Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RIP

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

This poem is called The Laughing Heart.  It was written by Charles Bukowski, who died 17 years ago today.  It came toward the end of a collection of Bukowski's work, given to me during my poet years in Boston by my brother, then the English major.

Bukowski's work tends to be more raw, graphic, hard-edged -- I don't know how to describe it, and the poet in me winces at the broad, generic terms I just used.  But I was more about Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Anne Sexton, Lucile Clifton, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon.  I flipped through the pages of book, and found myself enjoying more than I thought I would. Connecting.  And then I came across this poem at almost the end.  I think it was the second to last in the collection.

I was working as an administrative assistant in a consulting firm, and doing a lot of writing. I had a good, well-paying job and overall a good work environment, though nothing thrilling or particularly challenging.

The copy that hangs on the wall of my cubicle at school is not the same one I posted on my cubicle wall at work, though it is beat up, with thumbtack holes and bent corners. My favorite lines: the gods wait to delight in you. I was writing all the time, and while not at my peak, I was feeling good, like I was ready for something, though I didn't know what.  I would stop, occasionally and read the words.

This was before I met C and before my mother became ill and before we moved to the midwest and before we couldn't get pregnant and before we did.

When my mom got sick, I was working a terrible job, in a place I hated with mostly horrid people. I kept this poem up on my cubicle wall.

there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.


It was hard to read it.  "Yeah," was usually my reaction, when I thought about it. "Right."

When my mother died, and when the Twin Towers came crashing down a few months later, this poem was still up on my cubicle wall, a new construction.  It as a new office for an old, old company.  Completely the wrong place for me. Demeaning.

it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.


"Shut up," I thought.


And yet, soon, I found a new job, a new career path where I knew I fit in.  Where I could do some good.  Do something important and do it well.

C and I got married. He was finding his way.  He got into graduate school. We moved halfway across the country. It was hard. It was really hard and really lonely.

I don't know where the poem was.  In a box or drawer somewhere.  In the book on my shelf. In the back of my mind.

I decided to try graduate school, the only way I could really teach, really reach out was to have a degree. I found my way to my department. I made a new copy of the poem. I posted it on my cubicle wall.

your life is your life.
know it while you have it.


And then we started trying to conceive.  And failing and losing and failing and losing.  And then we got pregnant with the boys.

you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.


And then we lost them.

I don't know if I took the poem down for a while after our loss.  Like the "hope is the thing with feathers" pendant, sometimes I just couldn't bear it. 

The semester I got my own section of the course I teach, the semester we were going to try again, finally, I began to hand out a copy of this poem to the students in my class.  Once I did it one class before an exam.  Once I did it at the end of the semester.  I talked to them about making their own meaning from it, and the meaning that I took from it. 

The work we do is hard. Life is hard. It can be really, really hard. But you can do it.  You can get through it. You can do more than get through it.

your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.


*****
The gods wait to delight in you.

The poem is still on my cubicle wall. A few inches from where the the pictures of my nieces, were posted up until a few weeks ago.  Even had to come down for a bit. They sit in my desk drawer.

It's been a few really, really dark months.  Dark like I didn't think I would see again.  And, even though I knew I was lucky, I could see those bits of light flickering, oh, it has been dark.

Yesterday, for some reason, I decided to look up the post I had written exactly 3 years earlier, just to see where I had been.  Here it is:

Saturday, March 8, 2008 

Broken Record

I hate this.
It's all bad.
This is so stupid.
I can't believe this is my life.
My babies are dead.
I want them back.

I have nothing else to say. 


*****

I am not in that place.  I have not been in that place, despite the darkness; it's been a whole new flavor of hurt.  Its context has broadened, and deepened. Grown more confusing, despite the simple kernel of truth. Of pain. I need help sorting through all the vines and roots.

I think some of the new medication is helping, though I've been fighting the flu, so it's harder to tell. But I'm feeling better. I emailed the therapist in LA who will skype with me. We will start on a trial basis soon.

I'm not claiming sunshine and light. In fact, it's one of those great, gray rainy days, perfect for tea and a book, curled up with a cat and a blanket.  Hope is too much, too dangerous.

But we will see, I guess.


***** 
The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.



22 comments:

Michele said...

poignant.... beautiful...

Ed said...

You're a beautiful writer.

Anonymous said...

You've brought me to tears with this post. Beautiful.

Thank you.

It is what it is said...

What a lovely tribute to the poet that a work of his has meant so much to you and been woven through your life's unfolding in so many ways.

It is a lovely poem. I am going to print it and put it up, too. Thank you for sharing his work and what it means to you.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

I love how you discussed the meaning of the poem to you at different stages in your life. Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a powerful poem...and incredible commentary. I'd never been a Buk fan--I spent a summer, when I worked in the special collections department of the library, cataloguing boxes of his boozy leavings, including old Budweiser bottles--but this poem clues me in to what all the fuss is about. "Dank submission"...whoa. What an image.

I'm interested to see where your turn of focus takes you. Change is interesting--change is change. Hope to keep you company on the way....

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