Writer Laura Eve Engel brings us our first piece in response to the last piece of text we will focus on for the year, Psalm 107. Laura’s piece focuses on Psalm 107:4-9:

 

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

 

I AM SMALL

And still unclear

is the quality

of my lostness

to the visible stars

more visible

in the desert

great literature

love

places its wanderers

under a slow tongue

where fear grows

plantwild

the dark makes forms

unknowable

I give thanks for not

in this dry moment

having to answer for myself

forage for wheat

beneath the sky’s great bravery

I must be a nettle

or else a tiny trophy bound

by sand these feet

from time to time displaced

gathered up

where I was found traversing

my actual steps

a length of its own

brief name

 

From the Artist:

I’m drawn, something like spiritually, to the vast landscapes–oceans, deserts–that seem to have the capacity, just by existing, just because we know they’re out there, to recall for us our smallness. One need not have been lost in the actual desert–though I have been, sort of–to come upon that feeling of relative size. In stuff-I-read-in-childhood terms, it’s Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex that is raised by the Biblical images of the desert wanderer: a reminder, among the galaxies, that YOU ARE HERE, and that “HERE” is imperceptible is an understatement.

But this passage is, it seems to me, about expressions of gratitude, and when it comes to expressions of gratitude I’m a wanderer in the desert. I’m pummeled by a big wave. As a Jew when I offer a traditional prayer it’s often not in my native language and I feel relief at not always knowing what it is I’m saying. Where expressions of real spiritual depth are concerned I’m most comfortable when I’m a little bit confused, not able to catch all the language, and I can approach even my own ignorance with something like awe. I like feeling small in that way, I think. It’s a way of feeling part of a bigger and not always understandable arrangement, which has always seemed to me something like fact. But I also like feeling like a person, and sometimes boundless exaltation like the kind expressed in this psalm seems to me so much like the vastness of the desert, so calibrated to illustrate my individual human smallness, that it threatens to obliterate the self. That feels dangerous and, in the wrong hands, exploitable.

I think I may be temperamentally averse to the pure exaltation this psalm and others prescribe. But it also strikes me that making a meaningful expression of gratitude is distinctly and necessarily not always about my own comfort. Reading and responding to these verses was an opportunity for me to consider smallness and the temptations and aversions that accompany one’s being faced with it, as well as how insisting on the boundaries and bigness of a self inside the infinite is an act that’s circumscribed by unclarity, and failure, and beauty.

 

 

 

LEE Headshot

 

 

 

Laura Eve Engel‘s work has appeared in The Awl, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Tin House and elsewhere. A recipient of fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she is the Residential Program Director of the UVa Young Writers Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

This work was curated by Kent Shaw. 

This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.

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