Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The doggies are off at "school," Michelle is at work, and the house is filled with quiet. And I am, well, I am contemplating poetry. I’m embarrassed to admit it. I mean, who—aside from students, teachers, and NPR hosts—actually thinks about poetry?

I can’t pinpoint the I sat down at that old tan-colored desk in my father's two-bedroom apartment and clicked away at my electrfirst moment ic Smith Corona as couplets spilled from my head, but I suspect I took that fateful step in high school. I must have labored late into the evening, with the The Wonder Years blaring on the TV. I had just read the Illuminatus! Trilogy and was no doubt flirting with the notion that I should consider myself an anarchist (ah, the logic of teenagers!) I rummaged through a book on Greek mythology trying to familiarize myself with the roles of Eros, Helen, Paris, and a golden apple in the onslaught of the Trojan War.

Now why in the world would a high school kid—who could be outside skateboarding down suburban streets or cooped in his room twiddling away at the Nintendo controller—trudge through Greek mythology and desperately rack his brain for anything that would rhyme with "apple"?

You see there was this girl.

On the school’s dance squad.

With mousy-brown hair.

So naturally, I wanted to tell her, somehow, that to me, she was the prettiest one. That poem would be my golden apple. So I typed out something maudlin and added a kind of anonymous love letter that closed by calling her lovely in German. I typed her address across the envelope, conveniently forgetting the return address. Then, before losing my nerve, I sealed the anonymous missive with a kiss, affixed a stamp, and skated to the nearest mailbox. Holding my breath, I shoved the dispatch into the slot. And skated back home, hoping the swelling regrets couldn’t catch up.

The next Monday during lunch, she pulled me aside and asked, "How do you say 'love' in German?"

I told her.

In the years since that moment, our lives have naturally diverged. With the onset of college, we tried briefly to build something across the 1500 miles that separated us. I even made her an impossible promise that Christmas: that I'd dedicate my first book to her. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked even without the extra mileage. I do know, however, that she kept that poem until a boyfriend tore the only copy to shreds.

I doubt she kept it because the poem was well-crafted, insightful, or even entertaining. I doubt she could remember a single word from it now. Instead, she kept it simply because it reminded her of me. And perhaps, it reminded her of who she had been, even amidst the furious changes of youth. And what more could you ask of bad poem?

To paraphrase (and perhaps mangle) an early poem by John Ashbery, a poem is a bit like an "unsent letter." Thousands upon thousands of them end up at tiny journals and web sites each day. Most are figuratively stamped "Return to Sender." Still, those tiny missives fly out through the post, hoping to find their mark, and once in a while, they do. Once in a while, someone will open a book, read a few meager lines, and catch their breath.

So who thinks about poetry? Anyone who has a reason to does. And so, any time I find myself contemplating a love poem, I try like hell to make sure that every syllable and every breath is for my wife’s enjoyment. I try to make tiny objects that she can tape to her monitor at work. Will you ever see one of those poems? Who knows? But I know this, my wife will see them and they will make her smile, and that’s all I really want from a great poem.

Now then, I’d like to write my wife a poem. What rhymes with apple?


Anonymous me said...

snapple, grapple, nap pill, hap will.

I like nap pill.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Les said...

Also, chapel.

But, man, I like nap pill too.

3:55 PM  

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