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“I” [“No, no, there is no going back”]

I purchased Wendell Berry’s latest book, Our Only World, on Sunday at Auntie’s, a small, independent book store since 1978. If you live in or near or visit Spokane, it is a nice location with restaurants near by.

After my purchases, I realized I had not used one of his poems in some time. I chose this one. I think it might be easy to say this is a bleak poem, talking about death. In a literal way, that makes sense. I take it figuratively.

Jacques Derrida contended that in becoming who we are the previous “who” repeatedly dies, but leaves memories and traces to be recalled. I read this poem, similarly. Who I am is metaphorically a grave of memories and traces that belong to me, but I share in various ways with others and the world. The tree is me standing guard over those memories. Guard might be too protective. Instead, similar to a tree’s rings signifying its age and even various years’ conditions, the tree represents the memories and stories about my living.

The tree allows me to recount my story, but not as it happened. My stories contain gaps, uncertainties, and ambiguity. I repeatedly edit them, filling in blanks, recalling events, and forgetting other things. As I recount my stories, they form a fictional account of who I am, where I’ve been, when I thrived, and when I struggled, similar to the rings on that poetic tree.

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are

that possibility you were.

More and more you have become

those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was

and is no more in time, beloved

then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

standing over the grave.

Now more than ever you can be

generous toward each day

that comes, young, to disappear

forever, and yet remain

unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.

 

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About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and spent the last 14 years teaching in an incrediable hybrid school setting. My dissertation topic and research were how teachers experience becoming who teachers, as human subjects. For me, teaching is a calling and vocation that allows me to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what will call me. We have begun a small consulting and leadership firm called Rocky River Leadership & Consulting Ltd.

12 responses »

  1. That’s a beautiful poem. I love the end.

    Reply
    • Yes, it is beautiful. We give each other the gift of presence and who we are when we do so. He has such a great way, similar to Mary Oliver, to reveal deep truths in his poetry.

      Reply
  2. Reblogged this on Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world and commented:
    Excellent philosophical poem to consider.

    Reply
  3. I like this poem, but even more I like your take on it. The way we tell our stories is imperfect, human.

    Reply
  4. What an intriguing poem, Ivon. Thanks for sharing it with us. That Wendell is something else.

    Reply

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