Reading “What Space Faith Can Occupy” by TC Tolbert
Poetry Lunch S1E6
Reading “What Space Faith Can Occupy” by TC Tolbert from Gephyromania, published first by Ahsahta Press in 2014, re-released by Nightboat Books in 2022.
The first time TC and I talked was a call to discuss a collaboration spurred by a project with Pratt Institute thanks to Aracelis Girmay. We’d had brief email intros and I suggested a call because, well, it’s nice to talk to people. And writing is work and I am more cognizant every year of the labor we ask of authors in our communications. A phone call is a way to lessen that labor while strengthening connection with conversation. And talk we did!
TC and I were on that first call at least an hour and a half. I remember wandering around in the little woods and grassy knoll next to my shop, my new puppy nosing every inch of ground and my mind leaping from thought to thought through wide open process-oriented conversation. We talked about writing, poetry, printing, and publishing. Woodworking, teaching, backpacking, guiding. Dogs and road trips. Organizational pivots and flowers in ditches.
TC is a bright, beautiful, generous individual, the thought of whom makes a warm happiness swell up inside me and break a smile on my face. Oh! And I meant to share, the poem on the page facing the one I read today is called “Elegy.” I had forgotten its two piercing lines but found my pencil underlining the second when I opened the book today:
“… we are never equal to the break that we bring …”
Thanks for all that you bring! Including the breaking.
I believe that witness is a magnitude of vulnerability.
That when I say love what I mean is not a feeling
nor a promise of a feeling. I believe in attention.
My love for you is a monolith of try.
This is the first stanza of the poem “What Space Faith Can Occupy.”
These words came to me through a beautiful set of poetry connections — Pádraig Ó Tuama’s selection of a poem by Aracelis Girmay for Poetry Unbound led to a collaboration with her and Pratt Institute which led to these lines by TC showing up in my email one day and knocking me right flat out. So I said YES but please let’s make it more than a commission, I want to share these words wide!
I think first of my mom when I read this. Which is hard to admit. Oh monolith. Oh try. It hurts inside and makes me cry sometimes but gives me a feeling of possibility, too. The possibility of space. Of faith. And recognition. I feel recognized by these lines and it helps me remember to work on my own recognizing. Which makes me think of a William Stafford line from “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” cornerstone poem of my early introductions to poetry:
“I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.”
I have been wondering about what those two lines mean since I was fifteen. I still don't know but I'm getting more of a feeling.
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