remembering dad through poem

“삶”
고 은

비록 우리가 가진 것이 없더라도
바람 한 점 없이
지는 나무 잎새를 바라 볼 일이다
또한 바람이 일어나서
흐득흐득 지는 잎새를 바라볼 일이다
우리가 아는 것이 없더라도
물이 왔다 가는
저 오랜 썰물 때에 남아 있을 일이다
젊은 아내여
여기서 사는 동안
우리가 무엇을 가지며 무엇을 안다고 하겠는가
다만 잎새가 지고 물이 왔다가 갈 따름이다

This poem by a Korean poet, Ko Un, says something that reminds me of my dad who passed away last October.  I think the poem says that in this world, we don’t know anything for sure and we don’t own anything for sure.  Still, the leaves fall in autumn whether the wind is gentle or strong.  Still, the water comes and goes riding the tide.  And that is only thing that’s for certain.  This message, however, I do not think is one of despair.  I see it as one of acceptance of the world as it is.  It also reminds us to remember what’s truly important.  Everything else is transient and uncertain.

My dad was someone who accepted things the way they were.  He also accepted people the way they were.  My mom called him a “Naturalist.”  I think he may have been quite happy to live Henry David Thoreau’s life.  He loved music, he loved art, he loved people, and he loved nature. He was a devout Roman Catholic, but I think he was a Buddhist at heart.

And this is the kind thing that poetry can do.  It can help us better understand our world, our lives, and our people.  As Martin Espada’s poem, “Blasphemy” says,

“Let the blasphemy be spoken: Poetry can save us,
not the way a fisherman pulls the drowning swimmer
into his boat, not the way Jesus, between screams,
promised life everlasting to the thief crucified beside him
on the hill, but salvation nevertheless.

Somewhere a convict sobs into a book of poems
from the prison library, and I know why
his hands are careful not to break the brittle pages.”

This is how poetry can save us.

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