The Glance that Knows

I don’t really get poetry. Which is kind of surprising since poetry is 99.9% about expressing feelings and ideas (something I’m kind of into), but it’s a form of writing I’ve never really been able to connect to. I think it’s because poetry is supposed to be rhythmic and while I’m a musically inclined person, rhythm has always been the most challenging element of music for me. Anyway, I recently heard the poem “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” for the first time and wanted to share it because even though I still don’t get the rhythm of any poem (including this one), I find the message striking as it expresses both individual and universal experiences of aloneness and connectedness. I’ve italicized the phrases that stood out to me and included a few thoughts afterwards, as well as a video with a reading by a comedy group from London…in case anyone else struggles with rhythm.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying


Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I’m afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.

I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command
and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me.

My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.

But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,
if it’s followed by love.

It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.

It’s the only thing that will assure me
of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.

But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.

I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.

Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.

Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me
if you choose to.

You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.
Do not pass me by.

It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.

But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.


the glance that knows

May we offer those knowing glances not just to our loved ones, but to the strangers we stand in line with at Starbucks, fellow shoppers we navigate around in the grocery store, or the members of generations other than our own.


I tell you everything that’s really nothing,

and nothing of what’s everything

May we put down our phones, bypass the chit-chat, ask engaging questions and give thoughtful answers.


please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,

what I’d like to be able to say,

what for survival I need to say,

Whatever it is, may we find the courage to say it. And may we create space for others to say it.


I am every man you meet

and I am every woman you meet

May we see ourselves as both the speaker and the one to whom the speaker is trying to reach. May we all resonate with the desperate need to be seen and accepted in all our unmasked, authentic glory. And may we realize that we are qualified and capable of helping others with their own mask troubles simply by virtue of struggling with our own.

In this sense, I’m reminded of Namaste: “The light in me acknowledges and honors the light in you”. If this is true, then in the same sense, may the mask and the loneliness it creates acknowledge and honor the same masked loneliness within you. In fact, maybe it is this very acknowledging and honoring that soothes the loneliness in the first place. Maybe it all comes down to glances that know.