Monday, December 8, 2014

My Mistake

©  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


  1. Not such a simple question but one that should be asked. I use to think I knew what I believed but have begun questioning it all. I hope that means I'm becoming wise and not cynical. This is a deep and thoughtful piece. I'm glad to have read it and will mull it more.

  2. It's a great question and gave you a rich poem. I was trying to come up with another way to ask it that might not be so wielding, maybe "what do you know?" Anything but "how are you?" please.

  3. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. This echoes my feeling in recent weeks of uncertainty whether I should remain silent or speak, and if the latter what to say. Listening is a skill we are all ever in need of.

  4. We are always been told that open questions are the only ones that can open for a conversation.. yet they are always doors to places that might be hard to visit... there are other doors that could been opened...

  5. i like the part about the assumptions breeding. they can be an infestation

    focused implementation

  6. A fantastic write. The person sounds very defended. It amazes me when I encounter those who are afraid of looking within, who deflect and dodge and prefer the unexamined life. They are many. You have written this encounter so well.

  7. That opening line grabs the mind my the throat, and tells it, "You want to read this."

    I must agree with Sherry, to go through life without knowing (not even wanting to know) is a terrible waste. People who don't "ask" can cause such problems for everyone... especially themselves.

  8. Nothing gets us digging deeper than the opacity of the Other. A strange but potent mirror for reflection. The iteration is long because the silence is so pervasive.

  9. Well, that IS a big question to ask. If one isn't familiar with certain … trains of thought, it can be quite a task at hand. For example, there are certain societal "norms" that often define a "base" … but quite a few of them I disagree with. How hard to even have a true open conversation when so much "background" is necessary to even educate the person from where I would even begin.

    Or perhaps, as many are, this person really is caught up in just having fun and have no care for anything deeper (which really is sad - or often a - hopefully temporary - plight of the young.

  10. For me this isn't about the question asked, but about the openness, the intimacies of friendship. There are those who would take such a question to task as being too personal, intruding on a private world hidden in their hearts. There are those who would not answer for fear their thoughts and ideas would somehow fall short of the asker's own and lead to a rift in friendship. And occasionally there are those who would willingly discuss this topic, for in voicing their thoughts out loud they share a piece of who they are, and even if they are not completely on the same page as the other, it is a moment of understanding shared between two friends (obviously not the case here). We tiptoe around these topics with people we don't know, never wanting to somehow insult them, to have them perhaps think "less" of us. But just maybe in the sharing we would find commonality. Steve, you did an amazing job in capturing how a few brief words uttered in conversation might complicate a relationship in ways we cannot foresee.

  11. Musically phrased yet quietly metaphysical, you open the proverbial can of worms with this analysis of just why someone may be unable to deal with any kind of introspection voiced aloud to another--and you give that silence so many different possibilities and tones, of negation, but also of complete futility--underlining how rare 'mutual understanding' really is. I especially like the phrasing here:
    '.. 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:..'
    Sharing the intimacy of real thought is sometimes definitely frightening for both parties.

  12. Hey Steve, sorry for my delays--you go through so deeply all the subtexts of conversation--what one thinks and thinks again--and the reaction of each party an the wish and unwillingness to show one's self, and the wish not to move things beyond a certain level--which is the unshown and yet also there is a sense of bravado even in the not showing--all so interesting. I am sorry to be so late and so incoherent--swamped here. Thanks k.

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  14. A big question and one that I can see the other was unprepared to answer. Really an intimate question--one which requires truth in the answering--wonderful write!

  15. This is such a wonderful poem-- I remember reading it but was a bit under a cloud at that time due to some family health issues. The thoughts that you go through are so human and so modern. Very compelling and realistically laid out and wonderful to follow-- we know that feeling-- the casual gone to far and the exposure-- on a rather trivial level I wonder if there is a typo in the last stanza-- you still uncaptioned portrait-- I know still is a verb but wonder if you mean "your". A thought only. It is such an intelligent poem as all of yours are. Thanks and happy new year. I don't know whether this will let me comment as Manicddaily so may not try! K.