Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue...This is the template I have chosen for my first four posts. And now we are up to something borrowed. The true poetry aficionados among you may recognize a few lines from one of the lions of the poetry world.
In tenth grade my English teacher, Mr. Nangle decided to forgo the proposed curriculum, (I think it was "A Tale of Two Cities"), and take my class on a journey that differed from all the others. We began a poetry unit. In the course of our lessons, Mr. Nangle gave us the first two lines and the first word of the third line of a poem, then unknown to us. He sent us home with the instructions to finish the poem.
I always suspected that some of my peers may have sought out the origin of the poem, in hopes of impressing our teacher. I, slacker that I was at the time, didn't much care to know the origin of the lines. My preoccupation had long been for heavy metal lyrics, not poetry. I set myself the task of completing the job as quickly and competently as possible, and damn the consequences.
As I attempted to embody the spirit of the first two lines, I was reminded of an image from an old Disney movie, of two animated birds flying around each other with a ribbon in their beaks. Clearly the opening lines were intended to indicate the emotion of love. I decided to riff on that. But what did I know of love but affected teenage girls who would barely even look at me, let alone return the emotion. No I did not know of love. I could only dream of it. But I could not say so outright. What guy could? By and by, I set myself to bury these emotions in a poem.
Once I had turned in my paper, I was prepared to forget about it. But a week later, Mr. Nangle revealed the origin of the lines. They were the opening lines of "The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. As we reviewed the poem in class, I began to believe I had gone terribly wrong. There was no "...Patient etherized upon a table" in my poem. I could not see then that I had inadvertently captured the same spirit of unrequited love, expressed by the great poet.
I sat through the class shaking with terror of what comments Mr. Nangle might have written in the margins. I also feared the revelation that I may have revealed to much in the writing of my poem. Finally, as the class was drawing towards its close, Mr. Nangle prepared to return our papers. Before he did, he made a statement. He told us that all of the papers were good. Two of the papers were exceptionally good, and that one of those was remarkably so. He said that this one paper was so good, that he believed it must be read in front of the entire class. He was staring at me the whole time he spoke, and I was sweating like a fever, but I had refused to acknowledge the possibility that he was speaking of my paper.
But then he looked at me and said, "Gavin, would you to read your poem?" My tongue crawled up into my mouth as my throat began to close. I was certain then that my sweat glands would flood the room. I shook my head "No." Mr. Nangle was also the Public Speaking teacher, which heightened the pressure. He tried several times to get me to read my poem, but I just could not. Perhaps I wasn't so tough after all. I thought I was going to die, right there in tenth grade English class. Finally, Mr. Nangle asked if I would mind his reading it for me.
Was this some kind of trick? Was everybody going to laugh at me when he had finished? He was a good teacher, a teacher I liked and respected, a teacher who had gracefully put up with my sometimes less than stellar attitude. If he was now going to exact his revenge by making a laughing stock of me in front of my entire class, it seemed like it was something that I would just have to endure. Mr. Nangle asked me again, "Would you mind if I read your poem to the class? It really is quite good."
I could not quite grasp the trick, but here were the consequences. Somehow, I managed to croak a "Yes".
As Mr. Nangle read, the attention of the class was rapt steadily on the tenor of his voice. My poem actually sounded quite good coming from him. I wished I could read it like that. When the poem was completed, Mr. Nangle reminded the class of its author, and the class erupted in spontaneous applause. They saw me! They actually saw ME! I was really there, and I had done something. I still wasn't sure what it was, but this was certainly something new. Through all the years of having parents and teachers tell me I could write, none of them had been my peers. This was the first indication to me, by someone who didn't have a vested interest in filling my head with sunshine, that maybe I really was good at something. Maybe I could write. Maybe I still can.
Despite having borrowed the opening lines from T.S. Eliot, I consider this my first poem. Before “Atrophy” could give me license as a poet, this piece showed me that I had something valuable to contribute in this realm. To all my peers, especially to those who were there that day, and to Mr. Nangle wherever he may be, this is "I Dream of Paradise"...
Let us go then, you and I
When evening is spread out against the sky
Like two Doves with kindred eye.
Let us go into the night,
Down by the dock to wake the moon
Like love birds when they swoon...
Let us sail with the wind,
Where the sea is hypnotic blue,
And there is not a soul about, save for me and you.
I wish it could be like this for all time,
But I must go and spread my wings.
Hide your tears from lover’s spies,
Beware of those who tear the bonds from souls of twain,
For Fate shall bring me back, and when I return,
Not once again shall we be parted,
To join the ranks of broken hearted.
Then, and now, again we shall sail,
Sail where the deep blue sea meets light blue sky.
When we reach this place,
When all the flowers set to bloom,
Let us take flight into the cloudless domain above,
So we might live with eternal love, where all is fair.
Alas, this land of which I dream,
This paradise so sweet can never be.
For in this land of reality,
There is more to life than living.
Together, let us Dream.