Tag Archives: Memories

(39) “Every poem an epitaph.”

Spyglass on a Map

I’ve been putting off writing about one of the prompts I have from the 50 prompt list my friend Laurie gave me.  Every prompt is actually a question.  The question I have been avoiding is this: What does T.S. Eliot know about you?”

It is a perfect weather day in Southwest Florida.  At lunchtime, after a rousing conversation with a friend up north who has two feet of show in her driveway, I took my grilled cheese out to the lanai.  Instead of taking in the beautiful blue sky and the puffy streams of clouds, I brought out a collection of modern poetry and turned to the T. S. Eliot section.  His famous “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” brought back memories of putting this poem in front of 11th grade honors students and letting them eek out the meaning.  It was not a poem I cared for at all, yet they made me see the intense and brilliant meaning lying underneath the lines. I looked at some other poems of which I don’t have much connection.

Then it was “Little Gidding” that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go.  I am lost inside certain lines of this intense and brilliant poem, so much so I am not really even sure how to explain or identify what it is.  I am inside the poem now and it is inside of me, and all I can do is send up some beacons of light to maybe show you the way, if you are exploring, and if you are willing to not be given a firm answer on anything. And that includes why I decided to title this the way I did.  Mystery is still alive when T. S. Eliot pokes his head in your door.

I picked up my pen, not really knowing exactly what to write, but here it is.  I’m somehow assured that if I begin, I will know the ending.

What does T.S. Eliot know about me?

He knows

      that I know

           we all live in paradox.

“What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.” (216-218a).

He knows the English major in me

             is going to love lines like this:

“Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.

Every poem is an epitaph.”  (226-227a)

What does T.S. Eliot — living way back then — know about my life today?

He knows

     that I know

          (in my better days)

               what this life is about:

“…You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer can be valid.”  (45b-48a)

He knows

     that I know

          certain conditions often look alike.

Attachment.      Detachment.      Indifference.

and it is memory that liberates

“to become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.”  (168)

He knows

     that I know

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”  (241-4)

Thus we are back to paradox.

The pattern has been renewed.

So I kneel where prayer is valid and listen as

Julian of Norwich and T. S. Eliot say again and again

“And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well.”  (257-8)

Better advice was never given

Be it from a  fifteenth century mystic or a twentieth century poet

a songwriter from a now defunct band, their song still touching lives on YouTube.

“All will be well

even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself.

All will be well.

You can ask me how but only time will tell.”

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(34) Playing with the Queen of Hearts

Juice Newton is coming to Southwest Florida.  I’ve heard the ads for her appearance.  I’m not planning on going, but it got me to thinking about Juice and her place in my life.

It was August 1981.  I was in my second year of marriage to Scot.  We decided to go visit a college friend of his — Brian — who was in a Masters program at The Ohio State University. There isn’t a lot I remember about the weekend except for Saturday morning.  And Juice played her part.

Brian was somehow involved in the agriculture program at OSU.  We had to light out very early on Saturday morning, while the sun was coming up and a haze still hung over the dewy grass.  We drove a hilly road.  Brian’s friend and girlfriend were along for the ride — I think the friend was involved in the program as well.  I don’t remember any of the names.  What I remember most succinctly about that morning in Columbus, Ohio was hearing “Queen of Hearts” on the radio, and the girlfriend — someone with dark curly hair — singing every word.  She was a supremely confident person.  I envied her.

Up until then I hadn’t even liked the song.  But somehow that morning, the sun coming up, the delight of the car flying over the hills of mid-Ohio,  I was suddenly hooked.

When we arrived at the farm, it was evident to Brian that one of the cows had given birth the night before.  We were sent on a hunt through the meadow to find the newborn. I didn’t find the calf, but she was found and taken care of.  I remember the cow didn’t seem all that interested.

Later we made pancakes back at Brian’s house, and this was a problem for me because I was well into Richard Simmons’ “Never Say Diet,” and pancakes were off limits. But, of course, I ate them anyway.  Besides the extra calories, we also came home with fleas.  Such is the farm life!

I became a fan of Juice because of that morning.  I had liked “Angel of the Morning,” because I remembered the old Merilee Rush version from the 1960’s.  But it was other songs that really caught my attention.  In early 1982, she came out with an album that had my all-time favorite, “Break It to Me Gently.”  I didn’t even know it was an old Brenda Lee song.

I think it was Juice’s proximity to my life during the time when I can see now my marriage was starting to go downhill and would eventually collapse.  Because of that, I didn’t listen to her for many years.  It wasn’t until last year that I finally downloaded some of her music.  When I hear “The Sweetest Thing I’ve Ever Known is Loving You,” I want to cry.  But I don’t know why.

Juice is coming to Southwest Florida.  I am not planning on going to see her, but I recognize today that she has a place in my heart and my heartbreak. Something was breaking open inside of me when her music came into my life.  It’s only in retrospect that I can fully appreciate that fact.  Thank you, Juice. Thanks for being there when I needed you.

(31) This Poem

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Sometimes poems just show up and they seem radically perfect for the moment and perhaps your whole life. Such is this poem by Jack Spicer. I suppose I should know Mr. Spicer, as he was one of the San Francisco Bay poets, a man who was in the audience when Allen Ginsburg first read “Howl.”  I haven’t looked yet to see if I know any of his other poems because this poem has me captivated. And I don’t even want to get into the reasons why, even though this is a blog and I’m supposed to pontificate about such things. I think this is one of those moments where I am not going to look for fixed answers as to why this poem speaks to me. I’m just going to revel in the aliveness.

(I will add that the otter picture is specifically for my friend Liz, who told me the otters were her favorite part of the poem.)

Any fool can get into an ocean
But it takes a Goddess
What’s true of oceans is true, of course,
Of labyrinths and poems. When you start swimming
Through riptide of rhythms and the metaphor’s seaweed
You need to be a good swimmer or a born Goddess
To get back out of them
Look at the sea otters bobbing wildly
Out in the middle of the poem
They look so eager and peaceful playing out there where the
water hardly moves
You might get out through all the waves and rocks
Into the middle of the poem to touch them
But when you’ve tried the blessed water long
Enough to want to start backward
That’s when the fun starts
Unless you’re a poet or an otter or something supernatural
You’ll drown, dear. You’ll drown
Any Greek can get you into a labyrinth
But it takes a hero to get out of one
What’s true of labyrinths is true of course
Of love and memory. When you start remembering.
Source: Poetry (July/August 2008).

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