or, Life Imitates Art (Again)
This morning was “Poetry Sunday” at my church, and this is an expanded version of how I led my contribution to the service, a recitation of some poems I had written last year, which you will find on this blog.
Last night my son had a crowd over, and I thought it bode well that they were in the process of leaving at about 2:30. A series of unfortunate events led to some cars getting stuck in my driveway, and I didn’t get to bed until two hours later.
It all started with a 2003 4×4 Chevy Silverado which wasn’t quite firmly on the driveway. One of its rear wheels was spinning in a tiny little bit of mud and frost at the edge of the pavement. Two other cars were ahead of it, and in attempting to give him some purchase, ended up with all three cars jammed tightly together up against a basketball hoop. The middle car, a late model Volvo sedan, was nearly out of gas when it arrived, and the incline of what my brother calls “the rocket launch driveway” (up to get out) made his gas gauge dip below empty. What with that and the sudden chill, he was unable to start his car, but we inched it forward just the same. I tried to get what little gas I had in the lawnmower’s can into his tank, and even had my son help me tip the lawnmower to empty into the can a few ounces more, to no avail.
To first extract the Silverado, we tried sand, and a board. The young driver was dubious of engaging four-wheel drive while the vehicle wasn’t moving. AAA was called. But when he went indoors to console his girlfriend, upset because of likely parental reaction to being late, I hopped in the cab, with two other young people still huddled in the back seat, and read the driver’s manual, still so pristinely preserved in the glove box. I shifted it to neutral and engaged 4L, and Voilà, the truck began to inch up the driveway with great power, much to the accolades of the young bystanders, including the driver, who was just exiting the house in time to see his vehicle freed. Unused to driving a vehicle of such power, I gingerly parked it on the sidewalk, facing the wrong direction, but with the hazards on, and exited the cab to much gratitude, glad-handing and back slapping. I savored that moment because I spend five days a week in front of twenty–somethings trying to impress them, to little avail. If, as James Thurber suggests, “Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility,” then there is a place for the tranquility that age and experience can lend to the crises of others.
With those four guests safely homeward, it was time to turn attention to the Volvo. AAA did finally arrive, also with a nearly empty gas can. (“Rough night?”) The tow truck driver did end up winching the Volvo up out of the driveway, where now level, it could be started. The young driver wanted to search for 24-hour gas, and I discovered that the closest station to us was actually open (thanks Google). In a magnanimous gesture of self–satisfaction from my last triumph, I hopped in the car with the young man and suggested we go there, which was good because he doesn’t know the area. We returned and I packed him and the other remaining guests safely off to bed.
With all of that settled. I did debate waiting a half hour to go for my morning walk, and declaring victory, but hopeful, I set the alarm and went to bed.
When I finally realized it was the alarm that had been providing me such sweet music, some dream mentation slipped into my wakefulness. So many times, poetry will slip in through that liminal period. I love this because Bob Franke, the singer–songwriter who produces such visceral and deeply spiritual songs, says that many of his come to him in dreams. He keeps a pad by his bed, though others discover they need ways to talk back to their muse.
This time it was not my own poetry, but the final phrase of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” from her volume Dream Work, which a dear friend had given me, “announcing your place in the family of things.” The other part of my brain was busy debating hauling myself out of bed this morning. Just then, I kid you not, a gaggle of geese flew through the yard, squawking loudly. “I’m up,” I thought, “you don’t have to tell me twice. I belong at ‘Poetry Sunday‘.”
As I said earlier, I did tell a shortened version this story before the congregation, and read the following poems, which you will find in this blog, before them:
- Hip Hop Is in the Trees
- The unexpected benefits of cleansing
- Morning Walk Haiku
- The Winged Energy of Delight
- Another Morning Walk Haiku / Swing Like a Samba
- Late Summer, Late Afternoon Haiku
Somehow I think this was the very first time I have read any of my poetry aloud to a group, and it was rewarding. To make the pleasure all the more complete, an esteemed member of our congregation then read the very Mary Oliver poem I mentioned. Somehow she had intuited it was the right one to choose for today. It could be the lack of sleep talking (“It’s so beautiful!”) but could New Year’s day be any more bright and lovely?
The proprieties must be observed. Every year at this time, I have the ritual playing of U2’s “New Year’s Day” and call my best friend in Chicago, because although “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day,” “I will be with you again.” We saw U2 at the Palladium in NYC in the Winter of 1982, during their “War” tour. I love in this song the very personal celebration of both intimacy and community, in the context of a people trying to build peace, which is somehow for me evocative of the period in which we live.
Under a blood red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspapers says, says
Say it’s true it’s true…
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one
I…I will begin again
I…I will begin again
Maybe the time is right
I will be with you again
I will be with you again
This New Year’s Day, let us reaffirm our relationships to specific others, to the community, to nature and the transcendent, announcing our “place in the family of things.”