10/15/2013 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2013

The Industry of No

My new book of poems, Reduced to Joy, has just been published. The book contains 73 poems, retrieved and shaped over the last 13 years, about the nature of working with what we're given till it wears us through to joy. For the next few months, I'd like to share poems from the new book with you.

The greatest threshold to an awakened life is the courage to say yes. Not yes to being abused or mistreated, but yes to the authority of your own being which touches on the sea of all being. This quality of spirit is even more in need in a society that views saying no as some form of sophistication, as some necessary way to be more practical and less innocent. However, it is innocence that returns us to wonder. This poem explores the culture of no we live in.

The Industry of No

He was born in the river of yes
but looking for love wandered into
the industry of no, where the no-police
left warnings of don't and the no-ministers
preached their morals of can't. And soon,
he couldn't help himself, he wanted to
try on no. So when his dog pawed his
shirt, he scolded her no, and when
two kids ran a shopping cart into his
parked car, he cuffed them no. And
when someone he liked started to come
close, he let her near but said he wasn't
ready. Now he discovered there were
other ways to say no. When he was hired
as a no-engineer, he was sadly happy to work
alone. Steadily, he designed signs that said
stop and electronic guns that fired bullets
with a muffled no. The work of no kept
him very busy. If you called, you heard, "I
am the engineer of no and I am not here.
If you like, leave a no-message and I will
gladly send a no-reply." He was flooded with
calls. The industry of no was so successful, it
had to hide its money from the government,
lest they say no. When he was promoted to
find other avenues of no, he rode no-planes
to no-cafes where inventors of no pleaded
for new no-funding. Soon, there were movies
that glorified no, and books that pondered
why the no-God was so insistent on no. And
seminars arose where no-scholars came vast
distances to say, "Yes, it has always been a
world of no." And those specially invited
stroked their worried chins, whispering
to each other, "It is so. It is so," as a no --
anthropologist traced the beginnings
of no. But they all went home and
dreamt of white geese flapping,
their wings parting
the ancient air.

A Question to Walk With: Begin to tell your own history with yes, the deeper yes to your own voice, spirit, sense of life.

For more Poetry for the Soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.