I just read Old School, by Tobias Wolff.  This is a book for people who love books, an homage to writers and to the transformative power of literature, a cause close to my heart.  Early in the novel, Robert Frost makes an appearance, and he’s just as dignified and witty and remarkable as any reader of Frost would hope he would be.  Wolff has a real generosity here, and the result is a celebration of a beloved writer, one of our greatest poets, now fictionalized as a great man.

At one point, Frost is asked whether traditional forms of poetry are sufficient to express the concerns of modern consciousness, the presumption being that these modern concerns (war, politics, advertising, “the dimming of faith by science”) are more complicated than the issues facing earlier poets.  I love Frost’s response:

“Don’t tell me about science, Frost said.  I’m something of a scientist myself.  Bet you didn’t know that.  Botany.  You boys know what tropism is, it’s what makes a plant grow toward the light.  Everything aspires to the light.  We all have that instinct, that aspiration.  Science can’t– what was your word?  dim?– science can’t dim that.  All science can do is turn out the false lights so the true light can get us home.” (p. 52)

Last spring, I wrote a poem that echoed this point, so it felt totally serendipitious to see a similar philosophy ascribed to Frost.  Here’s my poem.  Maybe one day Tobias Wolff and I can get together to talk about turning toward the light.

An Answer, Belated
There is no moon.  There is the moon flower in its small power of accuracy, like a compass pointing to where the moon is, so they can bay towards its absence. 
          Michael Ondaatje, In The Skin of A Lion, p. 76

Your friend asks me: 
“How did you come
to know the Lord?”
and I know it’s a test.
 
I am insufficient
to the question,
sifting through metaphor
and hard-won moments of peace.

I am only a collector
of clues: the way
sunflowers silently turn
their faces to follow the light.

Or: the night I saw a tree
lit from behind by sunset,
glowing like a soul.
The truth

is that science explains
most everything
but the way my heart
bends in gratitude.

Towards whom?  This is
what you want
me to answer, I think,
but instead I’ll tell you that

the other day I saw a hawk
perched on a road sign:
One Way, only
the words were obscured

by red streamers, blood
running freely from the
dying creature in the
bird’s sharp mouth.

What are we doing here?
There are mornings when
I feel utterly a stranger to the
beauty and violence around me.

I come to know less and less.
I mean to say, I look for signs.
I catalog the evidence of a world
less threatened by silence

and I reorient myself
in the darkness.

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