I want to tell you
that the world is still beautiful.
I tell you that despite
children raped on city streets,
shot down in school rooms,
despite the slow poisons seeping
from old and hidden sins
into our air, soil, water,
despite the thinning film
that encloses our aching world.
Despite my own terror and despair.
I want you to look again and again,
to recognize the tender grasses,
curled like a baby’s fine hairs
around your fingers, as a recurring
miracle, to see that the river rocks
shine like God, that the crisp
voices of the orange and gold
October leaves are laughing at death.
I want you to look beneath
the grass, to note
the fragile hieroglyphs
of ant, snail, beetle. I want
you to understand that you are
no more and no less necessary
than the brown recluse, the ruby-
throated hummingbird, the humpback
whale, the profligate mimosa.
I want to say, like Neruda,
that I am waiting for
“a great and common tenderness,”
that I still believe
we are capable of attention,
that anyone who notices the world
must want to save it.
I was drawn into this poem by that opening line, in wholehearted agreement that the world is still beautiful despite so much evidence to the contrary – the rape and deaths of children, the many ways we are poisoning our aching world. There is much that is beautiful despite my own terror and despair which can send me spiraling downward. The poet doesn’t need to enumerate at length what causes despair; we all have our own personal list.
She calls on us to recognize the tender grasses, / curled like a baby’s fine hairs / around your fingers – an image to focus the mind. To hear the crisp / voices of the orange and gold October leaves, to note the fragile hieroglyphs / of ant, snail, beetle. In other words, to pay attention to all that this world offers us. And more than that, she implores us to understand that you are / no more and no less necessary than the spider, the whale, the flower that represents the sun. Your presence matters as much as every other being; you are necessary.
She is waiting for “a great and common tenderness”, as the poet Pablo Neruda said in expressing his faith in humanity, a tenderness both expansive and ordinary. Because we are each capable of paying attention, she believes that anyone who notices the world / must want to save it. Perhaps she is also saying that in noticing the beauty of grass and leaf and insect, we can save ourselves, can feel that great and common tenderness for life.