Sunday, August 01, 2010

So Runs the World Away

Thanks to Diablo for sending me the following poem by Mary Oliver, a resident, as it happens of Provincetown, where I recently spent a happy week and a half.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I spent many hours with D. biking the trails in and around Ptown, including the magnificent Cape Cod Rail Trail, which we hope will someday extend all the way up the Cape to Provincetown. I haven't owned a bike of my own since I was a child but am on the verge of buying my first adult bike. This is thanks to D. and the roads we've ridden together over the last nearly three years.
While on the Cape, we had a very nice visit with a former grad school professor/writing teacher of mine and his wife. He retired a few years ago and moved up there about three years ago. I used to see him at least a couple of times a year at various social or literary occasions but hadn't talked with him at length since his move, so it was nice to reconnect. One thing I told him was that he was a big influence on my teaching, as, among many other things, I learned from him that it's okay to teach from notes, that no one will think less of you if you refer to them. In fact, I still write out notes before the first session of every workshop I teach, and later sessions if I'm teaching an essay I haven't taught before, but the interesting thing is that I refer to my notes less and less. It's the writing of them that imprints them.
One of the last times I spent time with my old teacher and his wife was at a Josh Ritter concert at the Birchmere, probably in 2006. Now in his late sixties, he's a huge Josh Ritter fan. As it happened, I had just downloaded Josh Ritter's new CD, So Runs the World Away, onto my iPod before my vacation. I was just listening to it the other day and was struck by its style, so different from his earlier, more classic singer/songwriter mode. It's kind of epic sea shanty meets art song. I need to listen to it more.
I started this post almost two weeks ago (through most of that last paragraph). And just tonight I bought a novel, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, whose title reminded me of Josh Ritter's and then of this unfinished post.
The book I have to finish before starting that one is Rosanne Cash's memoir, Composed. I just finished a lovely chapter about six months she spent living in London at age 20 and 21, and that chapter ends on a note of wistfulness about friends and mentors she lost touch with over the years, some of whom she reconnected with later in moving and unexpected ways, some of whom died before she had a chance to.
I hope to see my teacher again the next time I'm passing through.

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