Friday, June 6, 2008

Poems and Distractions

On Saturday, Larry and I were driving home from his mother's house. We had the kids in the back seat and they were generating the usual wall of sound. Sammie sang "It's a Small World After All" on continuous loop and the G-man was asking endless questions. He wanted to know if Popeye and Olive Oil were married. Larry said, "I don't think so." So, the G-man said, "Well, why did they grow a baby together?"

Oh, yeah, Sweet Pea. Good question, and one for which I have no answer. Luckily, he moved on, wanting to know who eats what. What do birds eat? What eats birds? Well, what eats cats? And so on. And on.

We drove by a church. Some churches have signs out front on which they display verses from scripture, but this one showed the first line and title of one of my favorite poems: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed. That's all it said. I had a sudden memory of that poem and spent the rest of the drive remembering lines from it.
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever returning spring,
Ever returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
When G was young, and Sammie was a baby, we spent lots of time at the playground. I used to think of playground time as dead time. The first few times you clap when your son comes down the slide are fun. The fifty or sixty repetitions after that? Less fun. The G-man loved the swings and could sit in a swing for nearly an hour at a time, and for that he needed to be pushed.

An hour is a long time to push a swing.

I learned to bring distractions with me. I had no iPod then, so I would write down poems or at least stanzas of poems on index cards, fold the cards and put them in my pocket. At the playground, while holding Sammie and pushing G endlessly on the swing, I would memorize a few lines and say them back to myself. I found it comforting to say these beautiful and sad lines aloud. Not just Whitman, either. I liked the romantic poets. You gotta love iambic verse. It's like having a metronome in your head. Very soothing.

Out here in the suburbs, I used a rotation of playgrounds, the one with the green slides, the one with the rainbow slides, the wooden one. The one under the trees was frequented by nannies usually, and by mothers who drove luxury SUVs. The nannies spoke Russian and Portuguese into their cellphones. The mothers wore designer track suits with sketchers died to match, and make up no less, and talked endlessly about strategies for becoming room mother--whatever that is, and about private school teachers who just didn't get it.

And there I'd be in my ratty coat and yoga pants and scuffed shoes with my hair in a ponytail, pushing the G-man along in the swing and studying my little piece of paper and talking out loud to myself.
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night--O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappeared--O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless--O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
I'm pretty sure I know why no one talked to me at the playground.

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