Claire Needell, "Passage"

I've been staring at Claire Needell's poem "Passage" for a few days now. It's an incredible work of art, and I hope you'll join me in trying to respond to it.

I have hopes for this newsletter, this blog. So Needell’s last lines, “If I await consequence, / nothing will end”, make me feel a bit guilty. Hopes imply results; “I await consequence.”

Am I wasting time, pushing toward continuous failure?

I understand this sounds overblown. But I reflect on the hours upon hours I’ve spent gaming, struggling to get better. It’s hard to believe how frustrating trying to consistently win can be. The worst feelings come from making serious attempts to improve. I’ll do something wrong, think I understand what it is. Then watch a video to get better. Watch a few other videos to see what else I could change. Make notes, build an action plan. Practice identifying and remedying the issues. And then lose all over again in games that count.

To be fair, a world which considers Candy Crush gaming—where the product is built to be maximally addictive—is one dedicated to manipulating our desire for self-betterment.

What I want is to know that I’m improving. To experience some measure of control. This marks me.

So right now, I just want to sit with those two lines. I primarily believe them an admonition. I will achieve nothing, nothing will end, because I indulge my desire for certain results.

But another way of reading them might go like this: things can go on forever, in a good way, when we fight for the things which matter most. "Await" can be taken in a looser sense, as it need not refer to failed efforts or a lack of effort. It would just mean "no consequences yet."

Needell’s poem is an exquisite riddle. I have to reflect on how my expectations can be a trap or a greater cause or both at once.

Passage (h/t Tom Snarsky)
Claire Needell

An object passes through
tight significance.

If I await consequence,
nothing will end.

“Passage,” the title, speaks a multiplicity. The passage of time. Movement across borders, rivers, oceans. Openness, closure. What we allow to pass. That we try to pass through ourselves.

It’s a lot to consider. An essay on the title alone is warranted. I think a lot of us, as we get older, learn to accept as a matter of survival. Before, we didn’t think acceptance a virtue, or anything resembling one. But now, “passage” can refer to that mature understanding, a maturity which can and does deceive. There’s still quite a bit we shouldn’t accept.

The cryptic first lines, I do believe, narrow the problem to be considered. “An object passes through / tight significance.” What strikes me is the disappearance of the narrator. There’s an object, and the fact it has been assigned significance defines it. That significance is “tight”—much is demanded of this object, as if everything is on the line. But the person expecting, the person conjecturing, has disappeared.

The problem is that of hopes and dreams. For them to matter, we need to be absorbed into them. But the more we are absorbed, the more we’re passengers. This is inevitable in life, to be sure. So many who were forced to make risky journeys, to escape, for a chance at something resembling life.

Sometimes we have to become objects ourselves, to pass through “tight significance.”

The moral weight of the last lines, then, might be said to center around pushing through. "If I await consequence, / nothing will end." Awaiting consequences—awaiting results—is the only thing we can judge. And we can’t even judge that all the time. We just know when it fails to work, because we failed to work. This much can be said for failed efforts: trying can awaken you to situations which can’t be won. But awaiting runs the danger of treating life like a lottery. Even there, one has to buy tickets.