It’s hard to confine myself to my keyboard indoors on a day as beautiful as today. I’m reminded of a poem I discovered at Logan’s on Friday. Cornerstone’s conference didn’t kick off until 3pm that day. Since he was running too late for the bus that morning, I dropped him off then returned to his mother’s hospitality and his books.
As a rule, I’m good at not snooping in others’ rooms (though I was always good at finding chocolate in Ben’s room, but it’s easy to find chocolate in his room). What I can’t resist are others’ books. I browse their titles and, if given the opportunity, select one to read.
Logan made it easy for me. After hearing Foer Thursday, he and I had read to each other. It happened because I said I don’t like poetry. He had to prove me wrong. To read me some Jack Gilbert and convince me that I only don’t like mediocre poetry. Poetry that doesn’t quite know whether it’s meant to be in verses or should have been prose. Of course, he was right. There are many poems I return to and many I’ve memorized (I even began my presentation with a poem). I’d just meant that I’m picky and read little, but I love being read to so I didn’t clarify.
Growing up my mother read to us, until my sisters became impatient. Until they complained too much and she grew too busy. But even in high school there were moments when the tradition was revived. I sat riveted on our kitchen floor one winter as my dad read to me a memoire he loved. Christa and I spent our free time during a finals week near the end of high school reading each other a series of novels instead of studying. Years later, during the summer she was married, when we spent two weeks cleaning and painting what would be her new home, we read to each other again.
In the dreary solitude of that Friday morning, a misty chill day, before squeezing in a few hours for my virtual assistant job, I returned to Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems. To discover “Transgression”:
He thinks about how important the sinning was,
how much his equity was in simply being alive.
Like the sloth. The days and nights wasted,
doing nothing important adding up to
the favorite years. Long hot afternoons
watching ants while the cicadas railed
in the Chinese Elm about the brevity of life.
Indolence so often when no one was watching.
Wasting June mornings with the earth singing
all around. Autumn afternoons doing nothing
but listening to the siren voices of streams
and clouds coaxing him into the sweet happiness
of leaving all of it alone. Using up what
little time we have, relishing our mortality,
waltzing slowly without purpose. Neglecting
the future. Content to let the garden fail
and the house continue on in its usual disorder.
Yes, and coveting his neighbor’s wives.
The clean hair and soft voices. The seraphim
he was sure were in one of the upstairs rooms.
Hesitant occasions of pride, feeling himself feeling.
Waking in the night and lying there. Discovering
the past in the wonderful stillness. The other,
older pride. Watching the ambulance take away
the man whose throat he had crushed. Above all,
his greed. Greed of time, of being. This world,
the pine woods stretching all brown or bare
on either side of the railroad tracks in the winter
twilight. Him feeling the cold, sinfully unshriven.
His poem reminds me of how I like to spend my summers. Not quite so secluded, not stepping on men’s throats or coveting neighbors’ spouses, but lazily. Indulgently. Greedy with time and being. It’s hard for me to think of it as transgression. Nothing else seems so natural. I look out the window longing for the days when it will be warm enough again for me to spend my days living out in the sunlight.