Thursday, September 10, 2009

Singing Our Songs of Innocence and Experience

My sister and her 3 year old son are coming tomorrow. I should be cleaning my house. When they came for a visit a year and a half ago, I scrubbed the house from top to bottom--I was terrified that my nephew would put something horrible in his mouth from some corner that I had forgotten to clean.

My sister has the only child who doesn't explore the world by tasting it. He doesn't put much of anything into his mouth. It's a struggle to get him to slow down long enough to eat.

So, much as I would like to have a house that's scrubbed from top to bottom, it's beginning to look like it won't happen. When they came before, I had a more flexible work schedule. Now my work schedule requires that I be in the office forat least 40 hours a week--so this year, I have much less time to clean.

We'll do the important stuff: vacuum, clean the bathrooms, that sort of thing. I don't want my readers to think I'm a total slattern.

My sister and nephew will be flying on Sept. 11. I'm not usually superstitious about these things, however I can't help but notice that date.

I'm thinking of Sept. 10, 2001. I went to teach my Romantic Lit class and we dove into Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. We had a rollicking discussion of what he meant by those terms, innocence and experience, and whether or not we'd rather live in the land of innocence (where we might be in danger, but too innocent to know) or experience.

Then we went home and the next day, Sept. 11, we watched the Towers burn and fall, over and over again in an endless news loop.

I know that many poets (as well as other writers and artists) spent the rest of that autumn wrestling with how their art fit into this new world. I went to several poetry readings where people tested out their Sept. 11 poems. I've only written one poem that references the event, but I tried to make it about larger issues, the Blakeian issue of innocence and experience.

My poem "Rites of Passage" begins with these lines: "My students flock to me / on this day of fear and falling buildings." It ends with these stanzas:

Perhaps this is the final deflowering
that waits for them at midlife,
after they’ve weathered several crises.
Buildings that seemed solid
will sift into dust,
astronauts will fall from the sky,
whole civilizations will be slaughtered
in the amount of time
it takes a fascist to organize forces.

The sad truth that I do not reveal
to my scared students:
a day when only several thousand lives are lost
to catastrophe is not as calamitous
as it could be,
as it will be.

Not very cheery, is it? But not every poem needs to end with cheerful breeziness.

So, today, as I go to work and afterwards try to get my house a bit more presentable, I'll think about those issues of innocence and experience. I love my nephew for many reasons, but I especially love how he teaches me a lot about radical acceptance. He's not judging me for those 20-30 pounds that I can't seem to lose and keep lost. He doesn't hear me sing and notice the off notes. We dance and twirl around the room and I know he's not saying, "Doesn't she realize how ridiculous she looks?" He's just so happy to be with us and to have adults who will play with him. I would like to cultivate that sense of innocence in myself.

1 comment:

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i agree with you! that's just the kind of innocence that makes life worthy in the middle of screeching madness of people convinced of their righteousness.
enjoy your visit, and twirl and extra turn for me!