In Theory — Stuart Patterson

Acrylic painting of Whitehaven harbour entrance, Whitehaven, Cumbria, Northwest England - Tom Higgins
Acrylic painting of Whitehaven harbour entrance, Whitehaven, Cumbria, Northwest England – Tom Higgins
I

Along the Douro toward Salamanca, faces rise from books,
tables are pushed together, destinations are forgotten and new
conversations begin - in a rush at first - as the daylight dies.

Across Hangzhou Bay the bridge rises and dips, breezes
murmur with relaxed laughter; children greet elders in low
voices and begin musing together about changes they'll make.

Over dunes, vines, and bush to the southern Cape, friends shake
their heads while strolling quietly together; their quick eyes glow
with joy in the charged air as they reveal their hidden ideas. 

Down the Cordillera Central into its vast basin, the infirm rise
in their beds on thin arms and smile, glad in the end to know
the rhythm of peace in their own limbs and in others’ talk.   

From the Gulf’s warm waters to windswept tundra, we’ll walk 
toward each other, leaving our doors open on meetings that grow
animated with voices over food provided for the common cause.

II

Even now, we hear of suicides foregoing their sacrifices.
Even the victimizers have let themselves be led beyond harm.
Even the wealthy turn from their tragic course in good faith. 

Worship begins anew, awkwardly at first, among total strangers.
Work slows into worship as neighbors relinquish their silence. 
War blooms into work as everyone’s speeches are heard through.

III

The winds of common love blow warmly from the pages 
of the books we open to new convictions. We awake crowded 
into others’ lives, into the honeyed rising of complex harmonies

in our own voices, like nothing we have ever heard so close.
The ends of days leave room for us to go rummaging
through old, native inflections to forge a useful past, attentive 

to accidental insults we may offer, and ready for correction. 
The lakes of our hearts are now joined in trust and we embark 
safely, even if at times the waters toss and our oars miss.

We can hardly believe that we used to call other people “total
strangers”; we turn from the past in the weariness we shake 
from our hearts and hands, always eager to get to preliminaries, 

like those first long looks into the eyes of those who’ve wronged 
us, or devising lists on how to prepare old homes for new guests. 
Having surveyed our outworn furnishings, once dear to us, 

we prepare to remake them entirely as we put up new calendars,
though phrases including the word “repair” seem to creep more
often into our talk. Likewise, the news from elsewhere sounds 

just like our own, playing lightly over the meals we prepare 
together but might take alone, whichever mood strikes us, 
remarking to those at hand, especially ourselves, how many days 

we’ve spent at the peripheries of others’ lives, with friends, friends 
of friends, in melting crowds, during single encounters and on 
chance convergences, as in plans laid to fill an afternoon, trading 

current references for an hour, or even some of our better stories 
if the visit lasted the better part of a day, in homes we've entered 
exactly once, hellos we never followed up on or renewed, 

but that wander now back into our thoughts, like the slower-
moving distances in a view gliding out beyond the nearer, 
racing verge even as we travel toward similar outings 

right in the midst of the vastness we used to call “a race,” 
outings with the once-met who think of us too and who, 
we hear, are going to join us in nursing back to health

the rooms we all love but that still stand empty 
for most of each day. Someone mentions “heaven” 
and we all laugh, then go our ways.

IV

The rules, if you can call them that, for our conduct are self-
evident: axioms for good conversation and intelligent means
for spotting a good plan: one from which we can extricate

what matters most, if need be. You may have to tilt your 
head just so to understand how all this works; it's easier
if you assume the posture you were in when you first

realized you were “growing up,” even if this seems like 
a story you’ve only overheard somewhere. They are as easy 
to attend to as one’s breathing, so it takes practice. Now and 

then a fear might grip you; shudder, if you must, then resume. 

V

Most at stake, of course, are the children, all around us 
as we work. We don’t want to destroy them in our embrace,
like the angels hovering at the opening of Rilke’s First Elegy,

but how can we preserve these new insights even as we shed
habits that still lie about the grounds now like snares, and to keep 
them from the fates we would otherwise rush toward headlong 

in self-sacrifice? As though we had a choice! But we can absorb
these questions later. Let’s walk together a little further 
as we talk. The children can mind themselves, and the lowering

light will just now be catching the bluebells in the beech groves.
It’s really as though some music were playing at the shore of a bay 
that leads to broad, open waters beyond. Here - here’s the way.

©2021 Stuart Patterson
All rights reserved


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One thought on “In Theory — Stuart Patterson

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us, Stuart. There are so many moments and images within your piece…I could feel myself at each place, and imagine myself in each perfectly placed moment in time. You raise important questions and just as importantly show how easy it is to forget them in the struggle for everyday living and the search for peace (both within and without). I enjoyed reading it, more than once. 🙂

    Like

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