With only nine days left in 2020, I’m here to celebrate the end of toxic politics in 2021!
Just give me ten minutes to land my spacecraft on planet Earth and the festivities will begin.
Alas, hate-filled political divides aren’t going anywhere. But before we enter into any poisonous conversations over the holidays, Tomas Tranströmer’s little 5-line poem might give us pause. Pause as in, “hit pause, close mouth.” I taped “Conflict” to an empty chair outside a café in Detroit’s Corktown.
by Tomas Tranströmer
After a political argument or wrangle, I become lonesome,
An empty chair opens out into the night sky.
There is no way back. My friend leaves the house.
A heavy moving van rumbles by on the road.
My eyes rest there like wide-awake stones.
After a political argument or wrangle, I become lonesome, the speaker of “Conflict” says, plainly.
I’m not used to hearing anyone, least of all men, speak so honestly in regard to political discussions.
The poem is so true it’s like an examination of conscience. It brings up memories of this past year when I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut, stop my eyes from rolling dramatically, my volume from rising beyond what is necessary for indoor conversations. (For those familiar with Enneagram, no surprise that I am a One. The need to be right is strong in me.)
In just a few lines Tranströmer captures the heaviness of such disagreements. The conflict has brought a deadening weight to the speaker’s heart, to the room, to the street. And what good has come from arguing? None. Absence, loneliness—and, the speaker says, permanent damage to the relationship—
There is no way back.
A mantra for the next time I’m tempted to be right at all costs.
Tranströmer has been called Sweden’s Robert Frost. Here’s a bio from a previous post:
Tranströmer (1931-2015) was born in Stockholm, the only child of a journalist and teacher. His parents divorced when he was young. At Stockholm University he studied poetry, psychology, religion, and history, eventually earning his PhD in psychology. Throughout his life he worked with juvenile offenders, the disabled, and drug addicts.
He published poetry all the while and became close friends with poet Robert Bly who translated his poems to English and help popularize him in the States. When Tranströmer was 59, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Six years after his stroke he was able to publish another collection of poems. He also re-learned how to play the piano, a lifelong hobby, using only his left hand. Link here for a beautiful video of him playing the piano weeks before his death.
Tranströmer’s poems are read the world over, from China to the Middle East. His work has been translated into sixty languages. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.
He won many other awards in his lifetime, but the tributes that interest me most are personal ones, tributes that show just how revered he was/is in his native country. A scientist who discovered a new species of beetle named it after Tranströmer, who was an amateur entomologist and whose childhood collection of bugs was once shown at a museum. And after his stroke, several composers wrote pieces for just the left hand so he could play them.
One of his two daughters is a concert singer, and many of his poems have been set to music. Link here for one example.