Tuesday Poem – “Otherwise”, by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

– Jane Kenyon
from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1996)

The last few days have been a turbulent finale to a turbulent few weeks. The aftershocks from the earthquake are finally subsiding, but the shocks from the after-effects are only just beginning. On a personal level, as well as on a more general-public one. Round a corner, and you’re faced with a pile of rubble where a building used to be. Or a red piece of paper taped to the doors, and the words NO GO spray painted across the windows. And there are the little(r) things too – I think it’s been just over three weeks since I last had a solid night’s sleep, and I’m one of many in the same state. Christchurch isn’t quite the City of the Living Dead, but we’re certainly a City of the Shaken, Rattled, and Shell-shocked.

But not Rolled, and it could have been otherwise. So very easily Otherwise. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for, as well as a hell of a lot to repair, rebuild and re-inhabit. I suppose some people might say poetry is a luxury in this situation – an indulgence. But two days ago, two weeks after the quake, I sat in a room of students who were sharing poems begun in the almost unimaginable before, and completed through the after. Not just good poems. Magnificent poems. And I watched each one of my students start to calm a little as they read, as they listened, as they commented and suggested and shared. Maybe not blossoming yet, but certainly shaking a little dust off their leaves. Dust off their lives. I felt so proud of them! such a huge surge of love, right then, right there. Maybe it was the fellowship, the camaraderie. That would be the logical explanation. But … I think otherwise.

This will be my last posting for a wee while. Amid the personal and public chaos of the last few months, we’ve bought a house – one of the lucky ones to have survived both the quake and then the insurance companies’ clamp-down on new policies. So the next four weeks or so will be spent in move-related disorganisation (which is even worse than my usual state …)

Sanity and calm are things that I (and virtually everyone in Canterbury) would very much like to experience sometime soon – but, as Cheryl Crow sings in Every day is a Winding Road:

“I’ve never been there,
but the brochure looks nice …”

For more Tuesday Poems, visit: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.

8 Replies to “Tuesday Poem – “Otherwise”, by Jane Kenyon”

  1. An appropriate choice, and a very poignant commentary to go with it. Thanks once more Jo.

    (Help, what will we do for ‘a wee while’ with no Tuesday posts from you?)

  2. Thanks Joanna – for this poem and for telling us what poetry can do even in the most fraught situations. Your students are so lucky to have you. We’ll all miss you for the next few Tuesdays… come back soon!

  3. I hope everything goes well for you there. Still thinking about everyone – we were all in a state of shock when I left last week. I know I won’t recognise Christchurch when I come back next year.

  4. Two of my favs – the Jane Kenyon poem and Sheryl Crow! Glad you have got a house that is un-harmed – happy moving and settling (though let’s hope the earth does more of the latter for you guys).

  5. Just writing to say that I’ve missed your updates and hope that you are well. My fiance and I live in Otago, near a small village called Kurow–we felt the biggest of the quakes and were shaken ourselves. Not having been back to Christchurch since the devastation, nor experiencing the shocks nearest the epicenter, we cannot share your emotional space but instead can only send our heart-felt sympathies . . . which we do.

    As a writer new to the south island, I found your blog rather a bit of an inspiration–I do hope you return to it. As I am sure there are many like me, I’ll be bold and say: your readers are out there, waiting 🙂

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