What We Don’t Know About Each Other-It’s National Poetry Month!

April is national poetry month, and because I’m a gigantic poetry fan myself, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite poems with you over the next few days.

I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy poetry. I think I was born with a love of poetry preprogrammed into my soul. I used to collect poems and song lyrics and write them in a giant black sketch book in middle and high school. There was even a short stint of time where I had a very “Dead Poet’s Society” fantasy of teaching high school poetry. Of course, that fantasy was crushed to minuscule pieces the minute I found my home in a middle school classroom. Poetry is still one of the units I look forward to teaching every year. My approach just looks a tad different than my friend Robin Williams.

The poem I’m sharing today is one I discovered in college. It’s prose poetry, and I fell in love with it the minute I read it. Although, I could not tell you with absolute certainty what the poem is about. At one point I thought I knew. Then I came back to it years later, and the meaning had changed for me. Some parts click, others leave me wondering, and that is precisely the beauty of poetry, right?

“What We Don’t Know About Each Other” by Larence Raab

In the next room my youngest daughter
is practicing the piano. I don’t know why
that halting scale has made me think
of writing to you, after so many years.
Isn’t it always the weather one begins with?
Here there is still a little color left,
the bronze of the oaks, pale yellows
of the lesser trees. Three or four
warm days in October are what we believe
we’re entitled to, but that turned into a week,
then another, until we felt blessed
and disconcerted. Today the children and I
discovered a small patch of ice
and we were excited to have found it,
bright and brittle, full of shapes.
I walked them out to the bus stop;
they ran on ahead, and back to me.
It was one of those mornings
when you feel the season change, and you think
tomorrow you’ll have it again
even more keenly. I remembered others.
I thought how, looking a long way back,
I expect always to uncover some personal design
in everything. And so it’s there,
by chance, by mistake, by necessity.
All the moments that might have gone differently
become the scraps of stories I run through
while falling asleep, so similar
in their melancholy heroism, their few
predictable cruelties. For all I know
you may have given up thinking about me.
For all you know I may have died,
a sudden tragic illness, or perhaps
the time my car spun out of control on the ice.
What they say is true—everything slows down
to a long arc, and though you do the right
or wrong thing with the wheel, whichever
way you’re supposed to turn it, the car
goes on as if you’d been abandoned, or released.
So there was an odd disappointment
plowing into that snowbank, the snap
of the seatbelts telling me I was safe,
then the stupid difficulties of getting out.
Later I could afford to be afraid,
when it didn’t matter. Then I just stood there,
looking around me at the fields
and a small grove of pine trees
where snow was sliding off the heavy branches
very quietly and very slowly. That whole scene
was so sharp and certain, so new, I thought
I should feel as if I’d been given a second life.
Then would I decide to write to you,
hoping to explain how often I’d wished this
or that day had gone differently, and you or I
had spoken as we never did?
Now she’s moved on to a song—”Waltz”
or “The Three Boatmen.” You’d laugh
to think it was a song at all,
but inside those stiff, hesitant repetitions
I can hear the melody she’s after. What we know
or don’t know about each other—
it doesn’t matter, except that I’ve
moved beyond these careful inventions.
And that young woman you saw this morning
hurrying out of the library, fastening her coat,
looked like me only for a moment. There was
ice on the pathway, the sweet possibility
of snow in the air, all of the necessary
appearances of change—and yet the life
you’ve taken up to make this letter
could not be my life, just as this voice
was never mine, nor even yours.

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