Feed the wolf that hungers for poetry

You know that beautiful story, don’t you?

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

(I couldn’t find a source to attribute this to, even though it’s all over the internet.)

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

But it came to mind, when I found this poem, via Maya Popa, who posts poems every day and who I started following in twitter because otherwise, as I was trying to find my bearings in a world that remains as wobbly as ever, I was just swimming in a swamp of negativity and doom.

I am trying to stay informed, and be a little bit prepared for whatever might be coming down the pipeline with 5 minutes advance notice… so I’m not quite ready to unplug, but at the same time, I don’t want to feed the wolf that thrives on despair.

SO: poetry, which seemed so unbearably snooty and high-brow when I took an English lit class at University, but is actually a type of medicine, if you can brush the snooty people, and the terrible poems, out of the way. I think there is something in us, that hungers for gems like this… at least, I feel it in myself, a kind of unfurling, a kind of softening:

If we are separated I will

try to wait for you

on your side of things

your side of the wall and the water

and the light moving at its own speed

even on leaves that we have seen

I will wait on one side

while a side is there.

William S Merwin, Travelling Together

I just love the opening line so much, because I taught skiing for a long time, and eventually clued on to the smart move, which was to tell the group, “if we are separated, we’ll regroup at the bottom of Emerald Chair”… It is a phrase that has come to feel like a beautiful kind of care-taking to me, a preparedness and a promise… if we are separated, here’s where we’ll find each other again. And so I’m hooked in straight away, by this promise of care…

And have you not been on the other side of the Berlin wall, some artificial structure literally bricked into place overnight, separating families, topped with razor wire, overseen by guards and floodlights? Have you not been on the other side of an ocean from someone you wanted to be with, kept apart by visa hassles or pandemic restrictions or promises made to someone else?

And is waiting not the wisest course of action, the one that all the SAR teams recommend – sit tight, keep warm, wait it out…

So much feels divided these days. Everything has a side. But then, even leaves have sides, he reminds us. This facing opposite directions is just a temporary thing… Let’s wait for one another, for the time there are no longer sides, when we aren’t divided to fit people’s political agendas…

And let’s consider what we’re feeding our inner wolves with while we’re at it. Because, we are both. We are both sides, we are the potential to go either way, depending on what we ingest, consume, absorb. Ultimately there isn’t a we and a them… ultimately, it’s all us.

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