Sunday, November 22, 2009

How did I get suckered into reading this?

The Time Traveler's Wife, a novel I said I would never, ever read. When it came out in 2003 the plot sounded insane, and it still did last week when two of my students wrote book reviews about it. I should note that the book reviews were actually quite good for such a complicated, insane plot.
So why is it that I am now on page 398 of this whopping 536-page novel? I can't seem to answer this. One of my students did hand me a copy of the book last week insisting that I read it. As I shook my head, I opened up the cover and a Derek Walcott poem stared back at me. Derek Walcott? An auspicious beginning for such a terribly titled book. Here is the poem, which I ran into again in the library later that same day. Funny coincidence.

"Love After Love"

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

my good day

Yesterday I was sitting in the library with one of my classes, listening to our wonderful librarian talk about interesting reads for my students. I remember feeling tired, definitely not 100%. For a minute I thought about what I would rather be doing (sleeping, reading on a couch somewhere, sitting outside in the sunshine), and then it hit me: I was actually in the middle of my perfect day. I don't know that I've ever been so acutely aware of being in the moment, or at least certainly not when I'm at work. I usually reserve that kind of presence for vacations. Here was my startling revelation, and not in a nutshell:
All of my classes visited our library yesterday, which is arguably the most beautiful indoor space on campus. My freshmen were working on poetry projects, which meant that I could sit and read poetry too and help them find relevant poems. I ended up with a Billy Collins volume called Sailing Around the Room and Other New Poems, and here is the poem that caused me to erupt into unstoppable giggles for the remainder of class:


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.

Later in the day, my seniors were working on another kind of poetry altogether: The Great Gatsby. After listening to booktalks in the library we raced back to my room to talk about the strange and glamorous people that populate the first chapters of that novel. My students were exuberant: they adore this novel. They adore this novel even though they are in the middle of November and college applications and are only minutes away from Thanksgiving break.

After wrapping up Gatsby and teaching, I met and worked briefly with a group of teachers about diversity issues at my school. I love this group of teachers and what we're doing. I realized during my epiphany that I was looking forward to this meeting all day.

Then I had my fiddle lesson, and I am officially rocking out on some Christmas tunes these days.

Finally, I found myself at 9 p.m. sitting in the cheapest seat at the symphony listening to the gorgeous layers of Bolero. Sigh.

A perfect day.

I share all this because anyone who knows me well knows that my life is far from perfect right now. But there is something transporting and dazzling about good literature and poetry and music.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicago - the finer things

This weekend some friends and I toured Oak Park, which is Frank Lloyd Wright's old stomping ground. We had all read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan back in August and decided to see his work for ourselves.
These are some shots of a nearby park, homes he designed in his neighborhood, and his own home and studio(photos 3-5).
I think our next common read should be set in Bali, although Chicago was surprisingly lovely in November...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Primer for an Anxious Girl

If winter were an axiom,
I would spell it for her -
every daughter should study
the abrupt freeze

lest she be caught abroad
in it. If night were an
equation, we would solve
it by candlelight - feathers

plus an ache in the throat.
She worries these rules
till they are threadbare
and cannot keep her warm.

I explain and explain
insomnia. Wish I could
unlatch the silk lid
of her head, reach precisely

in, rearrange the corridors
of sleep. That way, my love.
Past the purple masses
of snow, round the corner

where gale becomes zephyr.
A waiting cradle rocks
beneath the firmamental lilac.
Disembodied - thus.

~from Heathen by Lesley Wheeler
And yes, everyone should buy this lovely book of poems.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

looking good

Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Lacuna.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Lamps

Eight o'clock, no later,
You light the lamps,

The big one by the large window,
The small one on your desk.

They are not to see by --
It is still twilight out over the sand,

The scrub oaks and cranberries.
Even the small birds have not settled

For sleep yet, out of the reach
Of prowling foxes. No,

You light the lamps because
You are alone in your small house

And the wicks sputtering gold
Are like two visitors with good stories

They will tell slowly, in soft voices,
While the air outside turns quietly

A grainy and luminous blue.
You wish it would never change --

But of course the darkness keeps
Its appointment. Each evening,

An inscrutable presence, it has the final word
Outside every door.

~Mary Oliver, from Twelve Moons (1979)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Horror Stories

Pages of frost hurtle off the metal roof
as I begin to faint in class again.
This time, it's the rueful laugh in "Out, Out -"
that rims the world with spreading pools of blood.
My hands are cold and the next hour snakes ahead
of me narrowly like a salted path through rimed,
rattling grass-leaves. Too many poems put my lights
out. Too many leave the bones exposed, the gore
leaking, clumps of hair with the scalp attached
discarded in the sawdust. They're worse than life,
than the classics professor who scissored off a finger
a beat before the bell, trimming flowers
her husband sent because he's off to war
again. She is, I presume, getting medical help
right now. She will be, I imagine, fine in the end.
Damaged, but okay. The clouds will blow
off, and the crashing knives of ice will shatter
harmlessly on the ground. My blood pressure
will come back from whatever resort it's been skiing at
along safely cleared roads with the stereo blasting -
no, that's a student's cell phone and I'm still
in class. The rhythms of questions, sentence sounds.
They're waiting for me. We'll be fine in the end.

~Lesley Wheeler, Heathen (2009)