Archive for December, 2012

Tuesday poem: Shoulders

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Someone posted this on FaceBook in response to the Newtown murders. It’s a lovely poem in any context, and very moving in that one.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, where there is a poem posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.


Friday, December 14th, 2012

Do you know the poem ‘Sometimes’ by Sheenagh Pugh? It’s so popular that I gather the author is sick of it being chosen – she has written other poems, for pity’s sake. But I still like it a lot, and it has come to my mind so often over the last couple of days.

You know how sometimes you feel you’re battling your way through a sea of cold porridge? Everything conspires against you in a fearsome harmony of mean-spirited opposition. And how at other times you feel unreasonably blessed: that the gods are smiling at you, that the world is in harmony after all, and on your side.

Neither of those states lasts: nothing is for ever; not the bad times, and not the good times either. But boy! have I had a lovely couple of days. Here are some of the highlights.

1. I discovered that I have a terrifically impressive bone scan result. A few years ago I had a just-about-OK result, but this one is great. Right up at the top of the scale. And since I have improved I am taking the credit for eating right and exercising properly, and I am really proud of that.
2. The reason I had a bone scan is that I’ve recently been diagnosed with a horrible condition called polymyalgia, for which you need to take cortisone for – in all likelihood – several years. But here’s the good bit: I’m doing so well with the present level of cortisone that I will begin to slowly* reduce the dose in January. Twice! Can’t wait.
3. I got the exact sweater I wanted in the Eileen Fisher sale. I also got a double discount in the sale: not sure why, but hey! It was my day. To add to the pleasure quotient I had lunch in Food For Thought in Neal Street, where I haven’t been in way too long, and it was just as good as ever.
4. My dear friend Dee scored two tickets for next June’s Leonard Cohen concert, and one of them … is for ME! I was faffing around thinking oh, should I really go to this one? (The last one was in a small venue in Paris in September: this is in the O2 Arena. Would I like it as much? Would I like it at all?) Oh worra worra. But as soon as Dee told me she had tickets I realised not only that I wanted to go to this one very much, but that I wanted to go to every single remaining Leonard Cohen concert I can, while he is still able to skip around the stage and kneel (kneel!) to sing his astounding songs. I am very excited, as you may have gathered by now.
5. I am planning to grow my hair so that I can get it into one of those fancy plaits that start up at the top of the back of your head and the hair gets folded in all the way down. I have no idea if that will work, and I have even less of no idea if I will last the hair-growing course, which tends to be rather gruelling. But still.

* I want to let you know that the split infinitive is deliberate. I’m feeling dangerously liberated.

So here’s the poem:-

SOMETIMES by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a sea of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

And indulge me: here’s a picture of One Heck of a Guy.

Merrily rolling backwards

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Last week we went to the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Sondheim’s ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ which was – is – a brilliant realisation of a famously tricky bit of musical theatre. (It goes backwards: it begins in 1976 and goes back through time, scene by scene, to 1957 when the three main characters first meet.) An American friend tells me that Sondheim and others have been tinkering with it and revising it over the years since the notorious flop of the 1981 premiere, and there was a New York Encores production last winter that they were then calling the definitive revised version: maybe the Chocolate Factory’s production is based on that one. The Chocolate Factory does have a way with Sondheim and it seems they may have finally cracked the ‘Merrily’ curse. The run has just been extended for two weeks until 9 March: I recommend it unreservedly.

Not that it’s a barrel of laughs, you understand. It’s heart-breaking, in typical Sondheim fashion. But also brilliant. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

Anyway, I woke the next morning thinking of it as being a riff on the last line of ‘The Great Gatsby’: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” That’s such an American concern, isn’t it – and a larger human one for that matter. What a complete genius is Sondheim: I can’t think of another modern writer so good at the resonances of loss & regret in human lives. (Oh OK, I can if I try, and they all seem to be North Americans. John Updike. Edith Wharton. Willa Cather. Anne Tyler. Leonard Cohen. Etc.)

I do see that’s also what I’m doing with these retrospective blog posts – boats against the current; back into the past; all that. It’s an interesting exercise and I’m slightly sorry it’s almost over – there’s this one, and another I plan to write about the Leonard Cohen concert I went to in Paris at the end of September, and that’s more or less it. After that it’s all going to be forward! Forward! And anyway I don’t want to get too close to Wordsworth’s famous quote about poetry being the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility,’ if only because I don’t usually feel tranquil about the past, or about past emotions. (Interested, certainly: even retrospectively surprised: just not tranquil.) But I am enjoying this present process, so go figure.

Anyway, back to New York at the end of October, and emotions recollected against a satisfying background of uproar. We went to galleries and the theatre and the opera, and a concert on a barge in Brooklyn. We walked the High Line. I had my first encounter with a sbagliato cocktail. We caught up with old friends and met delightful new acquaintances (the sbagliato cocktail springs once more to mind in this category) and left regretting some of the things we hadn’t managed to fit in as much as treasuring the things we had, which I think is par for the New York experience – I always used to think I shouldn’t go to bed when I was in Manhattan because I’d always be missing something wonderful.

The best thing? Hard to choose, but probably ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ at the Met. Perfect, simply perfect. Worth the journey all by itself.