A lonely, bookish boy with
sandy hair stood on the grass in a
meadow by a lazy stream
that wandered from a cow pond past
an abandoned coal mine to a larger
stream and then to a larger river and
another one and another one and
another one until it made its way to the sea
down past New Orleans.
And, he thought to himself that
maybe if a little stream had a right
to exist and no one could tell the water that
came from a cow pond that it had no right
to make it to the great sea, then maybe his
own words, that poured like a river from
his lonely heart were like that little stream
and if the words that poured out of him made
it to a larger sea, then they too had a right to exist
and no one could tell him that he should
keep silent and not pour out what his poor heart
could not keep inside, no matter how they tried
to silence the mighty river within him.
Obviously, I am the narrator of this particular story. For some reason, I was pondering the poetry of William Stafford last night while reading of his experiences during World War II and the idea came to my own mind that people might question the right of a little stream to exist just as they question the right of a poet or writer to express himself (or herself). I was reminded of my own childhood experiences visiting Pennsylvania during the summers (at least the end of the summer after my extra classes were finished that I had chosen to take for fun), where I would often walk out in a cow pasture to the edge of my family’s farm where there was a meadow near an abandoned coal mine not far from the fence where one could see the little creek that I immodestly named after myself merge with Sewickley Creek (which gave the name to the township where most of our family farm was located), which flowed into the Youghiogheny River, which at my birthplace in McKeesport flowed into the Monongahela River, which in downtown Pittsburgh joined the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River, which around Cairo, Illinois flows into the mighty Mississippi which reaches the sea down past New Orleans.
As a kid with a strong interest in geography, this mattered a lot to me. It was striking to me, in a way that is perhaps difficult to explain to those who have no interest in watersheds or the glories of maps and geography and one’s mental image of the world, that the water from the little stream that ran in our farm from a pond where our beefies drank eventually made it to the sea, and that some bit of the water of our farm was a part of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. As someone who has always been rather expressive in my own writings, I wondered how the modest and obscure words I poured into my writing from my childhood would merge into the larger waters around me and perhaps create something that would be truly worthwhile and memorable and important. I feel that way not only about my own personal expression, but that of others as well. In my solitary musing and pondering and reading and writing I have also yearned for connection, to be a part of a larger river just as my family’s little stream was part of a larger river. I do not know to what extent these longings are to be realized in this life, but they have certainly been very important in shaping my own complex view to my relationships with other people.
There is a bit of a myth that exists that it takes people who live lives full of intense experiences to turn those experiences into literature, but if one is a sensitive enough soul and responsive enough to what is inside and outside, the intensity that an artist brings to life can turn even mundane experiences into poetry. Surely, it is not an intense experience to lay down or stand in a meadow and look at gently running creeks and pondering life and our connection to the wider world around us even as we spend our time alone. The intensity of the experience, one I remember even to this day, was not due to the intensity of the event itself but rather the intensity I brought to the experience in thinking about the relationship between streams of living water in the physical world and the streams of life and vitality and creativity inside my own heart and the hearts of other people. Given the fact that so many of the quests of my own complicated life were started in a small and remote part of Western Pennsylvania , no matter how far from those valleys I have wandered in the intervening years, it needs no great drama to send out a sensitive and reflective poetic soul into an uncomprehending and somewhat harsh world, even if such drama is not too hard to find in the course of my life as well as the lives of so many others I happen to have met along the way as my waters seek their path to the sea.
 See, for example: