Wednesday, August 7, 2013

With every breath

I stand perfect, arrogant with life
in this field, refusing to choose which
is more, the golden hills of rudbeckia
tumbling after one another,
Canada thistle foaming around
spindles of Timothy grass. Not even
doilies of Queen Anne’s Lace,
a neck above the rest, court my favor,
nor I theirs.
We are all winners
or there are none. Bee. Moth.
Hawk. Vole. Sky over. Sun falling. We
proudly pose until the next rising.


  1. There were several drafts of this poem. The variations were mostly in the last couple of lines. One was:

    We proudly sink into the next thing living.

    With every rising something falls. With every fall something rises.

  2. 'perfect, arrogant with life'

    often there is so much talk of humility when the vastness of life is discussed, but perfection and arrogance........why not? we are all of us fully a part of this grand design and we stand with the mountains and the mole. one is not more or less than the other, we are all of us perfect in our imperfection, and arrogant with life.

    1. Thank you for understanding this, Amanda.

      It's not about not being humble. It's about not being either, I think, arrogant or humble. It's being both: full, and empty at the same time.

      I suppose the words "perfect" and "arrogant" are about fullness.

      Again, thank you for understanding.

  3. Beautiful, Ruth! Original is every respect, but I can see a kinship with both Lao Tzu ("full, and empty at the same time) and Annie Dillard.

    1. Dear George, I'm so pleased you like this and found kinship with Lao Tzu and Annie Dillard. Thank you! The connections with those two were unconscious to me, but as you know I've been reading both. The "arrogance" here arose out of Miller and his freedom and honesty. I think it is quite incredible how susceptible the mind is to persuasion.

  4. ruth, i love your poem but it challenges me. i can not be easy with the word arrogant, but can be gentler with proud. arrogance is too obtuse for me. the world falls off the shoulders of the arrogant and the arrogant looks down, sees it as separate, and uses it to advantage. that said, that is how man behaves. however you don't stay there. you have a line which is a great equalizer and so i suspect the arrogance is, in the end, not what i reject in the beginning, but man's ruse. your line, of course, "We are all winners/or there are none." (and how you separate the line to pummel us with the hindquarter!)

    if we truly stand amongst rudbeckia, Canadian thistle, timothy grass, queen anne's lace, and we do, we do stand amongst each other, then none of us stands in arrogance really. our being, what a delight, what a state of encapsulation and articulation. we become perk and pert and so often distracted and distorted in mind through this. it is our work to realize gratitude and humility through our being. it is a life's work to realize ourselves beyond arrogance.

    but you see, please, this poem does what it should do, not easily pull us to life in reflection, but challenges what we see in the mirror.


    1. Erin, you excite me!

      I find arrogance to be one of my very least favorite human traits. I find the word “arrogant” deeply troubling! I see that you share this with me, and so, the fact that you stick with me in this poem after that first line means so very much to me.

      Henry Miller has offered me something (and yes, I do want you to read him, please) that I have not found before. What he’s given me is something like what Rumi gave, which is that for every discovery, the seeming opposite comes close behind. Also, what is there to fear in concepts we don't feel attracted to? Also, what about this ego? Do I deny it as I try to defeat it? What is real? When I began the poem, this line insisted on itself: I am perfect, arrogant with life (yes, I am perfect was first!). I did not want to even think about it, because it troubled me, but it begged to be written. What does being arrogant mean? (yes, the things you wrote; superiority, etc.)

      And so I wrote the poem. ☺ We say “proud as a peacock” and of course we don’t know that a peacock is proud, but he seems so. What if all of nature seems arrogant in its insistence, its standing day after day, its constant rising, even after it falls? I don’t know. But the questions about this, related to human nature, fascinate me.

      Today I read about a new book called Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life : A Philosophy of Vegetal Life and it sounds like something I would be interested in, at least in part. What is the life in plants? What drives them to do what they do? Do plants have desire?

      Can plants be arrogant? ☺

      The book is reviewed here:

      This is only part of what I would love to talk and talk about with you.

  5. Ruthie, dear sister,

    Coincidentally, perhaps serendipitously, I've been finishing Miguel Ruiz's The Mastery of Love. Your opening line is very much in keeping with his words, "You know, everything that exists is perfect. You are perfect just the way you are. That is the truth. You are a master. Even if you master anger and jealousy, your anger and jealousy are perfect. Even if you have a big drama going on in your life, it's perfect, it's beautiful." As you say, this is "about fullness;" similarly, I'd see it as about about completion.

    I'm impressed that other wisdom teachers have said that we are now everything we are meant to be. Indeed, even as you refuse "to choose which is more" we can refuse to believe dominant cultural themes that we need fixing. So, it's not about superiority but about being one with all life. Life is what it's all about, and I suppose that one could say that, yes, life is arrogant. It beats the alternative, for sure.

    As you imply, the sun always rises. Thank you for choosing "We proudly pose until the next rising" over earlier endings. Yours is hard work and, might I say, it is also masterwork.



    1. Dear Nelson, we are so rich with life. Your comment is very beautiful, especially because I know that it comes through fiery testing of these principles. I remember how we were taught about the word holiness when growing up in church: it was completeness, wholeness. YET, we were also, and really taught, that it was about being sinless, and perfect in a very different sense. You and I couldn't have imagined that we are everything, and perfect, now. No one need save us. By the way, Henry Miller has wonderful things to say about Jesus. For example:

      "Do not put the Buddha (or the Christ) beyond, outside yourself. Recognize him in yourself. Be that which you are, completely."

      "Jesus strove to give us a way of life, not a moral code."

      "There is one thing I believe to be implicit in the story of martyrdom which Jesus enacted. It is this, that we do not need to repeat the sacrifice which he made. By assuming the burden of guilt and sin for mankind Jesus meant, in my opinion, to awaken us to the real meaning of life. What is the purpose and meaning of life? To enjoy it to the utmost. We can do so only by making ourselves one with life. 'The life more abundant' means simply and unequivocally 'life everlasting,' nothing but life."

      These are all in the chapter called "The Immorality of Morality."

      Thank you, dear brother, for your deep response, and for the work you are continuing to do (at age 71). I love you.

  6. What a very joyful poem!
    How we must delight in beauty whenever we can.


All responses are welcome.