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)