I love this poem because it mirrors the passing of time, patiently guiding readers through the speaker’s perspectives on truth. The structure of the poem resembles a list, providing four metaphors for how truth moves in the world. The poem’s relationship with truth is a relationship characterized by time and movement. Even before we reach the last strophe, this relationship hints at the speaker’s evolved sense of truth. In reading, we see a “streaking train,” “a seagull wheeling, plunging” and “scoop[ing].” The second strophe transfers this motion to the speaker. Previously truth does the action, but here the speaker can “pluck,” “weigh,” and “search.” The last scene of movement centers on the old man’s arm as it slides into the coat and “finds home.” Where the first metaphors emphasize agency, this final, patient example of truth emphasizes lack of agency. Rather than a truth in action, we see truth at rest, truth as relief.
—Erin Griffin Collum
“The Years Were Patient with Me,” by Jeanne Murray Walker
I used to think truth was a fast train
streaking from the station, self-
confident, unapologetic, on time.
Or a seagull wheeling, plunging in one
white flash toward glassy waves
to scoop a minnow from the water
in the black arrow of its beak.
Later, older, I could pluck truth
from trees when I wanted,
weigh it in my hands: ruddy, sun-
warmed, firm as an apple. Though
sometimes, yes, I had to search before
I’d find it fallen in an orchard. But as
I parted the air to lift it, the air
healed itself deftly as a door closing.
Years passed, patient with me, till
I saw another kind of truth:
a man totters from the airport
one freezing morning with the face
and shoulders of a CEO, but old
now, fumbling to push his arm
into his Armani trench coat, over
and over, trying, missing,
standing, trembling, finally
wandering to the doorman, who
holds the coat for him. And slow
as sun rising into winter morning,
the arm finds home, the body feels
sweet warmth, not of its own
making, nothing it earned or paid for.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Jeanne Murray Walker
Jeanne Murray Walker’s most recent books are Helping the Morning (Word Farm) and The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s (Hachette). A book of sonnets, Pilgrim, You Find the Path by Walking, is forthcoming next year from Paraclete. She teaches in the Seattle Pacific University MFA program. www.JeanneMurrayWalker.com.