So, here’s this little guy. Reciting Billy Collins at the age of three. Pretty impressive. I mean, my three year old can sing almost all the words to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” so, you know, genius takes many forms. Ahem.
It seems like a million years since I was accustomed to spending my collegiate days and nights discussing/ writing/ reading poems, and who knows how long since I memorized one. High school maybe? In preparation for an overdramatic performance at a speech team event?
Birdy read Shel Silverstein’s “Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too” to me the other night while I was folding towels, and I was able to keep up reasonably well– and I realized it’s one of very few that I have committed to memory. There’s the William Carlos Williams piece about the plums that I’ve always loved, and some chunks of James Tate and maybe the Gettysburg Address, if you count that, which I don’t.
But do you know how excited I was to hear that poem when she read it? It flipped some switch, juiced some dormant rhythm and language wire that’s buried under all of the regular reading and speaking and copywriting stuff. And when we got to the part where we shouted, “Hooray! What Fun! It’s time we flew!” I got a little teary. Shel, my friend, I hear you. But I didn’t hear you until I heard you.
There’s something completely magical about committing words to memory and speaking them out loud. And I forgot all about it, the way we forget about all kinds of magic, all the time.
So I’m going to memorize a poem this month. And as a tribute to that little guy and the slits under the arms of his too-little but still-beloved shirty (1:12 in the video), I’m starting with Litany.
(And then I printed it out and taped it in my notebook and pretty much wept at the act of cutting out something beautiful and saving it in a physical place, but that is a different entry.)
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.