December 30, 2009

In a Speeding Car

In "A Quick Poem," Adam Zagajewski's speaker is "listening to Gregorian chants / in a speeding car / on a highway in France." He tells us that his life is "tattered / on both sides of the road, brittle as a paper map."

He notes a contrast between his pace and circumstance and that of the chanting monks. For him, "the trees rushed past." For "the sweet monks," it is as if "salvation were just growing in the garden."

For me, when a poem works -- as this one does -- the words lead me deeper into a quiet and stillness within myself. They bring me to a more deliberate state of contemplation. They are like prayer.

Later in the poem, Zagajewski's speaker again contrasts his circumstances with the monks:

In place of walls--sheet metal.
Instead of a vigil--a flight.
Travel instead of remembrance.
A quick poem instead of a hymn.

On the road myself today, I spoke with my great-uncle, always an exercise in clarity, wit, and wisdom. He said prayer, religion, meditation -- anything designed to bring transcendence -- ultimately slows us down so that we notice the amazements directly in front of us. If it all worked, he said, we'd just stand around staring at the world, slack-jawed with wonder.

New year's eve and new year's day are another an opportunity to consider time, pace, what has passed, and what is possible. I will try to spend some of it -- as much as possible -- in sincere contemplation of the mystery and magnificence of it all.

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