Try to love everything that gets in your way:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she’ll have that to look at all her life,
and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids arent allowed at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
will be a young man, at a wedding on a boat
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he’ll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to a larger story,
because if something is in your way it is
going your way, the way
of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.
Because Even the Word Obstacle
Ever since I first read this poem a few years ago, my mind returns to it on those occasions that seem to fit perfectly, in my own experience, into the litany of possibilities which the poet curates for us. And I delight in the humour she brings to these situations which can sometimes help me find a glimmer of amusement in things that can otherwise just frustrate me.
Try to love everything that gets in your way. Such a clear declaration of sage advice, though of course not so easy in practice. If you pool-swim, you will instantly recognize these literal obstacles slowing you down – the women doing leg exercises in your lane, the thrashing heavy-bellied man. Teachers all, such truth in two words. The tattooed teenage girl, the uncle teaching his nephew how to hold his breath underwater which becomes a riff on the boy as a young man washed overboard at a wedding on a boat but he’ll come up like a cork.
Remember that all these people who have slowed you down, be it in a pool, or at the grocery store, or driving late to your appointment, can teach you patience, and we must bow in service to a larger story. More than that, she tells us if something is in your way it is / going your way. She is reminding us that we are all moving towards darkness, towards light. It is the way / of all beings. Something to think about, isn’t it. But don’t let me stand in your way.
23 thoughts on “Because Even the Word Obstacle Is an Obstacle by Alison Luterman”
Well, Jan, this one is a big WOW!! Two lines in particular resonated – being a minnow without grudges or memory and bow in service to a larger story, if it is in your way it is going your way – yes, please – I want to experience this kind of wisdom and with it freedom :O) Thanks so much!!
Love that poem. Such a good reminder for life in general and when I am at the pool! Also read it to my husband-a swimmer, the obstacles are so funny and true.
Funny and so very true Patti, and such good reminders about life. thanks xoxo
Yes to each of those gems of wisdom Maureen, the kind I, too, want to experience – one of the reasons I keep coming back to this poem! xoxox
This is such an interesting poem. Lots of obstacles in my way today as I look forward – so I will keep this poem in mind. I laughed as I read about the fellow at his wedding being washed overboard. It’s hard to love everything that gets in my way…. but the sun is shining so it feels like light may help sooth the darkness.
Thank you Jan. Lisa ☀️❤️
It really is hard to love everything that gets in the way Lisa but perhaps she is just suggesting we try to go with, rather than fighting those obstacles, more of an acceptance, even if reluctant. Good luck with your day! xoxo
Like Guest House, only very wet! Teachers all, indeed! Bow in service to a larger story – oof, yes! And I LOVE how she doesn’t leave out the darkness, but we move toward both darkness and light. Would have been a disappointment if she ended it with light only 😉
Yes, very wet guests :), and I agree, important to move toward both darkness and light, the real world. thanks Anne, xoxo
Another wonderful poem you have shared with us Janice. Thank you!!
Glad you have enjoyed it Marijo, thank you.
What a sage interpretation of this poem that is both humorous and profound.
Quite the skill, to give us profound messages with humour which makes them more accessible. Thanks as always Judy. xoxo
as a swimmer, very good meditation on what goes on while swimming….
Yes indeed, swimming meditation with smiles 🙂 thanks Matt
I’ve loved this poem for awhile too, glad to see it again. The images are so specific, and that boy, coming up like a cork – such a perfect reminder of the role of compassion in our me me me world.
I agree Joanne, so much compassion in this poem, bowing in service to a larger story. thanks for your comments.
Yes, so true, so beautiful, thank you Kathryn.
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Ooooh, so very absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing this poem! I have a very good friend whose favorite poet is Alison. My pal is also a swimmer. I don’t know if she seen this poem but I will definitely will be sharing it with her.
This is certainly one for sharing Elizabeth, wise and humorous at the same time. thanks xoxo
This reminded me of a Ram Dass quote:
“I was no longer needing to be special,
because I was no longer so caught in my puny separateness
that had to keep proving I was something.
I was part of the universe,
like a tree is,
or like grass is,
or like water is.”
Thank you for this poem and for this memory, dear Jan.
I’m just a blade of grass. With everyone else. Part of the bigger picture. We’re all just finding our way.
Love this quote Lianne, thank you for sharing these wise words. I like the idea of being a blade of grass – all of us just walking each other home, as Ram Dass also famously said. love to you xoxo
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