Wednesday, June 12, 2013


In Spite of Everything, the Stars
by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor's expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler's plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that's why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That's why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

"In Spite of Everything, the Stars" by Edward Hirsch, from Wild Gratitude. © Knopf, 1992.

Today's poem comes from Edward Hirsch (obvs) courtesy of The Writer's Almanac where it was featured yesterday.  Generally, I try to be more creative than blatantly copying Garrison Keillor, but sometimes a poem jumps off the page (screen) and grabs me by the collar (homemade necklace).  Such was the case with In Spite of Everything.  Please forgive.

I had a bunch of ideas to write about last week, but I was like, I'll just wait a little.  Advice For Everyone Alive: Don't do that.  Ideas need to be grabbed and ridden like dying comets.  Slap away your boss when she requests something.  Drop that carton of milk in the worst supermarket you've ever been inside of and run, always run, for the page. 

In a delightful turn of events, The Sun magazine's June Issue features an interview between John Elder and someone I once knew, a writer named Leath Tonino. 

I met Leath the summer Tim and I volunteered on a birding project for the US Forest Service (pictures and thoughts on that experience here), and became smitten with Leath's youthful exuberance.  He reminded me of someone I once had been - ambitious, open-minded, hellbent on exploration - before years of twenty-something bewilderment and confusion churned me up and spit me out.

Leath was a returning employee of the field season, fresh from undergraduate college.  He bunked that summer with a friend of his, a quiet man with a charming, if suspicious, twinkle in his eye.  Like a pack of neighborhood kids, the two of them did everything together.  It was beautiful.  I once climbed the waterfall behind camp to discover them rigging up a galvanized tank in a pool of water, a kind of jerry-rigged tub for cooling off.

Tim had just finished his graduate degree.  We were engaged and moving from North Carolina to Colorado.  I was on high alert finishing a novel for my thesis project, writing wherever I could in the car, in the cabin, in the rec room before the crew awoke. 

Our summer spent volunteering was a chance to cut loose, explore the west, and give back to the earth.  We spent weekends driving to various national landmarks in the desert, eating out of milk-crates in the backseat, making meals out of pistachios, raisins, and oatmeal, soaking in the bliss of an an open window.

We saw incredible things, met nice folks, and look back on that time with overwhelming gratitude. 

We also had a spectacular fight in a KOA, a fact that just explains itself.  To this day, neither of us can remember what in the world we were so worked up about.  All we recall with certainty were the bunnies hopping from thorn bush to thorn bush, like some fuzzy, psychotic alternate universe we had stumbled into. 

In that time, I had some of the most electrifying conversations of my life with Leath in the government-issued turquoise Jeeps that we drove over the Kaibab Plateau while looking for bird nests.  He was in love with John McPhee.  He wanted to be a writer.  He had a girlfriend I imagined as smart as or smarter than him, as plump and adorable as an Etsy owl.

In addition to a deeply satisfying tan, those days bestowed upon me one of Leath's invocations, the advice or quote from somewhere I didn't write down: You become the object of your intent

It's little more than an iteration of more cloying New Age sentiments - the Power of Attraction, etc etc. - but the simple intellectual decisiveness of it appealed to me, and I latched on.  I wanted to become a writer.  I wanted to become a stable human being.  I wanted to know something some day, about kindness, compassion, and living a good life. 

I also wanted to again start acting like Leath seemed to act - focused, angry, enthusiastic.  In other words, fully alive. 

That was four summers ago.  My delight at seeing his name in The Sun,
all growsed up, is the delight of an old neighbor, someone who as a girl once prayed out her window at night, rooting for the pure souls, the ones who carried their minds on fire, like comets. 

Today I have gratitude that a writer's work pays off.  That intentions come true.  Desert-cowgirl straw-hats off to you, Leath!  And hats off to all you working writers and creators out there, setting your sights high and working your tails off to get there. 



  1. This is SO lovely. Good for Leath! (How do you pronounce it? Rhymes with Heath?) And good for you, too! Because look at you! You are doing everything you set out to do/be. You're writing. You're kind, compassionate, and definitely living a good (and stable!) life. xoxo

    1. Yes, like Heath! It made me want to name a child Leaf (I would). Thanks for seeing my "pawgress"! (As Bear's boarder writes on his report card when we pick him up)

  2. I think this is one of the best pieces you've written (that *I've* read)-- literally, every line. When I came to the first one, I took note of it to mention, but then I got to the next one, and the next and thought, "wait -- that one's good too! and that one!"

    Simply brilliant, my dear.


    1. Awww, thank you Whitney! Thanks so much for reading. XO