar to me that I could push forward through any surges of choked-up-ness. (That only made me more acutely aware of the poem’s beauty, which wasn’t as helpful as it might have been.)
When it came my turn to read, I launched in, and after a few lines noticed a difference between the printing in the copy I had been handed at the beginning of the service and the text I had printed for practice. This was a great blessing, because from that point onward I was concentrating on reading what was printed in my hands, rather than allowing my feelings to rise to the fore. I thus escaped the fate that actually befits my current state, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my own beloved Margaret in ten days — not the best frame of mind to be reciting a subtle poem of love on behalf of my friends.
Anyway, because I had not known it before, some of you may not know it —
“Into Arrival”
It will be in a station
with a glass roof
grimy with the soot
of every train and
they will embrace for every mile
of arrival. They will not
let go, not all the long way,
his arm in the curve
of her longing. Walking in a city
neither knows too well,
watching women with satchels
give coins to a priest for the war veterans;
finding the keyhole view of the church
from an old wall across the city, the dome
filling the keyhole precisely,
like an eye. In the home
of winter, under an earth
of blankets, he warms her skin
as she climbs in from the air.
There is a way our bodies
are not our own, and when he finds her
there is room at last
for everyone they love
the place he finds,
she finds, each word of skin
a decision.
There is earth
that never leaves your hands,
rain that never leaves
your bones. Words so old they are broken
from us, because they can only be
broken. They will not
let go, because some love
is broken from love,
like stones
from stone,
rain from rain,
like the sea
from the sea.
    — Anne Michaels
Bless you and travel safely, friends. Bless you, Anne Michaels, and Margaret, and all of you; our bodies are indeed not our own, nor (I venture to say) our hearts. Thanks for breaking off some love for us, and for receiving ours, and for finding room for us.

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