A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am 

and I don't know the kind of person you are 

a pattern that others made may prevail in the


and following the wrong god home we may miss

           our star.


For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, 

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break 

sending with shouts the horrible errors of


storming out to play through the broken dike.


And as elephants parade holding each

          elephant's tail, 

but if one wanders the circus won't find the


I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty 

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.


And so I appeal to a voice, to something


a remote important region in all who talk: 

though we could fool each other, we should


lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the



For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to


the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


-William Stafford-

from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems