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Archive for the ‘Vanishing’ Category

 

Vanishing

by Lawrence Raab

 

First you worry that you’ll never get

what you want, later that you’ll lose

what you have. In between

for a time you just trusted

the course of your life, assumed

things would fall into place.

Most of them did. But now,

not quite all of a sudden, every new pain

is a sign, then a promise.

Even if you didn’t take death seriously

when you were young, you understood

that was the story. Your kids

leave home, your dog sleeps most of the day.

Letters arrive wanting to know

if you’ve planned for the future.

You walk out on the porch:

there’s a field, then a mountain,

so familiar you have to look hard.

The letters say, It’s never too late.

All things vanish. You know that.

All the things you love

vanish. Can you love this idea?

Is that the task? you think. To try?

 

 

This is the last of the death series. The End.

 

Just as enthusiasm for exercise and dieting flag around January 11, so has my interest in this depressing project. There’s too many other depressing things in the world for a prolonged memento mori. Also, I just heard a song that I want to post, a hopeful song that made me cry. So let’s get through this last bit of morbidity and move on.

 

That said, there’s much humor in Lawrence Raab’s “Vanishing.” It’s one of the reasons I love him. The subject is heavy and complicated, but his language is plain, his tone light. Reading this poem is like watching someone flick a toe at a huge boulder that, strangely, astoundingly, rolls away on impact.

 

Take the opening lines. Was there ever such a compact version of 21stcentury, consumer-driven life? It’s so pithy and pitiless it’s almost funny—

 

First you worry that you’ll never get

what you want, later that you’ll lose

what you have.

 

And then the closing lines, written as if they were mere passing thoughts and not a profound encapsulation of earthly existence—

 

All things vanish. You know that.

All the things you love

vanish. Can you love this idea?

Is that the task? you think. To try?

 

Casually posed, the speaker’s questions are ontological; there’s a whole theology in the answers. If you “love” the idea that everything you care about vanishes, then every thing and every moment becomes precious beyond value. Nothing can be taken for granted. Not even the field out back, not the mountain in the distance—

 

You walk out on the porch:

there’s a field, then a mountain,

so familiar you have to look hard.

 

This making the familiar unfamiliar, seeing anew, making the ordinary precious, that has always been the province of the poet. But it is also, Raab suggests, life work for all of us.

 

I posted the poem on a tree along a walking path of well-trafficked suburban park.

 

*

 

Here’s a biography of Raab from a previous post:

 

Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He went to Middlebury College and earned his masters from Syracuse. He’s taught at University of Michigan, American University, and these days at Williams College. He’s one numerous awards and grants and has published seven collections of poetry.

 

Raab has also written screenplays and adapted Aristophanes’ The Birds for theater.

 

 

 

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