Friday, May 21, 2010

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

For Friday, a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 -2000.

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep my eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

I've loved this poem for many years. I can remember times when the sentiment fit my situation exactly. Many devil days of hurt, wandering the hell realm, not sure what "home" to go to.

I particularly like the lines, "And none can give me any word but Wait, /The puny light." I've always envisioned one of those walk-wait pedestrian cross signals, which are hard to find in New York anymore. They have all been replaced with extremely bright halogen signals with pictographs, which can be seen clearly from five blocks away. I suppose in a pea-soup fog or a blizzard of the century, I'll be glad for their voluminocity.

But back to Brooks's puny light. I love the disgust and impatience that word "puny" conveys. Such a light is no light at all, nearly darkening one's path rather than illuminating it. And yet she feels she must obey. Wait. Your turn for happiness will come. For now, wait.

A hungry ghost, aware that she is hungry, aware that this is the hell realm. But able to glimpse other realms.

In other words, a practitioner.


Gwendolyn Brooks, “my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of Gwendolyn Brooks.

Figure: 1950s vintage "Streamline" pedestrian WAIT - WALK signal;

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