I got in my books and art for mid-October, thanks to readers Adam Davis and Hana Layton, who hosted me in Portland. On Wednesday night, in his role as director of Oregon Humanities, Adam moderated a "think-and-drink" conversation with Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Let that be my book recommendation for 2016; add it to your gift wish list. It’s the kind of thing that lovers of all kind of writing (journalism, nonfiction, novels, poetry) will find engrossing.
On Thursday, Hana hosted me at the Portland Art Museum, where she works as director of education. They had on a big (Pittsburgh native) Andy Warhol show that I loved, especially his quotation in huge letters, high on the wall, "Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?" I thought that was such an awesome "apologia pro sua ars," as well as a good description of what happens to us as we read longer poems. The one that immediately springs to my mind is James Merrill’s "Lost in Translation;" I think we’ve read it here before, but it’s way longer than most MV selections.
In its stead, take a look at "Mirror," where the speaker, through repetition and rhythm (sounds, colors, plants…) calls up the subtle changes affecting not only the viewer, but the reflector, over time. Have a good week! -ed.
I grow old under an intensity
Of questioning looks. Nonsense,
I try to say, I cannot teach you children
How to live.—If not you, who will?
Cries one of them aloud, grasping my gilded
Frame till the world sways. If not you, who will?
Between their visits the table, its arrangement
Of Bible, fern and Paisley, all past change,
Does very nicely. If ever I feel curious
As to what others endure,
Across the parlor you provide examples,
Wide open, sunny, of everything I am
Not. You embrace a whole world without once caring
To set it in order. That takes thought. Out there
Something is being picked. The red-and-white bandannas
Go to my heart. A fine young man
Rides by on horseback. Now the door shuts. Hester
Confides in me her first unhappiness.
This much, you see, would never have been fitted
Together, but for me. Why then is it
They more and more neglect me? Late one sleepless
Midsummer night I strained to keep
Five tapers from your breathing. No, the widowed
Cousin said, let them go out. I did.
The room brimmed with gray sound, all the instreaming
Muslin of your dream . . .
Years later now, two of the grown grandchildren
Sit with novels face-down on the sill,
Content to muse upon your tall transparence,
Your clouds, brown fields, persimmon far
And cypress near. One speaks. How superficial
Appearances are! Since then, as if a fish
Had broken the perfect silver of my reflectiveness,
I have lapses. I suspect
Looks from behind, where nothing is, cool gazes
Through the blind flaws of my mind. As days,
As decades lengthen, this vision
Spreads and blackens. I do not know whose it is,
But I think it watches for my last silver
To blister, flake, float leaf by life, each milling-
Downward dumb conceit, to a standstill
From which not even you strike any brilliant
Chord in me, and to a faceless will,
Echo of mine, I am amenable.