by Wendell Berry
The river takes the land, leaves nothing.
Where the great slip gave way in the bank
and an acre disappeared, all human plans
dissolve. An awful clarification occurs
where a place was. Its memory breaks
from what is known now, begins to drift.
Where cattle grazed and trees stood, emptiness
widens the air for birdflight, wind, and rain.
As before the beginning, nothing is there.
Human wrong is in the cause, human
ruin in the effect—but no matter;
all will be lost no matter the reason.
Nothing, having arrived, will stay.
The earth, even, is like a flower, so soon
passeth it away. And yet this nothing
is the seed of all—the clear eye
of Heaven, where all the worlds appear.
Where the imperfect has departed, the perfect
begins its struggle to return. The good gift
begins again its descent. The maker moves
in the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seed will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.
from New Collected Poems
Counterpoint Press, 2012
Though the message of this poem might at first seem dark—”all will be lost no matter the reason”—I find great hope in these lines. I sometimes forget, especially in the darkness and deep cold of winter, that death always hides renewal, and the passing away of the imperfect makes room for new perfection. “The maker moves,” Berry writes, “in the unmade,” which is to say, we find God (or whatever we choose to name the force of creation) in the empty spaces left behind, no matter how unsettling the “widened air” will feel. I think here of the Buddhist term, sunyata, usually translated as “emptiness.” Yet this small word embodies the fact that nothing, including human existence, can last forever, and because nothing is permanent, everything is vulnerable, interconnected, and dependent. Underneath all pain is “possibility.” Within the emptiness of every “scar” or healed-over wound is some future seed already beginning to sprout.