Friday, August 5, 2011

Tucked in the Corners of My Mind

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Salutation by Ezra Pound

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

This poem saved my hide in 12th grade. It was April Fool's Day. I was in AP English. The teacher had a good sense of humor, but the prank dreamed up by some of the class that day did not go over well. So, after he recorded grades for the day's pop quiz, he went back around the room and asked each of us to name our favorite piece of literature from what we'd read so far that year. If we had an answer, we got an A for that 2nd set of grades he was recording. If we didn't, I presume we got something pretty dismal. I was ecstatic that I had an answer long before he called my name. In fact, I was so excited that the words nearly spilled from my lips before he got to me.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Much to my classmates' chagrin and his delight, I quoted this poem in its entirety. I guess if there was a grading curve, I blew it. The piece had not been a class assignment, but I had discovered it tucked between the pages of our literature book and treasured it. Today it remains tucked between the pages of my memories - a treasured friend from long ago. 

Even now, it resonates with me in a way I cannot describe. Maybe it is because my early years were spent in the salt air on an island or very near the coast where estuaries meet the sea. His poem is about a lake, but I always find the sea when the words come back to me. Some of my earliest memories are of watching the fishing boats pull up to the wharf to unload the day's catch. Casual Friday was every day, and it involved hip waders. Oh, to be young again.

I read Ezra Pound's words, and memories emerge as if from my bone marrow. They are always there making me who I am. I can hear the surf hard at work carving and re-carving the coast line. The gulls are screaming, but the noise ebbs and flows with the wind that suspends them. I wait to see them crash earthward wondering what prey they will claim at the end of that mad dive. The shrimpers' boats sit on the horizon. They noiselessly edge back and forth. I watch to see at what point they will illuminate the curve of the earth and disappear over the edge. And tho' the family is not there, I hear them anyway. I see their smiles and feel the freedom that they feel. I see their children running to catch the ever elusive gulls that practice touch and go landings just out of reach. And, I am happier because I have carried them with me all these years.

Psalm 131:2 (God's Word Translation 1995)

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Instead, I have kept my soul calm and quiet. My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother's arms.”

Carol Anne Wright Swett 2011

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