“Tenderness” by Christine Boyka Kluge

(Christine Boyka Kluge’s blogs always give me a wondrous uplift with her combination of equisite nature photographs, choice quotations from poets, and smart reflections about life. And her book of prose poems, Stirring the Mirror, is one of the more amazing that I’ve read. I thank her for contributing this guest blog.)

I want to feel my life. That unbidden line keeps circulating through my mind these days, reminding me to pay attention, to be open, to let the world in. To say yes. Toward that end, poetry widens and deepens what I feel. It colors and enriches my existence, joins me to humanity.

One of the ways a poem awakens the heart is through revealing our human tenderness. In a fabulous piece by Stan Rice, “Monkey Hill,” there is a gift of a line: “Over and over the egg of tenderness will break in our hearts.” That kills me. The poem is about sitting on a bench, observing spider monkeys. This line is the reaction to watching the babies, noting the parallels to human families. In the poem, through the observers’ eyes, we see the mother’s inability “… to fathom / this sweet injustice nature has made cling to her back.” From their bench, we also witness the embarrassing and private things that monkeys/humans do, right there on the zoo’s stage, made more poignant by the leap from animal to human. Watching through the window of clear description, we feel the world the poem remakes. Our own observations expand; our feelings surface and grow.

The following poignant stanza from “I Would Like to Describe” by Zbigniew Herbert (translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott) also makes me feel my own life:

… and just to say — I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

He ends the poem — and this is such a wild and alive ending, it pulls you along into it — with these magnificent lines:

“we fall asleep / with one hand under our head / and with the other in a mound of planets // our feet abandon us / and taste the earth / with their tiny roots / which next morning / we tear out painfully.”

Again, I feel those rivulets of tenderness trickle through the heart. The warmth and chill. I understand not just the poet, but, somehow, all of us. That’s what I want, a poem that floods the heart, that makes the heart overflow a little bit. Not a saccharin piece, not a melodrama, but words that nudge me closer to the fullness of what it feels like to be human. I crave words that remind me to feel — not just sweetness, but the pangs and truth of existence. When the poem reaches out, I want to reach back.

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