Dialoguing with a Poem

  • Dear Readers, I am an apprentice to David Whyte’s Invitas: A Path to Conversational Leadership.  I have followed his work for nearly  25 years now.  I have learned to be in dialogue with any and everything , so too, with poems.  In fact listening to David recite and riff on a poem puts one in a dialogue with their own sweet soul as well as  their heart and mind.

    This morning I decided to do the dialogue on the page (blog)  in  honor of Valentine’s day and the celebration of love.  Hearing this poem almost 25 years ago with Leslie Lanes, ushered in my first experience of an ecstatic moment.  A moment where everything belonged, including me.  Just as it was.  Just as I was.   If that is not Love I am not sure what Love is.  To be able  “to gather all our flaws in celebration” is to truly unconditionally love all of ourselves, to love how we were made.  To love how the world is made.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer you this:

    The link for the poem without commentary can be found here.  I suggest you read it first and then come back to the blog and read my dialogue with it.  As you read it, note your own inner conversation.  There is no single way to dialogue with a poem.  There are as many ways as there are people.


    The Faces at Braga   by David Whyte

    Commentary by Nancy C. Wonders

    In monastery darkness

     by the light of one flashlight

    the old shrine room waits in silence.


    While above the door

    we see the terrible figure,

    fierce eyes demanding. “Will you step through?”  Will I step through the glories of youth and a well-functioning body and quick intelligence into this new territory?  The territory that holds decline, disease and disappearance?  Will I?  Good God this is hard.  My mind knows I cannot choose anything else.  I do not want my face to be the face of an old woman chasing a time that is decades gone.  If that is what is behind door #1, it is not for me.  It is humiliating.  It is shame.  I had so much of that in my youth at the mouths of my mother and the nuns.  No, I cannot go that way. 

    I cannot return to those youthful days when I barely appreciated the beauty of my form, the brilliance of my quick mind nor the grace of a body I did not have to pay attention to because it ran just fine!  That is gone. 

     But door #2?  What waits there?

     And the old monk leads us,

    bent back nudging blackness,

    prayer beads in the hand that beckons.


    We light the butter lamps

    and bow, eyes blinking in the

    pungent smoke, look up without a word,


    see faces in meditation,

    a hundred faces carved above,

    eye lines wrinkled in the hand-held light.  That’s true!  So many more wrinkled faces than mine.  So many more who went before me could I see them as


    Such love in solid wood!

    Taken from the hillsides and carved in silence,

    they have the vibrant stillness of those who made them. 


    Engulfed by the past

    they have been neglected, but through

    smoke and darkness they are like the flowers


    we have seen growing

    through the dust of eroded slopes,

    their slowly opening faces turned toward the mountain.  So I too must turn my face toward the mountain of age, even with my youthful spirit, my body is asking other things of me now.  It demands me love it, touch it, stretch it, move it.

    Carved in devotion

    their eyes have softened through age oh please let me softenplease do not let me harden

    and their mouths curve through delight of the carver’s hand. Delight?  There could be delight in this paring back?  This essentialism.   BUT my life mantra has been DO NOT MAKE ME CHOOSE and it would seem this aging stuff is all about choosing.  AND I have a lousy picker (chooser).  It does not want to choose. It wants everything and mostly all at once.  Sheeshhow can I possibly walk this road?  I truly know virtually nothing about this way of being.


    If only our own faces

    would allow the invisible carver’s hand

    to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.  Shoot, I knew it, what is going to have to go is my ability to skim along, to flit from flower to flower.  instead I am going to have to pay deep attention to what I want above all else moment by moment.  To choose and abide within my current limits.

    I do not have time to read the NY Times or the Atlantic Magazine from cover to cover.   I can no longer follow all my lovely random curiosities.  Well actually I can, but I must accept that this means something else will need to be sacrificed.  It takes me more time to do what I did on almost everything.  “If only my own face would allow the carver’s hand (aging) to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.”

    If only we knew

    as the carver knew, how the flaws

    in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core, my flaw:  my mind that does not live within limitshow?

    we would smile too

    and not need faces immobilized

    by fear and the weight of things undone.  It is true, I worry about this more and more, “what am I forgetting?” The constant backlog of work or home responsibilities not tended to yet?


    When we fight with our failingThis was the first of David’s poems that I fell hard for.  I had a transcendent moment and it began on this line.  I (and others I might add) have fought with how I am made as long as I can remember.  And

    we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself

    and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.


    And as we fight

    our eyes our hooded with grief

    and our mouths are dry with pain.  So much unnecessary suffering from this all my lifeeven still.  But there is slowly emerging a small voice that talks back a bit to that fierce figurethere is not yet an Archbishop Desmond TuTu (Made for Goodness) residing within me that is FOR me on a consistent basis, but there is something that says:  “Don’t talk to my friend Nancy that way, it doesn’t help her.”  And that is everything.


    If only we could give ourselves

    to the blows of the carvers hands, I wonder, what is it I refuse to give myself over too?   What if it is a kind of faith/trust in these very things I am struggling with?

    the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers


    feeding the sea

    where voices meet, praising the features

    of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.


    Our faces would fall away my face of productivity, of “earning,” of “the need to be deserving,” of competencemaybe if I could finally trust that as I am made, I am enough for my lifeI could indeed grow younger

    until we, growing younger toward death

    every day, would gather all our flaws in celebration


     to merge with them perfectly,

    impossibly, wedded to our essence,

    full of silence from the carver’s hands. 

    May it be so.

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    February 14th, 2019 | admin | Comments Off on Dialoguing with a Poem | Tags: , , , , , ,

About Nancy


Nancy C. Wonders is an interior designer. The “interiors” she designs are psychological, not physical, space -- a client’s personal interior landscape, or the emotional barometer of a team, or an entire organization. Nancy’s office includes a “design bar” where clients have a chance to re-invent how they see themselves and/or their organizations. These re-structurings result in discovering what is fresh, new and alive. This discovery prompts profound, immediate change, on both the inside and in interactions with others. Read more»

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