For When People Ask by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.

For When People Ask

Have you not ever wished for such a word, one that means okay and not okay, when you are not quite either. A word that means devastated and stunned with joy – the complexity of living one’s life with the paradox of grieflove. She is seeking a word that says I feel it all all at once. I missed that second ‘all’ on first reading – all of it, all at once.

Tuvan throat singing, as I’ve learned, is a technique which originated in central Asia for singing two or more pitches at the same time, one deep, one high. What a perfect metaphor for the contrast between sorrow and joy, those intermingled emotions we all must encounter some time. The wind swirling as the heart swirls, the churning of opposite feelings.

Many poets from Blake in the 18th century, to the current Mark Nepo have written to express this commingling of apparently opposite feelings. Here Rosemerry gives us this uniquely aural image of throat singing, a way to live with this paradox, to be in this world so rife with devastation, / this world so ripe with joy. I am touched by her words, by the universality of this experience.

18 thoughts on “For When People Ask by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

  1. Thank you Jan…this feels like a wanted word for our times for sure, at least mine. That feeling invited my song One Moon, about the intermingling of sorrow and beauty…and the arts to express it.

    I hope you are well my friend.


  2. Oh how I love Rosemerry’s work!!! Holding both/and is our work, isn’t it?
    Thanks for sharing this poem!
    Thanks also for all your sharing a! I enjoy your site!
    Love and Namasté


  3. I love this Jan. It’s a truly brilliant poem. Swirl is such a special word and I love how Rosemerry describes that “…the heart understands swirls”. It feels so comforting.
    Thank you Jan.xoxo💫


  4. Thank you, friend, for sharing this poem and for your thoughtful commentary. I thought I’d share this crazy synchronicity. The poem was written in response to wanting a way to answer people asking me how I am doing after the death of my teenage son. Six weeks after I wrote the poem, we buried Finn in the Telluride cemetery, a stunning place near the end of a deep box canyon. At the precise moment when I put my hands in the dirt to pull it into the open grave, a primal, earthy and unworldly sound began to swirl through the canyon. It was throat singing. There was a bluegrass music festival happening in town that same day, and it turns out because of the canyon’s acoustics, you can hear what is happening on the town park stage from over half a mile away as if it is happening right next to you. Apparently, they had invited monks to come sing that morning before the bluegrass music began. Such a strange and soul-stirring music–the music I had written about–as a living soundtrack for the moment we buried my son. To add to the paradox of the day, it was both sunny and lightly raining. It was unbearably said to bury him and astonishingly beautiful. How mysteriously the world works. If I hadn’t lived that moment, I would not have believed it happened.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh Rosemerry, I am in tears. What a profoundly moving synchronicity. I had guessed that you wrote about ok/not ok in response to how are you doing after Finn died but I would never have known the rest of this beautiful story. I looked up Tuvan throat singing as I am only familiar with the Inuit throat singing in our far North – it is equally stunning. I am so grateful to you Rosemerry for sharing your experience of the mystery. much love to you, Janice

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another beautiful poem..I love this – the ‘both/and’, not this OR that. “the heart is not like a songbird singing only one note at a time”. the noticing is a both-and, but the experience is more like a fast pendulating… now this and now that — Thank you xo


  6. Jan,,,
    This poem was particularly energizing. It caused me to research Tuvan harmonics, Rosemerry, the Telluride Cemetry and my personal metaphors.
    Thanks for all that you do to make life more worthwhile.


  7. Thank you for this. I didn’t realize I needed these words holding opposites till I read this poem. So beautiful and poignant.

    Margaret 613-725-6941 Home 613-795-9879 Mobile

    Sent from my iPhone



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