30 April 2010

There's a moment you know...

By Ada Limón

Maybe my limbs are made
mostly for decoration,
like the way I feel about
persimmons. You can't
really eat them. Or you
wouldn't want to. If you grab
the soft skin with your fist
it somehow feels funny,
like you've been here
before and uncomfortable,
too, like you'd rather
squish it between your teeth
impatiently, before spitting
the soft parts back up
to linger on the tongue like
burnt sugar or guilt.
For starters, it was all
an accident, you cut
the right branch
and a sort of light
woke up underneath,
and the inedible fruit
grew dark and needy.
Think crucial hanging.
Think crayon orange.
There is one low, leaning
heart-shaped globe left
and dearest, can you
tell, I am trying
to love you less.

26 April 2010

Was I out yonder somewhere blinking at a star?

For some reason, I really miss my grandfather today...
He died unexpectedly right before I turned 18, two days after my grandmother passed away. I've never met two people who were more in love. They fought, but that made their love even more realistic. They could both be infuriating, but they were infuriating together. They were also beautiful. My grandfather remained statuesque, golden-tan, and muscular even as he passed age sixty-five. His hair maintained its dark chrome with just the slightest scattering of grey caressing his temples. My grandmother continued to move with effortless grace, commanding the attention of every eye as she glided past with her reddish hair swept off her lineless forehead.
My grandfather was the type of man who valued imagination and silliness. He never failed to make us laugh, even when I got jaded and rebellious in my teenage years. One of my most vivid memories is the lofted upstairs of my grandparents' house, my grandfather's secret haunt where only the most special were invited in (and I was on that list). He kept the Gummi candies that fed his sweet tooth placed rather precariously on his leather ottoman. However, they never seemed to fall, no matter how many times my impatient, active feet tapped at the ottoman, kicked it, or just thumped at it in the process of climbing into his lap. I would snuggle next to him in one leather recliner, and that is where I became introduced to some of the figures who have inhabited my dreams through adulthood. We watched Judy Garland or Gene Kelly follow the yellow brick road or sing in the rain; we introduced ourselves to an incorrigible girl called Gigi and hummed Gershwin tunes in An American in Paris. My grandfather even taught me how to ballroom dance, with tiny me balancing on his toes; a mass of contradictions, he had been both a star baseball player and an Arthur Murray dance instructor.
One of my biggest regrets is that in his final days, even in his final year, I let my teenage anger get in the way of my love and of forming new memories I could have cherished when he was gone. I can't even remember if I told him I loved him that night. My grandmother had lost the ability to speak, but she still loved to hear me sing, and my grandfather requested a song before I left for the night. I sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel and then left; the next morning, my grandmother was still dying and my grandfather was in a coma. The closing refrain of that song was the final words he heard from me while he was conscious.
My grandfather was a truly remarkable man, a jack of all trades, a Renaissance man. I miss him more than I can say, and today, when one of his favorite songs crept onto my playlist as I graded papers, I couldn't help but hope that he was and is proud of me.
"As shaded as his eyes might be
That's how bright his mind is
That's how strong his love for you and me
A friend to all the universe
Grandfather of the future
And everything I would like to be
What one man can do is dream
What one man can do is love
What one man can do is change the world and make it young again
Here you see what one man can do."

If I should live forever and all my dreams come true,
My memories of love will be of you.

25 April 2010

what do you say to taking chances

I love this. It makes me want to have a mass Glee performance in a public place:

22 April 2010

how your ivy grows

I had a king dressed in drip-dry and paisley
Lately he's taken to saying I'm crazy and blind
He lives in another time
Ladies in gingham still blush
While he sings them of wars and wine
But I in my leather and lace
I can never become that kind.

17 April 2010

And in that moment, I swear we were infinite

I can't explain how incredible it is to watch a student reach his potential right in front of you. Today one of my darlings starred in the school musical, earned a standing ovation, and still shuffled backstage to accept his hug from me while mumbling that he messed up his final lines. Students like this one both warm and break my heart: his growth is impressive to observe, and yet I doubt he realizes how wonderful he is. This is the type of kid who always says hello to me in the halls and welcomes me with a genuine smile. He spends hours trying to improve his schoolwork, never complaining about the fact that many others earn stellar grades while giving only a cursory glance at the material. Never seeking to boost his own pride while denigrating others', he offers kind words to every student and is an approachable presence, even to the youngest students. He has also taken an impressive risk here: this is the first time he's sung in public, and some of his more boorish friends don't exactly consider musical theater to be something worthy of their praise. Instead, he risks mockery, something that in high school (or even later) can be devastating. If I could write this student a letter that he could take out and look at every time he doubted his gifts, I would assure him that he is one of the lucky ones-- he has what so many people lack, a balance of empathy, charisma, humor, intellect, sensitivity, and sheer originality. From the beginning of the year to now, he has already pushed himself to such an impressive degree that even though I don't teach him, I just look at him and want him to know this:
If every one of my darlings could realize his or her infinite wonder...then my life would be one step closer to being complete.

13 April 2010

art for art's sake?

I know that I've written this before, perhaps as one of my first blog posts, but I can't help but look at many of the works of fiction that surround me and be reminded of Kathleen Kelly's line from You've Got Mail: "So much of what I see reminds me of something I've read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?" The sheer fact that I'm invoking that quote speaks to the influence fiction has had in my life: in a rather meta-like fashion, I can't explain my reliance on stories without calling upon these words from my vast storehouse of arcane quips, quotations, miscellany, potpourri, flotsam...and so on. I wonder if a day will come when I'll be able to see my life as the reference point, rather than some world made up out of an author's head. Or maybe my eternal summoning of the Literary Gods and their creations-- characters who resonate throughout generations, ink-smudged fingers, technological advances, and student complaints-- just speaks to the inevitable reality of a good book. It may become a mirror through which others see their lives; it may be an instruction booklet, flagged with "do not do this!" sticky-notes by passages describing the lovelorn and depressed; it may be a beacon to which readers can aspire; it may be a hand-holding presence to lovers unhappy and happy, nostalgic or prescient.
Lately I've been seeing myself in The Sun Also Rises, which I've been rereading with some of my students. I never pictured myself in a Hemingway saga, but here I am, strapped to a Hemingway hero on an up-and-down taxi voyage that readers have misunderstood for decades. Look, I'm no Lady Brett Ashley-- far from it, in fact, and anytime I attempt to make this personal identification known my students pipe up with "But she's slutty!" (So much for being open-minded.) The overall message that I take from Brett and Jake, though, is that love is often illogical and far from simple; people have wounds, and wounds become scars, and scars lead to twisted loves, on and off for a long time. Sometimes they make little sense. Sometimes others view them as making us weak. More often than not, our "pretty" relationships remain just as ambiguous to us as they do to everyone else; but somehow, as the parties involved, we see the value that other people fail to notice. It's in the shades of gray.
What does this say about me, that I can hold books up and see my reflection, like in a mirror? What does it say that I've often felt more kinship with figments than with flesh and blood? Is this the case for everyone, or will this always be a stumbling block for me? Another quote from the story-world is the only way to close: "I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So, goodnight, dear void."

07 April 2010

you with the sad eyes, don't be discouraged

I love thunderstorms, but tonight for some reason I feel like each lightning bolt rattles my bones! I'm like a little girl again, needing to dive under the covers of Fraulein Maria's bed...boys aren't scared, I say to myself, as I swathe myself in satin sheets and cuddle up to my nears and dears. Not true, apparently. Maria chases the scary thoughts out of our heads with lilting tunes of snowflakes and sleighbells. If only we would always sing a song to protect ourselves from storms. If only all we had to to do succeed or chase away demons was to ask ourselves, "What would Julie Andrews do?"

"What will this day be like, I wonder...
What will my future be, I wonder..."

"Oh darling, make it go
Make it go away
Give me these moments back
Give them back to me
Give me that little kiss
Give me your hand."

"There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup"