Monday, August 27, 2007


On the first day of class with the seniors, I decided to share with the students several poems in which the authors were exploring identity issues. One of these poems was this one called "Creed" by Meg Kearney from her book An Unkindness of Ravens:


I believe the chicken before the egg
though I believe in the egg. I believe
eating is a form of touch carried
to the bitter end; I believe chocolate
is good for you; I believe I'm a lefty
in a right-handed world, which does not
make me gauche, or abnormal, or sinister.
I believe "normal" is just a cycle on
the washing machine; I believe the touch
of hands has the power to heal, though
nothing will ever fill this immeasurable
hole in the center of my chest. I believe
in kissing; I believe in mail; I believe
in salt over the shoulder, a watched
pot never boils, and if I sit by my
mailbox waiting for the letter I want
it will never arrive—not because of
superstition, but because that's not
how life works. I believe in work:
phone calls, typing, multiplying,
black coffee, write write write, dig
dig dig, sweep sweep. I believe in
a slow, tortuous sweep of tongue
down the lover's belly; I believe I've
been swept off my feet more than once
and it's a good idea not to name names.
Digging for names is part of my work,
but that's a different poem. I believe
there's a difference between men and
women and I thank God for it. I believe
in God, and if you hold the door
and carry my books, I'll be sure to ask
for your name. What is your name? Do
you believe in ghosts? I believe
the morning my father died I heard him
whistling "Danny Boy" in the bathroom,
and a week later saw him standing in
the living room with a suitcase in his
hand. We never got to say good-bye, he
said, and I said I don't believe in
good-byes. I believe that's why I have
this hole in my chest; sometimes it's
rabid; sometimes it's incoherent. I
believe I'll survive. I believe that
"early to bed and early to rise" is
a boring way to live. I believe good
poets borrow, great poets steal, and
if only we'd stop trying to be happy
we could have a pretty good time. I
believe time doesn't heal all wounds;
I believe in getting flowers for no
reason; I believe "Give a Hoot, Don't
Pollute," "Reading is Fundamental,"
Yankee Stadium belongs in the Bronx,

and the best bagels in New York are
boiled and baked on the corner of First
and 21st. I believe in Santa
Claus, Jimmy Stewart, ZuZu's petals,
Arbor Day, and that ugly baby I keep
dreaming about—she lives inside me
opening and closing her wide mouth.
I believe she will never taste her
mother's milk; she will never be
beautiful; she will always wonder what
it's like to be born; and if you hold
your hand right here—touch me right
here, as if this is all that matters,
this is all you ever wanted, I believe
something might move inside me,
and it would be more than I could stand.

One of the things I like about this poem is its looseness, the way Kearney gives herself permission to move about freely from the large to the small, from the general to the specific, from the topographical to the psychological. After we read this poem and two others ("I Want to Say" by Natalie Goldberg and "Self-Portrait" by Adam Zagajewski), I asked the students, for their first written assignment of the semester, to play around with the idea of writing something—whether it be a poem on the lines of this one, a reflective essay, or merely a series of notes—which would articulate what something they believe or think to be true about themselves. This morning as I was working in my journal I found myself beginning a list of my own, and I've gone back to it several times since then. With apologies to Ms. Kearney for swiping her idea, here's mine:


I believe in fairness. I believe you should be able to get through your day,
your week, without being conned, lied to, or taken advantage of.
I believe in equal opportunity. I am against prejudice
in any of its manifestations: chauvinism, racism, sexism, ageism.
I’m in favor of long term solutions. I’m suspicious of quick fixes
and fast talkers. I believe in having some pride. Take care of your body.
Take care of your house. Take care of your yard, your family, your friends.
Your mind. I don’t believe that anybody can do everything. Make choices,
and what you choose to do, do well. I believe in withholding judgment.
I believe in asking questions. I believe that people are essentially good
and will do the right thing if they can. But there are also Very Bad People out there,
and I find it hard to muster up much sympathy for them. They’ve made choices too,
for which the law of karma will, with justice, provide unpleasant consequences.
I believe in Karma. I believe that we each have a Buddha nature, that lies within us
if we can only find the means to bring it forward. I believe in simple pleasures:
peanut butter and jelly, walking, taking naps, playing chess with friends,
inking the last number into the grid in sudoku. Breathing is good. Being in the thrall
of a Great Read. I believe that American popular culture is a mess.

I believe in Quality. I admire Dylan, Picasso, Shakespeare, and Rembrandt,
but wouldn’t want to trade lives with any of them. I believe in alternative energy,
in conservation, in stewardship. I believe we should make an effort to live in harmony
with nature, and not consume more than we create. I believe in creativity.
I am grateful for art, for literature, for music. I believe technology has the power
to make our lives better, but the potential to make our lives worse.
I believe in education. But not always in schools. I’m in favor of assessment,
but have no use for testing. I believe it’s more important to be a good learner
than to have a good teacher.

I don’t believe in war. There’s no excuse, no reason, no cause that can justify
slaughter and misery and mangled families and mangled lives. And yet history shows
that war is inevitable, inexorable. There is always more than enough stupidity and brutality
to go around, and the bullies and the tyrants have the advantage, since the only way
to combat them is on their own terms, and good people don’t want to go there,
to become what they are fighting. I’m an optimist in the short run
and a pessimist in the long. I love my life. I love the world, I love the human race.
But I see no real reason to believe humans have even a hundred years left.
All the more reason to value this day, this moment.

I don’t believe the rules are all that many, or all that hard to follow.
Pay attention. Say please and thank you. Work hard. Don’t make excuses
when you screw up. Fall down seven times; get up eight. Be thoughtful.
One way to be thoughtful is to write. So write. Reflect. Pray if it helps.
Try to understand, to make something that speaks what truth you know.
Find your voice. Know who you are. Don’t try to be somebody else.
Pay attention to your intuitions. When all is said and done, trust yourself.

Yeah, I know. Great poetry it ain't. And if I were to start it over again, it might read entirely differently. But it's all pretty much on target, as far as it goes.

1 comment:

Maureen said...


As always, your "posts" are so enjoyable to read. This one (like many others) has gotten me thinking about my own beliefs.

- Maureen