An Untitled Poem by Rachel McKibbens (aka “last love”)
To my daughters, I need to say:
Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you despite its broken neck.
Whose body bursts sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle, the way
old grief is gentle.
Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth saddles the naked salt
of your far gone hips, whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.
Go with the one who cries out for his tragic sisters as he chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
Triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.
Go with the one who resembles most your father. Not the father you can
point out on a map,
But the father who is here. Is your home. Is the key to your front door. Know that your first love will only
Be the first. And the second and third and even fourth will unprepare you for the most important:
The Blessed. The Beast. The Last love. Which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us? Can reveal to us
Our true heart’s end and its thirty years spent in poverty?
Can mimic the sound of our birdthroated mothers, replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers? Can pull us out of ourselves until
We are no longer sisters or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
Women. Who give. And lead. And take and want
Because there is no shame in wanting.
And you will hear yourself say: Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
Ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love. Or you
will say: Last Love,
I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless, have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men, so I hurl myself
At the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.
Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you.
Let the day I was born mean my life will end where you end.
Let the man behind the church do what he did if it brings me to you.
Let the girls in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let the wrong beds find me if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves if it brings me to you.
Let me pronounce my hoarded joy if it brings me to you.
Let my father break me again and again if it brings me to you.
Last love, I let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room and come out empty. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.
Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.
I am all that is left.
Get some sleep.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly. It will help make you happy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass
Wear comfortable shoes.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.
Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if
you have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want
Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not
possible, go to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel
even older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20
minutes. you will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to
drink, say, “Water, please.”
Take out the trash.
Use exact change.
When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.
Look to your left and then to your right. Is that pretty girl Phi Beta Kappa? Marry her.
Class of 2012,
I became sick of commencement speeches at about your age. My first job out of college was writing speeches for the governor of Maine. Every spring, I would offer extraordinary tidbits of wisdom to 22-year-olds—which was quite a feat given that I was 23 at the time. In the decades since, I’ve spent most of my career teaching economics and public policy. In particular, I’ve studied happiness and well-being, about which we now know a great deal. And I’ve found that the saccharine and over-optimistic words of the typical commencement address hold few of the lessons young people really need to hear about what lies ahead. Here, then, is what I wish someone had told the Class of 1988:
1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent. The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.
2. Some of your worst days lie ahead.Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I’ll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.
3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.
4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a “spouse with benefits” is different from having a “friend with benefits.”) You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!
5. Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids’ sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it’s fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn’t about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don’t make the traveling soccer team or get into the “right” school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That’s not right. You’ll never read the following obituary: “Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.”
7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.
8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.
9. It’s all borrowed time. You shouldn’t take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I offer you the “hit by a bus” rule. Would I regret spending my life this way if I were to get hit by a bus next week or next year? And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life I will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if I don’t get hit by a bus.
10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.
— Adapted from “10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said,” by Charles Wheelan. To be published May 7 by W.W. Norton & Co.
A version of this article appeared April 28, 2012, on page C3 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologise for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologise to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
you gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know that I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.
The Power of Vulnerability
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?
I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?