Sunday, October 03, 2010

Only This

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

This weekend, I hand-delivered a card bearing the image at left to my 90-year-old father. Inside were small notes from D. and me. It was part of a little project I began at the start of my 50th year about two weeks ago involving getting back to writing to people on paper—not directly related to my feelings about Facebook, but you could say there's a connection. (I might write more about the project in a future post.)

This print is "Circle Raven" by Yoshiko Yamamoto— one of many beautiful letterpress designs from the Arts and Crafts Press.

The card got Dad and D. and me talking about ravens and crows and their ilk. My father has always had a curious mind, to say the least, but these days there's more curiosity than retention, more silence than response—you often have to simply trust that he's taking information in and let go of expectations about to what use his mind may be putting it.

I had recently bought him a large-print book of poems because his eyesight is bad and he's so bored and he used to be someone who cared about poetry. I don't think he's read much of the book, so given what we were talking about, I decided to read Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" aloud to him.

I have to say I absorbed only about half of it myself—it was the first time I'd read it in at least 35 years—but the rhythms were a blast to feel on my tongue and vocal chords, a tour de force of language offered to a man whose world was once nothing but language. (He is—was—a polyglot linguist whose specialty was Russian.)

As I read, Dad leaned forward, appearing to listen intently. Every time I got to the refrain "Nevermore," which ends the last four stanzas, he looked up and joined in with heart—"Nevermore!"—finding, it seemed, a place of memory within him still. A place where a single familiar, archaic word was stored from adolescence, or childhood, or even deeper back, a place where words themselves originate, where he would have found me at that moment as well.

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