Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Poem for the Post-Election Days: "Ode on an American Puzzle"

Yesterday was surreal, after a surreal election night of being asleep and then not--feeling like I might never sleep again--and then sleeping, wrapped in my soft T-shirt, fleece jacket and comforter--and then waking to such change--or maybe it won't be such change--it's hard to steer the ship of state in a drastically different direction, which is why people at the edges of parties and movements and other proponents of change are so often disappointed.

It was surreal because there was very little talk about politics at my new workplace--or maybe, since I'm the new kid, no one is talking politics to me.  In many ways, I prefer that approach.  I spent the day revising accreditation documents and drinking tea, which was an oddly soothing approach to the national news.  We still have a school to run.

I took some Facebook breaks, but I didn't linger long.  Too much heartbreak.  I did enjoy the poems that people started posting.  So, let me post a poem here.

I wrote this poem in the autumn of 2001, a time when the world seemed more topsy-turvy than even now, in the post-election hours.  Back then, my spouse and I spent several weeks working on a puzzle, and it was soothing.  I was teaching the British literature survey class, and I had Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" on my brain--those figures on the urn, forever frozen in whatever emotional moment they experienced right then.  I thought the puzzle offered a similar dynamic.

It's an interesting spiritual question that Keats poses:  is it better to be forever poised to kiss the beloved?  Is it better to live in the moment of anticipation, rather than having to deal with all the messy humanness that comes after the kiss, once we truly know our beloved?

And there are larger questions posed by both the urn and the poem:  how do we stay in the here and now?  How do we not get distracted by our sorrows?  How do we maintain our faith, in the face of enormous woes?  For me, during that autumn of 2001 that broke our hearts in so many ways, the answer came in the jigsaw puzzle.

I've never thought of jigsaw puzzles as spiritual practice or meditation aid.  Perhaps I should.

Ode on an American Puzzle

These people do not puzzle over how the pieces
of their lives fit together. They know their purpose,
always at the center of the picture.
They will never return home to unfinished
craft projects and unwashed dishes. They will celebrate
continuously at this harvest dance, the deepest
darks of night and winter always at arm’s
length, the leaves always brightly colored,
mounds of pumpkins waiting for transformation,
every woman and man matched, the children tended.

Perhaps that is why I like puzzles.
As buildings melt and planes explode, and even smaller tragedies
rip apart the pieces of a life, I find
a measured calm that even poetry cannot provide.
I sit at this table, free from existential mystery.
I know what picture will emerge as I piece
this project into one. I know that all the parts
have been provided. I know that they will connect.
What other aspect of my life can hope
to offer the same consolation?

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