About eight years ago, I had the fortune of being able to meet my favorite poet, Gary Snyder, in person at a reading he did at Grand Valley State University (one of his poems is actually responsible for the name of this blog). He read several poems from his book Danger on Peaks, and afterwards he did a signing. When we met, we talked briefly about how I had studied in Japan and how I was going to go back one day (he lived there for some time, too). I wanted so much to explain how wonderful his poems were to me, and to talk for him about nature and Asia and life. But, the line of his fans had to keep moving, so I tried my best to express as much as I could with a “thank you.”
Though I had read several other books of Snyder’s poetry before going to see him read that day, I hadn’t read Danger on Peaks. It was exciting to hear him read poems that were new to me, and I sat fully focused the entire time. For his final reading, Snyder decided to close with a poem called “Falling from a Height, Holding Hands.” He explained that he wrote it after watching a news story on 9/11, and as he read the poem aloud, everyone listening seemed to hold their breath. The poem was so simple, and yet–like so many of his poems–captured so much. His explanation and reading was so moving that I was brought to tears, and like the rest of the audience, couldn’t manage to speak. He must have gauged the effect the poem had, because–suddenly–he decided to read just one more: “To All the Girls Whose Ears I Pierced Back Then.” Our hearts lifted in laughter, and I felt so inspired. What an amazing talent he has–he can bring people from tears to laughter in just moments with his writing.
I know that without actually being there to hear him speak it may be hard to fully grasp the emotions in the room that day, but I still feel a stirring in my heart when I read “Falling From a Height, Holding Hands.” I’ve included the poem below, along with “To All the Girls Whose Ears I Pierced Back Then.” These poems remind me to remember the tragedy of 9/11 and to avoid becoming desensitized. They also remind me to focus on the importance of growing, learning, laughing, loving, and cherishing life.
Falling From a Height, Holding Hands
What was that?
storms of flying glass
& billowing flames
a clear day to the far sky–
better than burning,
We will be
two peregrines diving
all the way down
To All the Girls Whose Ears I Pierced Back Then
for Maggie Brown Koller
Sometimes we remember that moment:
you stood there attentive with clothespins
dangling, setting a bloodless dimple in each lobe
as I searched for a cork & the right-sized needle
& followed the quick pierce with a small gold hoop.
The only guy with an earring
It didn’t hurt that much
a sweetly earnest child
and a crazy country guy
with an earring and a
gray-green cast eye
and even then,