If You Were to Try

If You Were to TryIf you were to try – The poems behind the artwork

This December, the Array show opens at the Berkeley Art Center, and this piece, “If You Were to Try” is there. The words for this piece were pulled from a couple of wonderful poems that I’d love to share with you. The first is a poem by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, (The Essential Rumi, Jalal al-Din Rumi/Coleman Barks, HarperOne, 1995) and it’s one that’s influenced three of my works so far:

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

The second poem is called “The Return,” by Geneen Marie Haugen (© 2007). A wonderful piece that hasn’t been published, so it’s a treat for us to be able to see it here. Enjoy! And then carry on with your own thunderous journey, if perchance you’re on one. My piece, “If you were to try” depicts the beginning of such a journey.

“Some day, if you are lucky,
you’ll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows tracesof fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you’ve returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,

hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they–like you–must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings.”

(Poems used with permission of the poets.)

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