Ask Me – by William Stafford

In 1992, shortly before his death,  William Stafford was commissioned by the State of Washington to provide seven poems to be installed on plaques alongside the Methow river, one of the most beautiful rivers in all of the Pacific Northwest. Ask Me was installed along the river in the town of Winthrop. I can go only so long in my life without reading it. It is one of my anchor and lifeline poems and it belongs along that river the same way Tibetan Buddhist paintings belong on the stone canyon walls of Nepal. 

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford

9 responses to “Ask Me – by William Stafford

  1. I can only go so long without returning to the poems of William Stafford; this one is especially special. Thanks for posting it!

  2. Alan Shusterman

    “We know the current is there … there are comings and goings from miles away.” A shiver ran through my torso as I read this. My grateful bow.

  3. Reblogged this on Mist and Mold and commented:
    Many times sitting in silent meditation I have thought of a river and what it teaches about connection and interdependence. I imagine standing by the river’s edge, the water molecules at my feet touching only their closest neighbors, unable to see beyond the next few Angstroms, let alone clear to the other bank. And yet, without these molecules filling this side of the channel, the cross-river water could not exist.

    The world is filled with unseen, infinite webs of connection. We may not see them, or we may cautiously trace a fragment of one or two. No matter. Let go and reach out to the “current, hidden”, the “comings and goings from miles away”. The mystery unveils itself.

    • Thanks for passing this along, Alan. I like it that a river comes up in meditation. For me it is usually mountains.

  4. Here in Britain I was hardly aware of William Stafford, I’m sorry to say Burl. I’ve just checked the anthologies if American verse and commentaries on my shelves and there’s no mention. But this poem, I agree, offers so much — I’ll look out for him.

  5. Thank you, Burl, I needed a shot of Stafford! Good to read this one again.

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