A Stuttering Kind of Worship


When I was a child
morning and night I crawled out
on the fire escape
I heard a murmuring, a gathering, a delivering, every each with its particular
message. Great rushing rivers boisterous silence. Something waiting,
the whole tribe, our nearest kin, playing hide and seek with us
so young, so young in the birth of a sight that gives birth to itself
and we know ourselves then irrevocably
stitched to the taut weave of what is.


Look: a whole new batch has been delivered.
Some of them, before they discover wings
plunge to earth as guardians
of the great whispering rivers;
another crop of forgotten kin
wanders around looking for purpose;
the next pack gets blown over the edge
in the first strong wind
to teach those of us,
who might notice,
how to grow feathers;
a fourth bunch likes to sing
so that’s what they do
all day they sit around inventing
close harmonies meant for us;
And now, hold your breath:
here comes the weary season’s bumper crop:
little corn deities with big ears
climbing down the ladder.
Not exactly one for everyone one of us
but thick as summer leaves
mostly eager, somewhat melancholy,
cautiously hopeful about their purpose
that must be us, who don’t believe in them.


It’s fairly obvious to those of us
who think about these things
that we exist;
We can’t demonstrate ourselves if
asked for evidence
but we know how to kick
the side of a desk
and come away smarting.
Most everyone would agree
pain equals existence;
whatever else you say about
non-existence it doesn’t hurt
and that is perhaps the reason
so many people choose to suffer.
But all it takes is a quick moment
of knowing when the small kin
are hanging around like luminous gnats
longing to fulfill their guardian task
and you offer yourself to them
believing in them or not because surrender
to the isness of what is, what-
ever that is, probably is the
keenest ecstasy you can endure.
We were made for this:
a stuttering kind of worship
and they in turn were hatched for us.


There is a rift in the nature of things
thinking cannot mend;
those who feel their way into whatever is
don’t see the problem
let it be nameless, without shape
or form or the dying breath of late
season carnations, whatever
is establishes itself
a hair’s breadth apart from us,
willing to be united
already having endowed us
with the capacity. Who wants
to be lonely? I have heard
the leaves whispering the
sermon and the mysteries
the smaller leaves not yet
staying on key, all
hoping we would
send out a tear or two
of recognition:
whatever is longs to be part
of whatever else might be,
every one of us sending
out signals, ‘I’m here,
are you kin? Please
you to love me.’


Words have their twin being
in the world of things
you say ‘they’
you look around wondering what sort of they
a long-lost they a home-coming they
a they who have come to unravel
a rare spool of reverence?


For me it was the key of E flat minor
the entire world in one split second
a late string quartet dark and mysterious
and the late birds hurrying to get home
before the nest closes down for the night.


Time came and I heard them
laughing their heads off
debating our existence
they asked how many of us
could dance on the head of a pin.
I suggested they go out
to count the number of teeth
in a horse’s mouth
leaving aside the vexed question
as to the existence of horses.


What am I talking about?
It’s not easy to
put your finger on
an almost-there
a hovering close-by at a far distance;
What puts the sting in the bee
flavor in sweet, needle in pine, k in akin to us, gossamer in web, unyielding
in stone, yielding in long grass, future in seed, flourishing in flower?


Of course these hovering, these protective
these small kinfolk get tired of upholding
the created world without our help
they retire, they give way after their season,
long or short hardly matters,
a new batch will come round again.
peeping out at us, a reassurance, a never lost, a clamoring shyness.


And so I sit here at the edge of myself
on the banks of the world’s end
and I wonder:
what has given me this
different kind of seeing
a sly look directed straight at us
from the no longer weeping willow
the scolding of three barred owls
beneath a wanton moon?


Look for them, look sharp
lessons everywhere, early
and late all of us learning to read
dutiful students of the waiting-to-be known.


Who said it was a great mystery?
It is a weave so fine we’re always in danger
of falling through into an embrace of light
that subtle far sturdier light
known in its poised transparency
as birthright, homecoming. heartache, memory
as this-side daily presence
stretched out to near invisibility
An everywhere. Where is the mystery?

Suppose we are the maturing of a cycle
in the terrible renewal of others waiting to be earthed
how we mourn the diminishing,
our kinfolk swept away
in the fire of the great autumnal sweeper
while we who remain are asked to learn the names
of the intricate, coiled, expected ones
who come to take their place.

When I was a child I used to greet by name the flowers and trees I met when we went out for a walk. Holding tight to my father’s hand I would nod my head or curtsy and call things by their name. “Good morning roses, here I am again pine trees, it’s been a long time chipmunks…” We lived up a long flight of stairs from the Bronx Park, which I thought of as a great woods, filled with tree-like family members. I seemed to see everything as related to me, like Sonya downstairs and Libby across the hall, and Sonya’s sister who lived worlds away on the other side of the woods. They all, merely neighbours, seemed to belong to us. In a Chinese restaurant I would stand up in the booth and ask the people (strangers) on the other side to give me the shrimp from their rice dish. My mother thought I should outgrow this sense of relatedness to everything but my father and sister encouraged it and I held onto it long past the time many children give up their magical sense of the world.

Unfortunately, I did outgrow it and for years and years came to see nature with alienated and indifferent eyes. During this time I was constantly asking about the meaning of life and finding no satisfactory answer; it was that early youth-time of black stockings, dark turtle neck sweaters and fashionable existential despair.

But one day, in my late twenties, I was walking through the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, when I suddenly felt that my legs had become very short and that I was close to the ground. At the same time the flowers in the botanical garden and the ducks in the pond took on a kind of technicolor vividness that reminded me of images from my childhood book of Russian fairy tales. Then, in the next moment or two, I had exactly the same feeling I’d had as a child, a strong wish to call everything by name and to say hello. An enchanted world, kinship with everything, a memory, a truth, a reality. A crucial way of experiencing the world that had been protected from the disenchantments of growing-up?

Of course, this enchantment did not last, but it would come and go over the years until as I grew older it seemed to settle in as a permanent relationship to the world and especially to its duck ponds, palomino horses, weeping willows, oyster ferns and climbing roses. I felt that nature was teaching me to recognize the inseparable bond of our human life with the life of nature and that in this kinship life’s meaning became abundantly apparent. Life was meaningful because of the way we were tied into everything. All the poetry I have written arises from this enchanted conviction of kinship, which so often brings me to a sense of breathless awe and a stuttering kind or worship.

About the Author

Kim Chernin is the author of many books in many genres. She has written and published fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and essays, including In My Mother’s House; The Hungry Self; Crossing the Border; The Flame Bearers; My Life As A Boy. These books are deeply concerned with women’s lives, as are all the books she’s published. She lives in Point Reyes Station, California, with her life-companion of 30 years, Renate Stendhal.


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