Learning, Any Time, by William Stafford
We were singing one day about justice
and a piece of iron fell somewhere
down the street--at least I think
it was justice: it was iron all right.
One time we were early for the rainbow. Lightning
waited, crawling for a place to go.
It would decide in a minute, and then
forget in the gray cloud and maybe stay home.
It is hard to learn that zigzag before
it happens, and not much use after
it’s gone--you hold your head still and wonder
about the world: you can’t catch it,
no matter how far or wide or hard.
Strange how things in the world go together
even when you don’t try, how music
permeates metal, how a burden you carry
takes on a color or leads to a dream
you are going to have when the burden is gone.
Learning, they call it, this anticipated
lightning, this thinking around an event
and bringing it right. It is hard to tell
if the connection is yours, or the world’s--
it all comes together and you say, “I know.”
But the biggest things and the smallest keep right on.
What’s the difference if you understand?--
the heavy will keep on being heavy, and the things
that will get you will get you just the same.
From “The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems,” by William Stafford (Graywolf Press: 270 pp., $24.95)