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Friday, May 13, 2011

Number 153: W.S. Merwin "To Luck"

To Luck

In the cards and at the bend in the road
we never saw you
in the womb and in the crossfire
in the numbers
whatever you had your hand in
which was everything
we were told never to put
our faith in you
to bow to you humbly after all
because in the end there was nothing
else we could do
but not to believe in you

still we might coax you with pebbles
kept warm in the hand
or coins or the relics
of vanished animals
observances rituals
not binding upon you
who make no promises
we might do such things only
not to neglect you
and risk your disfavor
oh you who are never the same
who are secret as the day when it comes
you whom we explain
as often as we can
without understanding

-- W.S. Merwin

Hap Notes: Since it's Friday the 13th, I thought a poem about luck and how we hope for it, don't really believe in it, yet still court it, might be appropriate. Why does it seem that some people are so lucky? Why, as Hopkins said in an early poem we covered (Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord) do sinner's ways prosper? Is there such a thing as luck?

The poem points out that the things we carry for luck are a bit odd. I'm not the first one to observe that the rabbit's foot people carry for luck was not particularly lucky for the rabbit. The poem illustrates our delicate balance of believing in luck and yet, not totally believing in it. If we believe in luck, then, conversely, we have to believe in bad luck- a sort of purposeful misfortune. Which we all do, and don't, depending on how we look at it and how we deal with it.

You may think you are immune from such magical thinking. I wonder how many times you may have promised yourself not to talk about something you were planning or someone you were interested in dating for fear of "jinxing" it? That's kind of a mental rabbit's foot, isn't it?

I think luck, like most everything else, is just perspective. When I would complain about wanting new clothes when I was in high school, my mother would take on this school-teacherish look and say pointedly, "I had no shoes and I complained, until I met a man who had no feet." To which I would reply, "Well, he didn't need the shoes then, did he?" (I was a terrible smart-ass to my mom, I've always been glad we both lived long enough for me to apologize for that. She, by the way, said the same thing happened with her and her mother.) Her point was, of course, that everything is perspective.

If "bad" luck follows you around on Friday the 13th, or seems to, well, you are actually pretty lucky. The universe has selected you, out of billions of people on the earth, as somebody deserving of time and attention and some valuable lessons. See what I mean? It's all perspective.

In the advertising and political world this perspective is used all the time as "spin." My mother, as most moms are, was a great spin "doctor." She could turn the gloomiest thing into a bit of luck. It was always a bit vexing and Pollyanna-ish but, also, I was lucky to know her and develop a bit of this talent.

Now, if all this strikes you as not facing reality, you really need to think about that word. Vladimir Nabokov said the word "reality" should always be written in quotation marks. Because it's all perspective. There is no reality- only the one you create for yourself. You are always peering out of your own windows- you cannot move outside of yourself- you are stuck with you. So luck is what you say it is.

And a lucky rock. One should always carry a lucky rock. (I'm teasing you. But I do have one.)

We've already talked about Merwin here.

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