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Thank You, Whatever Comes

by Conrado Tostado

When I was sixteen and I started meeting my poet friends every Friday afternoon at the newly opened Gandhi bookshop’s café, in south Mexico City, I read the Six English Language Poets anthology by Isabel Freire.

Isabel selected and translated poems by Pound, Eliot, Cummings, Stevens, Williams and Auden.

The reading of that little book became, for me, a ritual in parks and gardens.

I unintentionally memorized “Erat Hora”, a short poem by Pound. It starts with a quotation of a casual farewell phrase: “Thank you, whatever comes.”

Though meaningful for Pound, the anecdote that follows may be indifferent: it’s just one of those unique, magic gestures (smiles, words, glances) that people continuously exchange with each other, every time, everywhere. That is human nature.

However, when the poet says “No”, this does not mean indifferent:

“Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.”


Six months ago, I landed in Richmond; it was late August. The first, deep, everlasting impression was the chirp of the cicadas…

… The glory of the summer trees; the humidity and warm weather; the gray jays, the crows, the ducks and geese, the (probably) eagles (or hawks or falcons) …

A hare, two rabbits, a deer!

The rapid clouds.


And of course, all those little, enchanting houses, that seemed for us straight out of a fairy tale, with their delightful porches.

These generous, welcoming spaces, in between the private and the public life, made for conversation and contemplation, seemed to Jeannine and me a perfect image of what we were experiencing: the quintessence of this culture, new for us.


And then, the honest smiles (with a zest of shyness); the warm, greeting glances in the streets and small, cozy coffee bars; the casual chats…

I mean, the kindness of the neighbors, symbolized in their unofficial altar dedicated to Mr. Rogers, the Neighborly, anonymously made in an abandoned pay phone cabin, at the corner of a random street.


And the English course…! The dazzling heart of Karen; the discovery of Ali; the easy, unexpected, affectionate friendship with all my classmates (Karen calls it a family… and it is!).

The limitless gift of this new, luminous language…


The first words of the Pound poem used to arise again and again to my mind: “Thank you, whatever comes”.

How to reciprocate all we are receiving? And to whom?


photograph of James River, rocky and blue, with a distance arched bridge in the background and, in the foreground, a bridge railing with the graffiti words "THE LIGHT SHINES THRU"And finally, the Nickel Bridge… The James River…!

All of our Richmond’s experiences seemed to flow into the James. Moreover, all of Richmond’s times: past, present, future. All of America. All of our lives…

All times…


Which is to say, no-time… Only an instant.

However, there is no instant.

Just a flow that clearly manifests, there, as the turbulent waters of the James.


Yes:

“the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.”