Weekend Meditation: Suppose We Could Iridesce …

There's a poem (one of my favorites) by Mark Doty that was inspired by a trip to the grocery store where he noticed some mackerel on ice at the fish counter. He was so compelled to describe them that he had to write the poem in the car on the ride home, scribbling his notes on brown paper bags.

I suppose it could've just as easily had been a can of nails or a tulip, but it wasn't. It was a pile of mackerel and, of course, it was something more ('think sun on gasoline'.) It makes me happy to know that there are poems lurking at the fish counter, waiting for just the right kind of mind to wander up, a mind that is perfectly shaped to receive it and turn it into something so energized and compelling that it can barely be contained.

The truth of the matter is that the grocery store is overrun with poems. You can find them amongst the pyramids of fruit in the produce section and stacked up neatly with the tin cans and toilet paper and in the sound of the crinkly packages of grains grown in far away places. The grocery store is such a minefield of poems, it's a wonder we can manage to buy our milk and bread and escape with change still jingling in our pockets! Ten thousand poems just waiting to be scooped up like cereal in the bulk bin aisle!

So next time you have to pick up taco seasoning or a dozen pears or 2-for-1 packages of chicken thighs, take a closer look around you and see if you can't find a poem. I suspect there is at least one or two lurking about that will fit perfectly the shape of your mind and inspire you to start scribbling madly on the nearest scrap of paper at every stop light on the way home.

And even if the poem is a shy thing and doesn't readily appear, still the act of observing closely and believing it is there or could be there, will change you and will show you the shimmer and gleaming and iridescence that is everywhere.

A Display of Mackerel
By Mark Doty

They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
radiant sections

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery

prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soapbubble sphere,

think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way

distinguished from the other
--nothing about them
of individuality. Instead

they're all exact expressions
of the one soul,
each a perfect fulfilment

of heaven's template,
mackerel essence. As if,
after a lifetime arriving

at this enameling, the jeweler's
made uncountable examples,
each as intricate

in its oily fabulation
as the one before
Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe
of shimmer--would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be lost? They'd prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,
multitudinous. Even now
they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.
They don't care they're dead
and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,
they didn't care that they were living:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,
which is the price of gleaming.

Related: Weekend Meditation: A Poem for Independence Day

(Image: The Guardian. Poem used by permission from Mark Doty.)

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