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I’m a poet. Did you know it?

By Mike Ruffin In late spring of 1964, I joined my fellow graduates of Miss Sylvia’s Kindergarten on the stage of the Gordon Grammar School lunchroom. At a designated point in the midst of all the pomp and circumstance, I stepped forward and, with trembling knees and shaking voice, recited the first poem I ever uttered publicly. It was ‘The Swing’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do! Stevenson was a pretty good writer. Thinking I could do better, I eventually wrote some poems of my own. It was when I was a student in Mrs. Key’s creative writing class at Forsyth Road School. The one I remember was about space. It was a moving piece with great depth and insight. The closing line was, The biggest space I know of is the space between your ears. I don’t know which of my classmates I had in mind. If you think it was you, let me know and I’ll apologize. I wrote a few poems over the next half-century, but I’ve only recently begun writing poetry in a disciplined way. I try to write one every week. Some of them are about my life, while others are about my perspective on the world and related matters. I thought I’d share two of them to let you know where my thoughts have been lately. The fact that they don’t rhyme tells you how deep and serious they are. The first one is called ‘Uneven Spaces.’ I think it’s about how I want to live. The sign in the passageway between the terminal and the plane said, ‘Caution: Uneven Spaces.’ It meant, I think, that the junctures between the passageway’s sections created a tripping hazard. It set me to thinking about how we always need to watch our step because life isn’t level or uniform. Some parts are high, some low. Some are wide, some narrow. Some are predictable, some surprising. A problem: if you spend all your time looking down for the uneven spaces, you’ll miss seeing lots of amazing things. Some things are worth the risk of falling flat on your face. The second one is called ‘Hardening.’ I think it’s about how I want to grow old. Three score and ten seems fair. But if you feel pretty good as you get near it, four score starts to sound reasonable, four score and ten attainable, and five score not out of the question. Then you think about how your minor arthritis might become major, your occasional forgetfulness might become frequent, and your declining hearing might go all the way down, and you tell yourself well, none of that would be so bad. Minor inconveniences requiring bearable adjustments. But what if you become more set in your ways, more stuck in your perspectives, more callous in your sympathies, less open in your search for truth? And you find yourself realizing you’d rather go sooner with hardened arteries than later with hardened attitudes. You may not write poetry. But I hope you take time to think deeply about your life in the world. We only get to do it once, and we need to find as much meaning in it as we can. To read Mike Ruffin’s weekly poems, follow him on Instagram at michaell.ruffin.

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