Poetry Daily: http://www.poems.com/

Nothing to Hold Onto

When it's time to enter the great waters,
you, who've been properly loved since birth,
will likely feel on top of the world,
lacking the useful defenses the unloved have.

Try to remember that on top of the world
is only an expression, nothing to hold onto,
and if there were such a place,
no doubt there'd be a host of angels

who might think it their territory.
You would need to be careful
of the jealous, bitter ones
who haven't gotten the best assignments.

It might be the right time to cultivate
disbelief, which can make certain angels
disappear. Actually, disbelief is always useful,
helps the discriminate discriminate.

Those of you properly loved will believe
your biggest mistakes can be overcome.
You will have learned laughter
is a floatation device, and uproarious laughter

the password to moments of fine feeling.
It means the angel assigned to you at birth,
the only one you believe in, has already wrapped
his wings around you, is doing his job.

Still, there'll be turbulence as you enter
the great waters. Love alone can't save you,
and disbelief only frees you long enough
to see clearly where you're going.

But the loved have a history of shifting
as the world shifts, and a vague sense
how good and bad blend, become one.
Don't worry if you can't tell the angelic

from the hellbent, or the exact meaning of guidance.
Confusion won't hurt you. This is your chance
to row as hard as the unloved, whose task
from the beginning was to exceed all expectations.

Stephen Dunn

Lines of Defense
W. W. Norton

To view this poem online, visit the Poetry Daily archive at http://www.poems.com/archive.php
View a large-print version of this poem