I have a friend named Kaveh Akbar, who is a fellow poet. And Kaveh found this photo online of the anatomical heart of a blue whale that scientists had hung on a hook from the ceiling, which is how they were able to observe that the heart of a blue whale is big enough that a person can stand up fully inside of it. And when Kaveh shared this photo online, he did so with the caption, "This is another reminder that the universe has already written the poem you were planning on writing."
And when I first saw that, I was horrified. I was like, "Come on, man! I'm trying to invent new metaphors! I'm trying to discover beauty that hasn't been discovered yet. What do you mean, the universe is always going to get there before me?" And I know this isn't a uniquely poet problem, but on days when the world feels especially big or especially impossible or especially full of grandeur, those are the days when I feel, "What do I possibly have to contribute to all of this?"
Not long ago, I saw this video that some of you may have seen. It makes the internet rounds every couple of months. There are these birds that are called starlings, and they fly in what's called a "murmuration," which is generally just a big cloud of birds. And someone happened to catch a quick video on their phone of these starlings flying. And at first, it's just an amorphous blob, and then there's a moment where the birds shift, and they form the shape of a starling in the sky!
And as soon as I saw it, I was like,
(Gasps) "The universe has already written the poem you were planning on writing!"
Except, for the first time, it didn't fill me with despair. Instead, I thought, "OK. Maybe it's not my job to invent something new. Maybe instead it's my job to listen to what the universe is showing me and to keep myself open to what the universe offers, so that when it's my turn, I can hold something to the light, just for a moment, just for as long as I have.
The universe has already written the poem that you were planning on writing.
And this is why you can do nothing but point at the flock of starlings
whose bodies rise and fall in inherited choreography,
swarming the sky in a sweeping curtain
that, for one blistering moment,
forms the unmistakeable shape
of a giant bird flapping against the sky.
It is why your mouth forms an "o"
that is not a gasp,
but rather, the beginning of, "Oh. Of course."
As in, of course the heart of a blue whale is as large as a house
with chambers tall enough to fit a person standing.
Of course a fig becomes possible
when a lady wasp lays her eggs inside a flower, dies and decomposes,
the fruit, evidence of her transformation.
Sometimes, the poem is so bright,
your silly language will not stick to it.
Sometimes, the poem is so true,
nobody will believe you.
I am a bird
made of birds.
This blue heart a house you can stand up inside of.
I am dying
inside this flower.
It is OK.
It is what I was put here to do.
Take this fruit.
It is what I have to offer.
It may not be first,
or ever best,
but it is the only way to be sure that I lived at all.