Writing in the margins, yearning for the whole page

Sage CohenProductive writing5 Comments

Love Dogs

–– Rumi

One night a man was crying
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.


This is one of my very favorite poems of all time. I love its reminder that our longing may actually be the point–the end state–our place of completion.

As I was driving home from my evening presenting at the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers, contemplating the rich discussion about how we craft our writing lives, these lines bubbled up in particular:

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

Very few of us feel we have time to write. Or the systems and attitudes in place to easily enter the writing flow when we’d like. Despite the fact that I always tell people, “It’s all your writing life,” meaning that everything you “have to do” that does not involve actually writing is integral to what and how you write, I find myself wandering sometimes into longing for more than the scraps of time than I get for my own writing. I ache for the whole, blank page of my writing life, not just the slender margin.

And yet, I know equally well that there have been times in my life where I had, arguably, more than enough space for writing and writing did not happen. There were clearly other limitations (in me) beyond the logistics of time. Sometimes, no matter how much we want something, it is not our time for manifesting. In the course of nearly 30 years of writing practice, I have lived intimately with the ache of desire for writing and the endless destinations (and dead ends) this ache and I have traveled together. For many of us, this secret cup of pure sadness is what the writing life is rising up in attempt to answer–or reveal.

I live with a love dog. My truest companion on earth, Henry, has been traveling with me for more than 12 years, and he is in transition out of this world. There is only my ache filling my cup. It is the completion of my love for him. My tears the only non-answer of an answer there seems to be to this most inevitable of outcomes. I want what I want, but he is on a path that I may influence but do not control.

So it is with the writing life. Our ache to be with ourselves on the page — to travel that deeply into the fundamental truth of our hearts — is for many of us at the very core of who we are. It is the impulse from which we have no choice but to live. Maybe that ache is simply enough. We may or may not hear anything back. Still, we write. When we can. In the best ways that we know how.

There are writers no one knows the name of.

Give your life to be one of them.

5 Comments on “Writing in the margins, yearning for the whole page”

  1. Amen indeed. Over a year ago my cousin died and left me in charge of his unpublished prose. When I saw the stacks of manuscripts I thought of this abyss of silence into which he would fall deeper and deeper every day if I didn’t try to submit a story or proposal on his behalf. I also saw myself sliding into it. This is a beautifully expressed articulation of another way to look at the longing that’s really at the heart of this fear of dark spaces I’ve projected onto a life my cousin spent doing what he loved. I’m so glad I came across this essay.

    1. That is powerful, Charles. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found a comfortable place for yourself in relationship to your inheritance and your cousin’s hopes, dreams, passions…You are both blessed.

  2. Thank you for this. It is so grounded in truth — that often, you don’t have a whole page to work with, that sometimes we must write in the margins. But that living is writing too.

    I was particularly touched by this piece because of the mention of your dog. My dog is also 12, and she seems healthy but I am already filled with aching for the day she moves on. I feel for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *