Listening to the Summer Presto
I was listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter
play the Summer Presto.
And with all it’s naked beauty and vigor
I realized –
this was nothing like the summers I know.
My summers are more like the adagio
from the Clarinet Concerto
or the one for two violins.
or Racing in the Street.
Take your pick.
Our southern bourbon dusks in waxing June
sound more like Satchmo to be completely honest.
What is so staggering about the poems Miklos Radnoti is not just the clear-sightedness of them but the context. I love/hate the story of his wife finding his final poems. He had been a prisoner of WWII in Hungary. Though a Christian, he was still a Jew by birth, his wife and he converting later. He was shot in Hungary on a “Forced March” and buried in November of 1944. When his wife had him dug up after the war, she found some poems in hi clothes.
Even translated his words are powerful:
I write, what else can I do. How dangerous a poem is – if you only knew – a line, however delicate, whimsical: there’s courage in these also, do you see?
He’s right, you know. There can be danger, I suppose. Plato wanted to banish the poets from the ideal republic. The poets were valued there, though. In the modern day west, Beyonce and Kenny Chesney are valued. And whatever those songs are, they are not in the country of poetry.
The dangerous poetry is the kind that looks at the world and see things as they are. At least more so than the average person walking around. A veil is lifted. And those who grasp at money and control prefer the veil. They want to hold onto…well everything.
“With Lassos Folded”
With lassos folded
and placed in your account,
they will break you.
Like the horse watched
from the fence
by onlookers with hats tipped.
Them whooping –
missing the green pastures of yearlings
When my brother called to tell me Mom had been rushed to the ER, I could hear it in his voice. We were watching a Cardinals game, I think. And while I was glad my mom went on ahead of us and was with Dad, it was sad to know she was alone when she took that last breath. Of course, to say she was alone is to deny the reality in which she had daily walked. We are never alone.
My brothers and I and my Aunt sat around my mom’s cancer-racked body in the ER. They gave us some space. We laughed and we cried and prayed. No parents any longer. I remember looking forward to sleep but not looking forward to waking up.
Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets. I do not know if I have read a poem of hers I did not like. She is far too often known as the wife of Donald Hall, another of my favorites. And she also died far too soon of cancer. I’d like to include one of her poems here because it’s honest and sad and beautiful all at the same time. And everyone has been through something that colors the most ordinary events.
The Sick Wife
The sick wife stayed in the car
while he bought a few groceries.
Not yet fifty,
she had learned what it’s like
not to be able to button a button.
It was the middle of the day—
and so only mothers with small children
and retired couples
stepped through the muddy parking lot.
Dry cleaning swung and gleamed on hangers
in the cars of the prosperous.
How easily they moved—
with such freedom,
even the old and relatively infirm.
The windows began to steam up.
The cars on either side of her
pulled away so briskly
that it made her sick at heart.
The White-Knuckle Grieving
It is true, joy comes with morning.
But more often than not, years later –
after the soul’s dark night mourning –
after the years level-best thieving –
after the white-knuckle grieving.
“These poems, with all their crudities, doubts and confusions, are written for the love of man and in Praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.”
– Dylan Thomas
Amidst all the funny memes and lists and posts of Bible verses, I am assuming there is a lot of disappointment out there. Lots of cancelled plans. Life coming to an almost complete standstill. You can only binge-watch so much to hold back the emotional tide of loss. Laughter can help, but before long it feels like a band-aid on a growing tumor.
Dylan Thomas said poetry “makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”
With a wink he points out that poems – like songs – remind us that in our unique suffering we are not alone. It is ours, yes. But by force of logic, the poet has captured what we have felt and known. “I know that feeling!” We realize the poet has seen what we have seen before we could. The same light dawned on them.
There is much to be had.
This is why the debris field
of broken glass hopes
is so hard to walk over.
We see in those shards –
ought to have been.
Could have been.
But are not.
And so a dream unfulfilled here,
a failure there,
and life cut short
right there at your feet.
You’d kick at the pieces in anger,
but for a shining glint
when the light turns just right
on jagged edges.
If there can be dancing
in a valley of dry bones,
then all these too
can now be made new.