A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each
          elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.
Source: Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (Norwood House Press, 2013)
More Poems by William E. Stafford