Written Thursday, 3/8/12.
[ part 2 ]
The groceries sit, neglected, on the chair. And I know I really should put them into the fridge, especially the sausages. But not now, I think. I’ll tend to you later, so don’t worry, but not now. For now, it is me and poetry.
In the forgotten GAP bag on the bottom-most shelf of my little library, I unearthed just moments earlier some mementos from my college days. Sheet music, still pressed, between the aging faces of a manila folder. The quiet joy, the deep-seeded glee, that erupts as I fondly stroke the notes of Chopin’s Etude which, I remember, gave me nightmares in high school, the dots and staffs so ferocious and demanding. Oh, and there we are, I breathe, as I open the pages for “My Father’s Favorite.” I thought I had lost this, I say to myself, humming the transporting melody, fingers pantomiming dance steps over imaginary piano keys.
There is also the reader I had purchased for my Elvish class. And important paperwork from past rentals, preserved in fuchsia plastic. And the Spongebob Squarepants folder that I forgot that I owned. But most prominently, there is the large and duo-tone book – the anthology from American Poetry class. A year ago, I may not have cared. But now, I am glad Maj made me take it back from the trash can when we were cleaning out our things all those years ago. I flip through the pages and smile as I brush fingers through penciled comments, and arrows indicating certain poems which to me now seem like strangers but were at one point acquaintances. I read T. S. Eliot aloud on a whim, and surprise myself by how emboldened my voice sounds, rising louder and louder with every stanza in the quiet apartment, impassioned, as if the feelings of the words are the feelings of my heart.
I flip towards the end, and am pleased to find a small selection of Billy Collins. One poem in particular seizes my attention, and I am giddy all over again – not because of the poem itself, but because I just realized that I had in fact been introduced to Collins much earlier than I remember.
I remember now – Professor Hass, bespectacled and pleasant, standing there at the front of the auditorium, a child-like grin on his face as he cracks open his copy of the anthology, and reads aloud from a poem of particular fondness.
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.
It is called “Litany.” And I remember at the time deciding that I don’t terribly like the poem because it doesn’t make sense. But now, almost four years later, I’m reading it aloud for myself, and the memory of American Poetry, of Professor Hass, of Helen and I, of iced caramel macchiatos on sunwarmed lawns, of coming to terms with the end of my undergraduate career – all of it comes flooding back, here at the rebirth of my love for poetry, and I decide that I like the poem. I still don’t understand it, but that – somehow – doesn’t matter anymore.