Half-deserted streets…

“A tedious argument of insidious intent…”

I recently saw this phrase used as a social media tagline — and it wasn’t a T.S. Eliot account. It struck me as a pleasing expression; i didn’t immediately recognize its origins.

I should have. I studied Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in college, though that was admittedly more than a few years ago.

Looking up phrases online, mine and others, is something i make a habit of in order to properly attribute them or to make sure one i’m about to use is original.

Rather than assume its social media user had concocted this one herself, the online search for this snippet rewarded me with a reminder of Eliot’s stunning craft. 

Located in its original context, latticed with evocative imagery, the locution is even more striking, of course:

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

I find it surprising and dismaying that this beauty had become buried beyond recall. 

It’s got me thinking about the imprinting of our experiences taking place as our lives unfold, how memories get stored away and what prompts their later recollection. 

A common observation holds that because of modern computing developments we now farm out our mental storage to the cloud. But this may simply represent an acceleration of a much longer-term trend. 

Whether reacting to a digital snapshot onscreen or to a sepia-tinged print in an old photo album, the sensation is still, “Oh yes, *now* i remember that!”

(The flip-side occurrence is when we thought we remembered something that turns out not to be so. “I could’ve sworn…”)

The observation may be more apt with respect to ordinary pieces of information. We less regularly memorize phone numbers, for example, because our gadgets store them and no longer require us to tap out frequently used numbers manually. 

Memorization as an everyday skill becomes instead an art that must be deliberately fostered.

The same technology that can diminish memorization, however, made possible the ten-second research that led me back to Eliot this morning. 

Without the internet, would i have made my way back to these certain half-deserted streets today?
Not terribly likely — though it’s possible i’d have reunited with them sometime by reaching for a poetry anthology from my bookshelf.

Such reacquaintances — whether mined from my own mind, sought in the pages of treasured books, or happened upon via the web — swirl up further memories and generate gratitude.

As Cicero perceived:  “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”

To argue with that would be tedious.

***

P.S.  One of my favorite pop songs from the 1990s references Eliot, borrowing language from this poem for the title, and juxtaposing jolly music with melancholy lyrics about illness and aging. 
I plan to update this post later with a link to it.
(Bonus points for any of you who identify it before that.)

Update: Here’s that song.

Mirth and melancholy…

The turn of the year compels us to look in two directions at once. We encapsulate the closing year as we reflect on the opening one’s possibilities. Our inherent drive to mark time also carries the urge to compare — between today’s thoughts and those at last year’s turn, and to overlay them with a clarity of progress and pattern.

Last year at this time, i considered life’s vagaries here through a musical motif. This time, i offer another wordsmith’s sentiments, using the music of poetry.

I’m moved by how this simple, early 1900s poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox evokes the melancholy behind the mirth:

THE YEAR

What can be said in New-Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

The poem’s somber nature overtakes the joy — and that may not be where some readers want to land.

I see it as a contemplation whose grave tone dwells on only one aspect of human experience. Other songs and poems bring out the exuberance and optimism of new beginnings. Let us be looking for those as well.

Best Laid Plans…

dance

Is it true that your life is primarily made up of what happens to you?

Or is your life rather more composed of how you respond to the conditions and events you are confronted with?

A few years ago i wrote this song about the interplay between the two.

Though i’ve been meaning to post this for some time, being ready to do so this morning happens to fall on a significant anniversary. Today marks five years to the day since cancer surgery. Five years and counting of “NED” status — no evidence of disease.

(See below for the lyrics.)

Thanks for reading and listening.

Always lookin’ for a reason

A rhythm to go with my rhyme

But every answer brings more questions

They’ve got me steppin’ out of time…

Cuzz my best laid plans

They’re not quite in my hands

The best that i can do is be ready…

My best laid plans

They’re not quite in my hands

The best that i can do is be ready

To make it… a dance

Oh they were good plans in their season

Full of reasons they should come through

But life takes its turn, then you take your step

In that minuet something rings true

Cuzz your best laid plans

They’re not quite in your hands

The best that you can do is be ready…

Your best laid plans

They’re not quite in your hands

The best that you can do is be ready

To make it… a dance

…Step lightly, and make it a dance

A new year’s post?

Well, this is a little disconcerting, a new year’s post in March.

But as the turn of the year fell during my recent unanticipated absence, i didn’t want to miss taking note of it now that i’m back.

Marking off the segments of our lives by the calendar can seem arbitrary — has anything really changed other than the date? — yet we do seem to have a deep-seated inclination to do so. Or, as with resolutions, it’s that we take advantage of the flip of that particular calendar page to deliberately impose a reboot.

The following untitled poem by my dear friend Kris Harmelink (shared with her permission) touches on these ideas.

***

One moment

Bleeds to the next

But I draw up

A distinction,

I break those unsuspecting

Moments apart

Declaring

That was then

But this is now:

A newness

***

Happy new moment!

water

Morning dark

stars pine trees

Hello readers!  I’m back from a brief absence, and with this post i’m returning to an early passion for poetry. I hope something in the following piece speaks to you.

***

Morning Dark

In the still of earliest morning

Dark still rules yet pledges light

I’m thinking of how things fall apart.

 

And how mirth collides with mourning

With dawn afar, dark heralds night

Color in shadows requires art

 

And rarely, with less forewarning,

Things come together, they turn upright

This i stumbled on by heart

 

The art we make at night must be with inner light composed

So with a heart that’s scarred and yet more open than supposed

I find most often now I write with both of my eyes closed

August haiku…

calm after storm

In April i wrote about how my spring seemed delayed this year. With summer came, finally, a return to rhythm, a settling in to ordinariness after a crisis. At such times the mundane is very welcome.

Arriving at the other side of a crisis — whether a medical one, relational, financial or otherwise — means discovering how much of it will stay with you, and how much of it you can truly move beyond. The damage is done — the healing is not. I’ve decided that the scars i bring along into the future do not need to define me. They are significant, but they are not the most significant thing about me.

You know how when you’re looking for a song video, some of them have the lyrics superimposed over the images?  I like to think of the cancer recovery as text i choose to scroll behind the trees and flowers and friends.

Thinking about that foreground of life moving forward, i thought i’d try my hand at a haiku. I realize this poetic form does not need a title, but mine has one anyway.  

***

Eliot’s April

Cruel month it was

Dangling taste of sunny days

Summer came and went

Quiet September

No ceasing seasons’ passing

Gladder spring next year

***

Wherever you are in facing life’s challenges, i wish you hope.