Today began innocuously enough. I awoke around 7:00, considered getting out of bed to polish up a poem that has been germinating within my mind for several weeks, in order that I might read it at our church (for lack of a better word) Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks’s annual Poetry Sunday service.At 9:30, I woke back up, realizing I had dozed off and that it would be a reach to get everyone up and ready for church in time to make the 10:30am start time. From our house north of Fairbanks, it takes 20-25 minutes minimum to get there, it was foggy, and the temperature was somewhere below -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it gets below -20, the exact temperature doesn’t matter anymore until it hits -40. Then it is worth keeping track again, if for no other reason than convincing people not to move to our undiscovered wonderland of Interior Alaska.
Jane and I lolled about in bed, knowing it was cold, and still dark, wishing for a few more hours of sleep. Eventually, we decided to consult Jolie about attending Fellowship. She has been hesitating about going the past few times we went, so when we had finally gotten through the layers of stubbornness and tears (hers) last Sunday it emerged that it was because we hadn’t been going consistently and she didn’t really see why we should go at all.
So, Jane and I engaged her in attending this Sunday, Poetry Sunday, and reciting poems with me. She likes poetry, either honestly or because I do is yet to be determined. She immediately found one of her poetry books (purchased for her during a “prayers in the dark” episode last year) and went straight to Robert Frost’s “A Walk in the Woods at Night.” After reading it through to Jane and me, she became inspired and wrote her own poem, “Tiger”. Her cadence and expression on both poems was impressive, giving her parents one of our daily shots of parental pride.
Jolie offered to select a poem for me to read. I politely declined, having the poem I was preparing to write already rolling around inside my head.
Jump back to this morning, with the entire family still snoozing or lounging in bed, and a strong impulse to remain there. I finally rolled out, and in a case of quiet desperation (to go back to bed) passed the decision off to Jolie. “Do you want to go to Fellowship and read your poem? Or stay in bed?” I might of added, “your nice warm, soft, cozy bed, in the dark Alaskan morning, when it -30 outside, don’t you just want to stay in bed?” She didn’t. She was up and dressed and ready to go in less time than it ever takes her.
The rest of us followed.
We did arrive at Fellowship a bit late, not unusual for us. Jane and I are timely and organized people apart, late and disordered together. Throw in the two kids and it is a wonder we ever go, or arrive, anywhere.
As we walked in, the part of our liturgy where members and guests walk to the front of sanctuary, light a candle and voice their concerns was in process. Our friend Rebecca was speaking when we arrived, telling of snowfall in Baghdad and how some there felt it symbolized coming peace. I see her spoken sentiments were echoed on her blog, check it out here.
We found seats, except for Ali, who had joined the children’s play room. Jolie was upbeat, attentive, and participating in the songs and readings. Eventually, we got to the part where people started reciting poems. I waited for several to go, before grabbing Jolie and making our way to the front.
We made it to the front row before she faltered, running back to our row (about three back) and throwing her head down on her Mom’s lap. I returned to the row, and waved someone else up ahead of us.
After sitting through the other person’s poem or poem’s, Jolie and I made another break for the podium and microphone. Jolie hid behind me on the floor. I ignored her, not wanting to reward her behavior with a spectacle, though I would have dearly loved to have a moment to lecture her just then. Just the same, when I was eight I never volunteered to read any poetry, especially my own, in front of a room full of adults.
I had offered to read my poems first, in order that she get comfortable being in front of the group. Due to my falling back asleep this morning, my poem, the one I was going to write down that morning, remained in my head. So I pulled out my journal, and found a few options. I tried this one on Jane as we drove around Farmer’s Loop. I call it, “Death by Anchorage.”
In the mud.
In the sludge.
Tide coming in.
Wetness on my body,
The cold sinks in.
The dirty water,
Of Cook Inlet,
Filling my lungs,
As I close my eyes.
Death- by Anchorage.
Jane didn’t feel that verse was appropriate for public consumption, but then she isn’t a big fan of any of my death poems.
Later, after presenting it, with Jolie still hiding behind me, I read a short poem of my own that I had written in July of 2006 that echoed the sentiments of Mr. Berry’s poem.
Not for food and drink,
But for knowledge and life,
The smile on a baby’s face,
The wind through the forest’s embrace,
Discovered- a state of grace.
Turning to Jolie, I offered her the chance to recite Robert Frost. She quickly refused, so instead, I read it for her.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Turning back to Jolie again, this time to read her own poem “Tiger”. No, not a chance. After all that effort, and getting out of bed on her behalf, here I am reading her poem to the Fellowship. (It was worth it.)
“Tiger” by Jolie
Lurking through the
Take me to the jungle. Take me to
The jungle, jungle
What more can be said after that.
Other than (in the words of Wendell Berry from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front“),
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.