I came across this poem yesterday and love its meditation on gratitude, on how we show respect and to whom. As Americans, we may taut the value of experience and the need to respect those who have lived long enough to level up in this crazy world, but ours is not a culture of respect. Or gratitude. Or reverence. We give our thanks on the fly and often don’t think to honor the amazing people we encounter everyday.
In this poem, Kirby describes witnessing an unfamiliar sign of respect: one musician reaching down to touch the shoes of another. He recounts learning its meaning, an event that proved highly moving. Here is an excerpt:
I ask her about one person touching
the other’s feet and then bend down
to show her, she lights up and says, “It means he thinks the other
is a god. My children do this before they go off
to school in the morning, as though to say, ‘Mummy,
you are a god to us,’” and I look at her
for a second and then surprise us both when I say, “Oh, Mrs. Patel!”
and burst into tears, because I think,
first, of my own dead parents and then of little Lakshmi and Padma
Patel going off to their classes in Tift County schools,
the one a second-grader who is studying homophones
(“I see the sea”) and the other of whom is in the fourth
grade, where she must master long division with
its cruel insistence on numbers lined
up under one another with exacting precision and then crawling
toward the page’s bottom as you, the divider, subtract
and divide again and again, all the while recording
on the top line an answer that grows increasingly
lengthy as you fret and chew the tip of your pencil
and persevere, though before they grab
their books and lunch boxes and pile onto the bus, they take time
to touch Mrs. Patel’s feet and Mr. Patel’s as well,
assuming there is such a person. Later my friend
Avni tells me you touch the feet of your elders
to respect the distance they have traveled
and the earth they have touched, and you
say “namaste”not because you take yoga at that little place
on the truck route between the t-shirt store
and the strip club but because it means “I bow
to the light within you,” and often the people being
bowed to will stoop down and collect you as if to say
“You too are made of the same light!”
Reader, if your parents are alive, think of them now, of all the gods
whose feet you never touched or touched enough.
And if not your parents, then someone else.
You know someone like this, right? Someone who belongs
to the “mighty dead,” as Keats called them.
You can find the complete poem here. Namaste.