Friday, November 07, 2008

Afterglow, and poetry

I'm reading Francine Prose's wonderful novel Goldengrove, in which the main character's sister has died. She describes the recurrent sensation of remembering the terrible news over and over, after somehow forgetting.

The last couple of days feel like the opposite of that. I keep remembering something wonderful has happened. Zan at A Cup of Tea and a Wheat Penny describes the almost silly sensation of joy: " Oranges look oranger. Sweaters feel warmer. Rain? Who cares!"

I respect Barack Obama all the more for emphasizing from the very first moment that this only the very beginning of a very long, hard road. But it's good to bask in the glow of something good for a moment. There has been dancing in the streets! I feel like my Pollyanna-ish optimism is suddenly in fashion again.

There is much good writing and reflection about all this, and one of the best (and briefest) is the New York Times' poetry op-eds. My favorite is Joshua Mehigan's, which I've taken the liberty of pasting below. It reminds me of the homely belovedness of my own polling place, PS 282 in Brooklyn, and the simple/complicated goodness/absurdity of American democracy.

The Polling Place

Same place as four years ago. The people arrive
tired by daytime. Nighttime is ten after five.

The flag is lit, and the sculpture of who knows who.
Here’s the fire door, wedged open with Voting and You.

From inside, a floor-wax smell. Shy people come after.
I walk past them into bright light and social laughter.

This could be Bingo. It could be a twelve-step meeting.
It could be a bake sale. I could be home eating.

The bathroom is closed to all but volunteers.
Democracy is slow. It can take many years.

Somebody’s take-out cancels the floor-wax smell.
I could be eating and doing laundry as well.

Suppose the will of the people was as heavy
as our bag of laundry out in the back of the Chevy.

Measured on that scale the will of the person counts
a fraction of a fraction of an ounce,

and if that’s correct my will is not very strong.
Still, if the right one wins I was right all along.

The bathroom is closed to all but the volunteers.
Three tons of dirty laundry is made in four years.

Today my will is the weight of a grain of salt.
But then if the wrong one wins it’s not my fault.


Joshua Mehigan


And then one more poem, because Prose's novel has made me think of one of my favorite poets (the title and the sister's name are allusions to his poem "Spring and Fall: To A Young Child"), and because I feel like singing a hymn. Gerard Manly Hopkins' poem below is about loving complicated things, mixed blessings. We have a responsible and intelligent and progressive leader on his way to the White House -- but the world is still scary. McNally Jackson is doing okay -- but retail sales overall have slumped. Plans for my bookstore are going forward -- but the ALP is experiencing a very frustrating job hunt. Here's a hymn to all that complication, and some of the most original language and rhythms in poetry. Enjoy, and I promise I'll come out of the afterglow and get some book news up next week.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things --
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rosemoles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manly Hopkins