April 2018

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer #14: Lifting the Ordinary to the Extraordinary

Summer #14: There's nothing like a good poetic line to lift the ordinary to the extraordinary. When Ann and I arrive home, I say,  “Here we are. It's the end of the ride." Ann responds, "Pete and the boys are waitin' inside." In the original it's Pete and his gang, but I like the boys. I continue, "Here's what we'll do: be as quiet as a mouse. I'll sneak in and you surround the house.” If it's late, Ann may say, “I hope Pete and his gang aren't here. I'm too tired to throw them out.” Otherwise, the line is, “I hope you know what you're talking about!” and me, “You just count 'em as I throw 'em out.” And the rejoinder, “Bing! Bang! Boom! [whistling sound]” Ann counts, “One!” and I follow, “Stop countin'. It's me.” Sometimes it takes us a while to get out of the garage, but this selection from Spike Jones' radio show, “Wild Bill Hiccup” is just the thing for coming home right. See what I mean? Extraordinary.

In the morning, when Ann tries to stir me from my sleep (not an easy task), the line is from Roethke's great poem, “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.” And of course, there's the bastardization of the Grease classic: “Waking up is hard to do.” Poets must struggle with waking up, too, since Donne wrote, “Busy old fool, unruly sun, Why dost thou thus? Through windows and through curtains call on us." When I finally arise, my line is from Tennyson's “Marianna,”: “She said, 'I am aweary, aweary.'” The other day at dinner, Ann, pleased with herself, passed the peaches and asked, "Do you dare to eat a peach?" from T.S. Eliot and I responded, "I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach." Then I ate a peach. As we head outside to go somewhere and one of us lags behind, the line is also from T.S. Eliot's “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “Let us go then, you and I.” Once outside, I remember Wordsworth's observation that “the beauty of the newborn day is lovely yet” and I exhort Ann, who is always moving more quickly than I do, to “stop and smell the roses” along our path.

At school, I love to quote Whitman to teachers and students with whom I'm working, especially those few who disagree with me: “What I assume, you shall assume” and my favorite, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then. I contradict myself. I contain multitudes.” No one understands containing multitudes like a teenager.

Autumn is an especially fruitful time for poets. One of my favorite Snoopy cartoons has Snoopy (among my favorite poets) watch a leaf fall, and as it hits the ground, he steps on it with his puppy paw: “I killed it,” he says as it lies there, unmoving. There's also ee cummings' “One leaf falls: loneliness” and Shakespeare's sonnet to the end of autumn, the end of summer, and of life: "In me, thou seest... bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

In the midst of these tumors, I've loved Emily Dickenson's "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all." Even better, perhaps, is Woody Allen's allusion: "Emily Dickenson was wrong. Hope is not the thing with feathers. My nephew is." When I have a miserable headache, Emily comes in handy as well: "I felt a funeral in my brain...." The poem is not about headaches. It's about a moment of awareness, the kind of awareness in which one paradigm dies and another takes its place. I theorize that whoever wrote that section of the textbook, which suggested that the "right" interpretation of this poem was that it was agbout a headache, was young and had not had such an experience. 

The contemporary poet Mary Oliver was Ann's and my companion as I was healing from brain surgery: "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" Such a question compels me to remember that this life, tumors or no, is the one life I have, and there's a grace not to be taken for granted in such a gift.

"Let me tell you how the sun rose, a ribbon at a time...." Mary

1 comment:

  1. I'm catching up on my blog reading. This is one of my favorite posts ever, so far, and it reminds me that I want to get more exposure to poetry. Perhaps you can suggest some favorites off-blog?


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