Betsy Sholl

Forget Your Life

after Rumi
Plaster drips from the ceiling.
You close your eyes and think skylight.
All night you jackhammer though asphalt,
but in the morning the surface resumes unchanged
and people drive nonchalantly to work.
So what good is thinking about God
when it doesn’t blow the tiles off the roof
or buckle the street, heaving up layers
of sandstone beneath the city?
Steam from the molten rocks of elementary
textbooks taught you how things squeeze
to a boil in the center of earth. You’ve been
squinting ever since, clenching your jaw,
at war with yourself, two deaf mutes
constantly jabbing. One of which proclaims,
God is Great! The other doesn’t so much disagree
as think that’s the trouble.
It takes a certain kind of violence
to wrench yourself free. A certain shock
to make you quit talking and give that helpless
shrug, the first step in a dance than turns
faster and faster. Even accountants get dizzy
and wad up their checks. Even philosophers
begin to laugh.
Don’t be surprised to find yourself walking close
to the edge of a dock and suddenly tripping,
unable to keep your fists jammed in your pockets.
There’s a whole school of ragged children
lined up on the riverbank. Look how heavy
the mistrustful ones are. They lift their feet
and drop straight down. Each day now,
I say this to myself: Forget your life.
Prayer is a different use of words, not these
frantic splashes demanding so much help no one can get near.
Don’t go to work. Call in sick, or not
sick but desperate. You’ve been trying too hard
to unearth the perfect student, one who reads
so intently all her rough opinions leave her
like swing rushing over a cliff. Now, teach yourself.

Betsy Sholl
“Forget Your Life” is from The Red Line, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992).