Ted Kooser, "Starlight"

...there are desires connected with the unknowable, and those desires underlie things like religious belief.

Ted Kooser, "Starlight"

Welcome! Here, have a few things worth your time

An essay I've found myself rereading for matters of craft and depth is Rebecca Solnit's "Preaching to the Choir." She makes the case that many things dismissed as telling people what they already know are essential to religious and political life. It's impossible to strengthen one's understanding unless one is clear about why one is there in the first place. Seeing why others are there, learning how some fundamentals are timeless, and readying others for the work to be done are all "preaching to the choir" and can be badly neglected for the promise of new audiences or a false open-mindedness. Truth, as a number of us have learned the hard way, does not profit from every lazy or faithless accusation fired against it.

Another reading I found invaluable was Matt Fuller's account of what it was like being inside the House chamber January 6th. It's hard for me to do justice to his shock and disappointment. But it's an important essay, a primary source document for future historians that reckons with the professed values of the age. A representative passage:

In the aftermath of Jan. 6, most of the media still hasn’t really figured out how to cover Republicans. I’d include myself in that statement. We mostly just pretend Jan. 6 didn’t happen, as if it’s totally normal to let Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) pontificate about gas prices or inflation while we ignore the lies he continues to spew about who’s actually responsible for the attack—or the role he played in undermining our democracy and endangering those of us who were at the Capitol that day.
It’s difficult to write a story in which you stop in every paragraph to note whether the particular Republican you’re mentioning returned to their chamber the night of Jan. 6, with blood still drying in the hallways, and voted to overturn the will of the people. But maybe we should.

As always, thank you for being here, and please take precautions in this pandemic. Things are bad. We in the US have an overloaded hospital system with no leadership willing to clearly identify problems and detail how they should be addressed. I feel like things are so much worse now that COVID fatigue has hit those given the power to make the necessary changes.

Let me know how you like the essay/notes I've written below. If you like what I write, please share.

Ted Kooser, "Starlight"

Ted Kooser's "Starlight" evokes a range of complicated emotions about childhood and adulthood. It's short, only taking up two lines. But the poem reminds me of times growing up when the house would be quiet, I'd hear rain or snow fall outside, and I would be thinking in a half-daze. I had a lot of nervous, jumpy thoughts during many of those moments. There were also moments I just took in the sound outside and nothing else.

Starlight (h/t @goodnatureart)
Ted Kooser

All night, the soft rain from the distant past.
No wonder I somtimes waken as a child.

The title, "Starlight," points at a distinction between wishes. We wish on stars, and we wonder what's out there. To be more precise, there's wishing simply: I want a video game. A car. A lover. Wishing simply, I posit, is a desire for wholeness. I want to do more, I want to be complete, therefore I need this. I should make sure I say that there's nothing simple about wishing simply. It happens to be slightly more straightforward than what follows.

Then there's wanting the unknown to speak. Some might say this is an everyday occurence. They might point to those in the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, i.e. getting excited about every little detail of their lover. "Starlight," though, indicates a deeper mystery. You wonder what's out there, trying to reach you. You have no idea if there are other worlds or other lives trying to speak. Later, you grow up and you know most of the light is from exploded stars, gone before you ever knew them.

I guess "unknown" isn't quite the right word. It's more like there are desires connected with the unknowable, and those desires underlie things like religious belief. Or, in the case of this poem, knowing what one's childhood meant, and for that matter, what adulthood means. Kooser writes as if the senses themselves are flowing into each other, forming one sense. "Starlight" is followed by "All night, the soft rain from the distant past." Light becomes sound. Both shower the senses. Something is grasped, but what is it?

We can't know, he can't know. The effect is unmistakable, however: "No wonder I sometimes waken as a child." I think about parents who don't understand they have authority and are trusted to guide. How they often slip into fighting their children as if they are children themselves. How they're awash in nostalgia, as if their childhood is an Eden to which they can never return. What Kooser expresses feels so much more interesting than that. The child is the father of the man, and this, I believe, points to what is pure about childhood renewing of its own accord. —But what exactly is happening? Don't terrible people have spiritual experiences, too?— They do, and what's funny about the stars is how, wherever the fault lies, there's always a choice.