I just love the line “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.” How freeing. And I’m posting this for my enjoyment of the imagery, not for any cryptic statement about my current marital health. I just was reminded of the poem today in my email feed, and being touched by Gilbert’s imagery. We lost a beautiful voice when he passed this year.
Failing and Flying
|by Jack Gilbert|
|Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
I’m going to bump this post because, I’m still feeling this way two years later and it makes me sick to my stomach (it was originally posted in December 2010).
While I am thrilled about the repeal of DADT and the possibility of at least SOME benefits for the first responders for 9/11 (many of whom were VOLUNTEERS), I am still dismayed by the words of two prominent Republicans who seem to blame the economic woes of America on the unemployed. I mean, unemployment benefits are so awesome, who wouldn’t want to remain sitting at home on their ass to collect their whopping average $293/week (as reported by MSN Money here. The max in my home state is a bit more generous at $584/week, but remember, that is the max…Not everyone who lives here gets that when they go on unemployment), rather than going out and finding gainful employment? Um, what about the employers who feel that the size of their “bonus” far outweighs the benefits of keeping people gainfully employed?
It certainly does bring to mind the famous passage from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol:
‘Are there no prisons?”
‘Plenty of prisons,’ said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.’And the Union workhouses.’ demanded Scrooge. ‘Are they still in operation?’
‘Both very busy, sir.’
‘Oh. I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,’ said Scrooge. ‘I’m very glad to hear it.’
‘Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,’ returned the gentleman, ‘a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?’
‘Nothing!’ Scrooge replied.
‘You wish to be anonymous?’
‘I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. ‘Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’
‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’
‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Really! Imagine, a civilized country, reportedly full of greatness and wealth – the American Dream and all that…which actually gives a shit about its most vulnerable constituents, because, well, it CAN, and it should, and it must.
Otherwise, aren’t we as a nation, like Gingrich and my state’s own Republican leader, Alex DeCroce (who “told business owners last week that New Jersey’s jobless benefits are “too good for these people.” He said someone collecting $550 a week has little incentive to seek work.”) saying we are not quite as civilized, great or wealthy as we claim, if we can’t even manage to take care of our own, be they “deserving” or no? When did WE the people, begin to mean, ME the people?
In my mind, the people who speak these words can not have been people who have ever been so humbled as to have to seek assistance to keep their families afloat, who have the unmitigated gall and amoral temerity to laud their unchallenged lives as a product of their own fortitude alone, rather than a capricious aligning of opportunity and circumstance.
Last night, I stood on line at the grocery store after work, waiting my turn to pay. I was tired, and aggravated (as grocery shopping tends to make me cranky de facto), and my grocery cart was full, and I was hungry and just wanted to go home.
There was a woman in front of me online, with a carriage full of baby food and formula almost obsessive-compulsively arranged in her cart. She was shuffling through her assistance checks, to be sure she could pay for what was in her cart, and kept having to put certain items back on the shelf because they weren’t covered by WIC. All these items were baby food jars – not desserts or junk food. She had to get out of the line at least twice.
At first, I was very grumpy that I had chosen this line. All I wanted to do was go home, and this woman was obviously going to take a long time to get her order rung up.
But then, it dawned on me, that when I bought baby food for my kids, I never had to worry about buying the right “kind” based on my ability to pay for it.
When she stepped out of the line a second time, I asked the cashier how much the jars were: $0.50 a piece, and there were around 10 of them. Because her order was already in process, and she was paying with WIC checks, I didn’t have a good way to get the cashier to allow me to pay for the items without the woman knowing, so when she returned with the correct items, I asked her if the foods the cashier held aside were ones her baby particularly liked. (I tried to be as discrete as one can possibly be in the front of a grocery store, because I wanted to help, but not embarass the woman, who seemed to be in her mid-30s, a Russian immigrant). She told me yes, and I told her that I would very much like to buy them if she would allow me to, as a Christmas gesture to her and her child.
Of course, she thanked me, but wouldn’t let me, and so I walked back to my cart feeling unsure as to whether I had done a good thing or not.
It broke my heart. I paid for the rest of my groceries, packed them into my car, and called home to tell my husband I was on my way, and as I was speaking to him, I burst into tears of anger and frustration as I stared the realization that I could have been that woman had just a few things in my life been different full in the face. There but for the grace of God go I, or words to that effect (because I don’t believe in that kind of God, but you get the gist). The world is capricious and my efforts only go so far – that could have been – could still be – me.
And honestly, that line from A Christmas Carol was reverberating in my head, because, apparently, this is the way so many Americans feel: the poor are parasites whom we can’t afford, so, “Are there no prisons? No workhouses?”
The pertinent part of the video starts at 1.34
PJ Harvey featuring Thom Yorke – This Mess We’re In
It’s been a rough month, kind of – weather destroying much of the shore and displacing family and friends alike. It’s turned colder, and this turned up in my inbox today from American Life in Poetry, and it spoke to me. Sometimes you want to run away, but then, you realize you want the very things you’re running from, and turn back…
Four weeks in, quarreling and far
from home, we came to the loneliest place.
A western railroad town. Remember?
I left you at the campsite with greasy pans
and told our children not to follow me.
The dying light had made me desperate.
I broke into a hobbled run, across tracks,
past warehouses with sun-blanked windows
to where a playground shone in a wooded clearing.
Then I was swinging, out over treetops.
I saw myself never going back, yet
whatever breathed in the mute woods
was not another life. The sun sank.
I let the swing die, my toes scuffed earth,
and I was rocked into remembrance
of the girl who had dreamed the life I had.
Through night, dark at the root, I returned to it.
Even though the house is deeply silent
and the room, with no moon,
is perfectly dark,
even though the body is a sack of exhaustion
inert on the bed,
someone inside me will not
get off his tricycle,
will not stop tracing the same tight circle
on the same green threadbare carpet.
It makes no difference whether I lie
staring at the ceiling
or pace the living-room floor,
he keeps on making his furious rounds,
little pedaler in his frenzy,
my own worst enemy, my oldest friend.
What is there to do but close my eyes
and watch him circling the night,
schoolboy in an ill-fitting jacket,
leaning forward, his cap on backwards,
wringing the handlebars,
maintaining a certain speed?
Does anything exist at this hour
in this nest of dark rooms
but the spectacle of him
and the hope that before dawn
I can lift out some curious detail
that will carry me off to sleep -
the watch that encircles his pale wrist,
the expandable band,
the tiny hands that keep pointing this way and that.
I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.
Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.
Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.
This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.
I’m posting this poem here today, in full, behind the cut for your reflection.
In my reading of it today, I am particularly struck by the word, Word, world, whirled alliteration and chaotic overlapping imagery in section V. How convoluted and subsuming so much of life is, so difficult to sort the word from the Word within the whirl of the world.
From dust do we come, and to dust do we return. I am ever reminded that Life is Short, so we should be quick to give love, and slow to anger if we are to do anything meaningful with the time we are given.
I fail at this quite often, and the ashes do remind me, particularly, to live more intentionally.
by T S Eliot
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again Read more…