Sunday Poetry: We Are Living, by Brendan Kennelly

We Are Living

What is this room
But the moments we have lived in it?
When all due has been paid
To gods of wood and stone
And recognition has been made
Of those who’ll breathe here when we are gone
Does it not takes its worth from us
Who made it because we were here?

Your words are the only furniture I can remember
Your body the book that told me most.
If this room has a ghost
It will be your laughter in the frank dark
Revealing the world as a room
Loved only for those moment when
We touched the purely human.

I could give water now to thirsty plants,
Dig up the floorboards, the foundation,
Study the worm’s confidence,
Challenge his omnipotence
Because my blind eyes have seen through walls
That make safe prisons of the days.

We are living
In ceiling, floor and windows,
We are given to where we have been.
This white door will always open
On what our hands have touched,
Our eyes have seen.

– by Brendan Kennelly


Brendan Kennelly is another Irish poet (yes, I do have my biases), and another poet who writes for normal people to read instead of for academics to study (another bias of mine). I had never heard of him until this week, when Garrison Keillor mentioned his birthday in his daily Writers Almanac – a free daily dose of literacy you should be receiving. (Here is the sign-up form.)

This poem, for me, approaches the spiritual in a familiar form. What can be more rational than a room? Wood and plaster (or drywall) and geometric space is all that a room is. It is what it is – and only that. Obvious as the off-white paint in a rented room, space is simply space.

But a part of me feels differently. We have lived in this house for more than 20 years, and it is more than simple wood and water-damaged plaster to me. And, to me, it feels like something more or at least different than the combination of smells and sounds and memories. There is a feel here, for me, that goes beyond what can be explained by the rational secular humanist – even allowing for a sentimental old man talking about his house.

I know this doesn’t make any sense, and a younger me would have shook his head and said that I’m simply too weak to accept the spare truth of the world – that it is composed of atoms, logic, and fate. And maybe that’s all true – I can’t defeat the argument.

To me, the theologians and scientists are pretty much one and the same. I can’t quite track the circular-seeming logic of the former, and the latter want me to have faith in quarks and 4th dimensions that make no more sense to me than Zeus tossing lightning bolts. Too many smart people on both sides ask too much of me, or call on me to trust that they have the Truth.

I’ve always been suspicious of those with answers, and I have none. I have beliefs that I freely admit I cannot fully defend, and I have grown away from the need to do so. I am a crappy evangelist – I readily accept that your answers are quite possibly better and more complete than my vague feelings, intuitions and chosen irrationalities.

But when I read lines like

your laughter in the frank dark
Revealing the world as a room
Loved only for those moment when
We touched the purely human,

I feel like the poet is on to something. I share his respect for the extra essence that goes beyond the gods of wood and stone, and I share his suspicion that there may be infinity in the white door and what our eyes have seen.

One Response to “Sunday Poetry: We Are Living, by Brendan Kennelly”

  1. Mary Molloy says:

    Your Poetry touches me thank you

Leave a Reply