Garrison Keillor read this poem by Louise Erdrich on The Writer’s Almanac this morning. Perfect.
Advice to Myself
by Louise Erdrich
from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (2003)
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic — decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
It’s easy to get diverted from the authentic to the good, noble, useful, effective, purposeful, explainable, helpful, presentable, defensible, thrifty, prudent, safe, and, as Erdrich says here, what seems so obviously necessary. I don’t read the call to throw out what’s broken and not to mend what’s frayed as a move away from simple living but as a first and ongoing move towards it, towards recognising what’s at the heart of one’s life once the compulsive and cultural ‘shoulds’ stop clutching and distracting. I hear it as an invitation to see what grows, what comes in the door, when we stop resisting what we don’t control and instead offer it a welcome.
In the end, we might mend a shirt or carefully piece together a bowl, with a heart, mind, and soul focused on the beauty and compassion of the action, rather than in a spirit of anxiety, loss, have-to, compulsion.