Sometimes, on a Thursday night, I plop down on the couch, look at Atticus and ask, "What do I want to post for Poetry Friday tomorrow?"
He always has an erudite reply and an intriguing suggestion. He's an intelligent, fascinating man. I used to fancy myself equally intelligent and fascinating (weeelll, maybe not equally but close enough to hold my own in a good poetry discussion), and I considered us a perfect match. Several years ago, I could keep up with all his Wallace Stevens talk. Then I had children. For a few years, when sleep was so elusive, my mind started to slip. The "Emperor of Ice Cream" began to sound like a character on the Disney channel.
Anyway, in answer to the learned suggestions of Atticus, I usually stare into space a moment, take a sip of wine and say something like, "I think I'll write a poem about Putty," or "I'll just do Billy Collins again."
These exchanges often remind me of a scene from Annie Hall in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are in a bookstore, and he says, "Here, I think you'd like to read this, uh, instead of that cat book."
So, in order not to buy a cat book today (though I must add the disclaimer that my beloved Billy Collins is not a cat book -- the metaphor refers to the state of my mind and has nothing to do with his poetry, which I much adore), I am posting Atticus's suggestion: Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot.
At first I groaned, "Ohhh, Eliot ... I don't know if I have the energy for Eliot." But then, I asked myself, "When did you last read Journey of the Magi?" And I had to honestly answer myself, "I don't know. It may have been several Emperors of Ice Cream ago." So, I read it. And, as always happens, I was mesmerized. How does he do that? How did he carry around the reputation of being too scholarly and too philosophical to write poetry, and then do that? It's so good, such a perfect melding of earthly earthiness and the supernatural. Like Jesus Himself, really. Eliot captures that down-to-your-bones discomfort, the squirming and the revelation, the discovery that this isn't really my home. That knowledge which at first is both comforting and terrifying.
Go here, to the Poetry Foundation, to read more about Eliot.
Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
The full text of the poem is here.
The Poetry Friday roundup is at A Year of Reading.