Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Washington Mess--What Really Matters

Reading the paper, watching TV--all this wrangling in Washington is scary. Somebody said it was Junior High School revisited. But there is more to life than Washington and other crazy places.

So I've gone through my picture file--and picked out some things that make me smile and remember. Frederick Buechner says when someone takes down their albums and riffle through the pages--even if we do not know the folk--it calls to mind our own places and our own loves. So along with my pictures I've included two poems by the Canadian poet Alden Nowlan (1933-1983). His early years were filled with a lot of pain and somehow he was able to take his hard things and stitch them into words that move many people. I hope, passing these on--they will do the same for you.

"Great Things Have Happened"

"We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes; 
and I said, 'Oh, I suppose the Moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time'  But, of course, we were all lying. 
The truth is the moon landing didn't mean 
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once
   had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us. Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

'Is that all?' I hear somebody ask.

On, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing In
   Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country 
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."

Let me give you an excerpt from another poem called "He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded." He tells of going to a school for the mentally handicapped. He writes about his feelings of awkwardness and helplessness when a female resident sits down beside him and puts her arms around him. She asks Nowland to hold her. He is embarrassed and not quite sure what to do. This is the way he ends that beautiful and heart-breaking poem:

"It's what we all want, in the end, 
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily on the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss.)

Yes, it's what we all want, in the end,
not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
not to be famous, not to be feared,
not even to be loved, but simply to be held."

(Interested in this poet, try Alden Nowland, Selected Poems, House of Anansi press, 1996)

Keep your eyes open today. Who knows who you will see if you just slow down and look around you. And--for a little while forget the madness.

   --by Roger Lovette, rogerlovette.blogspot.com

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