Monthly Archives: January 2014

Awkward Social Interactions

Dear Blog,

Sometimes I will have a conversation that is undeniably awkward and afterwards I will try to figure out whose fault it was. Was it me? Was it the other person? Does it take two to tango awkwardly?

For example:

While J was at nursery school one morning, I thought I would take K outside and let him play in the snow while I shoveled the car out. I put him in his snowsuit and brought out a big plastic T-Rex for him to play with, because he likes to bury his toys in the snow and then forget where they are and whine miserably while I dig all around until I find them. Fun for everybody.

So, I sit him on top of a pile of snow with his T-Rex, and I start digging out the car. I’m not very good at shoveling snow, I admit; I am not fast or graceful. But I can do it.
K: BURY MY T-REX IN A HOLE!
Me: You bury your T-Rex in a hole. I’m shoveling.

Enter Neighbor. Actually, I don’t yet know that he is a neighbor, I do not recognize him, but he comes shambling over from across the road. Next to his garage stands a young man with a shovel.

Neighbor: Listen. I want you to let this young man Willie dig your car out.

I look at Willie. Willie is maybe in his early twenties, halfway handsome and decidedly underdressed for the weather, and looks bored. He raises a hand in a half-wave.

 Me: (waving back) Oh, it’s fine. I can do it.
K: WHERE IS MY T-REX???
Neighbor: No, I want you to let Willie do it. He is my handyman.
Me: That’s so nice of you. Both of you. I’m really fine. I don’t mind doing it.
K: I CAN’T FIND MY T-REX!!!!
Neighbor: Listen. This isn’t about you can do it or you don’t mind. This is about being neighbors. This young man, he can do it quickly for you.
K: MOOOOOOM!
Me: Hold on, sweetie.

Wracking my brain: Have I ever seen this man before? I don’t know if I am supposed to pay Willie, or quite what is going on here. I don’t want to pay somebody to shovel my car. I’ve had people offer to shovel who clearly were wanting to be paid, so I don’t think I’m insane for thinking of this.

 I change the subject with some niceties – I introduce myself and K, while K continues shouting about his T-Rex. Neighbor explains where he lives and which buildings he owns. I hope he will let go of the shoveling thing but he doesn’t, and again presses me to let Willie do it.

 Me: It’s OK, I’m just going to do it. I don’t have any cash with me. (AWKWARD!)
Neighbor: I don’t want cash! This isn’t about cash! (AWKWARD!!!)
Willie: Are you sure you don’t want some help?

OK, obviously I am an asshole.

 K: I FOUND MY T-REX! HE WAS IN THIS HOLE! HIS MOUTH IS FULL OF SNOW!
Neighbor: I don’t know your connection with Yale, but the Yale people around here, they snob you sometimes.

Oh no! I do not want to be a snob. I also do not want to be bullied into letting somebody shovel my car out when I really just want to shovel my own car out. I also want to tell him that I am not connected to Yale, but that is only partly true. What does all this say about me? Nothing particularly flattering, I suspect.

Neighbor: All I want is that you let Willie dig your car out, and then next time you see me, you wave and say hello to me.
Me: Well, I would do that anyway.

Am I an asshole AND a snob???

 Neighbor: WILLIE!

Willie comes over with his shovel.

Willie: I’ll just give you a hand here.

He starts shoveling. Neighbor extends his hand. I shake it. Neighbor screams.

Neighbor: Not so hard! I just had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome!
Me: Oh! I’m so sorry!
Willie: Cute kid. How old is he?
Me: He’s two. Say hi, K!

K snarls like a rabid dog.

Me: (uncertainly) He’s pretending to be a dinosaur.
Neighbor: Make sure you say hello next time you see me!
Me: Of course. Thank you!

Now I wonder if I have passed him a million times, wrangling kids, and not noticed. I should add here that we live on a friendly street, and I have warm interactions with many neighbors. It’s not like this is a neighborhood where nobody says hi. I just don’t remember seeing him before.

 Willie and I shovel. Willie is very efficient. I toss snow around like an idiot. I make awkward small-talk, including telling him that he is not dressed warmly enough, and then I wonder when I started taking this maternal tone with semi-hot young men. K sits on his pile of snow, banging himself on the head with his T-Rex and glaring at Willie. It takes all of five minutes to finish. I thank Willie. He says no problem. End Scene.

So: I guess I should have just said Thank you, how nice of you right away, and accepted the help graciously, understanding it as a kind offer, overcoming my antisocial instincts, and not wondering about money. I’ve always believed it takes a certain generosity of spirit to gratefully and graciously accept another person’s generosity, and I didn’t pass muster in this scenario. Or maybe, since I really just felt like doing some peaceful shoveling on my own, I should have been firm instead of buckling and accepting a favor I didn’t want. Either way, I’m sure I was not being a weirdo all on my own. Perhaps Neighbor, once I declined, should have let it drop instead of freaking out and being borderline insulting. Perhaps K should have said hello nicely instead of being a grouch (but OK fine, he gets a little bit of a pass for being two). Feel free to cast your vote for Most Awkward Person In This Scenario. In any case, the next time I saw Neighbor, I waved, K gave him the stink-eye, and Neighbor beamed and waved back.

Yours, digging-the-car-out-by-cover-of-night-next-time,

Catherine

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Five Little Lists of Five

Dear Blog,

Last week I wrote a scoldy sort of post about how book-lovers should stop bemoaning the fact that there are (a lot of) people who like to do different stuff and don’t care about reading. Because, after all, what are you gonna do about it? Other than wildly and enthusiastically recommend all your favorite books to Everybody, that is!

Book lists are hard. It’s painful to leave off anything you’ve really loved and if you are a big reader, a list of books you’ve really loved is going to end up being a ridiculously long list. So in the interests of not just posting a Really Long List, I’m going to share five mini-lists, and limit each one to five books. Not my Top Five, because that’s impossible. Just… five. And yes, I would like to see your list(s) too!

LIST #1: BOOKS FOR NEARLY-THREE-YEAR-OLDS

Winnie-the-pooh by A.A. Milne
This is a family favorite. We all adore Winnie-the-pooh and it is a frequent suppertime read. The only book that has actually caused both my kids to fall off their chairs laughing.

Watch out, Big Bro’s Coming! By Jez Alborough
The jungle animals are terrified of Big Bro, whose size and strength grows with each telling, but he turns out to be a (tough) mouse. This book is useful for quelling tantrums, because most of the time K would actually rather listen to it for the billionth time than continue with his oh-so-exquisite tantrum. The size-is-relative joke just never seems to get old.

The Nightmare in My Closet, by Mercer Mayer
A boy turns the tables on the nightmare-monster in his closet, who really just wants to cuddle with him in bed. K is not the least bit afraid of monsters; he has total faith in his own powers of terror and destruction, and rightly so.

The Wolf of Gubbio – by Michael Bedard and Murray Kimber
This is the story of St. Francis of Assisi taming a giant wolf that is terrorizing a town. It has big, beautiful illustrations and K is fascinated by it. He is drawn to stories about big scary wolves – three little pigs is another favorite – and for a long time he had us all convinced that there was a wolf in our closet (we still don’t open that door, ever). He growls through the early parts and gets very calm by the end. It’s a good bedtime book.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
These are funny, odd, superficially simple stories that often feel really profound. Again, a family favorite. We are all happy to hang with Frog and Toad.

LIST #2: FOR FOUR-AND-A-HALF-YEAR-OLDS

Tashi, by Anna and Barbara Fienberg
I go around recommending these books to everybody I know with kids. They are charming, clever, and really beautifully written. Tashi is Jack’s new friend from Somewhere Far Off and is full of wild tales about dragons, warlords, ghosts, and such. Funny and just a little bit scary. I recommend getting the big collections with lots of stories in them – your kids will want more and it will save you money.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This trilogy from the 40s had J totally enraptured. We read all three books over and over and over again. The first is by far the best, in my opinion. A young boy rescues a captive dragon, and they go on to have adventures together in the sequels.

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne
This series is awful. I hate it. It is formulaic and the writing is horrible. Unfortunately for me, J loves them. In each story, the cardboard protagonists Jack and Annie go to a different point in history and have a really lame adventure, while the Young Reader learns, I suppose, about castles or Vikings or dinosaurs or what-have-you. They are, I think, supposed to be educational, and appealing to “reluctant readers.” I cannot tell you how I loathe them. But J asks for them over and over, keeps a notebook of observations like Jack (I mean, he can’t actually write, but he pretends to), and the stories inspire hours of play with his little brother along for the ride.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is the antidote to crap like The Magic Treehouse. His sentences are a pleasure to read out loud, and of course, he is gruesome and hilarious.

A Child’s Introduction to Greek Mythology, by Heather Alexander
I feel like a lot of this stuff is really quite gory for a 4-year-old, but That Guy and J ignore me. Nice illustrations by Meredith Hamilton, introductions to the various gods, heroes, and beasts, and 16 myths. J can’t get enough. Particular favorites are “Odysseus Escapes the Cyclops,” “Greedy King Midas,” “Perseus and Medusa,” “Theseus and the Minotaur,” and of course, “The Twelve Labors of Heracles.” He was so taken with the idea of Achilles being invincible, except for his ankle, and for weeks went around unsettling people by asking them WHAT IS YOUR WEAKNESS??

LIST #3: YA FICTION

Witchlanders, by Lena Coakley
The perfect fantasy novel, if you ask me, with the loveliest and most original vision of magic I’ve ever read. Gorgeously written, stunning world-building, very clever plotting – it is gripping and profound and beautiful.

Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
A wonderful, creepy, riveting read about a younger sister who should have drowned but didn’t and her charismatic older sister, who seems to be able to make the world as she wills it to be within the boundaries of their little town.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
This book gutted me. Characters to deeply fall for, plot twisty in ways I didn’t see coming, totally satisfying and totally devastating. I gasped! I laughed! I cried! I reread!

How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
I knew from the first paragraph that this book was something extraordinary. Strange tale of Daisy, sharp and funny narrator who ends up with her cousins in the English countryside while the country is under occupation (by whom is unclear – this is possibly the near-future). One of my favorite books in any genre, for any age. I don’t know what to say about it, except that everybody should read it.

I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith
I read this when I was thirteen, and kept reading it through my early teens. I read it again in my thirties, and yes, it holds up. A beautiful coming-of-age story narrated by my all-time favorite YA heroine, Cassandra Mortmain, about her eccentric family and her own first experience of falling in love. Never sappy, never anything less than brilliant and moving and profound. It is definitely slower and wordier than most YA nowadays, but if you are finding it too slow then you have fried your brain and you need to slap yourself and fucking read it.

LIST #4: ADULT FICTION

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
If somebody forced me to pick my favorite novel, this is probably what I would choose, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
I’m cheating because it’s three books, and really the equivalent of about 10 books. A huge cast of vivid characters charging about through Baroque-era Europe. Philosophical but fun, science-fictiony and historical, wonderful writing, and bizarre but compelling storytelling. The kind of thing that “tour-de-force” really applies to.

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
A “prequel” to Jane Eyre, in which Bertha Mason (the mad wife in the attic who burns down Thornfield) meets (and ends up marrying) Rochester in the Caribbean. This is an odd, feverish little book, poetic, excruciating, exquisite.

Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness, by Kenzaburo Oe
This is a collection of long stories or novellas. They are horrible and disturbing but very, very powerful. This book gave me nightmares when I read it and has haunted me for years.

The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macauley
This is my desert island pick, because if I had to read one book over and over again for the rest of my life, I think it would satisfy. It is (superficially) the story of a wonderful cast of characters traveling from Istanbul to Trebizond in the early 50s (I guess that’s when it’s set?). It manages so easily to be hilarious and profound and entertaining and tragic all at once. Rose Macauley captures All Of Life, the way Virginia Woolf does, but in a crisper and funnier way, almost casually.

LIST #5: POETRY

The Book of Light, by Lucille Clifton
Really, anything by her. Her poems are usually short and simple, often painful, always beautiful. A punch to the heart.

The Sensual World Re-Emerges, by Eleanor Lerman
Again, I’m choosing a collection at random, I like all her stuff. She makes me notice the world differently. This might sound a bit sketchy, but I really think that reading Eleanor Lerman is a bit like getting high. When I was a teen, I used to drop acid just so the world would look different. Eleanor Lerman’s poetry has a similar affect, but without making you actually hallucinate or freak out or fail grade 9 math. Disaffected teens should probably read more poetry.

A Nun’s Diary, by Anne McLean
A surreal series of prose poems set, kind of, in a village convent, and sadly out of print, detailing what the back cover calls “one woman’s fix on God” – disturbing stuff but really remarkable.

Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes
I know, I know… I feel like I am supposed to be Team Sylvia, but I can’t get over this collection, it is just so stunning. I’m not crazy about his other stuff, just this book.

Collected Sonnets, by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I think it is her I am in love with, really, but she shines through in her poems. She is so funny and light but then writes about pain and loss with total brilliant savagery.

Yours, thinking-about-the-books-I’ve-left-off,

Catherine

Books Are Not Vitamins

Dear Blog,

Writing last week’s blog post got me thinking about reading, and books, and how there is much despair over the decline of reading  and much touting of books as “good for you.” Claire Fallon, writing about her New Year’s resolution to read more, declared in the Huffington Post recently: “In a society where around a quarter of adults haven’t read a full book in the past year, maybe we should all determine to read more in the new year.”

Obviously, I have a dog in this race. I’m a writer, so I want people to read more, because the more people read, the likelier I am to have good conversations at parties, and the better the odds that some people will read my book, and then I will feel good about myself and the time I put into my writing, and I will get a bit of money. But besides my self-interest, I can’t actually think of a reason why non-readers* ought to read instead of doing whatever else it is they like doing in their downtime.

I see this JK Rowling quotation all over the place: “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” I adore JK Rowling beyond all measure, but this always reminds me of the old line about “You just haven’t met the right man yet.” Sure, as far as reading goes, probably any non-reader could find a book out there that would engage them, but is there some moral imperative to go out and find that book? Isn’t there something weird and annoying about those of us who love books insisting that everybody ought to love books? Aren’t we all missing out on something great that we just haven’t made a priority in our own lives?

Of course, if reading were more popular as a pastime, more people would be better readers (and thus writers), which might indeed have widespread benefits (social? economic? I have no idea) and would certainly lead to less annoying bad spelling on the internet – but if I am annoyed by bad spelling on the internet, maybe I just need to chill out a bit. Or get out of the comments section and go read a book.

And then there is the whole declining attention span / people getting stupider thing, and oh look, declining test scores! OK, forget the test scores, I just can’t even start on that. I’m skeptical that it’s possible to accurately measure the attention span or intelligence of huge populations, so all the “decline” stuff might just be the same alarm that has been sounding about the Younger Generation forever, ever since there was a Younger Generation to sound alarms about. Is reading “good for us”? Doesn’t it depend on what we’re reading? I can’t believe that the act of reading words, no matter the subject / quality of the writing, is necessarily A Good Thing (apart from our enjoyment of whatever we are reading). So do we want kids / adults to read particular things? Is there a standard for what constitutes “good-for-you” reading? Some movies require a greater focus and more thought than some books, and probably crossword puzzles or sudoku are better exercise for the brain. Is it “better” for you to read a stupid, trashy book than it is to watch a brilliant film? Where exactly does the benefit to reading lie? I mean, I think there is real value in pleasure, so I wouldn’t argue against the idea that enjoying a book is good for you, but by that standard so is eating cookies or watching a movie or doing any number of things you like.

There is a part of me that is confused by people who don’t read, but I tell myself it is like me and ice-cream. I don’t dislike it. If we go out for ice-cream, sure I’ll have some. I just don’t care about it. I would never choose ice-cream as a treat for myself. I would rather have a cookie. So basically I can understand that no pleasure is universal, and some people just have other stuff they would rather do. Books are not vitamins. They don’t offer freaking health benefits (apparently, neither do vitamins, I suppose). They offer other worlds and other selves to explore. I love them, I want them to exist, I want them to thrive, and so yes, I am saddened that they are not more popular. I am happy to promote reading as, in my opinion, awesome and fun and potentially life-changing, but I don’t think there’s a way to convincingly argue that it is “better” than any other form of entertainment, and there is something kind of obnoxious about telling other people what they ought to be doing with their precious free time.

I would love to hear thoughts on this, by the way, particularly from writers and teachers… well, from anyone, really. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am!

Yours, always-wrong-about-something-or-other,

Catherine

*When talking about non-readers, maybe I should add that I am talking about literate adults / teens who don’t read for pleasure. Kids should absolutely be exposed to books, good books of their own choosing, and they should be encouraged to read them for fun, at their own pace, without pleasure-sucking assignments attached to them. The world of literature is a varied and magical place and entry to that world should be widely available for all. I am not talking here in this post about literacy or reading proficiency (salutes Proliteracy.org for amazing work, in case anybody wants to give them money or time – volunteering as a tutor is really interesting and need not be very time-consuming). I’m talking about people who can read just fine not choosing to read for pleasure, and why does anybody care? Other than those making their living in the book world, I mean.

You May Not Be The Hero Of This Story After All

Dear Blog,

Now and then an article will pop up on my facebook or twitter feed about how Reading Is Good For You. It reminds me of a sign posted outside my older son’s first nursery school: “Reading to your child for just fifteen minutes a day has been proven to lead to higher test scores!” I know the intention behind such a sign is basically benevolent, but still it irritated me every time I saw it. The straight line drawn between the fifteen minutes of reading and the test scores is stupid on its own, as if a child with caregivers who read to them doesn’t have a whole set of related advantages that might lead to academic advantages. I cringe at the way that just fifteen minutes makes reading sound like some kind of chore, but what a bargain that so little reading can yield such a fabulous reward, higher test scores, hallelujah! Like reading is akin to flossing: Just five minutes a day will save you from the horrors of periodontal disease! And don’t get me started on the test score thing.

Even though I know they aren’t really meant to be taken so seriously, I have kind of the same reaction to these articles about reading boosting brain power or increasing empathy. It’s fluffy science and touts reading as self-improvement, and both of those things annoy me. Of course, it isn’t simply the act of reading that flexes the empathy muscles – it depends, surely, on what you are reading – but experiencing a story that takes us out of ourselves, requires us to see things from a point of view other than our own. I don’t have a waste-of-funding Harvard study to back me up, but I would bet the same “empathetic benefits” (cringe) can be yielded by watching a character-driven TV show or movie.

Anyway, that’s just me practicing being cranky. (I’m getting so good at it, in my old age). I love books, I read a lot, and much good it does me – I’m still a moron, but I read for fun so that’s OK. Stories (via any medium) and empathy, though, I can get behind that connection. In fact, I was struck anew by how story works on empathy over the holidays, in a situation with my own children, and I thought I’d share the anecdote.

We were visiting my husband’s family for Christmas, and among the menagerie of animals there was a huge, gorgeous golden retriever / standard poodle mix. The dog is a gentle giant, but nonetheless, his sheer size terrified my children, and since he was significantly bigger than both of them, I guess I understand that. We aren’t allowed pets in our apartment and they aren’t really used to dogs. Anyway, at one point, the poor dog was put outside because the boys were basically clinging to us in terror and making it impossible for anybody to relax. Once the dog was put outside, they sat down on the sofa and watched the dog, who stared mournfully back through the glass door and made unhappy noises.

I felt sorry for the poor dog, evicted from his own home because my kids were being so jittery. I said, “He sounds sad.” They looked at me. They looked at the dog. “Why?” asked J. I told a story, fairly offhandedly, and more out of irritation with them than actual hope of solving the problem. “This is his house,” I said. “And he was so excited to meet some new friends. But when J and K came to his house, they just screamed and cried when he tried to say hello to them. Put him outside, put him outside! They shouted. The dog tried to talk to them. He wagged his tail to show he was friendly. I know I’m big, he said, but I’m gentle and kind and I just want to be friends with you! Please, please be friends with me! But the boys wouldn’t listen. They said, No, he is too scary! The dog wagged his tail harder, trying to show them that he was really not scary. I don’t want to scare you! He cried. I want to be friends with you! But still the boys wouldn’t listen to him, and the poor dog had to go sit outside in the cold. He stared in the window at the boys and wished that he could find a way to make them like him. He was very sad, and very lonely, and very cold, but nobody patted him or said a kind word to him, and nobody let him back inside his house. If only I could find a way to make friends with those boys, he thought sadly. But the boys just played together in his house, and would not let him come in.”

They stared at me, horrified, and I left them sitting on the sofa like that, to get their dinner ready. About five minutes later, I realized the dog was inside, and that the boys were very cautiously patting him. My husband came to tell me that he’d found them in tears, asking that the dog please be let in. I felt a bit guilty for upsetting them, but also pleased that the dog-child impasse was resolved.

K, the two-year-old, remained a bit jumpy around the dog, but didn’t ask for him to be put outside again, and the four-year-old became fast friends with him. That would probably have happened anyway, but I was impressed at how effective the story had been. They had been told, of course, that the dog was friendly, that the dog was trying to say hello, that the dog would be lonely outside. None of that registered – they were tired and they were scared and they were thinking about themselves, as kids (and all people) do. But when told essentially the same things in the form of a story, themselves cast in the roles of villains, they were able to see the situation from the dog’s point of view (sort of – I can’t really claim to speak for the dog I suppose), and they pulled themselves together out of … yay, empathy!

Yours, solving-minor-problems-with-stories-like-some-kinda-lame-storytelling-superhero,

Catherine

 

I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee

Dear Blog,

I used to love New Year’s Resolutions. I made loads of them, and sometimes I even kept them. Having kids changed things, though. Last year I was realistic in my expectations. It was nice to let go and tell myself that I was going to accept the chaos and my own faults and just kind of get through it all. Now my boys are a year older. I sleep more, I have more time to myself, we have said goodbye to naps and diapers, we can basically reason with the older kid, and the boys have their own world of play that is more and more independent (of me). And so now I wonder, where is the line between healthy self-acceptance and a pessimistic sort of giving up on oneself? Am I ready to try and carve out a bit more of a life for myself, besides the mama thing? Do I have the energy to challenge myself a little more?

I haven’t decided yet if I am going to make any resolutions this year. I’d sort of like a small and achievable goal, just to show myself that it is in fact possible for me to achieve small goals, but I can’t think of anything plausible. I’m in a good groove with writing already. I know that resolutions about exercise are not realistic, and becoming a better, kinder, more patient person is an ongoing project but doesn’t count as small (or particularly achievable at the moment). If anyone has suggestions for me, go ahead, because ignoring advice is one of my favorite things.

One thing I thought about was reading a poem every day, because I sometimes forget about poetry. But I hate to give myself a “task,” and I don’t want to think, at the end of a hectic or difficult day, “crap, I forgot to read a damn poem!” because that’s not how I want to feel about poetry. So I’m not going to make a resolution along those lines, but thinking about it, I thought about a poem I haven’t read in a long time, but which I still count among my favorite poems.

It was assigned to me as part of my oral exams when I was finishing up at university. I loved but didn’t understand the title – “I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee.” I hadn’t read Moby Dick, and I didn’t remember the Book of Job. I tried to talk about the poem and while I doubt I had anything insightful to say, I think my grade was fine, so they must not have expected much. I went out and bought a Howard Nemerov collection afterwards. I have read that poem a hundred times or more and I still can’t say that I know exactly what he’s on about, but somehow I love it still as much as ever – unusual for me because I am one of those people who really isn’t very keen on poetry that I can’t understand. Except this poem, which means more to me now, even, than it did then – when I was leaving university with such grand plans to see the world, just beginning that period of my life that was and will likely remain the most free. I had been in school forever, it seemed, and now I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I could earn some money at the same time. Everything is different now and the poem hits me somewhere different: dropping sails in the long lanes, the uncertain reflection, the shadow that might be ominous, or might not.

In my oral exam, I fumbled around. Maybe he is writing about the oppression of women, or maybe he is writing about cruelty to whales, or maybe he is connecting those things, or…? I left a lot of sentences hanging, and the two professors smiled at me and nodded as if I was making any kind of sense (which I knew I wasn’t) and when it was over I was so relieved that I didn’t ask, well, what is the poem about? (And if you have any ideas, please let me know!). But anyway, it’s a wonderful poem. At least, I think it is. So here it is, with happy wishes to all for the New Year:

I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee (by Howard Nemerov)

I tell you that I see her still
At the dark entrance of the hall.
One gas lamp burning near her shoulder
Shone also from her other side
Where hung the long inaccurate glass
Whose pictures were as troubled water.
An immense shadow had its hand
Between us on the floor, and seemed
To hump the knuckles nervously,
A giant crab readying to walk,
Or a blanket moving in its sleep.

You will remember, with a smile
Instructed by movies to reminisce,
How strict her corsets must have been,
How the huge arrangements of her hair
Would certainly betray the least
Impassionate displacement there.
It was no rig for dallying,
And maybe only marriage could
Derange that queenly scaffolding –
As when a great ship, coming home,
Coasts in the harbor, dropping sail
And loosing all the tackle that had laced
Her in the long lanes….
I know
We need not draw this figure out.
But all that whalebone came from whales.
And all the whales lived in the sea,
In calm beneath the troubled glass,
Until the needle drew their blood.

I see her standing in the hall,
Where the mirror’s lashed to blood and foam,
And the black flukes of agony
Beat at the air till the light blows out.

Yours, irresolutely,

Catherine