And I sat in more than one hospital room, holding more than one hand, and 3,000 songs on my iPod helped to block out the world, but Jane Hirshfield helped more, with "Poem with Two Endings":
Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
Neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.
The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.
Poetry is not only for the bad times (although it is better for bad times than anything else I know, except love). Poetry can make a good day better, with a picnic lunch and Peter Gizzi's Some Values of Landscape and Weather or a big, splashy American chunk of Walt Whitman or any one of Mark Doty's collections ("I want what everybody wants, / that's how I know I'm still / breathing: deep mix, rapture / and longing. Let me take your arm...") or the Dorothy Parker omnibus or the shiny good cheer of Billy Collins or Sharon Olds's wonderful tribute to the teacher who saved her life in sixth grade (and thank you, Mrs. Krikorian, "a tall woman, / with a deep crevice between her breasts, / and a large, calm nose," and since poetry makes us more generous, thank you to all of our Mrs. Krikorians).
Poetry provides the words, the lyrics, for every beautiful occasion—birthday, wedding, golden anniversary—and it is, in addition to honoring the dead, understanding grief, and observing the world, the greatest of Cupid's arrows. When you have a great poem in your hand, or in your heart, or even better, if you have attempted a poem yourself, you are close to irresistible. To read poetry aloud to one's loved one, or the one you hope to love and be loved by, is such a compelling mix of romance and seduction, of meaningful looks and powerful pauses, I wonder that the television sets of America don't just turn themselves off when you look right at the man or woman across from you and clear your throat and say, "You know how I feel about you? I feel like this, like Rumi":
Love lit a fire in my chest, and anything
that wasn't love left: intellectual
All I want now
to do or hear
The perfect poem for lovers
We Hear You!