may 21

poem is taped to small post in front of truck


by Grace Paley

Some people set themselves tasks

other people say      do anything       only live

still others say

oh  oh     I will never forget you     event of my first life

I taped Paley’s poem to a post in front of a doomsday truck down on the national mall about a month ago.  Swarms of cheerful folks with matching black end-of-days t-shirts were handing out flyers on the cataclysm they expected on May 21.  Like everyone else, I avoided them as if their flyers were chocolate-coated doggie turds.

It’s a busy high school graduation weekend here in the Poem Elf household so I’m not going to spend much time teasing apart Grace Paley’s poem.   I’ll let the pictures do most of the work as I enjoy all over again the juxtaposition of poem and location:  Paley’s tiny breezy poem and the heavy-handed proclamation on the truck; Paley herself, Jewish and liberal, and those who would consign someone with her beliefs to the fires of hell.  On the other hand, both Paley and these rapturous conservative Christians could be described as activists and radicals.

What makes people drawn to these movements?  Maybe someone who doesn’t fit into any of the three categories Paley lists in her little poem.  Someone like Henry James’ character John Marcher in the short story “The Beast in the Jungle.”  Marcher believes so fervently that he’s destined for some great and spectacular fate that he spends his life waiting for it.  He misses out on the love that sits adoring before him in the person of his friend May.  His life, he realizes at the end of it, has been a waste.

Which translates neatly to the brethren waiting today for The Rapture.  Unless of course you’re unable to read this because your computer and yourself have been consumed in an earthquake.

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