How Much Surprise Can One Poem Deliver?


It was Einstein who said
either nothing is a miracle,
or everything is -
a jagged mountain range,
lilacs in bloom,
a peacock unfurled,
sun on your arm,
the touch of a stranger.

Take your pick: be surprised
by nothing at all,
or by everything that is.

I wrote this poem in one sitting. One existential freaked-out sitting, during which I purposely tried to induce a state of derealization. It was January 1997, and we were flying from JFK airport to Athens, Greece. Not my first trans-Atlantic flight, but potentially my last, given the way my breathing was accelerating and my projectile fantasies were working against me. 

I was surprised, of course, to be going to Greece, surprised to be in a metal can high above the earth, surprised at the way my life was turning out, surprised to feel a blessed fugue state coming on, surprised at the visceral joy of odors and sights recollected, surprised at the strangeness of sharing the experience with a stranger on one side, my husband on the other. 

I was surprised to have this poem immediately accepted by June Cotner for one of her early collections, Bedside Prayers. Surprised to see it reprinted numerous times, in Bless the Day, Serenity Prayers both edited by June Cotner, Simple Joys by SPS Studios, to name a few. Surprised to see it posted and then discussed on other people’s blogs. Surprised to see that the North Carolina state legislature used it as the opening prayer on September 3, 2002. Surprised to see that the poem is sometimes quoted in its entirety on sites without attribution.

Finding myself on the Internet still surprises me. Which is an improvement. It used to shock me. In truth, I have been much more of a consumer than a producer in the lively online poetry world. I am truly grateful for the unparalleled access to so many people’s work and think it’s now time that I contribute more. Of all the surprises mentioned above, this one surprises me most of all.