I began writing poetry when my first love moved on. I was nineteen and my heart was broken. I didn’t have any true friends yet and so I began talking to myself, by writing. In time, I began to mend and realized that through my raw and honest reflection I’d begun a lifelong conversation with the Universe. This is the medicine of poetry: that through raw and honest reflection, we deepen our conversation with life. The purpose of poetry and expression is to make life real, to remove everything that gets in the way, and to help us live.
For me, the poems arrive with their wisdom. I retrieve them, more than create them, and they become my teachers. What they have to say becomes my inner curriculum and, by staying in conversation with the poems, I learn and grow. Whether you write or not, this way of learning is available to us all, as we meet and learn from the moments of our lives. Whether familiar with poetry or not, I invite you to receive these poems as you would a friend who’s eager to share intimately. Let the feeling reach you first. For the power of a poem is how it awakens your own feeling.
The longer I live, the more the life of poetry and the poetry of life blur. Early on, I wanted to write great poems, but when brought to my knees by cancer in my thirties, I needed to discover true poems to help me live. Now, in my sixties, I want to be the poem. After all these years, I’ve learned that, in the deepest sense, poetry is a way of engaging the world with our being and care. And more than understanding whatever a poet might mean in any given poem, the poetry is there to ignite your own exploration of aliveness.
I ask that you listen to these poems with the angel sleeping in your heart, the one we carry around in case of emergency, in case the gift of life is suddenly revealed as precious enough that we should wake the red angel now—desperate for it to bring us alive in the deepest terms possible.
I have fallen through,
and though it felt like dying,
once below, I saw the bottom
of things lighted from above
and this has made the difference.
Of course, this is not the end of it.
Like Sisyphus or Prometheus,
each day re-enacts the whole thing.
Each day, I wrestle with waves
of doubt and fear and recurring
blindnesses, and then, if I suffer
or love enough, I fall through
and die to my undoing again,
to where it’s holy to be silent
and adrift, and there I see the
belly of all fear lighted from
And this makes you and me
and the stranger we avoid
shine like the flawed beings
It makes me leave the house
unlocked and enter the world
full of praise. It makes me
reach through the fire
in reckless song.
Reprinted with permission from “The Way Under The Way”, Sounds True, 2016
Mark Nepo has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” and “a consummate storyteller.” He inspired audiences worldwide with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Recent works include a new book of poetry The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting, The One Life We’re Given and Inside the Miracle. A two-time cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship.
Image credit: Fred Berkhout