Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poem-A-Day Appendix: From Wednesday, April 22

Storm. Mark Strand.

The rogue is a recurring character in my life lately. Maybe it's because I just finished Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. Or maybe it's because I listen too much to The Decemberists, who wax poetic about the lives of rascals modern and historical, and have lyrics to a song called "Here I Dreamt I was an Architect": The structure fell up at our feet/and we were free to go. When I read Strand's words let's go, the guards have left/the place is a ruin, I feel excitement and urgency suddenly contrasted with sobriety over his languid companion who, in response to earnest pleas, pulled up the sheet/to cover her eyes. At that moment, I see our hero become wide-eyed Don Quixote, horse-whispering and riding into the distance—a lunatic who cannot see that the storm has only given way to a lazy Saturday morning, the guards being no more than postman and milkman attending to their tasks.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Evening with Anne

Summery Friday afternoon and I'm speeding toward Mercer Island the second I leave work. Co-piloted by my friend Jake, we hope to beat I-5 traffic in Seattle because we've got tickets to see Annie. Not the buoyant, red-headed orphan. You know, Anne Lamott, novelist, writing guru, and accidental spiritual advisor to a generation of Christians. I just call her Annie, for short.

We arrive at the Presbyterian Church where Anne is speaking in time to park in the marshy springtime grass serving as the overflow lot and meet our friends who are holding our tickets for us. I'm dressed in my nice jeans and a green, quarter-zip sweater with a polo underneath. Even early this morning, I wanted to look nice for Anne. This will be my first time ever seeing her in person, and, well, I'm not going to look like a slob. A copy of Bird by Bird lies waiting in the Timbuk2 bag slung over my shoulder. My heart pounds as we take our seats in the gym/auditorium.

When Anne speaks, she has a voice that is the sound of soothing, a soft drone with a sharp edge of humor, and life. She had planned to take this year off from lectures, but a series of events and relationships brought her, specially, to Mercer Island. I feel lucky—lucky to be seeing her at all, luckier that it was not supposed to happen. She talks about faith and writing and life, and I'm elated to discover that this woman has tapped into an elusive ability to write exactly how she speaks. Her pacing and rhythm are the same; the punchlines occur as I always imagine them on the page. Foolishly I had been worried she might not be as funny in real life. Instead, I find her just as funny, thoughtful, and impertinent as ever, going so far as to suggest that those who do not shop for books at independent bookstores will not be allowed into heaven's room of desserts.

Afterward, with Jake, I stand in line, waiting to hand her Bird by Bird for an autograph, worrying about what I might say to her. Jake holds a worn copy of Traveling Mercies. These are the two most important books Anne could have written, in my mind. What to say, what to say?

The point becomes moot the moment we step up to the front of the line where Anne is sitting. She sighs, with the makings of a smile on its way. "You two," she says and the smile arrives, "are the most adorable boys I've ever seen."

I swoon.

She takes our books and pens her name, continuing about the "flush of youth" in our cheeks, but I can only manage incoherencies in response before moving on.

The drive home, I am warm and comfortable. As a writer and a person of faith, I need reminding that the world is not entirely against me, and if it is, then at least I won't have to experience menopause. This evening, Anne let me see life a little bit through her eyes—crazy, tired eyes—and I rediscovered what I learned in Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies: that she and I are crazy in the same ways, and tired of the same things, and are working out how to cope day by day. And maybe, just maybe, we can let ourselves enjoy the things that are truly, wonderfully good.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poem-A-Day Appendix: From Sunday, April 12

Twilight in Barcelona. Roberto Bolaño.

Bolaño's verse carries itself with grace and beauty, almost in spite of itself. No Spanish speaker myself, the effect of the original is lost on me, but the translation enchants me. I have never been to Spain; I knew nothing of Santiago Rusiñol or Erik Satie before Googling them and finding that Satie was a Turn-of-the-Century bohemian composer in the French district of Montmartre, somewhere else I have never been. Maybe this poem preys upon my ignorant wanderlust, casting a spell over me with foreign names and unfamiliar tongues. But maybe, upon finding an image of Rusiñol's painting of Satie, I recognize the germ of Bolaño's line The magnetic Barcelona twilights are like that, like Satie's eyes. Living in a city on the bay, one where our own twilights drown into the sea, I imagine we can resonate with Bolaño's own charmed reflection on the few passing moments between day and night, a gratuitous secret, indeed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Poem-A-Day Appendix: From Wednesday, April 8

High School Senior. Sharon Olds.

I know nothing of motherhood—or fatherhood, for that matter—but I've been seventeen before. This poem acts, for me, as a window for a specific kind of transition. Through it, I can see, perhaps, how my own mother felt as June 2005 approached, but I can also see the faint reflection of how I've felt about important people in my life leaving, moving on. On a more distinctively poetic note, the structure Olds uses, however subtle, is striking—the enjambment of the phrase I could not imagine/my life with her between lines 20 and 21; the imagery of wild animal mothers feeding children who depart immediately; and, finally, the visceral picture of the love she feels for her own daughter, alive in her heart changing chambers, like something poured/from hand to hand, to be weighed and reweighed. Love moving in cycles like blood, connective tissue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Poem-A-Day Appendix: From Sunday, April 5

Things We Agreed Not to Shout. Paul Guest.

There's something sweet and poignant about this litany of words and phrases that have been deemed inappropriate to yell. Paul Guest manages to weave between the lines a level of domestic intimacy that resonates far beyond My credit rating and Judas Priest lyrics. Also, let's just ponder a moment what circumstances determined that there would be no shouting Finnish curses on the firstborn. This is a poem built on rhythm and gut feeling.