Kay Ryan, “Least Action”

“The world / might become the / Kingdom of Peace,” Ryan writes. I should be overjoyed at the prospect. Many who are hurt will be uplifted. Justice and happiness will spill over to all.

I’m focused on smaller injustices. One in particular that’s almost petty. I was on the phone for 45 minutes, 43 of which I was being talked at, when not talked down to.

Sometimes petty things are merely that. Demonstrations of power. Using others to vent rage or project one’s feelings.

But other times, what’s small is a sign of a much larger problem. If you can’t be heard at all—if you don’t have the right to talk—then how can you conceive anything good? If it’s good for you, you will speak on your terms. Especially a good as great as the “Kingdom of Peace.”

Least Action (from Poetry)
Kay Ryan

Is it vision
or the lack
that brings me
back to the principle
of least action,
by which in one
branch of rabbinical
thought the world
might become the 
Kingdom of Peace not
through the tumult
and destruction necessary
for a New Start, but 
by adjusting little parts
a little bit—maybe turn 
that cup a quarter inch
or scoot up that bench.
It imagines an
incremental resurrection,
a radiant body
puzzled out through
tinkering with the fit
of what’s available.
As though what is is
right already but
askew. It is tempting
for any person who would 
like to love what she
can do.


Ryan narrates a fantastic story. I am filled with hope as I read. A “Kingdom of Peace” comes about not through “tumult / and destruction,” but by “adjusting little parts / a little bit.” An “incremental resurrection,” “a radiant body / puzzled out through / tinkering with the fit / of what’s available.”

It’s too much hope. Too good to be true.

Thinking about the times in my life I genuinely improved. Made the effort to admit I was wrong and simply did better. I was a better person—I was proud—but forget the “Kingdom of Peace.” Anyone who noticed or cared might as well have been invisible.

This story doesn’t apply to those who are invisible, who struggle to have our presence acknowledged even in the same room with others. Who always have to be more eloquent, more qualified, better read, more knowledgable with the few seconds we have. 

I didn’t get talked over because the person on the other end of the phone valued me.

The rabbis were wise people, innocent of the insane cruelty of our hell world.  They could not possibly account for how harrowing our present bigotry is. How so many are the dead walking.


The story doesn’t account for our present trauma. So many families who’ve lost the members that kept the spirit. I remember one story of a kid who lost both his parents to COVID-19.

“As though what is is / right already but / askew.” Another conversation, another person on the phone. There’s an 18 year old, I’m repeatedly told, with exceptional maturity. He already knows what job is right for him and how he’ll get it. All he has to do is pick the right college. His maturity is not to be questioned. Anything I might ask or conceive as a concern has already been addressed by him.

(I should just block everyone who calls me.)

Little adjustments don’t do anything for gaping holes in our lives. Holes exactly where we learned love.

They don’t do anything for the scope of our delusions. In fact, they allow for a further delusion: a little bit more knowledge can fix anything. Nothing ever need be a problem, especially for those of us denying any problems exist or could exist.


All the same: how did I improve, when I improved?

It was incremental. Listening more. Speaking slower. Asking more questions. Showing more interest and enthusiasm. Writing shorter sentences, writing more personally.

Of the “incremental resurrection:” “It is tempting / for any person who would / like to love what she / can do.”

Maybe the “Kingdom of Peace” will come about through “least action.” The supernatural does not have to correlate with anything in this world in any sensible way. If it does occur that way, that will be the greatest miracle of all. The full realization of the resources at hand.

But I like Ryan’s comment—this is “tempting.” No one with any ethical sense would walk into another’s life and try to live it for them, as if they could do better. What we do now for improvement depends on circumstance and community. Factors, one might say, present in the Kingdom of Peace. The rabbis, perhaps, got the causality backward.


  1. What if the problem was that people didn’t know the problem doesn’t exist?

    A revolution – something we associate with violence, and therefore, ‘trauma’ – wouldn’t solve that; if anything, it might simply confound the original perplexity.

    I don’t think we’re waiting on God either, to give the whole thing a shove.

    But we are waiting for that tuning fork to be struck that will finally, finally, help us to wise up to what that love affair between and language and reality actually means!

    It’s a not literal tuning fork; it’s the real (true?) sound of something re-arranging that isn’t necessarily a big deal – something much less than a war – a thing, and perhaps, the only thing for “any person who would like to love what she can do.”


    I’ve a couple of quotes for your last engaging blog (Christopher Bruell on Plato’s “Cleitophon”) and I aim to add them as soon as I get a bit of time to manually add them – they are a little long and I will be copying them from paper! Worthwhile though, hopefully!

  2. correction –

    But we are waiting for that tuning fork to be struck that will finally, finally, help us to wise up to what that love affair between language and reality actually means!

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