Sunrise over the Cuchilla de San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2021

I woke up reviewing past relationships and thinking ahead to my own death.

This is not moribund. I am used to it, not alarmed. I have so far survived heart disease and two cancers and, since it’s too late to do much about it, tend to excuse my narcissism. I’m not sure if it was sore hips or my dog’s snoring that convinced me I could not sleep longer this morning but as gray became blue I could tell through the window that it was a promising dawn.

I have been lucky for 72 years. I am glad today that sentences are forming in my brain and that there’s coffee in the kitchen. I know there will be pink in the sunrise. Cowboy, my sidekick, or I his, barks half-heartedly at a distant cousin, then curls up at the foot of my desk. We are partners, although with inherently different sleeping habits.

I think I understand now that narcissism is the reason I am single, or at least I accept that as the main reason. I’m not really interested in in examining the trail map to find more. Time is flying and Cowboy’s only responses to my self-absorption are bringing me stolen shoes and barking to get me out of my chair.

Cowboy by my desk

Maybe I have spent too much time thinking about death since coronary artery stents 20 years ago, prostate cancer treatment six months later, lung cancer treatment six years ago. But I am a slow learner. And I’ve been busting to say that six years after chemotherapy and radiation for the lung cancer, my brain suddenly seems revived, awakening again.

I doubt that I am smarter but my head seems clearer than anytime since the sixth grade, when I remember walking down the Acequia Madre, on my way to the elementary school of the same name, wearing a short-sleeved shirt as spring sun melted snow up Santa Fe Canyon and bright water gurgled down the mother ditch. I was composing a poem in my head.

I’ll never be as good as the guy below but I have had the pleasure of reading him. I still don’t understand all of his villanelle but I’m pretty sure my father read it to us as children, in between Dirty Dinky and The Serpent, maybe more for himself, while he studied and wrote at the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City. I can still hear his voice in a post-war, married-student barracks, 1954-style, reading words to sons in bunk beds, just 25 himself.

The Waking

By Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

5 thoughts on “Waking

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice one.

  2. afpmaryellen says:

    Thanks for this…and the Roethke poem, an old old favorite that got me through some tough years back in the ‘60s. Appreciate your candor.


  3. JR says:

    In a Dark Time another of my Roethke favorites.

  4. ljcalloway says:

    “In dark times the eye begins to see.” —Roethke

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