Last night was one of the shining evenings of my life. Surrounded by lightning and thunder lighting up the stained glass windows at Unity on the Plaza, and immersed in Rumi’s poetry and all the improvisation in word and music it inspired, I was bedazzled. I’ve long felt a kinship with Coleman Barks and a deep appreciation for what he’s done to bring Rumi to the world, and I love Rumi’s poetry with a vengeance.
It was enough to land here with Rumi performed by Coleman Barks and a trio of musicians who had never played together before on a stormy, perfect October night (while also reunited with old friends), but there was more glory. I was there with Kelley, one of my closest friends, in great part to hear John Willison, one of my Turning Point writing workshop participants. Through a phone call (thanks to John’s wife Pauline, and Coleman’s open heart), it was arranged that John would read one of his poems that evening while the musicians chimed in.
John started his reading by telling the audience that he had metastatic cancer — cancer traveled from its sight to other points in the body with little chance of turning back. His poem, written on Sunday in the workshop “Writing for Life, Love and Legacy,” speaks to what it means to live so vibrantly while knowing in each breath how mortal he is. John read the poem first without music, and then with the astonishing merging of Allaudin Ottinger on percussion, Nathaniel Caetanya Bottorff on strings, and a marvelous clarinetist. Here is his poem:
I have my home in two worlds
With all its wild running,
Stuffing my pockets full of pleasure.
A smile the size of a candy shop!
I open my closet,
My whole life pours out
In excessive sweetness.
Even my suffering has taken a shine.
Running my fingers over my scars,
What were once indignities
Are now a flutter in the heart…
I bashfully flirt with every beauty.
The blushing maple, there
That brushstroke of moon.
Her hand on my chest,
And just as needed.
It’s all an enchantment.
I am aware of the windows being shut at the back of the house,
The doors, propped open, closing.
But this is not to be a constraint, a prison for beggars.
Not a house of sorrows.
Yes, everything will tremble.
All will fall.
This container will topple off the shelf and shatter,
Spilling into an infinite field,
Where this greeting awaits:
Hello, darling. Welcome home.
~ John Willison