In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.
“Passage” by John Brehm, from Help is on the Way. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
I had a place in the woods behind my parents’ house I called the Cathedral. Tall pines and slanting sunlight, just like in the beginning of the poem, and a sky that seemed to be miles above my head. I used to go and walk around there whenever I was upset and needed my troubles to feel small. There was a stream there, too, with a little bridge across it. I was drawn to this poem first because of the memory of my Cathedral.
But I love the image of the water going through and around all obstacles, not in a pushing or angry way, but simply joyfully determined not to be stopped. A lot of the time when I am doing something hard, I feel a frown and stubborn, almost angry determination. It would be better for my soul, I think, if I could be determined in the way of the water. Not “this must happen and I will make it happen or die”, but “this is going to happen and it is inevitable, so I will be happy”. Maybe I need to lose my fear of failure. Maybe the word I need isn’t determination, but confidence.