When I was young and in school, two poems found me and wedged themselves into my memory like a shim wedging a gap beneath a door. The first was in high school. It was written, said our teacher, by a person in a jail cell, looking out his very tiny window. I remember neither the title nor the poet. But I remember one line, although probably inaccurately:
“I think that this small piece of sky is not enough to praise.”
The second poem that wedged a line into my psyche was from my college years. The line I remembered:
“When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.”
When these poems crossed my path, the internet had not yet webbed its way across the whole wide world. We found words in books at the library or in mimeographed copies handed out by the teacher, or not at all.
Both of those poems passed by me in a moment, then they were gone. Had I known they would leave a tiny splinter behind in my memory, I might have captured them. Jotted them down in my own notebook. Kept the book on my shelves. Tucked them into a folder in a drawer. But I didn’t know, so I let them both float away.
Their splinters stayed. And every so often—say, when the wind blew against my skin a certain way, or when I looked up through a small, high window somewhere and noticed a scrap of cloud framed for just an instant—I feel those splinters stir. I recall the words, clear as if spoken directly into my ear.
This isn’t to say that I don’t remember other poems, other lines. Like everyone else, I can recite random bits of Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot, William Carlos Williams, and many more. And I love them all, feel the sweet tug of memory with each of them. But somehow, these two lines from these two poems have resonated within me on a different harmonic note throughout my entire life.
When the internet grew, I tried finding those poems’ whole selves. The first time I searched, I couldn’t find either one. A few years went by, and I tried again. That time, I found one:
by James Wright
There is this cave
In the air behind my body
A cloister, a silence
Closing around a blossom of fire.
When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.
I printed it and keep it clipped to my organizer on my desk now, always within reach.
The second poem, the one about the too-small slice of sky, remains hidden to me.
The internet is a two-edged sword, of course. But its original intent of bringing all the knowledge of the world to all the people of the world is glorious in its ambition, and almost magical in its reality. It brought one of those splintered poems back to me.
I am still waiting for it to bring me the second. Someday, I’m sure, it will.
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