A Ritual to Read to Each Other
By William Stafford
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
I first heard this poem in 1994. Committed to memory the words have ricocheted within my heart and head for over twenty years. A Ritual to Read to Each Other – I love these words, they stir the questions: How often do we fail to communicate who we really are? How often do we judge or allow ourselves to be judged rather than reveal our fear and vulnerability – even if only to ourselves? Judgment cloaks the heart in thick armor. Only love can break through its walls.
There have been many essays written on this poem and its meaning. Stafford’s universal themes are as relevant today as they were when first written. For me, this poem has been a sort of talisman, reminding me to turn to the light that resides not only within myself but in all. His words remind me of the darkness in which we all wade and how easy it is to retreat to the darkness than to stand in the light.
In this series of mixed media pieces that nod to Stafford’s poem, I explore the complexities of my own heart which struggles with receiving love more than giving it; recognizing my own judgment of myself and others, and the depth of darkness where it is often easier to hide.
Pictured here ‘the darkness around us is deep’ is the first piece in the series depicting the heart’s triumph over the darkness that pervades. The heart is drawn on a repurposed teabag. The teabag is a prominent symbol in my work. Its main purpose is to hold and steep – not too dissimilar from the heart, which holds and steeps love.
pictured above: The Darkness Around Us is Deep | by Tess Mosko Scherer
pastel, colored pencil, and repurposed tea bag on paper with Irish linen thread