Poetry Bleeds from the Shattered Normal


Robert C. Koehler | Common Wonders – TRANSCEND Media Service

20 Dec 2023 – What’s ordinary about life suddenly becomes sacred. This is my definition of poetry — my deepest plunge into being alive.

It seems more relevant than ever, as innocent blood flows in the wars being waged by military-political bureaucracies across the planet. How many more stunned facial expressions will I see on YouTube, of parents who have just lost their children, their spouse, their siblings?

As I have noted, I have recently released an album of spoken-word poetry, plus crazy artwork, thanks to my good friends Andy Mitran and Scott Wills. Much of the poems go back to an earlier period of my life, shortly after the death of my wife from pancreatic cancer. At the time, my daughter was not quite 12 years old. Dad and teenage daughter — those were the days! (We both survived, I’m happy to say.)

Losing myself in these poems so many years later is a mind-blow not merely because of the memories they unleash. They also have a relevance — so it feels to me — to today’s news . . . the ongoing abstraction of human life, the dismissal of the value of every living soul. Poetry is the opposite of that — not in simplistic but, rather, paradoxical ways. Its essential purpose is to break through the shallowness of normalcy, quite likely in surprising ways.

. . . God bless every finite movement
of your heart’s laughter,
the rich earth of your love,
the milk of your breasts,
the tremor of your flesh.
And God bless diapers and tricycles
and “Make Way for Ducklings” . . .

This is a passage from “Letting Her Go,” one of the poems I wrote in the aftermath of my wife’s death. The poem is awash in the small details of family life, so easily overlooked in the moment. The day simply pushes on. But when the normalcy is shattered into fragments — soul fragments, you might say . . .

God bless tantrums,
ice cream, swimming pools,
bugs and curiosity.
God bless every dropped pearl,
every birthday cake,
all the soft inner matter
of family life,
felt, lived,
and pushed along with
too much hurry.

The value, the depth of each moment, starts pulsating. As the poem pushes on, as I describe — relive — the last months of her life, I even write: ”God bless cancer. . . ”

Those may be three of the strangest words I’ve ever written. They bled forth from my pen almost as a Zen koan. Do I know what I meant? Not really, but not knowing can be deeper than knowing. Indeed, “not knowing” is the human condition, and it includes knowing. For instance:

The city’s streets are alive
with the eyes of beggars. . . .

This is the beginning of another poem, called “Open Souls.” Here again, “normalcy” conceals the troubling reality in which we live.

. . . They poke through the glass skin
of prosperity,
too large and too human.
I am disturbed anew each time
I step around them,
but I seldom break stride.
ot to look
would be to ignore
open souls . . .

Ordinary guys, homeless, asking for spare change. They’re just collateral damage of the system. But the poem isn’t political — it’s pre-political, just like every poem is, or should be. It’s about feeling the pain, the love that hovers beyond the codified world. Poetry is one of humanity’s windows into the raw unknown — which happens to be both beyond our wildest dreams and deep within our inner being.

In the world of poetry, there is no separation between church and state. The homeless guy at the subway station helped me grasp this.

The northbound train arrives;
shoes clatter faster around us.
From the wracking depths
he moans
“Pray for me.”

I did my best to gather together the pieces of this moment in my words. Yes, I prayed for him, in contradiction of my own beliefs (because, what do I know?).

. . . Let him have
a room tonight
and breakfast in the morning
and a lucky break,
oh Lord,
if thou art merciful.
Let him not be the one
to die for our sins.


Robert C. Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based peace journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com


Go to Original – commonwonders.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share this article:

DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

There are no comments so far.

Join the discussion!

We welcome debate and dissent, but personal — ad hominem — attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), abuse and defamatory language will not be tolerated. Nor will we tolerate attempts to deliberately disrupt discussions. We aim to maintain an inviting space to focus on intelligent interactions and debates.

26 − 25 =

Note: we try to save your comment in your browser when there are technical problems. Still, for long comments we recommend that you copy them somewhere else as a backup before you submit them.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.