Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lieutenant Hope is Adjusting my Helmet






















"The Future"

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life's sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them
and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It's not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn't want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened
and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived -- the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,
may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn't know we wanted in what
the future brings. Nobody would have asked
for the ice storm that takes down trees
and knocks the power out, leaving nothing
but two buckets of snow melting
on the wood stove and candlelight so weak,
the old man sitting at the kitchen table
can hardly see to play cards. Yet how else
but by the old woman's laughter
when he mistakes a jack for a queen
would he look at her face in the half-light as if
for the first time while the kitchen around them
and the very cards he holds in his hands
disappear?  In the deep moment of his looking
and her looking back, there is no future,
only right now, all, anyway, each one of us
has ever had, and all the two of them,
sitting together in the dark among the cracked
notes of the snow thawing beside them
on the stove, right now will ever need.

~ Wesley McNair



"Main Street Mansion," by Grant Wood. Pencil, chalk, charcoal on brown paper, 20 x 15 3/4.
It was one of the illustrations used in the Grant Wood illustrated edition of Sinclair Lewis', Main Street.

32 comments:

  1. Dear Teresa, where did you find this poem? I've never read this poet before and his poem spoke to me so forcefully that I looked at the library website to see if I could find a book of the poet's. But the library didn't list one. So now I'll go to Amazon. Peace.

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    1. Dee, Is that not a wonderful poem? I overlooked it again and again in the anthology from Garrison Keillor's, Writer's Almanac, "Good Poems for Hard Times." I finally paused at it the other day and got hooked. Everything in its time... Then the Grant Wood image showed up and.... :)

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  2. Dear Teresa, on Amazon I found several books of poetry. Is there one you would recommend?

    Dee

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    1. I haven't an entire collection of his work. Yet. Wesley McNair was a schoolteacher who set aside his early morning hours for writing poetry. Isn't that great? I just love that.

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  3. "...........For the rest of us,
    the future, barring variations, turns out
    to be not so different from the present
    where we have always lived -- the same
    struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
    that old lieutenant, picking us up
    every so often to dust us off and adjust
    our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter...."
    My Mind Thinks "Raymond Carver"...It could be one of his stories.Yea?
    .We ,The Little People, Are HUGE! But nobody ever told us.

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    1. Tony, Yes, absolutely! It does have that Carver quality to it. Doesn't it have wonderful imagery? I love the notion of a short story being condensed into a poem, and vice versa. It's what they really are, in essence.

      We the People are huge, and we mustn't forget it! Thanks, Tony.

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  4. Sometimes hope is the only companion we have when we stand tall and adjust our helmets. If I could sprinkle you with hope and dust you off, I would. May your helmet be firmly in place and your heart strengthened. I've missed your posts, dear one. :)

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    1. Dear Rita, Thank you so much. My helmet's not quite as askew as it was. :)

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  5. I also found the imagery in this poem to be incredibly moving. Thank you for introducing me to this new person in my life. And it's sure nice to hear from you. It's been too long. :-)

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    1. Thank you, DJan. I was afraid I might never post again, and then this just lined up perfectly.... and life is feeling better already.

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  6. What a deeply moving poem, and since I just wrote about my Aunt Bernice, somehow it connected me to her, and for that I thank you.

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    1. Yes, I do see the connection. Kindness can make all the difference.

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  7. We all need to be picked up and dusted off once in a while, and I love the concept of adjusting our helmets. I think of you often. I hope the beauty that surrounds you is helping to inspire and cheer you, and I hope you'll keep finding ways to share it with us occasionally.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy. I think I will turn in for the night with that thought. It's deeply appreciated.

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  8. Hope - that old Lieutenant . . . .

    an association of ideas quite out of the ordinary.
    When I come here I always find something fresh and new to me, and always worth discovering.

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    1. Thank you so much, Friko. I'm always grateful for the poetry you introduce.

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  9. Oh, to reach a future where the worst that can happen has already happened. Except--where hope springs eternal, there also lives the fear of what may happen.

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    1. Well, I'm making an effort to subsume the fear by expecting good to unfold. Some days, it takes a bit more vigilance to turn those negative thoughts around. I'm working on it. Today is easier than yesterday.

      I hope you're having a good weekend, Janice.

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    2. If "Today is easier than yesterday", your real work has begun and your real journey commenced. Honors to your Lieutenant.

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    3. Thanks, R.W. Hope is a fine lieutenant.

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  10. Very nice. Tender. I heard her giggle, saw her face in the light. I didn't expect to. Thanks for the "story". Thanks for rekindling my love of words and their perfect arrangement.

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    1. This is such beautiful imagery, isn't it? I love it when a poem surprises me, as this one did for me, too.

      "Words and their perfect arrangement." Yes.

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  11. This was a truly surprising poem and I loved the sudden poignant and tender image of the face seen in the half-light - beautiful. This really resonated with me as your pieces so often do - thank you.

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    1. There is such tenderness in this, isn't there? The perfect word. Thank you, Avril.

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  12. My favorite part "Yet how else
    but by the old woman's laughter
    when he mistakes a jack for a queen
    would he look at her face in the half-light as if
    for the first time while the kitchen around them
    and the very cards he holds in his hands
    disappear?"

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    1. Yes. It's one of those perfect moments. Thanks, Bill.

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  13. Oooh! I loved it!

    I think the comment Avril left uses the perfect word...'resonated'. The poems you choose often resonate and reverberate, echoing and repeating the heartbeat. We are all so different yet all so the same...

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    1. I enjoy finding the universal ideas in poems. That's what brings me back to them every day. I'm glad they resonate with others. Thank you, Jane.

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  14. Beautiful. Thanks. Your website is an island of love.

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    1. Thank you, Will, for your kind words. They are deeply appreciated.

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  15. Ah yes those moments, moments of the present are wonderful to capture and live in, this poem is a good reminder for me. I need the lieutenant to adjust my helmet quite often. Ha.

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    1. It was a good reminder to me, too, Linda.

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