While at Oxford Oscar Wilde remarked that he wished he could be worthy of his blue china, a remark that earned him nearly instant celebrity. One may argue Wilde was the first meme generator. He was half pre-Raphaelite, somewhat of Ruskin, fond also of Pater who never quite gave up on mysticism. Wilde lived every hour whole.
I wish I could be worthy of my blue china. I wish I could be worthy of this dear bookshelf. Oh the china works better. Why?
Collection is a contraction of imagination. If we’re entirely in the wrong labyrinth, and I mean all of us, then objects of nearly childish longing mean far more than we can say. In a dark wood I still have two agates in my pocket.
It was Auden broke my heart then put it back together. Caruso followed with a love song from Naples. By the age of 8 I could read poems and listen alone to gramophone records. Blind I’d little street life though I pretended I belonged well enough in open air. Like most people who come from provinces I was happiest in my privacies, my attic with scratchy records and grey books. Though I could scarcely read that’s the world that would have me.
The ugliness of school was both a matter of being bullied for my disability and a curricular austerity. School never let me share what I was learning while alone. As a university professor these past thirty years I think of this. What do the students before me bring to the room? What can provinces teach us?
Provincial culture means the one we must create. Yeats couldn’t be Tennyson and though there were Irish poets before him, he had to be both cognizant of his inner life and the outward world. If he was going to be Irish-provincial he’d have to do it in a dual way. Its a matter of accomplishment that Yeats doesn’t quite fit anywhere. His planet doesn’t exist. Yet its apparent.
Is it a bit silly to invoke Yeats next to a kid with a large print book and a Victrola? I don’t think so. The inner life is Romanticism and strength of mind and each must find it in her or his way. You don’t have to be a poet to need your planet. More and more contemporary fiction and memoirs seek to find planets that will have us. Everyone hails from some version of my childhood attic.
I’m guilty of reductionism here. What I’m after is emergence not life alone with some arias. The planet that will have us is a made place and not granted. What is it made of? Yeats wrote:
By the help of an image
I call to my own opposite, summon all
That I have handled least, least looked upon.
The planet that will have you won’t look like you. Yeats knew and if we’re lucky we also learn it.
Yes when I go walking the world does not resemble my stride, my frame, nor, despite my yearnings for mysticism does the world answer my longings. The world simply is and not what I say of it.
After so much is said and the candles are low…
I’m no match for the godless nights
And if there are gods I’m no match for them either
I build a fence badly, tear it down after dark
I used to love Wallace Stevens
I was young
Thus the dog bursts into my poem
Follows me home
A mild wind follows the dog
Up river where a stand of birches leans
Walking with a spent candle in my coat
Dream with dead father how did you find me?
Morning now a Mozart violin concerto on the radio
Sadness built in. As a boy: “you know that’s me
in the radio–that’s how I feel!” Father of dream
Last night you told me to play more guitar.
I’m lonely in this city.
If solitude is my lot the music helps
But foolish to say it–”That’s me, dad
Right there in the Philco….”
—September 29, 1973
If he’d been born this day
So the newspapers said
He’d have listened for ideas, not words
He’d have been lighter than air
It was Saturday under Libra
And all the pans were empty
America’s best names
Were Michael and Amy
He’d have been Mike Auden
And how do I know about you?
Asked the troll in a tale
I found myself reading
Alone in a library
While the leaves came down
As a ten year old who though he’d become a writer I attempted a novel. My model was “Mister Roberts” which meant that I was writing about the Navy and imagining the doings of grown men at sea. How I wish I had those pages now and could see what a blind kid thought the maritime world of wholly fictive adults would be like. I suspect I imagined an adult world that was honorable as a distinction to my grade school life of constant bullying. As a disabled child in public school I was a target for physical and emotional abuse. The novel “Mister Roberts” and the film based upon it suggested shipboard life was decent.
I think of this now because I know better. As Wallace Stevens famously wrote: “the world is ugly and the people are sad”—and while that may not be a life’s goal, that is, to live in wantoness and depression—these are factors in the reality principle. The Navy may have honorable men and women but their stories and presences aren’t always probable. We’ve a land of permanent wars and poverty and bigotries of every kind. And the grade school bullying I once endured still goes on for children everywhere and I even experience adult forms of it in the workplace.
It’s the utopian hope of writing that’s so compelling to me. When I write I clean streaked windows with vinegar. Animals come. Some eat from my hands. Strangers come to understand each other. And these things are not entirely of imagination Wallace Stevens notwithstanding.
Yesterday I took an Uber ride. My driver spoke very little English. He was from Central America. He loved my guide dog Caitlyn, a yellow Labrador. Suddenly he said in his halting English: “I wish her long life!”
The world is ugly but people still have love. In turn I’m not certain I’m all that different from my ten year old self. That kid was insisting on decency.
His grown up variant still does.
In the years to come they will say
Horses lay in the fields
Crows resisted flight
We bartered air
A Senator on TV
Asks: what will we tell our grandchildren?
I shout in my living room
Will there be any years for them
I say we are the gods of years
And the dogs look up at me
I am blind
I put one foot in front of the other
In the dark I move quickly
Faith is simply faith
I’ve an old hymn in mind
Only a moment in time