My new friend, poet laureate of Wyoming David Romtvedt, shared with me this astonishing poem about irises that he gave me permission to share with you. His state as well as mine face outrageous and unprecedented challenges to the arts these days, and in reading his poem, I was reminded of how much the arts show us how to see the world. Wish us (and yourselves) well, and wherever there’s an iris, stop and look, smell, remember. Please also consider the role of the ones — the monks in this poem as well as the irises — that call us to live with integrity.
I transplanted iris bulbs along the wall of the garage,
almost in the alley. No one can see them there except
the garbagemen as they fling cans in and out of their truck.
Hundreds of deep purple blossoms, the purple vibrating against
the green stalks and leaves, the pale blue wall of the building.
Even the air around the flowers shimmers and clings. The hose
won’t reach so I haul water in a bucket, again and again,
standing, watching the water rise then walking carefully,
lopsided, a little water splashing out onto my legs as I go.
The Buddhist monks stand in lines–long lines going back
row after row, deep human. They slide forward, barely
lifting their soft feet from the ground. Facing them,
at the end of the muddy street, are the police, in helmets,
with guns, or soldiers, or members of the rubber workers
union, or brothers and sisters of civil servants, or students
from the university that has been closed, everyone dressed
in neat black pants and white shirts, and there are the monks,
shaved heads bobbing on thin necks. Before the crowd, they stop
and sit down in the road. I can smell the sweat from beneath
their arms and the perfume that saturates their spotless robes.
— David Romtvedt