Today I would like to share another one of my poems. This one is older than “The Afternoon Nap.” I began this poem in the summer of 2009 as an assignment while I participated in the Missouri Writing Project, the University of Missouri – Columbia’s branch of the National Writing Project.
In this poem I was attempting to create imagery. I wanted to vividly describe the brewer, the painter, the monk, and the father as they each engaged in a respective task. I also mean for each of the four characters to be conceptual rather than representative of any actual person. While the idea of each character is meant to be vague, the image associated with each is meant to be distinct. By doing this I hoped to create four different perspectives on the same idea: what it means to participate in something larger than one’s self.
I have, in the past, chased after things in which my chiefest concern was my own success. When I started college, my primary objective was to stand out from my class mates, no matter what it took to do so. When I took on a task at work, my goal was to gain recognition from my boss. When I entered my master’s degree program, I intended to give myself an advantage over my colleagues. None of these motivations may seem inappropriate, but in the end my values were in only one place: me.
Gradually, I became exhausted chasing goal after goal. I felt no purpose in anything I did. I felt hollow. I began to notice only those things about my life with which I was discontent. I felt I had no friends, no purpose, and no relief from the daily routine of get up, go to work, come home, sleep, get up, go to work, come home…
I realized how self-serving my life had become. I was warping the things I had been given. I discovered why my work had come to feel so meaningless, why I no longer felt joy in doing the things I was doing. Ultimately, I was spending all of my time and effort, all of my strength and ability, to build up something that would not last. I remembered that I will not live forever, which made it meaningless for me to invest primarily in myself.
I understood that I was not born to be successful, to be followed, or to be “happy.” I was born to be a servant. I had bought in to the concepts of “rights” and “independence” that are so popular in our culture. In chasing after those things I actually became enslaved to the pursuit of them.
In the end, I wrote this poem about what I think it means to surrender to something bigger than ourselves, to live for something beyond our own successes or failures, beyond the scope of our allotted time in this version of the world. When we create, we recognize that we are in need of something more. Our desire to make art shows that we understand there is something missing, and that what already exists in this life is not good enough to complete us. I am not saying that what we create with the work of our hands is enough to make us whole; I am saying that the desire to create is a symptom of our being incomplete.
As I have written previously, we become lost, so God whispers to us to guide us home. Because His words are beautiful, we become inspired. When we become inspired, we create. Art is the reflection of God in us.
Where Perfection Waits
A brewer selects wheat, hops, barley
to craft and barrel
with tender consideration
that it might have known him.
A painter brushes each stroke
caressing pigment onto canvass
the way lovers kiss coloring cheeks
whispering at each others’ ears
an artist’s passion ignites.
A monk chants in smoky dusk
voice rolling with the Vespers bell
blessing hills, valleys, fields
praying at end of day
an echo of contented life.
A father beholds his newborn child
recognizing the eyes
he warms her against his chest
his heartbeat against hers
for the first time understanding
where perfection waits.
Michael Hylton, Columbia, Missouri, 2009