There’s this Gary Snyder poem called “How Poetry Comes to Me” that reads:
It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light
I like this image of a poem that must “blunder over boulders at night” so that it can get to the speaker of Snyder’s poem, but even as it comes to him, hobbling over the bulky terrain, it lingers, just out of his reach. That poem is almost afraid to come to him, so he has to go meet it. He has to find it out there, hanging around on the edges of his brain, holding back.
This image almost captures how my best thoughts come to me, how these thoughts lumber around in the darkness of my brain first, scattered, tentative, like fledgling sparks shooting outside the campfire ring. My thoughts have to hobble over the hard places inside my brain, too, just to make their way to me. And like Snyder’s speaker, sometimes I have to go to meet my thoughts, and this requires slowing down, listening to what is lumbering around inside my head. Sometimes, gently, I have to coax those thoughts, nurture them, wrap my arms around them and tell them they are okay.
Real thinking, the pleasure of it, is sometimes difficult these days. Our brains get jammed with all the surface thinking: the emails we need to write, the projects we need to complete, the groceries we need to buy, the errands we need to run. This isn’t the kind of thinking that lingers “at the edge of the light” in Snyder’s poem, and it isn’t the kind of thinking I imagine when asked “how does it feel when I think?”
Thinking, for me, requires attentiveness, patience, an ability to wait for the uncertain, unmanageable pieces inside my head to hush a little, then solidify enough to drown out the ruckus of everyday. When that happens, thinking feels like the incandescent red of live embers, snapping in the smoke, so commanding that I can’t look away.