Saturday, November 5, 2016

Poetry Saturday: "Ode on an American Puzzle"

On Tuesday or Wednesday, I was driving home from work.  The weather felt more like late spring--not the fierce heat of summer, but not autumnal either.  The occasional porch still had a jack-o-lantern.  One house had things dangling from the porch rafters:  perhaps ghosts or perhaps plastic sheeting from a paint job in process.

I felt a bit sad, like I've missed one of my favorite seasons.  Last year, I took evening walks and enjoyed the Halloween lights.  This year, I'm not sure there were that many to be seen--but I don't know, because I haven't been out to look.

This morning I went looking through my poetry files, looking for a poem for All Saints.  I don't have anything that's perfect for All Saints, but I did find a poem that speaks to this autumnal sadness.

It probably will not surprise you to learn that I wrote it in the autumn of 2001, post terrorist attacks.  We were working on a puzzle, and it was soothing.  I was teaching the British literature survey class, and I had Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" on my brain--those figures on the urn, forever frozen in whatever emotional moment they experienced right then.

It's an interesting spiritual question:  how do we stay in the here and now?  How do we not get distracted by our sorrows?  How do we maintain our faith, in the face of enormous woes?

I've never thought of jigsaw puzzles as spiritual practice or meditation aid.  Perhaps I should.

Ode on an American Puzzle

These people do not puzzle over how the pieces
of their lives fit together. They know their purpose,
always at the center of the picture.
They will never return home to unfinished
craft projects and unwashed dishes. They will celebrate
continuously at this harvest dance, the deepest
darks of night and winter always at arm’s
length, the leaves always brightly colored,
mounds of pumpkins waiting for transformation,
every woman and man matched, the children tended.

Perhaps that is why I like puzzles.
As buildings melt and planes explode, and even smaller tragedies
rip apart the pieces of a life, I find
a measured calm that even poetry cannot provide.
I sit at this table, free from existential mystery.
I know what picture will emerge as I piece
this project into one. I know that all the parts
have been provided. I know that they will connect.
What other aspect of my life can hope
to offer the same consolation?

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