01/17/2011 06:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One Thousand and One Nights

Enchanted lamps can be tricky. One never really knows what will be released, either from within the lantern or from within oneself. Alas, I can't dazzle you with an actual flesh-and-air tale of having set a genie free, but I do have a penchant for trying to rub brightness out of darkened surfaces. I have a fondness for wishes too. There is a thrill of grandeur to pondering how you'd make or see your world, if anyone ever asked. Wouldn't you agree?

Tell you what -- give me a rub like you mean it and I'll grant you three things you desire. Mmmmm, thank you for that. Ahem, oh that's right, this is about you not me. What's that? Yes, fine, your first wish can be to have three extra, but then we need to buckle down and get serious. I'll give you a bit more time to think, but as you're doing so, please take note of the yearnings that are bubbling up to the surface. I'd expect the early arrivals are light and frivolous, followed by more measured consideration of the kinds of things one is "supposed" to want. Whirled peas and the like.

This isn't a beauty pageant though; the answers are for you and you alone. Close your eyes. Imagine. You know I'm your genie, right? Yours and only yours. What can I show you about yourself? You see, I already know. I have an ancient understanding of you. I will fill you with awe and fright and tenderness. I have slipped through a crack in your siding, and am tangling myself up in the mattress of your mind, pulling your soul over us both for warmth. I've put a magic spell on the very language of human longing. My words pour your roots into the soil and lift you far above the clouds. I am a poem. I am a poem. I am a poem.

Forgive me, if you sense that I've teased you or led you astray. I want so much for others to experience the sensations that I experience when a poet shares the secrets of my inner genie with me (the good genie, the evil genie, the naughty genie, the lost one). A great poem can command me. And what it teaches is that I need to remember that I am not alone. None of us is alone. We exist for each other, to bear witness, to open up, to be through others.

For the past year, I've been hosting a weekly poetry circle at an assisted living community about 60 miles north of my home. Each week, one person or another brings along a new friend, a new enchanted lamp. We rub, they rub, and the whole thing gets more luminous. Our moments seem like miracles, for me at least. I have found friends who can be touched, as I am, by immortal poems. From time to time, there is sadness amongst the joy. Some members of our circle have grown weaker of body. We lost one to her final rest last month. She is missed. It is a circle of life, as well as a circle of verse. We know, a poem is timeless, as is the love we make.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

-- Rilke Marie Ranier