With all that’s going on these days—pandemics, protests, riots, elections—it serves to reason that taking a pause to get one’s bearing is a wise move. The question then becomes, how and where to pause? Should one sit in silence and meditate, attend church to pray, or maybe take a walk? These are all viable options. Another choice is to sit and read, and read slowly, contemporary poetry that brings one out of the cognitive dissonance that is the zeitgeist called 2020. If you’re not feeling a bit anxious you are either blessed or numb. Use poetry as medicine.
Rich Murphy’s poem “Canned Goods,” is an excellent jumping-off point to reclaim your spirit from the whirlwind called 2020.
Eating self-esteem from a can,
the need to fill a hole gnaws
when multimedia pave over
farms and gardens with confetti
to starve couch potatoes
and anybody sprouting a spirit.
The first stanza is ripe with meaning. Television, social media, and smartphones feed us canned messages that are psychologically designed to trap each individual in the prison of egotistical desire. The hole that gnaws yearns for the freedom that has been sacrificed upon entering the prison of self-identity. By paving over farms and gardens with confetti to starve those stuck to electronic screens of technology, multimedia starves the spirit that transcends technology. Technology craves life. Captivating the individual in a psychological web of personal desire is an attempt to deprive the spirit of the life that sustains it. Spirit lives. Technology craves.
That’s one way to read the opening stanza. There are, of course, others. The point is that in reading the poetry of Rich Murphy the reader realizes they are not imprisoned in the prison of a technological society that would reduce the individual to a statistic rather than allowing them to dance, with creation itself, in the gardens and farms that constitute the human relationship to nature.
The final stanza is a call to action:
At the nipple for planetary homelessness,
the recent refugee, also on the border
to second nature, looks back ashamed,
embarrassed to have been a member.
The prisoner is now refugee who has been fighting like a junkie for its place at the nipple of technology. Exhausted and momentarily aware of the addiction that binds them, the refugee pauses and looks back in shame. Contrary to popular belief, shame is not shameful. It can be a catalyst for healing, for reclaiming the spirit that is natural to human life. Shame can show one back to the farms and gardens where we individuals are not alone but, instead, surrounded by the spirit of living.
Again, that is one way to read “Canned Goods.” Poetry, by nature, is open to interpretation. I would suggest, however, that all readers will come away with a similar sense of spirit the poem points to, like the moon pointing to the sun at the midnight of the soul. The human spirit is in danger of being covered-up, starved, and suffocated if the individual fails to nourish as the healthy citizen nourishes its community.
This is just one poem in the Rich Murphy’s collection Practitioner Joy. I urge you do get a copy and read, slowly, time and again.
Until next time….