You brought petunias and hung them on my back porch,
their flower heads delicate as a suicide’s wrist. You mentioned
the sun, how it wrinkles foliage like discarded basil, like spinach
stuck to a well-used salad bowl. I know about the sun’s weighty
gifts, how tulips close each evening like a prayer’s palm, then open
skyward as the daylight presses. Since you’ve left, I’ve grown fond
of twilight, of jasmine and primrose, of flowers only opening
at night; their redolence set free like new moths.
I remember being so young I thought all artists were famous.
I remember being so young I thought all artists were good, kind, loving, exceptionally interesting, and exemplary human beings.
I remember—I must have been eight or nine—wandering out to the ungrassed backyard of our newly constructed suburban house and seeing that the earth was dry and cracked in irregular squares and other shapes, and I felt I was looking at a map and I was completely overcome by this description, my first experience of making a metaphor, and I felt weird and shaky and went inside and wrote it down: the cracked earth is a map. Although it only takes a little time to tell it, and it is hardly interesting, it filled a big moment at the time, it was an enormous ever-expanding room of a moment, a chunk of time that has expanded ever since and that my whole life keeps fitting into.
I remember writing a letter to President John F. Kennedy and a few weeks after mailing it finding it in the bottom of my mother’s drawer.
I remember sending my poems to Little, Brown and Company and suggesting they title the collection “The Little Golden Book of Verse,” and I remember their rejection was very kind and I was stunned when they made a guess at my age and were correct, I was in the fourth grade, and I felt the people at Little, Brown and Company were so smart they could read minds.
I remember when I was forty-five and my mother died it poured the day we buried her and late at night I thought of how cold her body must be, with the freezing rain pouring down on it, and how much she would hate being out in the cold and rain if she were alive. She would want to be under the blankets of her own bed on such a night, with a cup of coffee on the nightstand, and the coffee would be on top of the first art object I ever made, at the age of five, a ceramic coaster: a white tile with my face drawn on it in brown lines. For forty years her coffee cup must have burned my face, and since my mother died by fire, I did not want to think of it anymore.
“I remember, I remember,/The house where I was born” are the first two lines of a famous poem called “I Remember, I Remember” by a not-so-famous poet named Thomas Hood, and it was in the first poetry book I ever owned, The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer.
I remember (later) thinking it was a curious thing, that there were so many famous poems by not-so-famous poets.
I remember the first poetry reading I ever went to; I was in college and it was W.S. Merwin. He sat on a stool under a spotlight and the audience sat at his feet. He had a halo of curls and he looked like a god with his face in the spotlight. He wore blue velvet knee breeches, a flowing white shirt, and soft, flat yellow leather boots—more like slippers really—that came up to his knees, where his trousers began. Surely this is an imaginary memory, surely he never owned such clothing.
I remember liking the reading.
I remember being young and liking everything.
I remember liking a great many readings that, if I were to sit through them now, I would not like.
“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
After watching hours of programming on the incident in Colorado, I am actually too numb to write about this latest instance of inexplicable violence. It’s all just too much, so I’ve copped out and borrowed from someone else . . .
“It’s a lot easier to say when something ended rather than when it began. Most of us can recognize the end from a mile away, but the beginning always slips up on us, lulling us into thinking what we’re living through is yet another moment, in yet another day.”
~ Steve Yarbrough, Safe from the Neighbors (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)
Everything in this post (including the title) is from separate posts on A Poet Reflects, but I thought that they went well together:
“I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton’s. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”
~ Adrienne Rich, from “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”
Circuits (Section 5)
It has happened. Each time
I stroke a key it diverts me
to circuits that forward the quick march
to other circuits, rescinding the chance of choices.
By the time I arrive at
the location of the leaf of my prayer,
the yearning has been hemmed in.
I cannot recognize it as mine,
for it has been altered by
the mediating that hedges its spaces.
“At last I understood that the way over, or through this dilemma, the unease at writing about ‘petty personal problems’ was to recognize that nothing is personal, in the sense that it is uniquely one’s own. Writing about oneself, one is writing about others, since your problems, pains, pleasures, emotions—and your extraordinary and remarkable ideas—can’t be yours alone . . . Growing up is after all only the understanding that one’s unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.”