Friday, January 16, 2009

Furniture and Poetry

Clara's on the hunt for new furniture so off we went. While she prowled the furniture store, I kept amused by flipping through the books scattered around as decoration. Lots of legal reference and Reader's Digest Condensed Books - big, chunky books that look great on a table or bookcase but not really meant to be read. One of the books, though, gave me cause to find a chair and thumb through a little more closely: a collection of American Literature. I can't remember the title but I was impressed by the breadth of its selection.

The first author I always check for to determine a literary collection's worth is Hemingway; political correctness has caused him to fall from favor in some collections but no study of American Literature is complete without him. Sure enough, this collection included Soldier's Home, not his best but the protagonist comes home to Oklahoma so, well, we'll take that. A good volume, then.

Moving to the poetry section, I came across a poem by the recent U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Among the books I'm not reading, I've managed to finish for the umpteenth time Collins' Sailing Around The Room, a collection of his greatest hits from past collections and some new poems. His poetry is clear, easily accessible, and never fail to delight. The literature collection had this poem, which serves as a fine sample of Collins' work.


Glancing over my shoulder at the past,
I realize the number of students I have taught
is enough to populate a small town.

I can see it nestled in a paper landscape,
chalk dust flurrying down in winter,
nights dark as a blackboard.

The population ages but never graduates.
On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park
and when it's cold they shiver around stoves
reading disorganized essays out loud.
A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags
into the streets with their books.

I forgot all their last names first and their
first names last in alphabetical order.
But the boy who always had his hand up
is an alderman and owns the haberdashery.
The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
leans against the drugstore, smoking,
brushing her hair like a machine.

Their grades are sewn into their clothes
like references to Hawthorne.
The A's stroll along with other A's.
The D's honk whenever they pass another D.

All the creative-writing students recline
on the courthouse lawn and play the lute.
Wherever they go, they form a big circle.

Needless to say, I am the mayor.
I live in the white colonial at Maple and Main.
I rarely leave the house. The car deflates
in the driveway. Vines twirl around the porch swing.

Once in a while a student knocks on the door
with a term paper fifteen years late
or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane
to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.

See what I mean?

But the point of this post is that I had just read and enjoyed this poem a few days before finding it again in a furniture store on a winter's afternoon. You just never know where, or when, you'll be delighted.

No comments:

Post a Comment