My father’s legacy: chronic illness, sorrow, trauma, SSDI survivor’s benefits that helped pay for college, nonconformist leanings, love for the music of the 60s and 70s, pretty good rhythm for a white girl, and a deep and abiding understanding of the importance of creative expression.
I can’t say I’m always grateful, but I am aware of the way he shaped me — intentionally or not. Wherever you are now Dad, I hope you’ve found the peace and happiness that so eluded you in life.
The Boston Review has been sending me messages on Facebook every day for National Poetry Month (or NaPoWriMo, as the more intarweb-geek among us have been calling it). My initial reaction was just “too much poetry.” It felt like work, especially since I have a very complicated relationship with writers’ community in general. I’ve also been known to focus on the negative instead of the positive. And there was a song about that.
So I was reminded that reading other poets — and looking at art in general — can instigate a cycle of percussion that John Updike once described in a story we read when I was studying 11th grade English with Mr. McWilliams. Updike’s story went something like this: the pianist hits the key, which causes the hammer to hit the string, which sends out a sound wave that travels through the air to hit the eardrum of a listener, which causes a whirl of percussion in the listener’s brain, resulting in the pen hitting the paper, perhaps resulting in a poem or a story that inspires a musician to write down some music, which a pianist then plays…
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I do find the work of others inspiring, in spite of myriad disappointments and roiling resentments. I forget, sometimes, that I could be one of those poets with the long list of publications after their name, if I just did the work–the very very hard work–of putting pen to paper, and revising, and editing, and researching publications, and sending out submissions, and exposing oneself to criticism and rejection but also to acclaim and acceptance.
Katie Peterson says something similar, slightly macabre, about percussion, and memory, and reminders, and tangents, and hopelessness, and returns:
Sick in bed with a sore throat
I can’t get out of my mind
the image of the cat
harpsichord from the 18th century‚
soothing a prince with laughter.
Full poem here: http://bostonreview.net/NPM/katie_peterson.php
Last fall, every day, on the way to the Alewife stop on the Red Line, in a very dark time, I would see a poster someone had pasted on the concrete under the overpass. Superimposed over the image of a person, spreadeagled under a nighttime sky, these words:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
The poster is still there, fading, parts of it ripped and flapping. The words can still make me cry, even more so now, when I learn that they were written by Charles Bukowksi, who carried his own black dog and still strove to walk the strand that all artists walk, between solid land and the ocean.
Full attribution: Charles Bukowski. “The Laughing Heart.” Betting on the Muse. Harper-Collins.
“If someone climbs quietly up to the treehouse and peeks at me through the window while I’m working, they may think I’m merely taking a nap. This is a part of the work of solitude, part of being with me. Thinking, considering, observing, pondering–these are the tools of my trade and occasionally they have to be wielded lying down with my cap pulled over my eyes.”
— Peter Lewis, Treehouse Chronicles: One Man’s Dream of a Life Aloft. See the treehouse