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Archive for September, 2011

poem is on the window pane

O Luxury

 

by Guy Longchamps

 

O what a luxury it be

how exquisite, what perfect bliss

so ordinary and yet chic

to pee to piss to take a leak

 

To feel your bladder just go free

and open like the Mighty Miss

and all your cares go down the creek

to pee to piss to take a leak

 

for gentlemen of great physique

who can hold water for one week

for ladies who one-quarter cup

of tea can fill completely up

for folks in urinalysis

for Viennese and Greek and Swiss

for little kids just learning this

for everyone it’s pretty great

to urinate

women are quite circumspect

but men can piss with great effect

with terrible hydraulic force

can make a stream or change its course

can put out fires or cigarettes

and sometimes

laying down our bets

late at night outside the bars

we like to aim up at the stars

 

Yes for men it’s much more grand

women sit or squat

we stand

and hold the fellow in our hand

and proudly watch the yellow arc

adjust the range and make our mark

on stones and posts for rival men

to smell and not come back again

 

but first I left it on the wall above the toilet

If you’ve ever leafed through old notebooks and noticed a preponderance of one particular doodle—mouths, perhaps, or shoes—and been startled that you have unwittingly documented an obsession, you’ll understand how I felt when I realized how many of my poem elfings have been in bathrooms.  I posted Edna St. Vincent Millay in a coffee shop lavatory, Seamus Heaney in a hotel lobby ladies’ lounge, and poor Billy Collins has twice been positioned in the loo—once in my mother’s bathroom and later in swankier surroundings. 

 

Bathroom Elf has had her moment and it’s time for her to retire, but first a finale performance: a poem about urination taped next to a restaurant toilet. Not exactly clever, but satisfying nonetheless.

 

I could defend my fondness for bathroom elfing by saying that bathrooms are one of the last great distraction-free reading spaces (and twice I’ve posted pictures of toilets for just that purpose), but those close to me would point out that my sense of humor has ever been—er—juvenile, to be discreet. Scatological, if you want to be accurate.

 

Just to illustrate, twenty years after reading Love in the Time of Cholera, the only part I remember is the description of Dr. Urbino’s whizzing force.  Here’s the passage where Urbino’s wife listens to her new husband going to the bathroom on their wedding night:

 

the sound of his stallion’s stream seemed so potent, so replete with authority, that it increased her terror of the devastation to come.  That memory often returned to her as the years weakened the stream, for she never could resign herself to his wetting the rim of the toilet bowl each time he used it.

 

In his old age, Dr. Urbino remembers his glory days:

 

as a young man his stream was so defined, and so direct that when he was at school he won contests for marksmanship in filling bottles, but with the ravages of age it was not only decreasing, it was also becoming oblique and scattered, and had at last turned into a fantastic fountain, impossible to control despite his many efforts to direct it.

 

Read and weep, young men.  And you, young women:  some day, when one of you has a room of her own, not only will you not have to put the seat down, you will be free to write a similar passage on the majesty of female urination.  There’s a voice waiting to be heard on this important subject, a voice crying out in the wilderness, Does anyone have toilet paper?

 

Even though poet Guy Longchamps gives lip service to the universal pleasure of a good wee-wee

 

for everyone it’s pretty great

to urinate

 

and a brief nod to the frequent bathroom visits of tea-drinking ladies, his poem is really an ode to the glories of male micturition:

 

Yes for men it’s much more grand

women sit or squat

we stand.

 

Maybe Longchamps is riffing on Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae.  In her bestseller (how can you not love an academic book that’s a bestseller), the ever-controversial Paglia writes,

 

Male urination really is a kind of accomplishment, an arc of transcendence.  A woman merely waters the ground she stands on.  Male urination is a form of commentary.  It can be friendly when shared but is often aggressive, as in the defacement of public monuments by Sixties rock stars…..Women, like female dogs, are earthbound squatters.  There is no projection beyond the boundaries of the self.

 

True, having the ability to deface public monuments or “put out fires or cigarettes” might be fun sometimes (and now with the availability of “Whiz Freedom,” a pleasure women can enjoy as well), but let me defend the “luxury” of female urinary relief.  Follow any woman into a rest stop off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and you’ll hear the same “terrible hydraulic force” Longchamps seems to think is exclusive territory of men.  As for urination being “much more grand” for men, a certain close relative of mine can wax rhapsodic about the delight she experiences when she eliminates outdoors on her daily run through the woods.

 

This is the section of my post where I usually provide a short biography of the poet. Who is Guy Longchamps and how does “O Luxury” fit into his oeuvre?  But I can’t do this because Guy Longchamps does not exist.

 

Originally I found “O Luxury” in an anthology edited by humorist Garrison Keillor called Good Poems. Unable to find Longchamps outside of this little ditty and one other he wrote called “Mrs. Sullivan,” I did a little online sleuthing.  First I found a comment on another blog that pointed out that the biographical sketch of Longchamps in the back of Keillor’s anthology notes that he is the “manager of Brock’s Soda Fountain in Anoka and a driver on the Anoka-Minneapolis bus line.” Keillor just happens to be from Anoka, Minnesota. On the same blog, someone else traced the poem to Keillor himself and here you can see the poem attributed to Keillor.

 

I should have guessed.  Can’t you just hear Keillor’s dignified baritone amping up the silliness of this poem?  Can’t you imagine his elfish pleasure at including a poem about pee in an anthology of “Good” poems, in the section called “Yellow,” side by side with the works of Emily Dickinson and May Sarton?

 

I left “O Luxury” in the tiny bathroom of the best deli in the state of Michigan, Lake Street Market in Boyne City. In the spirit of “O Luxury,” I offer a light verse tribute to the deli and its bathroom:

 

If you want a ham and swiss

There is no better place than this

But if you want to take a piss

Best to sit so you don’t miss.

 

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Anam cara even now

Fifty-four years ago today the world gained a joyful citizen, the radiant Elizabeth Ann O’Leary.  Unfortunately for the world and for all of us who loved Beth, she moved on ten years ago, just shy of her 44 birthday.

 

A few weeks ago on the tenth anniversary of her death, I visited her grave and left a few poems.  I’m posting them today on her birthday rather than on her death-day, because I can’t mark her free spirit with anything less than celebration.

 

We met at a gardening lecture twenty years ago, a month after I had moved from Maryland to Michigan.  She was also a transplant, a native of Chicago’s southside.  Over the buffet line we exchanged a what-the-hell-are-we-doing-here look and that, as the line from Casablanca goes, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

I was drawn to her from the first because she made the Michigan suburbs feel less confining.  She was an eccentric, an original, a nonconformist, a bohemian Auntie Mame.  Like Mame, her enthusiasms were infectious.  I loved sitting in her kitchen with a cup of tea as she pulled out the latest CD she was listening to or herbal remedy she was taking or the bargain dress she had found at T.J. Maxx.  She was a voluble talker, but an intense listener as well.  She would listen as if every word went straight to her soul.

 

With her milky skin and brilliant eyes and slightly irregular teeth, her beauty was of the Irish variety.  Irish too was her sense of fun.  When she laughed, which was often, she leaned back with the weight of her merriment or forward towards her companion, often too close.  She had no respect for the accepted boundaries of personal space. Nose-to-nose or forehead-to-forehead she delivered her asides and confidences sotto voce with vaudevillian zest.

 

I thought about her penchant for close talking the other day when I watched my daughter and her best friend snuggling together on the couch, leaning head to head, legs and arms draped over each other as they laughed and whispered and shrieked.  When do girls unlearn this intimacy, I wondered, remembering my own girlhood chum Peaches.  When do they grow wary of the physicality of their friendships?  Probably around the same time girls learn to reign in their bodies and voices, to not be so loud and wild, to dress for boys and not scare them off.  Beth never unlearned herself.  Girlish in the best sense, that was Beth.  She moved through the world like a schoolgirl loose in the halls, her crazy bush of red hair expressing all the wild energy just barely contained in her tall, slender form.

 

We took an Irish set dancing class together once.  As soon as the instructor told us that the movements of set dancing were tight and close, the dance having originated in small Irish kitchens, I should have hauled Beth out.  She was far too exuberant for tiny spaces.  Sure enough, the first time she swung a new partner, the woman cradled her wrist like Beth had broken it and said, “Ow! You hurt me!”  Beth was momentarily mortified, but on the way home we couldn’t stop laughing about it, especially after we saw her chiropractor hopping around in a clogging class downstairs.

 

The poems I put at her grave on September 2 all came from a book she revered called Anam Cara by Irish poet, philosopher and priest John O’Donohue. “Anam cara” is Gaelic for “soul friend.”  What I love about the concept of anam cara is that death doesn’t divide friends of the soul.  (You can read more from O’Donohue about anam cara here.)

 

The first two poems are more accurately described as blessings.  Of blessings O’Donohue wrote this:  “A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen. . . It is a gracious invocation where the human heart pleads with the divine heart. . . When a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time.”

 

 

 

The last poem is by 13th century Persian poet Rumi.  When I came across it in O’Donohue’s book, I recognized my own anam cara.  It speaks to me of Beth’s love of life.  It reminds me how much I loved her.

Some nights stay up till dawn.

As the moon sometimes does for the Sun.

Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way

of a well, then lifted out into light.

 

Something opens our wings.

Something makes boredom and hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup in front of us.

We taste only sacredness.

                                    –Rumi

Happy Birthday, sweet Beth.

 

 

 

 

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Continuing with my previous post, here’s three more poems I left behind on a recent trip to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula.

Louise Gluck’s riveting “Gretel in Darkness” is a favorite poem of mine and I couldn’t resist putting it in these enchanted woods.  Gluck imagines Gretel years after she has pushed the old witch into the oven and burned her to death.  When you think about it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems a much more likely outcome for fairy tale characters than Happily Ever After.

Gretel in Darkness

BY LOUISE GLÜCK

This is the world we wanted.

All who would have seen us dead

are dead. I hear the witch’s cry

break in the moonlight through a sheet

of sugar: God rewards.

Her tongue shrivels into gas. . . .

 

Now, far from women’s arms

and memory of women, in our father’s hut

we sleep, are never hungry.

Why do I not forget?

My father bars the door, bars harm

from this house, and it is years.

 

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,

summer afternoons you look at me as though

you meant to leave,

as though it never happened.

But I killed for you. I see armed firs,

the spires of that gleaming kiln—

 

Nights I turn to you to hold me

but you are not there.

Am I alone? Spies

hiss in the stillness, Hansel,

we are there still and it is real, real,

that black forest and the fire in earnest.

 

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” I left on a trail that runs along 3 spectacular waterfalls.  (An earlier post on that poem here.) Winters in the U.P. are brutal.  My neighbor who grew up near the Porkies now wears flip flops year round because Detroit winters are just not that cold to him after a childhood of playing outside in twenty below.

And finally, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall.”  (A much longer  post on that poem here.)

Will the poem outlast the leaves?

Goodbye, U.P.!  Till next year!

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Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains

Every summer for the past seven I’ve made a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Year after year, its wild beauty calls me back.  (You can read about my 2010 visit here.)

 

Visiting the U.P. unsettles me.  I’m enough a suburbanite that I feel on edge in a place with so many trees and so few people.  Humans never made much of an inroad in the Upper Peninsula anyway, but lately with the closing of so many mines and paper mills, it’s less populated than ever.

 

But visiting the U.P. also allows me to connect with something bigger than myself.  Call it mystery and freedom, call it nature, call it God, but it’s a connection I’ve yearned for all year without knowing it.  That soulful kind of experience, along with the spectacular views, is what pulls me back.

 

This year I went to the Porcupine Mountains for the first time. The Porkies, as they are known, are 60,000 acres of state park along Lake Superior, about 5 ½ hours west of the Mackinac Bridge. Of course I left poems wherever I hiked—after all, that’s what a poem elf does.  But I won’t be writing much about these poems because they were leftover copies of poems I either have posted already or have sent to someone privately.  A normal person would just throw the extra copies away, but that seems callous to me.  (A normal person would also say my behavior is a mix of hoarding, littering, and marking territory, and sometimes normal people are spot on.)

 

Since the internet is the slide projector of our age, I invite you to see a few photos while I gush over a trip you didn’t go on.

 

Bond Falls

If you’re a waterfall fan, the Upper Peninsula has a glut of them.  It almost gets to be like meh, another amazing waterfall, no more noteworthy than another pretty day in California.

For no particular reason, I left John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on a tree by these falls.

 

I left Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” at the bottom of the Lake of the Clouds (top photo).

No one writes about connecting with nature and spirit more beautifully than Oliver.  She really belongs here.

 

At Summit Peak, the highest point in the park, I left Scottish poet Edward Muir’s “The Confirmation.”

The poem is between my friends, tall and not-so-tall, each “as they were meant to be.”

 

I’ll post a few more pictures over the weekend.

 

Happy Friday!

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first I left the poem here

then I moved it here. Couldn't decide which viewing platform was more beautiful!

 

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Written on the roof of a coach, on my way to France

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

 

 

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

 

 

Request to my housemates:  from now on, instead of the usual silences and mumbles in the morning, please greet me, as you behold my person in its crusty and ungroomed state, by saying, “Earth has not anything to show more fair.” And no smirking or snorting.

 

Anyway, it’s a good line to store away for those moments when beauty takes us by surprise.  The next time you encounter great beauty—holding a new baby, lying in grass on a Henry James kind of summer afternoon, gazing at the moon in late September—try saying Earth has not anything to show more fair. And voila! The desire to articulate transcendent experiences is satisfied.

 

Finding words to capture beauty is one reason to turn to poets (they would like to be useful people), and that’s what I did when I discovered the view pictured above.  I had hiked up 2 ½ miles to the top of a hill just outside of Boyne City.  Boyne City is a nice little northern Michigan town with a very good deli and three ice cream shops, but not bright and glittering by any standards.  I wasn’t expecting much of a view, but when I arrived at the end of the trail and saw Lake Charlevoix spread before me in the sunlight, I laughed out loud.  It was so magnificent and so splendid, and I was without a companion to whom I could make exclamations, so I laughed.

 

And then I thought about who else I could share the experience with, and of course that got me thinking about what poem belonged there, and soon enough I settled on Wordsworth. No one better than he, that chronicler of the sublime, that  “lover of the meadows and the woods,/ and the mountains,” as he calls himself in an earlier poem, “Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey.” A few days later I hiked back up the hill armed with scotch tape and “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge.”  After a week’s time the poem was still there (hooray) but was gone the week after that.

 

The poem, as the title tells us, was written atop a coach travelling across  Westminster Bridge in the City of London early in the morning.  Wordsworth seems astounded to be so moved by the view.  He’s a nature poet, not an urban one, and suddenly a city he formerly found to have a “heavy and weary weight” (“Tintern” again) moves him to exclamations like “Dear God!” (Can’t you just hear William Shatner’s Captain Kirk reciting this poem, perspiring and writhing in a froth of passion?)   Wordsworth’s disbelief plays out in a slew of negatives, beginning with the first line, and then, “Never did sun more beautifully steep”  and “Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.”

 

Is it just me and my naughty thoughts or is something deeply sensual going on here?  The City before him seems female, a beautiful woman wearing a garment.  The garment is bare and she’s lying about “open” to the valley and sky. The sun, which is identified as male, infuses her with light like a great big teabag while the river, also male, runs through her.  That City sure is having a busy morning.

 

 

Ah well, it’s probably best that I don’t analyze this poem too much.  I’m in over my head with Wordsworth and his pals.  I never finished the “Prelude” or understood negative capability and am irked to remember the B I got in Romantic poetry in college.

 

Wordsworth was born in 1770 in England’s beautiful Lake District.  After a happy childhood in one of the many beautiful homes he lived in throughout his life (be sure to look at Rydal Mount), he lost both parents by the time he was 13.  When he was 20 he took a walking tour of Europe.  Funny to think of these august poets as real people, footloose and fancy-free, no different than the unbathed backpackers of today seeking transcendent experiences in Amsterdam with dog-eared copies of Let’s Go Europe.

 

In France he fell in love with a woman and fathered a child but left before the birth.   Lack of money and the Reign of Terror kept him from returning to France, but he did provide financial support to his daughter.  “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” was written when he was on his way back to France ten years later to meet her for the first time and to make a settlement with his former lover so that he was free to marry his childhood friend Mary.

 

That background information opened up the poem for me.  Here’s Wordsworth rumbling across the bridge on his way to make a new life.   The city is still asleep, its “mighty heart is lying still.”  Nothing has happened yet and anything still could.  He’s bursting with a sense of freedom and possibility.

 

A giddy sense of freedom and possibility is so often a byproduct of magnificent views.  I think that’s why I laughed out loud atop Boyne City.   All that beauty—life felt so big and grand—-I wanted to take it all in—-fling myself over it—dear God!—-Emotion!  Tranquility!  Daffodils!

 

 

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In last Sunday’s New York Times former science reporter John Schwartz wrote an op-ed piece about the eerie accuracy of novels in predicting the future.  I can’t make any such claims for poetry–-not least because the scope of my poetry reading is so small and for all I know there exists a tradition of science fiction haiku—-but what I can claim for poetry is an accuracy in describing the human condition.  Centuries-old poems can read as fresh, with a few adjustments of diction, as if they were written today.

 

Which brings me to a poem written in 1947 that has an eerie relevancy to this Sunday’s marking of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I came across “Above the City” a few months ago while I was researching James Laughlin, American poet and publisher extraordinaire.  (You can read that post here.)  The subject of the poem is another tragedy in Manhattan involving a skyscraper and a plane.  On Saturday, July 28, 1945, an Army pilot, disoriented in heavy fog, crashed a B-25 bomber into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. Miraculously only 14 people died.  (If you’re weary of 9/11 coverage, click here to read more about the 66-year old crash.)

 

The poem’s tone is conversational, almost off-hand, surprising for so dark a subject. But the lightness is balanced by the last few lines, words which have only gotten weightier with the passage of time.

 

I’m posting it as a curiosity, not as any part of a tribute or statement.  September 11 is a day of mourning those who lost lives and of tribute to those who saved others or tried to.

 

Above the City

BY James Laughlin

 

You know our office on the 18th

floor of the Salmon Tower looks

right out on the

 

Empire State and it just happened

we were there finishing up some

late invoices on

 

a new book that Saturday morning

when a bomber roared through the

mist and crashed

 

flames poured from the windows

into the drifting clouds and sirens

screamed down in

 

the streets below it was unearthly

but you know the strangest thing

we realized that

 

none of us were much surprised be-

cause we’d always known that those

two paragons of

 

progress sooner or later would per-

form before our eyes this demon-

stration of their

true relationship.

 

(Apologies for the format.  I can’t get the correct spacing with WordPress.  The third line of each stanza should be indented.)

 

 

 

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After the Children Leave Home

 

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

 

 

 

Slowly, we settle into the quiet house.

 

We almost grow accustomed to the noise

 

of absence, that terrible stillness

 

that slides along carpeted surfaces.

 

“The house is so quiet without them,”

 

you say, your voice husky with loss.

 

 

 

For years, we have adjusted ourselves

 

to their schedules, the nights of fever

 

and coughing, the days of car pools

 

and tinker toys, PTA meetings

 

and homework, our time together

 

torn by their needs.

 

 

 

Now facing each other across this empty

 

landscape, we are vulnerable

 

as creatures suddenly bereft of skin.

 

somewhere along the way, caught in our busyness,

 

we lost the habit of speech,

 

the pathways leading to the secrets

 

of the heart.  So we begin

 

slowly our grave dance, moving

 

through the Braille of touch

 

into that textured country

 

where words are unnecessary.

 

Our bodies give warmth and comfort

 

as we struggle to reinvent the language

 

through which we name ourselves.

This time of year scores of parents across the nation sit on neatly-made beds in empty bedrooms, wishing, for the first time, that the covers and sheets were heaped in the usual jumble.  Only a few sit planning new uses for the rooms; most gaze at left-behind posters and framed photographs, thumb through yearbooks, and examine ticket stubs tacked on bulletin boards, just to feel for a moment the presence of the child who grew up too fast.

 

I have many friends sending children off to college this fall.  For some it’s the first time, and I feel tender towards those weepy mothers, having gone through that a few years back.  I wish I could say something other than, “It’s not as bad as you think,” a comment at least one woman I know would label a bald-faced lie.  Other friends have just sent their last child off to college.  I don’t have any comfort to offer them, and not even much curiosity; I don’t really want to know, just yet, what an empty nest is like.

 

It’s hard to read this poem for the same reason. “That terrible stillness/ that slides along carpeted surfaces” is an image that disturbs me more than unmade beds would the Felix Ungers of the world. Noise, chaos and bodies are what make a house a home for someone like me, a person with four kids and ten brothers and sisters.  Almost worse than the slithering silence in the poem is hearing Mazziotti Gillan’s husband, he of the gender we count on for emotional suppression, uttering only the tip of a deep sadness, in a “voice husky with loss.”

 

The second half of the poem offers a bittersweet hope, a renewal of erotic life.  The poet moves from a depletion of auditory stimulation to another type of stimulation. The empty, quiet house offers lots of opportunities for textural experience, shall we say, and there’s no talking but lots of Braille-like touching of each other’s bodies (this is beginning to sound like every husband’s fantasy of an empty nest) and dancing.  But the dance is still a “grave dance,” the beginning of the slide to the end.

 

Mazziotti Gillan’s grave dance is still three years away for me, but the past few weeks I’ve been reluctantly learning preliminary steps.  The only boy in the family is gone, and dang we miss the noise, even the arguments, the bluster and bravado, the slammed doors, the blare of the car radio, the thumping bass from upstairs, the burst of boys in the house, ready to eat and slump on couches and tease each other.  My youngest daughter, experiencing only-child-ness for the first time, has taken to shouting, stomping and off-key singing because she hates the quiet as much as we do.

 

A day after I dropped off Joe and a carload of bedding and clothes 271 miles from home, I heard Roseanne Cash on the radio singing “500 Miles.”  Her version of the somewhat maudlin Peter, Paul and Mary hit is desolate and raw with an unnerving organ accompaniment.  It was just the song to draw out the tears I had been holding back. (Driving, crying and singing along to the radio may be a road hazard but the combination is great therapy.)

 

Hearing Cash reminded me of another song of longing and loss, a song I used to sing to Joe at bedtime when he was a little boy.  His favorite of my nighttime repertoire was always “Shenandoah.”  The verse goes like this:

 

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,

 

Away, you rolling river

 

Oh, Shenandoah, just to be near you,

 

Away, I’m bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

 

 You can hear a lovely rendition here.

 

“Shenandoah” has always been a special song to me because I heard it sung for the first time—sorry for sounding pretentious—at a ceilidh in an upstairs room at a small hotel in Scotland, and years later my husband and I got engaged in the Shenandoah mountains.

 

After my earnest warbling, Joe would often tell me that he really liked the high parts (“away, you rolling river!”).   I’m a committed alto, nearly a bass, so this compliment spoke more to his own sweetness than the sweetness of my tones.

 

In his teen years, once in a great while he’d ask me to sing “that song” again. I would sing from just outside his bedroom door because while I loved the fact that he wasn’t too old to want to hear his mother sing at bedtime, his request embarrassed us both a bit.  Now it’s our little joke.  And right now it’s a flesh wound.  How I miss that funny little boy.

 

Since then I’ve been singing a lot.  Singing helps, I’ve found. Singing reminds me of who I am with or without kids around, and keeps noise in the house.

 

I left “After the Children Leave Home” on the shelves of the local Bed Bath and Beyond during the weeks of off-to-college shopping. I do wonder who found it, and if it made anyone feel worse or feel better.

 

Maria Mazziotti Gillian was born in 1940 in Paterson, New Jersey, birthplace to poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, and ever a city of immigrants and poverty.  Her parents were working class Italian immigrants.  She grew up speaking Italian at home and feeling shy in school because of ethnic slurs and her shaky English. She published her first book of poetry at forty and since then has received, among other awards, the American Book Award and the Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award. She directs the creative writing program at Binghamton University and founded a poetry center at the community college in her hometown.

 

I heard her speak once at a writer’s conference and what I remember about her, besides her croaky voice and an exuberance that made her confessions of childhood shyness hard to believe, was her directive to begin writing at the darkest corner of the psyche, in the most painful place, where feelings are uncharted.  That’s where the energy is, she told us.  Later when she read her own poems, it was clear she had no fear of exposing her own vulnerabilities and secrets. Hers is confessional poetry that feels universal and never self-serving or self-absorbed.

 

In a recent interview Mazziotti Gillan says, “I think there were so many things we weren’t supposed to talk about when I was growing up that I feel compelled to say the unsayable in my poems.  I think I see poetry as a vehicle for bridging the gap between people.”

Poem Elf trying to let go

 

 

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