It appears each day in my in-box. The Writer's Almanac for September 17, 2008, it will announce. Some days I'm simply too busy to open it - my mind filled with inventory, paying taxes, baking cookies for the potluck and teaching the neighbor kid to crochet. But when I do open it, sometimes I get a treat, a delight, a poem so good I start to speak out loud to myself: "Ohhhh, that is SO good!"
Today is one of those days. My everyday, non-smoking, non-drinking, happily married life is so, well, mundane. Oatmeal for breakfast (oooh! pancakes on Sunday!), laundry, email, meetings, lunch, bla bla bla. How many times, while reading one of the thousands of books I have devoured over the years, have I compared myself to the people within its pages? How I long to be sophisticated, always armed with a snappy come-back. Or dressed so divinely that all conversation stops when I enter a room. Or to be a part of the British upper crust (Brideshead Revisited), or to drink in a smoky Scottish bar (Garnethill by Denise Mina), or watch the tarpon spin off of Sanibel Island (the Doc Ford series by Randy Wayne White), be a fly on the wall in Tony Bordain's kitchen (Kitchen Confidential), hunt for wild grapes with Edna Lewis (The Taste of Country Cooking), or be a wise older woman (Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk).
Some things in books I am thrilled NOT to experience: finding a murdered man in my living room (more Denise Mina), particpate in the horrors of war (Pat Barker's Regeneration, Robert Graves' Good Bye to All That), feel the total disorientation of the after effects of a lightening strike (A Match to the Heart by Gretel Erlich), the grinding poverty of Ireland during the famine (too many to mention)...
ronald Wallace captures this disconnect perfectly. So here is today's poem. Enjoy.
Literature in the 21st Century
by Ronald Wallace
Sometimes I wish I drank coffee
or smoked Marlboros, or maybe cigars—
yes, a hand-rolled Havana cigar
in its thick, manly wrapping,
the flash of the match between
worn matchbook and stained forefinger,
the cup of the palm at the tip,
the intake of air, and the slow and
luxuriant, potent and pleasurable
exhale. Shall we say also a glass
of claret? Or some sherry with its
dark star, the smoke blown into the bowl
of the glass, like fog on portentous
morning, the rich man-smell of gabardine
and wool, of money it its gold clip?
Sometimes I wish I had habits
a man wouldn't kick, faults a good man could
be proud of. I'd be an expatriate from
myself, all ink-pen and paper in a Paris café
where the waiters were elegant and surly,
the women relaxed and extravagant
with their bobbed hair and bonbons, their
perfumed Galoises, their oysters and canapés,
and I'd be writing about war and old losses—
man things-and not where I am, in this
pristine and sensitive vessel, all
fizzy water, reticence, and care, all reduced
fat and purified air, behind my deprived
computer, where I can't manage even
a decaf cap, a mild Tiparillo, a glass of
great-taste-less-filling light beer.
"Literature in the 21st Century" by Ronald Wallace from Long for This World: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003.