Thursday, January 09, 2014

Museum silence and calm shadows

I have really been enjoying The Best of the Best American Poetry; 25th anniversary edition
on my Kindle. Sometimes you only have time for a poem or two. Your phone, Kindle or iPad
is usually handy. I have to admit I still probably prefer the slim volume of poems by one author,
but this way of reading is growing easier for me, I chose the photograph above, because to me
it has a sort of calm that accompanies the poem in an interesting way.


Reading Aloud to My Father

I chose the book haphazard
from the shelf, but with Nabokov's first
sentence I knew it wasn't the thing
to read to a dying man:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, it began,
and common sense tells us that our existence 
is but a brief crack of light
between two eternities of darkness.

The words disturbed both of us immediately,
and I stopped. With music it was the same---
Chopin's piano concerto---he asked me
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated
what was left of him.

But to return to the cradle rocking. I think
Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That's why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.

At the end they don't want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they'll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire
and let them pull it free.

1996 (The dates at the ends of the poems in this anthology are the dates in which the poem first appeared in one of The Best American Poetry anthologies, not the date of first publication.)

And now Jane Kenyon is dead, and her husband, Donald Hall has written feelingly about her decline and death from leukemia. In addition to Kenyon's father, Nabokov is dead, too, not to mention Chopin. But tonight, you and I are still alive; while we contemplate death, we probably ought not to think about it exclusively. But I think this is a very real and honest poem about Kenyon's experience, and I am pleased to have found it for tonight.

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