I enjoy Wendell Berry’s writing and recently began reading his fiction. He wrote a series of novels about a community called Port William and explores what it means to belong to a place and have roots there. He refers to these roots as belonging and caring for a place in way that is reciprocal. As I care for the place, it cares for me.
This poem is my favourite, because it is about belonging in a way that allows me to ask what it means to belong. The title reaches out and I cannot resist it. The first stanza questions the lack of belonging we experience in the modern world.
What does it mean to be radical? The word radical means going to one’s origins or roots. When I read the poem, I think of the possibilities a radical life offers. I seek my roots, the wisdom of those who came before me, and lived on the land. I trace my genealogy and tracks on the land my ancestors tilled and how it cared for their needs.
The second stanza draws me deeper. When I read it, it challenges me to think about what it means to do something that doesn’t compute, like loving unconditionally and not knowing what that means. The third stanza challenges me to question in ways that do not result in easy answers and embrace the mysteries of living.
Do something that does not compute, make many tracks, and sometimes confuse the world. Go against the grain and do not always take the easy path. Take a proper one and understand I belong to a community of more than one.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.