Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ruefle

I remember standing in a field in Switzerland at dusk, surrounded by cows with bells around their necks, and reading John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” out loud from an open book I was holding in my hands, and I started to weep—weep is a better word for it than cry—and I remember the tears slowly streaming down my face, it was that beautiful to me, and I loved poetry that much. I was eighteen.

*

I remember the afternoon I sat in a literature class, my hardback edition of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens open before me, a book I had already owned for years, the pages worn and softened by endless turning and fingering, page after page filled with marginalia, notes, the definitions of words, question marks, exclamation marks, and underlinings, all in the soft gray graphite of my own living penciling hand, when a distracted classmate I did not know very well leaned over my book and wrote in it with her ballpoint pen: I’m so bored!!! Are you going to the party tonight? I remember feeling like my blood had stopped and reversed course, not in the heart, where that is supposed to happen, but midvein, the feeling medically called shock. I remember trembling and soaring with anger, and I remember the weekend after the unfortunate incident took place, sitting for hours and hours in my room with a new book, trying to cope, copying by hand everything I had ever written in the old book, with the exception of that one bold, sorry, uninvited guest.

*

I remember my first Ashbery reading, also in college. Ashbery was reading from his new book, Three Poems, and he said that it was a lot like watching TV—you could open the book anywhere and begin reading, and flip around the book as much as you wanted to. I remember hating him for saying this. I remember the word sacrilege came to mind. I remember not liking that reading.

I remember, two years later, reading Three Poems on a grassy slope while across the road three men put a new roof on an old house, and I was in love with one of them. I could watch the men working as I read. I remember that everything I was reading was everything that was happening across the way—I would read a little, then look up, read a little, then look up, and I was blown apart by the feeling this little book was about my life at that moment, exactly as I was living it. I remember loving the book, and that it was one of the memorable reading experiences of my life.

*

I remember a reading W.S. Merwin gave in a tiny chapel, with the audience sitting in the pews, and how after a while we were all lost in a suspension of time—I know I was—and after the reading there was a QA and someone asked a bizarre question, she asked what time it was, and Merwin looked at the clock (there was a clock on the wall) and every one of us could see it had stopped, it had stopped in the middle of his reading, literal proof of what we already felt to be true, this spectacular thing, the dream of all poetry, to cut a hole in time.

*

I remember John Moore, another teacher, who did the damnedest thing. We were studying Yeats, and at the beginning of one class Mr. Moore asked us if we would like to see a picture of Yeats. We nodded, and he held up a photograph of Yeats taken when he was six months old, a baby dressed in a long white gown. Maybe he was even younger, maybe he was an infant. I thought it was the funniest thing anyone had ever done, the strangest, most ridiculous, absurd thing to have done. But nobody laughed and if Mr. Moore thought it was funny, you couldn’t tell by his face. I always liked him for that. The poems we were reading in class were not written by a baby. And yet whenever I think of Yeats, I see him as a tiny baby wearing a dress—that photograph is part of my conception of the great Irish poet. And I love that it is so. We are all so small.

*

I remember sending my first short story out to a national magazine the summer after I had graduated from college and receiving the reply, “We are terribly sorry, but we don’t publish poetry.” I remember never looking back.

*

I remember driving by the hospital where I was born and glancing at it—I was in a car going sixty miles an hour—and feeling a fleeting twinge of specialness after which I had no choice but to let it go and get over it, at sixty miles an hour.

*

I remember Ben Belitt, Pablo Neruda’s friend and translator, bent down to pick up the New York Times from his doorstep one rainy morning (this was before they had figured out you could put the newspaper in a plastic sleeve) and the first thing he noticed was that the “newspaper had been crying,” as he put it, that the newsprint was smudged and ran together in watery lines down the page, just like mascara, and then he saw the announcement of Neruda’s death: Neruda had died the night before.

*

No comments:

Post a Comment