Smoke Signals by William Stafford

There are people on a parallel way. We do not
see them often, or even think of them often,
but it is precious to us that they are sharing
the world. Something about how they have accepted
their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them,
helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days
in line for our own living. It is important
that these people know this recognition, but
it is also important that no purpose or obligation
related to this be intruded into their lives.

This book intends to be for anyone, but especially
for those on that parallel way: here is a smoke
signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive—we are
following what comes, going through the world,
knowing each other, building our little fires.

Smoke Signals

William Stafford wrote this poem as part of an introduction to his poetry collection A Glass Face in the Rain (thank you Faith), hence the reference to ‘this book’. This image is one that I align with, that we are sharing the world with people on a parallel way. People we may not see or think of often, even, I would suggest, may not know. Yet they are there, living their own lives as we do ours, invisibly connected.

He is suggesting that how others accept their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them, helps us with our own living, those strange, enigmatic days. He tells us it is important that we each know this about one another and yet, this recognition must not carry the weight of obligation or intrusion into their lives. This way of being is a smoke signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive, a way of speaking to one another, building our little fires.

I see these virtual smoke signals often in the people around me and appreciate them for how they anchor me in my own life. And I love the idea of us each with our own small fires of life, the smoke rising up and reaching out to one another. This is my smoke signal to you as we share this precious world.

12 thoughts on “Smoke Signals by William Stafford

  1. Oh Jan, what a wonderful image. I too feel this intensely. Just yesterday I gathered with a circle of people some I had never met to honor a mutual friend who died on Sunday. As we sat in a circle to drum, as we shared the stories of our friendship with Carol over many years I had that sense that these people had been moving thru their lives sending off smoke signals, perhaps just as I have been, and that we, unknowing, have been signaling guiding each other along the way.Thank you for this poem.


  2. This is beautiful Jan. I love the image of the smoke signal: “…unmistakable but unobtrusive….”
    These few lines make me want to read his book. Thank you💖


  3. I have always been fascinated by the idea that we all live parallel lives that are often unknowingly connected but the idea of “each of us, with our own little fires of life, the smoke rising up and reaching out to one another” is beautiful. Thank you, Jan.


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