Putting Down Roots

June 10, 2011, 11:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This morning, I was by myself in the “program room,” a big messy closet that somehow manages to contain such varied things as water balloons, nail polish, handcuffs, a giant compass, rifles, 200 tiny plastic storks, 3 American flags, and at least one box of chemistry experiements that illustrate sermon points. My charge was to “organize it. Or at least make it so we can get to the guns.”

I was plugging through, pulling out boxes, making piles of things that need to go elsewhere, sticking labels on things.

In the bottom of one box, I found a pile of things that had been left in my room at the end of last summer: a Bible study curriculum shift, a cup, a folder with various notes and maps and pieces of information. Tucked among the notes was a poem that was creased and wrinkled in much the same way that most of my poems are from being tucked in my back pocket. It’s one of my old favorites, and I’d forgotten it a while ago. Here it is:

Love: Step-by-step instructions

Begin with what is before you
a cat. A perfect square of blue.
The luminous finish of a book.
Evenly buttered toast.

Spend some time with your subject:
watch carefully, everything changes.
The cat will shed, the blue deepen to indigo
or fade to mauve,

the prose will begin to irk you with
its neatly tended plot,
the toast will cool, congeal, harden.
Stay steady.

When you feel ready, switch your attention
to human beings. (If you feel
thwarted by the toast, repeat.
People are more sensitive than bread.)

Begin again with whoever sits before you,
with whoever you find
right here. Don’t plan it, don’t try
to trick your eye.

Love that person for one minute. Time it.
Remember the backs of the ears,
imagine the occasional bad haircut.
Remember the fits of pique

and long silences. Remember others have loved
them, for at least a minute, before you.
Let the attempt humble you, let it scrape
against your organs like a pumice stone,

and love them anyway. When you have loved
30 people a day for a year,
locate the object of your affection. (You’ll
find it harder now to separate

dross from gold, but persevere.)
Sit the person down and look.
If they ask you why you are grinning,
tell them the truth.

Tell them it takes eyes and mouth and hands
and a supple wrist to love.
It takes three meals a day and a sheet
of bus tickets. It demands detail,

and incredible gall. It takes
the best best of you with no
guarantee. Practice is important.
Pay close attention. Try this at home.


2 Comments so far
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I heard this poem this weekend and love it so much. Your blog is the only place I can find it on the internet though. Any chance you know who the author is? Thank you!

Comment by golight

The author (as far as I know) is a Canadian poet named Tanis Macdonald. I can’t find it online anywhere (but can find other stuff of hers, and it seems like her style)–I got it years ago in a letter from a friend, so it’s untraceable. Good luck finding more!

Comment by magpieoflove

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