Roger Housden, writer and creator of the best-selling “Ten Poems” series, again this month is offering up poems to “nourish the soul” on the Spirituality and Practice website. My favorite so far is the famed poem, “What the Living Do,” by Marie Howe. It was written in memory of her brother John, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1989.
“It begins with what we all know so well in our daily lives — the ordinary things that don’t quite work, that fall into disrepair, that we drop or forget. This is it, Howe says. This is what the living do!” Housden says.
Our lives are not made of rare, great events, but of “countless tiny, apparently insignificant ones like buying a hairbrush, wanting someone to call or not call,” he says. “And the seeming imperfection of it all gives rise to a yearning; a yearning for something without a name; something that must somehow offer more than this humdrum life we know.”
Here is part of Howe’s “This is What the Living Do:”
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and
the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is
the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and
the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too
high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries
in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And
yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my
coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a
hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What
you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up.