© Steve King
All rights reserved
My mistake was to inquire, even tactfully,
what it is that you believe.
I left the question open,
wide as understanding might allow,
then watched as eyes narrowed,
surprising me, as now I know
you were surprised to hear it asked:
I felt your gaze reach far within my own,
perhaps to see which motives
must underlie such simple words.
Too late, I saw the question had gone wrong:
I only sought to know you
at some level other than mundane;
but all the simple knowing sudden stopped.
Now, I see the question made you wonder
on some unspoken quality of life,
and how it was your spirit may have failed
to flourish under this or that constraint;
how the things that you assumed
so closely as your own,
had served a destiny for good or ill;
how each daily compromise
worked only to wreak havoc on your will.
My words were conversation,
never meaning to upend
the stasis of your settled scores,
or betray elisions that lend peace to the days.
Perhaps you have no patience for beliefs—
perhaps you have mistaken
the rudiments of habit and routine
for rituals of virtue;
have given over to necessity
those energies that otherwise
would sanctify pursuit
of even gentle truths—
when the looming call of doubt
must either be rejected or embraced.
Perhaps you give short shrift
to the rightful place of doubt—
without which there is no need of faith
or the sundry comforts of belief.
Perhaps you have no time to waste on ambiguity.
Perhaps there is only a certain now,
to obviate all questions of regret and retrospect,
your future just a passive mirror,
set to hold the shape of some immutable design.
And so you answer with a look:
disappointment that the topic ever should arise.
Perhaps you had been fending off the answer all along;
perhaps belief had never been tested
in the rush of living out your life
the way you choose to live it.
Perhaps belief, itself, is a wrong word,
conjuring heirloom articles of ancient rites,
ever inconvenient in their day,
and even now, in memory.
This eternal present is a crowded sphere.
I myself have felt surcease of hours
and the timeless beat of silence:
questions settling in upon the mind’s idle abodes—
thoughts to spur dark contemplations,
restless in their reach and resonance,
yet spawning only tenuous conclusions.
It must be enough, I think,
to leap from pause to pause,
following the track of some small inkling
here or there, if one should be at hand,
even as we wait upon
some moment of sublime clairvoyance.
Now my questions are undone,
and may not be retraced
to trivial or droll evasions.
Doubt may never humble you,
but you would surely chafe at condescension.
All the while I must rest
upon the record of my words;
now you know me in a way
that I may not know you:
the way that I must only know myself.
I should have seen it well:
some questions end in unforeseen miscues
that serve only to fortify
the ruins of much casual impulse
and all we otherwise come to regret.
My notion was a fool’s device:
I should have sought the trace of your faint inklings—
those tracks you make among the silences,
far notes that echo in your empty times—
not some sudden profession
to frame the outline of your cautious heart;
I should not scatter thoughtless noise
to dress the trite cacophony
with which all days are filled;
should not have sought
to draw out dear assumptions,
knowing how they breed,
one upon the next,
worn transparent with their overuse,
stretched by lazy fantasy
to unkempt, unimagined,
wholly unsupported shapes,
languishing equally far
from origins and ends.
And so I watch you wrestle
with the puzzle of the words.
Yet I cannot better frame my task,
or color more these shades of meaning,
that you seem to take as black or white.
You still uncaptioned portrait—
alive only in silence,
great hostage to this small moment
and all unanswered questions;
holding solid for the next best guess,
though nothing you imagine takes to flight;
rehearsing all those ready answers,
none of which shall ever soon requite.
A new poem for Imaginary Gardens