Work and the Gift of Opium
After days of variable winds and vog, this blanket of
sulfur and debris spewed from Kïlauea hangs over the island.
From my cabin on the ridge, the whole coastline is invisible—
it’s like being lost in heaven up here
but no anchor of angels and breathing is labored. Lungs craving
the easy air of the trades, the north wind
that makes the world shine, the banana leaves flutter and
sweep across my window all day long.
But the sky is taking its sweet time to clear— I wonder if
the seabirds feel the oppression of grey around them. Panicked,
fighting for air, beating their wings harder, do they head for home—
a congregation of their kind and the pungent smell of sea foam and fish.
Flaubert wrote to his lover probably on a day like this:
dear friend, read, do not dream. The habit of stubborn work
releases an opium which lulls the soul.
And I remember Keats remembering Ruth
in tears amid the alien corn—that back breaking work of
gleaners in the field, the two women, a young widow
and her mother-in-law, by force of will going on—
one loss after another, still going on.
My grandmother was crazy about that story,
read it often from her Arabic Bible early mornings
in the kitchen translating line by line for me.
There was Boaz, the wealthy landowner
riding his stallion through the fields with a stormy pride,
not noticing the woman there laboring in the hot sun.
But her intention set the course. Her heart had settled on him.
There was nothing either could do after that.
Hard as it was, she listened to Naomi and
slept that night on the threshing floor—very near him
in secret. At dawn she left one shoe as evidence.
Who really knows what happened
after the marriage— except they had a son: Obed,
who had a son, Jesse, and Jesse turned out to be
the father of King David. Most think it a great love story—
find solace there or, at least, tenderness.
The writer--- he finished his letter to his lover:
Despair can be overcome by force of persistence and pride: try.
Oh, on the darkest days when the friends we love have left us,
when the world, no matter how hard we try to see it,
is obscured from inside or out, we have from the man
who labored all his life with words the imperative of only one: try.
And the promise of the drug that floods the brain on the heels of
the hard work that keeps us going.