Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You Can't Have It All

This is my favorite poem, possibly in the whole world. I searched my blog for it today because I feel sure I've posted it before and because I wanted to read it to my friend W this morning. It's the perfect poem to start a sunny Tuesday, full of optimism and promise. Thanks to Garrison Keillor for first introducing me to it, via Writer's Almanac and to Barbara Ras, who wrote it.

You Can't Have it All


But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.

-- Barbara Ras (used with tremendous gratitude but without permission)

Group portrait with wild fig tree

2 comments:

Mrs Trefusis... said...

I absolutely loved that poem - I hadn't heard it before, but it's magnificent. Thank you for introducing me to it, and to Barbara Ras for writing it.
xx

tedsmum said...

Thankyou for that...back in your archives I found another of Barbara's poems Rhapsody Today, also beautiful. And thanks for the link to Mrs Trefusis too, I have been following her blog for a little while now....bump me onto your list please!