Friday, May 20, 2005

Friday thoughts (in a quoting mood)

It's a stunning day here in Chicago: clear, bright, with the Cubs and White Sox due to play one another in an hour or two. If I'm only here briefly, then--down in the basement, amid the toys and detritus--you'll understand why.

I schlepped down to the university library this morning to pick up the Kugel that Maeera mentioned, along with some material on the psalms and T. Carmi's old Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, so I'll have more to say about matters of origin--the oldest strata of the JPC--in the days to come. In the mean time, it being Friday and all, I thought I'd post this lovely poem that Jessica Greenbaum sent me recently, which ends on an appropriate note.

Jessica Greenbaum is a younger poet--well, younger than I am!--living in Brooklyn, and very much a poet of the pleasures (sometimes quite bittersweet) of a comfortable city life. I've started to see one of her poems, a memorable pantoum called "The Yellow Star That Goes With Me," in syllabi and course-lists here and there; it's the first poem in her first collection, Inventing Difficulty, I believe. Here is a poem to send us off into Friday afternoon, "sweet though in sadness," as Shelley says:
Just Home from Those Streets

your feet also walked

where errands spring up
as women approach

reseeding themselves
once accomplished.

Towards home I cursed myself
for forgetting mayo, crackers

and . . . something else . . .
and searching the sky

above rank-and-file
brownstones, above their curbside

sycamores tilted before them
like muskets

looking skyward as we do
for vengeance, remorse

just plain feeling lost
that’s when your new

death passed over me
as a lacy cloud

that’s when I knew rain
announcing sidewalks

would always refresh
my grief.

We are simply
forgetful opportunists

jays pinching
foil and ribbons

for instance
beside your cloud

a newly-spied penthouse
garden amused me

and—as though eating
in front of the starving—

I considered the simultaneous
taste for home and streets

how the walker considers
the terrace’s fitted trees

while its hidden resident
takes comfort as sandals

tap concrete in the open
world below.

Forget forgetting. I reminded myself
not to regret loose ends

and thought of someone
absentmindedly touching the fringes

of a prayer shawl—we traffic
in loose ends—

so I walked on remembering
a stroll here with my waist-high

daughter—soft hand
dark eyes, light voice—

bent next to her
like the safe cracker

while buses huff
and seagulls spiral down

it seems, a squeaking wire
to Brooklyn lamp posts

(what could they need in
Park Slope yet of all our imports

they make us feel most worldly)
losing part of my daughter’s story

to the city, as you did yours
the neighborhood’s overture

the communal tracks
of our spoken details lifted

between mouth and ear
and still floating.

That dusk when I
spread the white tablecloth

(a motion I recognized
in the rippling of a sting

ray at the aquarium)
it settled like sky cover

so my heart broke to keep
our gestures, our imperial

our tables set and cleared.

I'd meant to write some commentary on this--but duty calls (a plumber, the day), and I want to muse on it a while. (Is it a 9-11 poem? It reads like one now, even if it wasn't when it was composed, I think: that look to the sky for "vengeance, remorse"; the death a "lacy cloud," although that cloud was hardly lacy....) Hmm... More in a day or two, then, when I've had the chance to mull it over. In the mean time, I'll go sweep a room as for His laws (as George Herbert says--I'm in a quoting mood). And, of course, I'd love to hear from you!

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