Screeching into the school parking lot, seat belts unclick and swish open. Most of the kids are chit-chattering but one of them is full of sighs and trying-not-to-cry. We approach the drop-off curb with only one car behind us. My fingers are crossed that everyone will exit the car. One, two, three children tumble out and run away. One remains. The top of her earmuffs are in my rear-view mirror.
A second car enters the drop-off line.
Anxious stillness. “You have to get out of the car, Grace.” Stillness, aggressively-passive stillness. “You HAVE to get out of the car, Grace.” My neck heats up.
A third car piles up in-line.
I am grieved and frustrated and angry and pity-full. I unbuckle and step out into the lane, not making eye-contact with the other parents.
The chain of cars increases to four.
I open the door, unclick her seat belt, and ashamedly-bristly-hastily remove her from the car. “I DON’T want to go to school.” I know. I didn’t either.
Walking around to the front of the car and onto the walkway, I place her like a post.
A fifth car arrives and I feel their fists shaking at me: the shame of clogging the line and making them late for work; of placing a slumping child on the curb and walking away. They don’t know how many times this has happened, how many times we have talked and cajoled and threatened and praised and rewarded and cajoled some more.
Her earmuffs are crooked now. Her school bag is dangling in the crook of her arm. Her head is slumped and shoulders begin shaking.
“Dropping My Anxious Daughter Off at School”
by Jesse Brown
The New York Times labels Billy Collins as “the most popular poet in America.” Poetry fans, ever sensitive to overstatement, know Collins as perhaps the most charming writer to ever grace verse.
Whether or not you care for Collins’ breezy way with poetry, often parodied but never equaled, there’s no denying his versatility. His best-selling 2001 collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, bridges the poetic divide between literary devices, ranging from poems such as “The Death of Allegory,” an erotic underwear catalog in “Victoria’s Secret,” and cooking to jazz music, “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind Mice.’ ”
As U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, Collins wrote “The Names,” one of the first known poems in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He’ll read that poem in a recorded broadcast for PBS, days before taking a plane to Utah, where he’ll speak Sept. 8 at Snow College in Ephraim. He took his phone interview from Washington, D.C.
Do you blush when people compare you to Robert Frost?
No, I’m just quick to correct them on the comparison. Compared to Frost, my poetry is like a bed that hasn’t been made in six months. Frost was a genius in observing the rules of formal poetry — rhyme and meter — and yet made his poems seem as natural as a song. I can’t do that. I sound natural, but I follow a much less restrictive set of rules. The only point of comparison, really, is that we both sold a lot of books in our time.
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
“The Names” by Billy Collins
Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, born in 1899 in Cicero — now Oak Park — Illinois.
Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast (published posthumously in 1964) is about his years living in Paris. The title was chosen by his widow, Mary, from something Hemingway wrote to a friend: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” It is sentimental and cruel by turns, and not entirely honest, since he probably overstated the level of poverty he experienced there, but as he concludes the brief preface: “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”
I love the final line above and this has been the reason why I have been on a steady diet of fiction for the past few years. Beginning with Ernest Gaines, Marilynne Robinson, more Ernest Gaines, John Steinbeck and, not-really-fiction, poetry, lots of light has been shed. This blog has helped me share this light with others.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
It died in its sleep,
dreaming of grass,
its knives silent and still,
dreaming too, its handlebars
a stern, abbreviated cross
in tall weeds. Where is he
whom it served so well?
Its work has come to nothing,
the dead keep to themselves.
“Death of a Lawn Mower” by David Ignatow
Sliced bread was sold for the first time on July 7, 1928. Up until that time, consumers baked their own bread, or bought it in solid loaves. Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler from Davenport, Iowa, had been working for years perfecting an eponymous invention, the Rohwedder Bread Slicer. He tried to sell it to bakeries. They scoffed, and told him that pre-sliced bread would get stale and dry long before it could be eaten. He tried sticking the slices together with hatpins, but it didn’t work. Finally he hit on the idea of wrapping the bread in waxed paper after it was sliced. Still no sale, until he took a trip to Chillicothe, Missouri, and met a baker who was willing to take a chance. Frank Bench agreed to try the five-foot-long, three-foot-high slicing and wrapping machine in his bakery. The proclamation went out to kitchens all over Chillicothe, via ads in the daily newspaper: “Announcing: The Greatest Forward Step in the Baking Industry Since Bread was Wrapped — Sliced Kleen Maid Bread.” Sales went through the roof. Rohwedder not only gave Americans the gift of convenience and perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but he also provided the English language with the saying that expresses the ultimate in innovation: “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
Where would we be if Frederick Rohwedder did not make sliced bread?!? We wouldn’t be that much poorer off but we wouldn’t have one of the most common metaphors that remind us of the geniusness of small things. Sliced bread- not a big deal- but you know what it means when something is as good as sliced bread.