In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
“Look me in the eye.” I suspect that this is an imperative often difficult for many of us to obey. Ask me about someone’s teeth and I can tell you. But did I look that person in the eyes, did I take in their mood, their soul? Did I even register their eye color? Often the answer is no. Perhaps I glanced at their eyes and looked away, my self-consciousness engaged.
But last Wednesday morning, launching “The Frog King” for my husband’s continuing ed class of psychotherapists, Hilary’s eyes, Julie’s, Lauren’s, Pat’s, Alicia’s, Melanie’s– all spoke to me, and I was hungry for those windows, those measures and indications that the story was finding each listener. It was not Itaking them in, as much as it was the tale: the golden ball lazily tossed into the air and caught, the ball again lofting and slipping through the spoiled girl’s hands. The listeners’ eyes searched deep in the well as the ball disappeared, and accompanied the frog as it plip-plopped up the marble stairs of the castle to demand that the princess keep her promises. The listeners were engaged, not with me, but with the girl and the frog, as the princess scooped up the amphibian and slammed it against the wall.
All this to speak of one way that both storytelling and story-listening can nurture community as they provide an oasis from focus on the self.
Most of the storytelling I am invited to do is for children and the adults nominally in charge of them: teachers, parents, camp counselors. Even in these settings, I’m alert to the eyes of the grown-ups, for when their eyes tell me they have been released from their daily concerns, I know the story is working for all of us; it is coming alive for them and, of course then, it becomes even more alive for the children and for me.
And so to Ezra Pound: Like stories, poems can be touchstones – sensations and learnings that can be re-experienced when the poem, or often just a few lines of a poem, arise from the past. I think I first encountered Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” when I was in high school. I have not forgotten the feeling of recognition I sensed when I first read it. I remember taking black construction paper and writing the poem out with the white ink my mother used to label snapshots in photo albums. I could see those faces each one transformed into blossom. In that guise, they were approachable, reachable.
I believe that we all need small as well as great sources of insight. Sometimes the experience of a story can provide that; sometimes a poem. Each tells us: you are not alone. You are part of the human community, as fraught and beautiful, cowardly and courageous as it is.