Rae Armantrout, “The Way”

What does it mean to return after a long absence? All of us are the “flakes” we bemoan, the ones leaving friendships, relationships, obligations, groups, society. We’ve got different reasons for running away, but I suspect not a few of us can cite the feeling of being overwhelmed, maybe feeling like a child… abandoned in a story made of trees. Too much, too soon, no guidance, no sense of what one wants to do. The trouble with abandoning something because you are lost, however, is that you’re still lost afterward:

The Way (from Poetry)
Rae Armantrout

Card in pew pocket
announces,
“I am here.”

I made only one statement
because of a bad winter.

Grease is the word; grease
is the way

I am feeling.
Real life emergencies or

flubbing behind the scenes.

As a child,   
I was abandoned

in a story
made of trees.

Here’s the small
gasp

of this clearing
come “upon” “again”

Armantrout begins her soliloquy, announcing herself at church to us—Card in pew pocket announces, “I am here”—not to the congregants. I made only one statement because of a bad winter. Hers is the sort of mumbled, introverted, non-communication lost in one’s own thoughts and pain. Not necessarily a bad thing; remember, we’re all flakes. And maybe, in this case, “one statement because of a bad winter” holds the seeds of miraculous goodness. She has returned after a long absence and is among others.

But to what has she returned? How is any of this supposed to work? She feels dirty, slippery, like she can’t be held—Grease is the word; grease is the way I am feeling. She can’t hold herself, after all. There’s no sense of control in real life emergencies or flubbing behind the scenes.

The locus of control has to be the attempt to understand herself. Nowadays the trend in therapy or counseling involves focusing on the problems the client wants addressed without digging up the past if it isn’t necessary. That’s all well and good, as you don’t need to be able to account for every single moment of your life. But there’s something powerful about the Freudian approach, something that affects even all the other types of therapy which attempt to reject Freud. The past may not be who we truly are, but you’d have a difficult time convincing yourself of that unless you could properly deal with it. Her return to religion is not a return to religion per se, but a want to see what she missed, what she might have said, thought, or done differently though she was left to fend for herself in a dark wood: as a child, I was abandoned in a story made of trees.

Grease, then, is only a step away from grace. Grace here is knowing yourself not in spite of your past, but because of it. Knowing yourself not in spite of the crowd, but because of your small space within it. Here’s the small gasp of this clearing come “upon” “again”—I imagine the congregation sings, she sings with them, and for a moment no statement is needed. She’s returned, seeing things ever so slightly from above.

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