Friday, January 27, 2017

"Wish I were here..."

Even for those who are not growing old (or naively believe you're invulnerable to the hazards of aging), you've had moments when you desperately wanted to remember something -- a quote, the punch line to a funny joke, the key actors in a favorite movie. Billy Collins captured this quality in Forgetfulness:  
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones...
Those lost moments are evidence of the distractibility we all suffer at times. The modern world bombards us with data, demands, and to-do's. When we retreat to that place where there are no phones, we have no energy to engage with life.

In Postcard From Home, Al Zolynas plays on the familiar theme of vacationers who write to their friends 'Wish you were here. Notice how Zolynas turns this theme into a revelation about self-forgetting with these lines:  
Sitting on the deck, bare feet...
Each detail says "This!"
and has always and ever only said "This!"
Wish I were here.
The less we're fully present the more we lock up our potential, and the more likely we are to be somewhat Bored as depicted by Margaret Atwood: 
All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows...
The speaker acquiesced to someone who knew what he wanted to have done. But why? Why wouldn't she unlock her feelings? Why wouldn't she say "I have other things I cherish that I want to do. Saw it yourself!" It's an admirable trait to be cooperative, but we keep ourselves and others bored when we refuse to take a strong position, when our focus became too narrow, with no space for errant feelings or thoughts.    

John Updike's "Dog's Death" is touching because the dead puppy in his poem had worked so hard to earn her owner' praise for being good: 
Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there.
Good dog. 
The dog's death is a metaphor for going to sleep to oneself. Once aware, once awake and able to engage in life with passion, we can appreciate the presence of any day: a sky, air, light. See how life sings in Denise Levertov's "Variation on a Theme by Rilke:"  
A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me...
...it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self...

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