Poem: I Promise You

Poem: I Promise You

From our poet of the month, Mark Nepo


"We try like birds awakened by / a tone of light to fly into each / other’s need. And always / wind throws us off."

I Promise You

I was in a circle of those who
climbed from the sea of trouble
onto the shore of a day like today.
We were tired, aglow, broken.

Out of a sudden silence
a young woman stood and sang
You’ve Got a Friend. When I heard,
“You just call out my name and
I’ll be there…” I saw you all.

No vow has meant more to me.
Yet there was the time I couldn’t
get there. And the time I was afraid
to come for some dark reason too
familiar for me to understand.

I am sorry for the wounds my
absence has caused.

We try like birds awakened by
a tone of light to fly into each
other’s need. And always
wind throws us off.

I am so sorry not to be
what I promised.

But like a whale whose tears
only add to the ocean that slows
him down, I swim to you.
I swim to you.

Excerpted from The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting by Mark Nepo, published by Sounds True, November 2016.

Listen to Mark Nepo read 'I Promise You':

Mark Nepo shared his insight with S&H:

What triggered this poem is the gap between what we want to promise and give, which knows no limits, and our struggle as limited and flawed human beings to live up to those promises. 

Considering this led to an image which lives in another poem of how a hawk, no matter how much it flies, cannot cover the entire sky. Nor can we. I still want to be there for those I love but have to accept that I won’t always be able to do what I set out to do. At these times, we can only admit to our limitations and make amends. But such honesty enables us to seek the help of others in keeping the promises that are too big for one person to shoulder. 

Most of the time, when retrieving a poem, I don’t know where it is going. The authentic effort to be truthful with what’s before me often leads me to an image or insight, which I didn’t know until I entered the expression. This happened here. For, in the image at the end of this poem, I learned that there are times that the tears that we shed only add to the water that is between us. 

Still, I swim to you. I will never stop finding my way to you. Even when the obstacles are of my own making.

Read more poems:

Naomi Shihab Nye's Separation Wall
Tyler Knott Gregson's Genuine Connections

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