When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
I like to return to this poem time and time again because I like the call/response format: “if anyone asks”, “if anyone wants to know,” and the response “like this.” There’s an inviting aspect embedded in the “like this” because it isn’t specific. The “this” is left up to the imagination of the reader, the action is something we get to interpret. I think this quality of creating a space for the reader to insert him/herself into the poem is what gives it part of its power. All of the answers are dependent upon the speaker. The answer to finding the “perfect satisfaction” is found in the speaker’s face “lift your face and say, / Like this”; the answer to what “spirit” is and the meaning of “God’s fragrance” is in the closeness of the speaker’s face. That closeness and the every decreasing proximity of the question and the answer is partly what draws me to this poem.
I suppose one of my writerly obsessions is distance and proximity. Is it possible to be so close to another human being that you can read each other’s thoughts? Is it possible to let someone in so close that when you lose them you’re just not capable of every letting anyone get that close again? Or when you lose friends and family (not to death but the pettiness of misunderstandings) do you let one ignored email or phone call turn into numerous and eventually you can’t figure out how to get across that distance you created out of distance?
There are so many boundaries in life. Gender, sex, politics, race, ethnicity, religion, lover, friend,…. the list goes on and on. I’m drawn to poetry because as Rumi’s poem shows there are ways to address boundaries and the space between people (whether that be reader/writer or human to human space); poetry can interrogate and investigate those spaces both in terms of content and form.