DUTIES OF THE SPIRIT
one of the duties of the spirit is joy,
and another is serenity . . . (Thorton Wilder in
a letter to Paul Stephanson, 1930)
If the first is joy--
the rhumba at sunrise,
a three-note whistle in the sugar maple--
and the second is serenity--
a chair by a quiet window,
the adagio fading down the hill at sleep--
then the third must be grief--
rock-tight, then loosening like scarves the wind takes
across the ocean while on the shore
the shells’ empty houses lie scattered.
And if the first is in the brief seconds
which are all we can keep of happiness--
and if the second waits alone in the hour
where the pond smooths out, its surface
unbroken and the moon in it--
then the third which is grief comes again and again
longer and more than we wanted
or ever wished for
to wash us clean with its saltwater,
to empty our throats, and fill them
again with bloodroot song,
And if the first
duty of the spirit is leaping joy,
and the second
the slow stroll of serenity,
then grief, the third, comes bending on his walking stick,
holding a trowel to dig where the loves have gone,
and he weighs down your shoulders, ties a rawhide necklace
hung with a stone around your neck, and hangs on and on.
But the first is slippery joy.
published in Duties of the Spirit, Tupelo Press, © 2005 Patricia Fargnoli.
Used with permission.