And the soul, if she is to know herself
must look into the soul and find
what kind of beast is hiding.

Stanza from Kim Moore’s poem “And the Soul” in The Art of Falling

There is risk in self-examination. There is also risk in avoiding it. In Mormon scripture we find a great example in 2 Nephi 4. The process can be painful (and lead to things turning out lousy anyway). Elsewhere, I’ve always liked one facet of Mormonism’s take on the Garden of Eden. There is something inside us which must be grappled with if we are ever to progress—something potentially dangerous.

My experience teaches me humans are—despite any godly potential—a predatory species. We subdue other lives out of self-interest. We colonize, and when this begins to seem evil, we seek to colonize the colonizers. To build off Alma 32, we harvest and consume all manner of fruit—delicious, sour, ripe, spoiled. What is good fruit? Is it just whatever fruit we’re in the mood for?

We are hungry beasts. It isn’t all we are, but it is an inherent part of our makeup.

…still I love the train, its sheer unstoppability,
its relentless pressing on, and the way the track
stretches its limb across the estuary…

Stanza from Moore’s poem “Barrow to Sheffield”

I resist this image. Or rather, I agree with the metaphor but resist using the word love. I resent the relentlessness of the train. In the last year, more than ever before, I have felt life’s train pressing on, locked into the track which charts my path through mortality. I resent barreling toward a destination I do not want and for which I will never be ready.

Of course, like others I know, I have felt the comfort of hearing a train pass by in the night. I have taken heart in the sense of connection that sensory event provides—connection to other people and to a world of resources and opportunities. Perhaps this is what enables the poet to love the train’s “relentless pressing on”.

And in that year I waited for the horses
but they only shifted their feet in the darkness.

And in that year I imagined a vain thing;
I believed that the world would come for me.

And in that year I gave up on all things
I was promised and left myself to sadness.

Stanza from the poem “In That Year”

The above excerpt conveys the essence of my 2022. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say my 2022 has been god-awful. Hardly makes me unique.

Of late, some good things have happened. I’m grateful I recently followed a link provided by the Poetry Foundation. This led to me reading an essay by the poet Kim Moore: Expanding the Political. Honestly, I’ve already forgotten most of what the essay said, but I remember its effect. I enjoyed and valued reading it. Afterward, I bought a copy of Dr. Moore’s The Art of Falling. Giving her book my full attention was time well spent.

Let me tell you about a man called Graham Short
who can engrave the Lord’s Prayer on the head
of a pin…
…who waits
to make a single stroke between heartbeats,
who works so slowly, so quietly, that when
the mice come, their footsteps cause a tremor
that can obliterate several words. …

Stanza from the poem “The Master Engraver”

I used to help sell scientific equipment. This included sample preparation equipment for SEMs. SEM stands for Scanning Electron Microscope. Instead of using visible light waves, these microscopes shoot a beam of electrons at a sample and analyze the way they rebound to create highly detailed images of very small things. When scientists in early 2020 witnessed COVID-19 developing at the cellular level, they did so using SEMs.

SEMs have even more powerful cousins: TEMs (Transmission Electron Microscopes). SEMs and TEMs can image incredibly tiny materials. These instruments are so sensitive, so carefully calibrated, they tend to be operated in basements while resting on advanced anti-vibration stands.

Human souls are sensitive in a similar way, but life jostles us so often we grow desensitized. Often, we fail to respect the wear and tear, the damage being done. Of course, there is something to be said for being overly sensitive. I’m often guilty of that, and the overthinking which follows.

The train of life rumbles on, achieving commerce and community. We travelers, with our inner beasts, tremble in our seats. Sometimes precious fruits of our labor, like engravings or SEM images, get ruined by the shaking.

Questions for Discussion

Reread one of the above poetry excerpts. What thoughts does it generate in you?

These days, what literature provides you a worthwhile avenue for self-reflection? Why?