From Those Unknown to Us

biblepagesI just read the great poet Pablo Neruda’s description of a lifelong inspiration in his poetry. He was playing in the lot behind his house when he found a hole in the fence:

“I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared—a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white toy sheep.

“The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went in the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.

“I never saw either the hand or the boy again.”

This incident doesn’t seem particularly unique or unfamiliar, but when you think about it, has it happened to you? I cannot think of a single time a stranger gave me something (other than an unwanted biblical tract or some such). I have found things that people have left, and I find that experience poetic

All of my life, I have been a thing-finder, one of the main reasons I loved Pippi Longstocking as a child. She gained great pleasure from walking through alleys and finding things—shoestrings, pretty rocks, tin cans, discarded items whose use and value could be determined by the finder.

My love of treasure-hunting must stem from this—The poetry treasure hunt I designed at ROMP, my love for geo-caching, the poem caches I am trying to spread: these all are experiences I love: The mystery and surprise, the thrill of the hunt.

Last weekend, Ken and I were geo-caching at a local cemetery and found that someone had left pages of a Bible strewn all around the cemetery, each page carefully held down by small rocks, and in some places, colored beads were placed around the pages and rocks. I enjoy finding things like this: That people do find beauty in leaving “messages” for others to discover.

Yet these messages differ from a personal exchange, like Neruda recalled. He said:

“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that come from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

“This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn’t know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.”

The good things of life. For me that definition has always included some notion of treasure. Things lost or hidden and then found. The lack of literal information about those things brings me to poetry. Poetry is sometimes the mystery of the thing cut off from its maker or owner. Poetry is an economy of words in service to an experience Poetry is sharing the experience of a gift that enlightens.

–Shaun Perkins

P.S. If you like treasure hunts, too, come to Treasure Time, September 14!

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