Friday, March 05, 2010

Poetry Friday: Travel Directions


I am extremely fond of this poem for a few reasons. The first is that this is exactly the way  I give directions. Instead of providing street names or anything that might call a compass to mind, I say, "You go for a little while down that one street -- you know the one we were on that time we met for lunch and you got the French toast?"

The second reason is that it reminds me I am not alone in this method of explaining how to get from here to there. People in small towns often do this kind of directing, too. Oh, yes, they also make use of those maddening terms, "North" and "South" and so on, but they often use rural landmarks that, when I first encountered them, seemed both foreign and familiar. 

I'm remembering, with greater affection than I actually felt at the time, the first year we lived in western Nebraska. Some new friends invited us to dinner at their home. Atticus and I had been married about five years when we moved "out west," where Atticus took a teaching job. We had no children, and no intention of having them.  But in the two years that we lived in what I sometimes called, ironically, a God-forsaken town,  I was being transformed into a Christian (I had nothing to do but read the Bible, you see, and that's such a chancy proposition for an atheist) and even, imperceptibly, into someone who might want to become a mother, though I didn't know that any of my experiences there would lead me to where I am now. All I knew was that I wanted life to stop hurting (though, yes, that was a pipe dream, and life still hurts sometimes when one is a Catholic, but I perceive hurts -- both the enormous and the petty ones --  differently than I used to; pain and suffering have a different meaning now.)

Anyway, living in that tiny, isolated town, when our new friends -- the onion farmer and his wife, the English teacher -- invited us to dinner, we received directions that sounded like this: "You head down the highway and go past the second pile of sugar beets and take a left ...." I knew that I could be friends with these people. They understood how I needed to understand how to get from here to there. 

And because getting from here to there is rarely easy, and is generally fraught with the unexpected, the sublime, the sad, the unforgettable, the delightful, the metaphorical and lingering memories, I have arrived at the final reason I love this poem: its truth and poignancy.  And, of course, for its mention of Bach, for whom I'm a pushover.

So, head down this page, and take a turn into the poem. Stop for a moment and look around. If you drive straight through, you might want to double back and retrace your steps; enjoy the scenery for just a bit.  Look for the sugar beets. And for the tiny tweaks that reinvent a heart. Watch for that place we met that time for lunch. 

Then, when you are ready to move on, follow my direction to click to the rest of the poem, here, at The Writer's Almanac.

Travel Directions

by Joan I. Siegel

There ought to be a word
for the way you know how to get some place
but don't remember the names of streets
the number of turns and blinking yellow lights
so that if someone asked
you really couldn't say
except you know the road starts out straight
and when it's sunny the branches blink across
the windshield making you want to rub your eyes
then the road turns sharply uphill past a red barn
where a black dog jumps out to race you for a quarter mile
and finally recedes in the mirror like a disappointment
and you remember the road dips downhill
into the shadows of the morning
where you hear Bach's unaccompanied 'cello


The round up today is hosted by Teaching Books.

(Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng)


jama said...

We speak the same language, Karen. I imagine if I gave you directions, you'd know just where to go :). Thanks for the poem and your charming commentary.

Karen E. said...

Thank you, Jama. :)

Mary Lee said...

I love it when I'm able to let go of the part of my brain that wants to be exact with directions and just "feel" my way to a place...

Laura said...

Even before I lived in the country, I used landmarks, not street addresses, to get from place to place.

I remember when I was moving more than a hundred miles away. I wanted to write to my best friend after I moved. Then I realized I didn't have her address. (This is before I owned a computer.)I ended up physically visiting her just to get her address.

Laura Evans

Melissa Wiley said...

Karen, this post is so beautiful I had to comment even before reading the poem. Which I'll do in a minute. But first I'm pausing to sigh over how nice it would be to meet you for lunch about the diner next to that little hotel in Kansas where we got in trouble with the front desk?

Karen E. said...

The one next to a pizza place or the one by the gas station? :) Would love to.

Karen E. said...

Laura, that is too funny -- That sounds like something I would do.

Liz said...

My niece had a similar comment when she was trying to give us directions into the Bronx from the Taconic this weekend. She knows how to do it, but she doesn't have a clue what the exit numbers are, how far apart the turns are etc. Typically people have to find their way to our house by going past the municipal building turning left at the first left, then turn left again after the hedge row after the pasture with the sheep in it.

My brother-in-law on the other hand gives very explicit directions. Take this route, go this many miles (right down to the tenths)stay in the middle lane until you see this exit coming up, etc. Much more helpful when driving in the city than look for the fruit seller on this street then take the third light by the hospital...which would be the sort of directions my niece would give.

I have a hard time remembering people's exact addresses as well, made for complications when we were sending out wedding invitations.

Megan said...

I loved this post, and the poem. Thanks for sharing. Where is the Friday poetry round-up listed? Big A, little a looks like it is no longer updated. How do you know where the next one is hosted? Help! :)


Karen E. said...

Megan, thanks so much and also, thanks for reminding me that I should update my sidebar info about Poetry Friday!

You can find the schedule at Mary Lee and Franki's blog, A Year of Reading. The link is here. Just check their sidebar.


laurasalas said...

This is lovely, Karen. I especially love:

and when it's sunny the branches blink across
the windshield making you want to rub your eyes

As a person who can't follow directions well, I NEED very specific, concrete, digital-not-analog directions. Tell me the red barn and I'd be saying, Hmm...that's kind of red, right? Or is it brown? Brownish red? Do you think that's the barn she meant? And before you know it, I'd be 20 miles down the road and would have missed the dinner date!