Friday, June 11, 2010

Behind Ginny's Little Longhorn

"Wires and pipes, snapped off at the roots, quiver.

Well, that is what life does. I stare
A moment longer..."

From "An Urban Convalescence" by James Merrill


I feel a little like this truck. Or is it that I feel more like those clouds? Difficult to say, but I will say this about James Merrill.

A number of years ago, when I lived in New York City, I heard that James Merrill was going to read some of his poems someplace downtown, I can't recall where. Of course I was going -- there was no way I was NOT going.

I was waiting for the bus that would take me downtown when two young men came near. One of them began talking to me and handed me an invitation to a church. He urged me to go to their service that night. I told him I couldn't -- I needed to see and hear a poet read some poems, thank you very much. Besides, wasn't art a form of church?

He got a little huffy, and waved towards the crowd of rush-hour working folks crossing the street, an inimitably world-weary hustle and flow:
"Do those people look happy? They need God to be happy, not art!"

"Ah," I said, "their problem is that they have too little art -- if they only read more poetry and looked at more paintings, they'd all be much happier!"

My unnamed accoster snorted in scorn while his partner-in-proselytization could barely stifle his giggles. The bus pulled up, and I said, "Last chance -- I'll go to your church with you both tonight, but you have to go to the poetry reading with me now!"

I got on the bus; they stayed on the pavement.

Merrill was splendid, magical -- he arrived swathed in an elegant red-lined cape and read his beautiful, ormolu verse in a voice that made them seem the most natural things in the world to say.

And when I left...I was happy.

I hope you're happy. And if not, let's meet here and look for more art.


Dale said...


lowenkopf said...

Merrill's work remains, swathed in a magical cape, defining us for ourselves, raising the bar of probability ever so much higher, then grinning the metaphor of encouragement as he leaps over it first, to show how it's done.

San said...

I believe that poetry and paintings allow us to feel like those clouds and that truck, and that's a good feeling.

Sherry O'Keefe said...

clouds and rust offer contrasting reflections. this post connects the span.

this to say, i am enjoying your blog.