I came across this Martha Serpas poem while thumbing through Harold Bloom’s Anthology of American Religious Poems and love how it captures the experience of emerging from depression. Or if not depression, a serious illness or trauma.
At least that’s how I read it. I share it here for those who recognize the experience:
As If There Were Only One
By Martha Serpas
In the morning God pulled me onto the porch,
a rain-washed gray and brilliant shore.
I sat in my orange pajamas and waited.
God said, “Look at the tree.” And I did.
Its leaves were newly yellow and green,
slick and bright, and so alive it hurt
to take the colors in. My pupils grew
hungry and wide against my will.
God said, “Listen to the tree.”
And I did. It said, “Live!”
And it opened itself wider, not with desire,
but the way I imagine a surgeon spreads
the ribs of a patient in distress and rubs
her paralyzed heart, only this tree parted
its own limbs toward the sky—I was the light in that sky.
I reached in to the thick, sweet core
and I lifted it to my mouth and held it there
for a long time until I tasted the word
tree (because I had forgotten its name).
Then I said my own name twice softly.
Augustine said, God loves each of us as if
there were only one of us, but I hadn’t believed him.
And God put me down on the steps with my coffee
and my cigarettes. And although I still
could not eat nor sleep, that evening
and that morning were my first day back.
In the final stanza, I hear the hymn, “Morning has broken like the first morning.” The world moves from black and white to color as the heart begins to beat again. In learning to once again love creation, the speaker learns again to love herself and to believe that she can be loved.
I am struck by the awe with which the speaker rediscovers her own name and, in that selfsame moment, understands God’s love. Her recovery is far from complete, but she is on the path to healing.