Category Archives: wonder

Under the Magnolia.

I came across this poem this morning while reading one of my favorite blogs.  It was timely because in my graduate class this week we were discussing poetry and I realized how much I had been missing it lately.  There is no other form that can capture so much with so little and, like the nerdy English teacher that I am, it hurts my soul that it is such a misunderstood genre.  I try to teach my students that poetry is one of the most powerful ways to share their voice–it distills the most power and leaves out the unnecessary that clogs so many texts.  

I’ve been talking with some people lately–and even in my last post–about living thankfully and gratefully, especially for the intangible.  This poem made me stop and think and breathe.  And it makes me want to write.  

Under the Magnolia by Carolyn Miller

I give thanks because I do not have
a great sorrow. My village has not
burned, my child has not died, my body
is not ravaged. I sit here on the ground
lucky, lucky. Somewhere, villages are burning,
somewhere, not too far away, children
are dying; in this great urban park
painstakingly constructed over sand dunes,
people live in the flowering bushes. But
just here, in front of me, is a bride and groom;
here is a child running with
a red ball; another child is rolling on
the grass. All I have to do is to decide
how much fear to let inside my heart
in this fragile, created place, this bowl of grass
surrounded by palms and cypresses and
shaggy-barked cedars and trees
whose names I do not know, long fronds
falling, clusters of lilac fruits depending like
bouquets. All we can do is trust
that we belong here with the flowers: white
iris and Iceland poppies, a blur
of primroses, beds where flowers are
a crowd of color, where they close in the dark,
where the first light finds them starred
with dew. The trees seem to know
what I do not know; even the cultivated grass
understands some chain of being I can only
guess at, whether it is God’s mind, or
the erotic body of the Goddess, or some
abstract kind of love, or
some longing for existence that includes
the fern trees, the new buds of cones on the
conifers, the white butterflies, the skating boys,
the hooked new buds of the magnolia
that look like claws holding on
to life, the curved thick petals of magnolia
in the grass, some gone to rust, some creased,
some streaked, others freckled, others magenta
at the curved stem end, others cracked,
all lined with long veins branching out
to the petal’s edge.

looking for wonder.

This was a timely read so close to The Magicians, in which the main character struggled immensely with finding joy in his life.  Life After God was recommended by my pastor in a sermon over a year ago.  I was fascinated by what he quoted from this fictional story and ordered the book immediately, only to have it sit in my to-read pile for a year.  But, I am glad to have read it in light of both my current mental state and recent reading life.  It seemed to continue the conversations in my mind springing from both places.

The book itself is pocket size, though a couple inches thick. The narrator is a man in his 30s or 40s who is currently separated from his wife and tells his non linear story mostly through vignette-style memories: snapshots of his life and how he got to his current place of thinking, which is filled mostly with sadness a bit of nostalgia.

And then sometimes I think the people to feel saddest for are people who once knew what profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the sensation of wonder–people who closed the doors that lead us into the secret world–or who had the doors closed for them by time and neglect and decisions made in times of weakness (51).

Wonder reminds me of what it feels like to be truly alive.  I’ve written about it here, and I’m surprised I haven’t written about it more because I would normally describe myself as a person looking out for it.  Though, I think my eye was better trained for wonder in the days when I was writing poetry on a regular basis, so in love with what was in front of me that I couldn’t not try to capture it in words.  That’s the reason that I could relate to this narrator quite a bit: my sense of wonder has been a bit off recently.  It’s the kind of thing I didn’t notice until the symptoms of cynicism started manifesting in my life.

I lost my breath a bit when I read the narrator talking about his wife, scared that I saw a bit of her in myself of late:

She remembers when the world was full of wonder–when life was a strand of magic moments strung together, a succession of mysteries revealed, leaving her feeling as though she was in a trance. She remembers back when all it took to make her feel like she was a part of the stars was to simply talk about things like death and life and the universe.  She doesn’t know how to reclaim that sense of magic anymore (138).

I think it is the magic that helps us get by; the small moments that remind us of what is beautiful and true, that come as a surprise when the rest of life does not feel beautiful.  It petrifies me to think about life without a sense of wonder.  I’ve taken to becoming a tourist in my own town, though, this week, snapping signs-of-life pictures.  I know a lot of people who talk about reclaiming their morning for grounding themselves in truth–and I think I need to reclaim my sense of wonder and breathe deeply and spring seeps in once again.  This must be my response to Quentin, from The Magicians, who blocked off his heart to the point that he was completely blind to wonder.

{sunday-six-thirty-light and signs-of-life outside my window}
{hudson street, west village}
{third street, park slope}