Photo by Nilufer Demir (Turkey’s Dogan News Agency)
Tell me who sent the boat that was flipped in the waves?
Tell me who is the boy who was slipped in the waves?
Oh no, please, do not talk of the wars that we wage,
or about all the others we’ve lost in the waves;
for my heart cannot stand the mere sight of the sand
that held him in its hand as he slept in the waves.
Yes, I know there is much we should change in the world,
yet I know that all change comes in drips, comes in waves.
And so tell me, J. Gregg, who was drowned, who was saved,
who will weep by the grave of the boy in the waves?
Dr. Willard Spiegelman (photo via SMU)
I was surrounded by talented teachers throughout my life. Almost all were good, and some were truly great. But among them all, there stood none greater than my dear W.S.
An announcement from my alma mater: “For over forty years, Willard Spiegelman, the Hughes Professor of English, has inspired generations of SMU students with his unique and energetic teaching style. Now, as he leaves full-time teaching as well the editorship of The Southwest Review (celebrating its centennial in 2015), former students of Professor Spiegelman are organizing an event in his honor.”
One of the many poets whom Willard brought into my life was James Merrill, whose poem “A Dedication” has frequently served as a source of inspiration to me. In honor of that gift, I offer this imitation of that poem.
A Dedication, for My Dear W.S.
Willard, there are moments when the class
Resolves itself into a pair of dancing feet, or hands
Scratching to pluck from the deep well of a book
That vigor they do not yet need to pack away.
These are the moments, if ever, a songbird sweeps
Into the school, like sunlight into the heart of a
Diamond, for its gift of clarity.
There are moments when teaching is but a hand pressed
Firmly and lovingly against the student’s back.
Via CC license
May the brokenness in me
fit the brokenness in you
so both are made whole.
How shall I, whose tears now drench this steering wheel, share love with you
whose wheelchair sputters in the dirt, beside the road on which I drive
towards my home, so far away from this strange place in which we meet,
where I embrace your hand in mine, feel how your thumb enwraps my own,
feel how your hand has no more grasp, see where your other ends in stubs,
behold your legs that stop at the knee, that ache in the space no flesh has known?
who am I that passes cash, a fistful of a day’s earned wage,
towards your chest and speeds off tearing, tearing through the night towards home
where I will sleep within a bed while you lie somewhere on the street?
Forgive me, friend, whose name I asked and dropped beside the highway where
our paths entwined for one clear glimpse, where God himself saw through your eyes.
“WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 5
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”
— Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Leaves of Grass. 1900.
I thought of this poem when I saw the image below, a GIF made from a compilation of 12 of NASA’s Visible Earthimages, one taken each month in 2004. The GIF was posted by John Nelson, a user-experience expert for the software firm IDV Solutions. I learned of it through Upworthy‘s posting of the link here.
Walt, what would you have written if you could have seen this image?
self portrait as a shadow on a prison parking lot
The paths down which we walk within our dreams
have led us to this place we dare not sleep:
this place where waking is not what it seems.
Our words have traveled down the narrow streams
of halting conversation from the deep
chasms carved by weeping in our dreams.
What scribes have caught our thoughts within the reams
of parchment buried deep beneath the keep
that slumbers here where waking shows no seams
against the teaming cauldron of our schemes,
across the patchworked calculus we heap
to bind the paths down which we walk our dreams
like dogs that bark at every light that gleams
within the shadows cast around the sheep
whose dim-eyed waking is not what it seems?
None but these, who prowl upon the lams
to gauge the ripeness of the time to sweep
along the paths down which we walk in dreams
towards a waking state not what it seems.
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A place from which you can’t escape is prison.
A place to which you must return is prison.
The space between the place where you were born
and everywhere you fear to go is prison.
Your shame has strapped a saddle on your back
and whipped your ass to ride you back to prison.
Their faces — all the ones you can’t forgive —
become the guards who lock you in your prison.
Pull back the shades; reveal the fragile glass
that forms the razor fence around your prison.
What taste now aches within your bitter palate?
What sweetness haunts your memory in this prison?
You see your lover standing at the gate.
You wave to her — but turn into your prison.