Yearly Archives: 2019

174 posts

New Year’s, Bittersweet As Usual

2020

This is a reprint from two years ago. Rereading it, I’m amazed that nothing (spare the year) has much changed. What’s the saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Oh. Let’s add an exception: our aging bodies. In that case, the more things change, the more things change.

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A new year. Always a bittersweet thing. Having 2020 on the doorstep, left by someone who wants no part of it, all swaddled and innocent-looking (for now), is a scary thing. Isn’t it every year? Been there, done that, know better. And it all gets you thinking… thinking about stuff you’ve thought a lot about already:

  • Is it me, or do celebrations seem “forced” on New Year’s Eve? Like St. Patrick’s Day, it has devolved into a drinking holiday more than any other kind of holiday.
  • The best New Year’s Eve I ever spent? One where I  broke a commitment to attend a party and stayed home reading E.B. White’s Collected Essays. I never even noticed as midnight came and went. Now that’s a great way to ring in the new–turning pages!
  • I noticed the neighbors took down Christmas decorations much sooner than in past years–before New Year’s Eve, even. One reason might be Christmas exhaustion. The material holiday, songs and all, gets foisted on us the day after Halloween nowadays. By December 26th, folks are waving the white flag. Mercy!
  • Speaking of, is there a cleaner feeling than a house once the tree is pitched and the decorations are boxed and returned to the basement? Yes, we will find a few needles from the tree along about Easter, but still, it’s a sigh of relief to be done with it once it’s done with you.
  • Before you call me a Christmas Curmudgeon, know this. A lot of my fellow Americans really got into the holiday this year because it was comfort food of a sort. Yes, they overindulged in their family traditions, but given the orange pall over the White House these days, it made them feel better to go to the birthday party at Farmer Gray’s or to shout “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” or to listen to silver bells in the city. Who can blame them for covering themselves in the warm folds of Christmas pasts? They were simply hiding in hopes of making it all go away.
  • Resolutions? Don’t do it! They don’t work, especially this time of year. Pick another day to resolve. Arbor Day resolutions, maybe, sturdy as an oak. Then make sure said resolution is measurable and concrete–one you can track and WILL track. Otherwise, who wants to hear it?
  • The average American gains around 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, or so I read. Seems low… way low. Or so my scale thinks.
  • Let’s hear it for January, named after the Roman God Janus, a two-faced sort who looked both forward and back, refusing to play favorites between past and oncoming year. Most folks find it bleak, cold, and insufferable, but January’s all right by me, being holiday-free once the first folds.
  • I’ve been avoiding front pages of newspapers lately, cutting right to the sports and the arts sections. Is this similar to the Christmas-as-comfort-food thing? And who am I kidding? Just because all the bad news goes away for me doesn’t mean it really goes away, right?
  • After enjoying Laura Dassow Walls’ biography of Henry David Thoreau so much, I might up the ante on my bio-reading. I already have the door-stopper from Ron Chernow, Grant, and am thinking about bios on Caravaggio and Coleridge, too.
  • Hopefully, Grant does not become a Broadway show. The thought of ole Ulysses S. traipsing across a stage while singing tunes about whiskey is enough to discourage any man. Give him this: He was great friends with Mark Twain, an honor any of us would be proud to boast of.
  • This morning, in the 7-degree winds of the 6 a.m. darkness, I caught a falling star as I was out with the dog. Must be my lucky day, this last one! Should I buy a lottery ticket, maybe? Nah. One tax I don’t have to pay.
  • Minor Miracle: How something as small as a chickadee, titmouse, or nuthatch can not only live in these frigid temperatures, but do it joyfully.
  • Speaking of taxes and New Year’s, is anyone still watching all of these NCAA bowl games? I didn’t think so. Factoid: Just learned yesterday that the NCAA, one of the biggest money-makers in the nation, is not taxed because of its (ahem) educational mission. The new tax legislation continues this boondoggle. More taxes for you and me, but none for the NCAA sponsored by $$$ Chevrolet $$$ and $$$ Coca-Cola $$$. It’s the American way: we are all equal, except corporations are more equal than the rest of us.
  • As the famous line goes: “Government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations” is here. We knew the United States was not a true democracy, but it’s not a true republic, either. It’s a corporatocracy. It’s also a kakistocracy. Poor Mr. Lincoln must be turning over in his grave (especially if the Lincoln Bedroom is occupied by He Who Must Not Be Named).
  • Also learned yesterday: Many people eat sauerkraut on New Year’s for good luck. Really? My grandmother used to make it in a crock at home. Fermented was big with our grandparents, who knew a thing or two about healthy eating before we had “experts” to tell us a thing or two about healthy eating.
  • Grandma ate “organic,” too, though the word didn’t even exist because EVERYTHING was organic before the Chemical Age (which came to us along about WWII). So the next time you sniff and dismiss yuppies and foodies who spend more for “organic,” remember that it is normal, healthy food that should NOT be overpriced but is thanks to the giant corporations who prefer the profits in irradiated, herbicide- and pesticide-laden foods (not to mention GMOs)—all stuff Grandma would rightly call “science fiction to be avoided.”
  • For a guy who avoids front pages, I’m getting awfully political. Good. Get it out of my system. All politics is local, which you might be able to control. Focus your life locally, then, starting with your family.
  • Happy New Year, readers. May your local dreams come true in the fast-approaching year of 2020. May it be a decade we can be proud of and nothing like the 1930s.

“How Much Time Is Enough Time?”

clock

As we approach the month named after Janus, it seems we are more aware of time. It’s even more true in a year that closes a decade, as this one does. And more so still when that decade happened to be more ominous than most, forecasting God knows what for coming years.

On a personal level, time works in mysterious ways, too. It is a precious commodity. There is never enough of it. This seems even more so when applied to our days on earth or, even more important, our loved ones’ days on earth.

Whether we live to 50, 70, or 90, we can always use more time. There is never enough to pack in all the experiences we crave, both new ones and cherished ones built into our daily routines.

Thus is time part and parcel with sadness, wistfulness, yearning. Thus do we get into trouble with our convenient nemeses past, present, and future.

Stephen Dobyns seems aware of this in his poem “Prague,” where he wastes no time (if you’ll forgive) by doing what good poets should all do—getting to the point in line one, right out of the gate. The narrator’s wife is dying of cancer. Both time and the poem, then, are of the essence.

Note how he looks forward. Note how he looks backward. Note how he finds succor in neither direction.

 

Prague
Stephen Dobyns

The day I learned my wife was dying
I told myself if anyone said, Well, she had
a good life, I’d punch him in the nose.
How much life represents a good life?

Maybe a hundred years, which would
give us nearly forty more to visit Oslo
and take the train to Vladivostok,
learn German to read Thomas Mann

in the original. Even more baseball games,
more days at the beach and the baking
of more walnut cakes for family birthdays.
How much time is enough time? How much

is needed for all those unspent kisses,
those slow walks along cobbled streets?

 

Before getting specific in the end (unspent kisses, cobbled streets), Dobyns gives us the crux of the matter with a koan-like question “How much time is enough time?” No one wants to hear the possible answer: whatever time we’re given. And no one dares suggest that somewhere, somehow, there is an actual answer.

No one.

The Top 9 Posts of 2019

9

As we close not only a year but a decade, you might not be wondering what the nine (aren’t you sick of 10 already?) most read posts were on this blog called “Updates on a Free-Verse Life,” to which I can only say, “Mindfulness, buddy! Let’s Zen up and pay attention!” (Translation: “Wonder no more!”)

So, without further ado, let’s amuse you as much as I just amused myself by seeing what posts drew the most lightning this past year. It’s a curious mix but, if nothing else, we are a curious lot. That’s one of the good parts about humans. And one of the few good parts about cats! (Sorry, cat lovers. My dog put me up to that joke.)

Here’s the order, from ninth most read to most read:

  • #9: Teaching an Imitation Poem with The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee All credit to the teachers of the world, who probably helped to propel this into the Top 9 because it’s a great introductory poetry-writing lesson that uses imitation to show kids that they are (wait for it!) imagery and metaphor machines (only they didn’t know it).
  • #8: “Apollo and Marsyas” Zbigniew Herbert Redux  I read a BIG collected works of Zbigniew Herbert, a poet you should know from Poland, and included a translation of one of his famous poems in this post. This cracked the Top 9 by dint of search engines looking for English translations of his Greek myth-based poem, “Apollo and Marsyas.”
  • #7: Poems That End with a Question  I like questions more than answers, maybe because the world is so full of loudmouths with answers. This post riffs on why I like questions, yes, but more importantly it includes the lovely poem “The Inheritance” by Stephen Dunn. This blurb ends with a question, too: Have you read it?
  • #6: Waxing Poetic About Teachers  I’m not sure if this was driven up on the charts by teachers themselves (ha-ha) or by students. Whatever, the post includes three poems about teachers, the best damn difficult job you can get on the planet. Hint: If you must teach, do it in Finland. I hear they treat their educators like true professionals there. Huzzah!
  • #5: Opposition in the Poetry Classroom  Another teaching-based (but can be any ole poetry writer-based) post, this post examines poet/teacher Brendan Constantine’s idea, “The Opposites Game,” wherein creative sorts (students or writers) try to find synonyms for abstract words that resist synonyms. Discuss!
  • #4: Ada Limón’s Stretch Drive  I’ve read a couple of Ada Limón books, and this post features four poems that struck me as wonderful. Keep writing, Ada! You obviously have more fans than just me. Thus the #4 position here!
  • #3: The Pronoun “I” and Poetry  If you’ve followed any of my posts, you know I chafe at the idea of RULES in poetry: that is, things thou shalt do and things thou shalt not do. Whether you’re following rules or breaking them, you just have to do it well. This post discusses some poetry pooh-bah’s insistence that using the pronoun “I” is lame in poetry writing. In it, the pronoun “I” no sooner finishes a marathon then it begins doing 100 push-ups. Sic semper silly rules!
  • #2: How To Review a Poetry Collection Is there any one way to review a poetry collection? There is not. But this is one way, or at least a way to get you started. I do know it is more difficult than reviewing a novel or nonfiction book, so there’s that. I’m not sure what drove this to the runner-up position. Students? Reviewers? Teachers offering students helpful links? Thanks to all of them, wherever they may have originated from.
  • #1 Most Read Post of 2019: Funeral for a Poem  I have always enjoyed Greek poet C. P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka,” but I only learned about it because it was read at Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s funeral. Apparently my voyage to discovering this poem is being replicated every day by many searchers on the Internet, who searched for this “it’s all in the voyage, not the destination” gem through words related to Jackie or her funeral or Cavafy himself. Whenever I’m feeling down, I simply reread this poem and boom. All better! It is based on The Odyssey and Ulysses’ long trip home–a trip so long that it becomes the story. We all know where our home will ultimately be, so it bears repeating here: Let’s focus on the journey and make it a good one.

Speaking of “good ones,” may 2020 be a safe, happy, and healthy one for all of you loyal fans who read this page now and again. I appreciate your visits!

A Year in Reading: 2019

book

One of my 2008 resolutions (one I didn’t break within 10 days, I mean) was to track the books I read as a solution to the problem of forgetting 87.3% of them. That meant not only book titles, but also brief (and, in some cases, not so brief) reviews.

The site I chose for this purpose was Goodreads, and though it has become a bit less meritorious since Amazon acquired it in March of 2013, I continue to track books there unfettered and will until Amazon ruins it by making it too commercial and Amazon-centric (a habit they’re notorious for).

Here, then, is the link to my Year in Reading, 2019. If you’re interested, I mean. And whether you are or not, on this Winter Solstice of 2019, here’s wishing you a happy winter holiday of your choice (for me, it’s Christmas) and a happier still New Year.

May you continue to read, write, and fight the good fight against fascists, dictators, and other “strongmen” who specialize in gaslighting, tearing down democratic norms, and making ordinary people suffer. Just remember, at the heart of every bully is weakness and fear.

Not Mirror, but Wobbly-Puddle Images

olson

Have you ever written something (a letter, a poem) only to have it disappear on screen before you had a chance to save it? Poof. And so, with all these ideas in your head, you start anew. You have no choice.

But the creature created in Version #2 is a relative rather than a replication of the lost draft. A second cousin twice removed. It is the same in many ways, yes, yet different in other ways.

Some writing teachers play this game with pencil and paper (the easier to play “Poof!” with). Their students get to write a draft longhand. Then the teacher collects the work. Next thing you know, teacher is saying, “OK, students, now I want you to rewrite the poem. First write ‘Draft 2’ next to your name on top, would you?”

After the requisite groans, the student writers doggedly write again, remembering the good stuff, of course, but writing a true second draft because they have been denied the first to mostly copy and happily have no choice.

Yes, Christina Olson, winner of one of Rattle‘s 2020 Chapbook Awards (for The Last Mastodon), writes something like this in her letter-as-poem (epistolary to you) to a loved one. Notice all the repetition in Part 2. Notice how it echos Part 1, only with the sound caroming off a different slant of cliff.

Maybe you like one letter more than the other. Or maybe hearing it twice in different versions presses home the importance of certain ideas and ways of putting them, another pay-off of this technique. It’s an exercise you can play, too. Check it out:

 

Reconstruction Errors, Part 1 & 2
Christina Olson

1.

All day I’ve tried & failed to write
this letter to you. Do we deserve anything
for our failings, our clumsy fumblings
in the dark? I have no excuse
for this dizziness, the sober way
I lurch from truth to truth.
The sky can’t decide between bruise
or blue; in this way, it is like the heart.
We were a long time ago, you & I—
we had all our original teeth. You sent
me a video of the lake, the rustle
of blue on the rocks. I weep because our dog
is dying, because I haven’t smelled
fresh water for such a long time.
That summer, I visited La Brea twice.
It gave my pain some geological perspective.
The surface of the tar pit shone
blue-black, reflected the sky, smelled
of street. But I forgot my science;
there are more predators than prey
in the pits, the bones dragged to the light.

2.

But I forgot my science: there are more predators
than prey in the pits, the bones dragged to the light—
original teeth. The surface of the tar pit
shone blue-black, reflected the smell of street.

You sent me a video of the lake, the rustle of blue
on the rocks. Do we deserve anything for our fumblings,
these clumsy failings in the dark? The sky can’t decide
between bruise or blue; in this way, it is like the heart.
I have no excuse for this dizziness, the sober way
I lurch from truth to truth. We were a long time ago,

you & I. That summer, I visited La Brea twice.
It gave my pain some geological perspective. I weep
because our dog is dying, because I haven’t smelled water
for such a long time. All day I’ve tried & failed.

“Maybe the Greatest Miracle Is Memory”

doyle

A great fan of the writer Brian Doyle’s—taken by brain cancer in 2017—I was happy to see the posthumous release of his essays, One Long River of Song, by Little, Brown, and Company (2019). I did not realize that Doyle was first and foremost an essayist, though also an accomplished novelist, poet, and “proemist” (his playful term for a hybrid version of prose and poetry).

Reading the collection, I quickly bonded with Doyle’s “voice” and felt akin to him and his. To give you a flavor of his style (he is a big fan of anaphora and polysyndeton, for instance), here is an essay anyone who has brought kids to church can identify with. It is called “What Were Once Pebbles Are Now Cliffs.”

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“I am standing in the middle pew, far left side, at Mass. We choose this pew when possible for the light pouring and puddling through the stained-glass windows. The late-morning Mass is best because the sun finally made it over the castlements of the vast hospital up the hill and the sun has a direct irresistible shot at the windows and as my twin sons used to say the sun loooves jumping through the windows and does so with the headlong pleasure of a child.

“They used to be small enough to choose different sun-shot colors on the floor and jump from one color to another, my sons. They would do this before Mass and after Mass and occasionally during Mass on the way back from being blessed by Father John in the years before their own First Communions. Sometimes they would rustle and fidget impatiently in the pews and fiddle with missals, and fold up parish newsletters into ships and trumpets, and bang the kneeler up and down, until they were arrested by the wither of the maternal glare, but then came Communion, which meant Father John bending down from his great height like a tree in a storm and blessing them with his hand as big as a hat on their heads. They loved that, and loved whispering loudly Hi Johnny! to him, which would make him grin, which they counted as a win, to make the sturdy dignified celebrant grin like a kid right in the middle of Communion!

“When they were three and four years old they used to stand on the pew next to me and lean on me as if I were a tree and they were birds. Sometimes one would fall asleep and I would sense this through my arm and shoulder so that when I sat down I would be sure to haul the sleeper down safely. Sometimes they would lean hard against me to try to make me grin like Father John grinned during Communion. Once I discovered that they had conspired before Mass to lean on Dad so hard that they would squish Dad! and he would get six inches taller right there in the church!, wouldn’t that be funny? Sometimes they would lean against me just from a sheer simple mammalian affection, the wordless pleasure of leaning against someone you love and trust. But always I was bigger and they were smaller, then.

“Then came years during which there was no leaning because generally they were leaning away from their parents and from the church and from authority in all its figments and forms and constitutions, and generally they sat silent and surly and solitary, even during the Sign of Peace, which distressed their parents, which was the point.

“But now they are twenty and one is much taller than me and the other is much more muscular. One is lanky and one is sinewy. One is willowy and the other is burly. And the other day in Mass I leaned against one and then the other and I was moved, touched, pierced down to the fundaments of my soul. What were once pebbles are now cliffs. They are tall and strong and stalwart and charming and at the Sign of Peace people in all directions reach for them smiling. When I lean against them they do not budge and now I am the one leaning against men whom I love and trust and admire. Sometimes I lean too hard against them on purpose just to make them grin. Sometimes by chance I am the first one back from Communion and I watch as they approach, wading gracefully through the shivered colors of the sun streaming through the windows. Time stutters and reverses and it is always yesterday and today. Maybe the greatest miracle is memory. Think about that this morning, quietly, as you watch the world flitter and tremble and beam.”

Poems About Death

REAPER

We have all heard (at least here in New England) Jonathan Edwards’ words: “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” but what about “God in the hands of an angry sinner”? Welcome to the poetry of anger, disillusionment, and death.

The poem “I had thought the tumors…” came out in 2008, a year after its author, Grace Paley, died. In it you hear the plaintive voice of a woman with a terminal illness. Death, it is said, is the great theme of literature down through the ages and will remain so because of its stubborn mystery and our stubborn and childish belief that it is something others do, not us.

The truth, as we know but hate to acknowledge? Death is random, heartless, and ironic, among other things. It has little regard for race, gender, religion, or class. Unlike humans, it lacks prejudice in every way. And it is the great unifier, bringing us together with the vast animal kingdom we are a part of but like to think we are above.

Whether you are healthy or sick, young or old, you will recognize the lament in Paley’s poem-that-knows-better. And though she admits to some shame at the end, she should have felt none. The incentive for this poem was all-too-human, and the reason it draws us in and succeeds.

 

I had thought the tumors…
Grace Paley

I had thought the tumors
on my spine would kill me but
the tumors on my head seem to be
extraordinarily competitive this week.

For the past twenty or thirty years
I have eaten the freshest most
organic and colorful fruits and
vegetables I did not drink I
did drink one small glass of red
wine with dinner nearly every day
as suggested by The New York Times
I should have taken longer walks but
obviously I have done something wrong

I don’t mean morally or ethically or
geographically I did not live near
a nuclear graveyard or under a coal
stack nor did I allow my children
to do so I lived in a city no worse
than any other great and famous city I
lived one story above a street that led
cabs and ambulances to the local hospital
that didn’t seem so bad and was
often convenient

In any event I am
already old and therefore a little ashamed
to have written this poem full
of complaints against mortality which
biological fact I have been constructed for
to hand on to my children and grand—
children as I received it from my
dear mother and father and beloved
grandmother who all
ah if I remember it
were in great pain at leaving
and were furiously saying goodbye

Top 10 Reviewed Poetry Books of 2019 Announced (And Other Tidbits)

top 10

  • Lit Hub surveyed the best reviewed books of 2019 in the poetry world (east of Eden, as they say), coming up with ten books all poetry fans should have read by now.

Me? I’m batting .200 on this list—enough to earn me a ride on the bench if this were baseball.

Still, there’s always time to work on my fielding and get reading. Two weeks and two days remain to the year, after all, and who says the best poetry of 2019 has to be read in 2019, anyway? The year 2020 makes for a terrific back-up plan.

Want to check your reading against the list? For each book, a tally of rave reviews, positive reviews, mixed reviews, and pans are provided. Of course, in this case, pans are few and far between. They’re all in my kitchen cabinets, in fact.

Curious? You can visit Lit Hub’s list here.

  • “There are presently no open calls for submissions.” I often see this the first week of the month. Which month, you ask? Why, the one following the “Free Open Reading Period,” of course!
  • Do we really want 2020 to arrive? Judging by the political ads we’re already enduring on TV, no.
  • Boycotts. Nothing is more effective, but you need critical mass. Take Facebook (please!). Founder Mark Zuckerberg is wrapping himself up in freedom of speech by deciding politicians (and politicians only) are allowed to lie, lie, lie all they want on Facebook. The real reason is not freedom of speech, of course. It’s dollars. Controversy, outrage, and hate all generate traffic, and that’s the bottom line as far as Zuckerberg is concerned. It’s all about himself and his wallet, the country be damned (and, by God, it is).
  • I thought Americans would drop out of Facebook by the millions after Zuckerberg’s stunt, but I underestimated one very big thing. Addiction. It’s easy to take a bye on your principles when you’re addicted to something.
  • Did you click the link above? If not, know that the most positively reviewed poetry book of the year was Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.
  • #2 is Jericho Brown’s The Tradition.
  • And #3 is Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus. There. You just cheated. Have you read the top three?
  • Not on the list: National Book Award Winner in Poetry, Arthur Sze’s Sight Lines.
  • People are getting busy. The last 10 days before 25 December are crazy. Used to be you could just follow stars with your camel, putting up at an oasis night to night. Simplicity like that is history, sadly.
  • After seven months, I just contacted a poetry market that promised a 3-month turnaround on submissions. At least the editor was kind enough to respond personally. He said they were caught up with poetry contest submissions and had let the general submissions slide.
  • New cash cow for poetry periodical survival: CONTESTS! (Can you say “ka-ching.”?)
  • New poverty driver for poets: CONTESTS! (Can you say “declined”?)
  • Somebody today: “Happy Ides of December.” Me today: “No, Ides only happen in March, May, July, and October.” Somebody today: “Happy 15th of December.” Me today: “And to you as well!”
  • I haven’t watched a Christmas movie on TV yet. Someone told me I was a Scrooge for this simple reason. But…but…Christmas spirit is not wrapped up in a movie, is it? And who gets to define whom as “Scrooge”? I thought that right was reserved for Charles Dickens!
  • Speaking of Christmas movies, my wife, a fan of the Hallmark Channel (God save us, everyone!), has seen 1,429 Christmas movies so far this year.
  • Or thereabouts.

Simplify to a Few Poetic Ingredients

wren.jpg

Simplicity. It was Henry David Thoreau’s word to live by, but it sure wouldn’t hurt a few poets to borrow, too.

Sometimes would-be poets make something simple overly complicated when all they need are a few basic ingredients. Then let these stew so the flavors can take hold.

Description, our old friend, is simplicity’s right-hand man. What does it look like, for starters? Choose the most prominent details and become the artist’s brush. A few specific nouns, a splash of color. Simile. Metaphor. But lightly. Lightly.

Just be sure your last piece of description is the most important. And waste no time ushering your reader into the poem in line one. Too often the opening lines of our early drafts are dispensable. Throat clearing before the speech.

Take care of that off stage.  Then boldly step forward to the mic and deliver, getting to the point. Making your point. Simply, but powerfully.

Exhibit A today is Robert Bly’s description of a dead wren in his hand. Imagery. Metaphor. There’s no reason to make it more complicated than that, is there?

 

Looking at a Dead Wren in My Hand
Robert Bly

Forgive the hours spent listening to radios, and the words of
gratitude I did not say to teachers. I love your tiny rice-like legs, that
are bars of music played in an empty church, and the feminine tail,
where no worms of Empire have ever slept, and the intense yellow
chest that makes tears come. Your tail feathers open like a picket
fence, and your bill is brown, with the sorrow of a rabbi whose
daughter has married an athlete. The black spot on your head is
your own mourning cap.

The Importance of Titles and Endings

plane

Titles are important, even more so when they harbor deeper meaning. The word “terminal” in the poem “At the Terminal,” for instance. Innocently, it’s an endpoint to a flight, a place where employees transport you and your possessions. More innocently still, it’s your own demise, which is about as terminal as you can get.

Patricia Hooper’s poem has it both ways. It might strike younger readers as odd, however. Perhaps it’s only the Boomers and the Great Generation (as they are now called) who remember a time when husbands and wives flew separately. For the children, you see. Just in case. Because flying wasn’t as safe as it is deemed to be now.

The end lines, like the title, are equally important to the poem’s message. They are the “terminal” of the poem. And here, thanks to “arc of absence, blinding space” they work overtime, too, as all blue-collar words should.

Read it but repeat after me: Flying is safer than driving. The only thing you’ve got to lose is control of the wheel.

 

At the Terminal
Patricia Hooper

Remember how we took those separate flights
imagining the worst: our plane gone down,
our children young, alone? I’d leave an hour
before you, wait to meet you at your gate,
or you’d go first, arrive and rent a car,
then meet me at the exit. In between,
blue emptiness, our lives suspended where
clouds stacked themselves between us: you on earth
and I already gone. Or else I’d stand
on solid ground and watch you disappear—
my heart, my shining bird!—a streak of light,
a flash of wing, then nothing. Only one
of us, one at a time. And whether I turned
back to the concourse or pulled down the shade
over the brilliant window, belted in
above the tilting tarmac, I rehearsed
this hour, ever nearer, when the planet
would hold one or the other, and you’d watch—
or I—the earth receding, or look up
into the arc of absence, blinding space.