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Poem: The Fire That Takes No Wood

From our poet of the month: Mark Nepo

The Earth's layers

Getty/ Rost-9D

"whatever makes us look everywhere / but in our core—this is the smoke / that drives us from the living."

The Fire That Takes No Wood

As a boy, I woke near a center 
I couldn’t name and every time 
I ventured out, I was cut or hit 
and thrown back in. 

As a man, I find life to be a 
meeting of centers and it’s the 
crossing from center to center 
that suffers our clumsiness. It’s 
the crossing from what I alone 
experience to what you alone 
experience that sets fires in 
the world. But once aflame, 
we are humbly the same.

No one ever told me that 
as snakes shed skin, as trees 
snap bark, the human breast 
peels, crying when forced open, 
singing when loved open.

And whatever keeps us
from burning truth as food,
whatever tricks the heart into 
thinking we can hide in the open, 
whatever makes us look everywhere 
but in our core—this is the smoke 
that drives us from the living.

And whatever keeps us coming 
back, coming up, whatever makes 
us build a home out of straw, out 
of heartache, out of nothing, what-
ever ignites us to see again for the 
very first time—this is the bluish 
flame that keeps the Earth
grinding to the sun.

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

Listen to Nepo read 'The Fire That Takes No Wood":

Mark Nepo shared his insight with S&H:

A great paradox in the journey of being human resides in the fact that we are born with an urge to create and build and repair. We arrive with an urge to go from here to there, to pick up what has been dropped, to gather what has been spilled, and to love what has been broken back together. 

The paradox here is that for all the movement we are engaged in, our effort is undone until we accept that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. For all our work and commitment, we are better off once we inhabit life rather than manipulate it. This mysterious constancy of being is the fire that takes no wood, but which keeps burning at the center of the earth anyway, causing us to break ground and blossom right where we are.

More from Mark Nepo:

"Poem: I Promise you"
"Essential Conversations podcast: Talking Miracles with Mark Nepo"

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


By Mark Nepo. Click here for more!

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