by Anne Porter
On the night table
Beside my bed
I keep a small
One day I found it
In my pocket-book
I don’t know how
It got there
I don’t know
What it’s for
On one side
There’s a number
INDIANA TICKET COMPANY
And on the other side
The only thing it says
Is KEEP THIS TICKET
I keep it carefully
Because I’m old
I’ll soon be leaving
For another country
Will stop me
At the border
To see my ticket.
Frustrations with WordPress ran high with this post. For reasons sadistic or indifferent, WordPress doesn’t acknowledge line breaks. I press Carriage Return once—twice—ten times—-I pound it—-I say bad words—I type what I think are HTML codes. Nothing changes. It’s like trying to talk reason to an ideologue.
Please, WordPress, give the people WHITE SPACE!
It’s an issue today because white space fuels this poem. I apologize to Anne Porter and all readers who have to squint away the pesky dashes I inserted to simulate the breaks between stanzas.
Porter uses line breaks and white space masterfully in “The Ticket” to create a poem that seems effortless and improvised. A dotty old woman putters around the page, slightly confused, wondering why she kept a ticket stub and how it landed in her purse. But dotty old ladies can be remarkably sharp, as any Jane Marple fan can attest. This one knows exactly what she’s doing and where’s she’s going. She’s going to die.
Such a morbid subject is balanced by Porter’s humor and trademark simplicity. I don’t want to rattle the poem around too much to shake out meaning. Seems an indelicate thing to do to an old lady, and besides, the poem is pretty straightforward. But I do want to talk a little about the poet herself.
Porter’s literary career was launched when she was 83 with the publication of her first book of poetry. Can I say that again? Her literary career was launched when she was 83. Surely that’s the most hopeful, life-affirming sentence I’ve ever written. And she is the sweetest most adorable poet I’ve ever encountered. Watch this video to get an idea. (Best line: she opens a letter and says, “Oh, from the Pope.”)
I’m not sure if she’s still alive. I couldn’t find an obituary online, so I assume she still has her blue ticket in hand. Which means she’s 99 years old by now.
She was born in Boston to a wealthy family, attended Bryn Mawr, and married the most famous American painter and art critic I’ve never heard of, Fairfield Porter. (A link to his work proved his paintings familiar, if not his name.) Their marriage was not an easy one. He indulged his artistic temperament and sexual drives while she tended to their five children* and hosted his friends for months on end at their homes in Southampton and Maine. Lovely that some of these guests were his lovers, male and female, but to be fair, she had an liason of her own.
Their life together fascinates me. I’ve lost a good hour following their story link to link, drawn down down the rabbit hole of mid-century bohemia. Their social and familial circles pull in such a number of artists and intellectuals, it’s a veritable Bloomsbury group.
Like so many other wives of writers and artists, Anne Porter remained hidden and overlooked until the death of her husband. I have a vision of her tottering on her walker, step by step, on through the heap of egos, drama, passion and duty that blocks her path, until at last she emerges cheerfully on the other side, an artist in her own right.
*Her oldest son was mentally disabled in some way, either autistic or schizophrenic. When he died in 1980 she wrote the heartbreaking “For My Son Johnny.”
For more information on the remarkable Porter, read this profile in the Wall Street Journal.
For a review of her most recent collection of poems, link here.