Because Even the Word Obstacle is an Obstacle by Alison Luterman
I appreciate this poem for its first line:
Try to love everything that gets in your way.
I love that the poem is about swimming laps.
Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory.
I think I recognize the moment this poem might spring from–getting to the pool and wanting nothing more than an empty lane, the smooth glassy surface of the water, and, then, well–obstacles.
The poem is so specific about what can get in the way. For instance:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids aren’t allowed at this hour.
The poem continues. It imagines the boy grown up and on a wedding on a boat and suddenly washed overboard—but emerging like a cork from the water—alive.
I appreciate the poem’s last line:
So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to a larger story,
because if something is in your way it is
going your way, the way
of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.
So your moment of impatience must bow in service to a larger story.
As a person who struggles mightily with impatience, I appreciate the possibility of recasting my moments of impatience in a different way. Considering a larger story. Considering, in light of the poem’s title, how if I could get a glimpse of this larger story then the very words I use to interpret and name things might begin to change. An obstacle might become . . . what?
Photo of swimming minnow is captured from video at Wikimedia.