Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solace in Blanco Verse for Midlife, Midwinter Blues

Richard Blanco, from New York Times

Mid-break and midlife, one naturally feels the passing of time with a mixture of regret and alarm.  Waking in the dark, I tell myself to get up and make a head start on projects for next week, and I also tell myself No!  Enjoy staying in bed while you have this chance!  My compromise was to flip on the bedside lamp to find solace in the nearest book.  I opened Richard Blanco's Looking for the Gulf Motel to the end and read backwards.  I found what I needed.

The collection finishes with "Since Unfinished," six stanzas telling us that the poet has been writing these lines "since" his grandfather taught him to make a whistle from a blade of grass, since the sparrow flew into class, since...

the morning I first stood up
on the bathroom sink to watch
my father shave

when their "eyes met in that foggy mirror" (79).  Through crises of youth and young adulthood, promise and loss, eventually we reach a place by the sea, where his eyes have "started seeing less," but where...

I sit to read and watch the sunset
like my grandfather did everyday....

...still at work writing this life in progress. The repetition of the phrase "writing this since" gives comforting form to a chaos of memory and reassuring continuity to work / life unfinished.

The collection's penultimate poem encompasses a whole life time against a single backdrop:

The sea is never the same twice.  Today
the waves open their lions' mouths hungry
for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.  (77)

What a great image for awe and fear!  But then,

... Some days
the sun is a dollop of honey and raining
light on the sea glinting diamond dust...

More than memory, the sea returns him to earlier time, past still present:  "I'm still a boy on this beach, wanting / to catch a seagull," or else he's "a teenager blind to death."  But most often he's "tired," "old and afraid of my body," imagining that someday he'll "return someplace like waves / trickling through the sand."

Age depletes expectations, but Blanco's poem reminds us how all our past selves are potential presences, like the sea itself - constant, constantly changing.

Poem third-to-last also picks up on that image of water that disappears into something larger, a "Place of Mind."  It's a pantoum, content dictating form as "tears of rain fall / from awnings and window ledges" into the streets -- and stanzas -- below, the cycle of rain "always ending, yet always beginning."  Naturally, the poem ends where it begins, as "the search for myself ends in echo."  That's beautiful.

Is it comforting?  Life is bigger than the little pieces that worry me in the dark; little pieces can have lasting value;  those of us feeling "tired," aware that our "eyes are seeing less" are hardly alone. 

Is it compatible with what I say when I recite the Nicene Creed in the Episcopal Church?  That re-opens the discussion I've carried on in my head with poet/essayist Christian Wiman.  See my previous blog entry, "Ecclesiastes at 3 a.m."

Reflection on three poems at the end of a collection by Richard Blanco, Looking for the Gulf Motel (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012).  I wrote about the whole collection in an essay a year ago, "Not Grievance, but Gratitude."

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