In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

I and Thou and Charlie


In the early 1990’s, I wrote a series of poems called “I hyphen Thou”. The poems explored the image of the hyphen and were suggested by a book by the philosopher/theologian Martin Buber called “I and Thou.”

The idea of the hyphen is an old favourite of mine. In fact I run a small charity called Hyphen-21.

Literally, the hyphen is a dash on the page and connects words. But in Buber’s wonderful book, the hyphen also connects Me to Thee, I to Thou, I – Thou.

Bewilderingly, miraculously, I am the centre of the universe, in my experience, for my time.

If I choose, I can treat you as just a shadow, or object, or obstruction, or tool, or target, from a place of callous detachment. I – It.

But in doing so, I shut myself down in some way, as well as you down.

As an alternative, I can choose to see and treat you as being equally as central in the universe as I am. If I do so, I am of course realising the truth about you, as well as about me. I – Thou.

And maybe, in a world of ever accelerating change and flux, the hyphen that connects us, in this awareness and realisation, is the only solid ground that now remains. The skills of connection are therefore the most central human skills of all. However, in present conditions, the urge to disconnect becomes more and more powerful.

Social workers, nurses, teachers, artists and the like use the skills of human connection all the time, however inadequately. The skills of love and of community (see earlier posts on this blog, especially this one). But too many politicians and other world leaders, as well as terrorists, as well as most of the rest of us between those positions, are attacking, perverting and poisoning, all the time, these skills which we need so desperately in order to sustain a human community on Earth.

In the last few hours, thinking of Charlie,  I have been going over the “I hyphen Thou” poems and finding they speak for and to me as vividly as ever, and perhaps even more pressingly than when I wrote them twenty years ago. Here are some excerpts :


Riding the Hyphen between I and Thou

Through the débris we ride our hyphen
our kite in the hurricane
our dry leaf on the last day

Unnameable fragments swirl about our ears
and rage unanswerable
and pain unhealable and unredeemable

Through the débris we ride our hyphen
our kite in the hurricane
our dry leaf on the last day

What would you bid for a berth on the Ark
for a last communion in the whole aching night
where there’s warmth and trust and a roof above your head
as the world of our failure is unmade ?

Unnameable fragments swirl about our ears
and rage unanswerable
and pain unhealable and unredeemable.

Through the débris we ride our hyphen
our kite in the hurricane
our dry leaf on the last day.


The Holds I hang from

Lost among glimpses
among surfaces among scatterings
at loose within the leaping disasters
of an immeasurable universe

we are the makers
of our own safe ground
the stillness upon which we stand
is all ours to build.

Like a climber who negotiates
the overhang
I carry my footholds
the footholds which only I can construct
are all that preserve me.
In view of my exposure, however,
I must also attend to the rock
I owe it to myself
to take care
of the holds I hang from.

The fact of my knowledge of you
is far more a certainty
than the fact of me…..


The Hyphen as Surf-board

…The Earth is made raw
goaded past endurance
and none bar the surfer

will survive its onslaught
leaping the crazed beast
as it rages and grieves

in some ancient dance
of despairing beauty
for there’s nothing left

to follow now
but the wild wild blue.
I shall learn to land-surf

to keep my feet
all I can claim of the world
is here to feet.

The city heaves and buckles
squealing and trumpeting
gathering pace

it hastens me
it drives me forward
it tunnels me like a curling wave.

Let me not stumble
let me keep my feet
let me ride it through

let my little board
dash me
steadily through.


from Hyphen Loitering (with intent)

…I believe today I almost met someone.
For just a few moments, possibly,
the whirring edge of me
disturbed some surface of attention.

Perhaps in time I’ll risk being still enough
actually to meet a whole person.
I wonder would either of us survive
the awe and enormity of true encounter.

I loiter here between lines of thunder
poised for the sudden break
the momentary opening
my own hushed moment of interruption.

I must learn to do without lines.
As soon as a line is drawn
defeat there becomes possible
and even perhaps significant.

There is no excuse for defeat
and significance is wasted there.
To be invincible
you need do nothing
but dance at all times…..


Rogan Wolf