I'm bouncing across the Scottish heath in a rented Morris Minor and listening to an interview with Rat Scabies, drummer of the first punk band, The Damned, and Mr. Scabies, who’s probably 50 or so and living comfortably on royalties, is as recalcitrant as ever, as full of despair and self-loathing, but the interviewer won't have it, and he keeps calling him "Rattie," saying, "Ah, Rattie, it's all a bit of a put-on, isn't it?" and "Ah, you're just pulling the old leg now, aren't you, Rattie?" to which Mr. Scabies keeps saying things like "We're fooked, ya daft prat. Oh, yeah, absolutely—fooked!" Funny old Rattie—he believed in nothing, which is something. If it weren't for summat, there'd be naught, as they say in that part of the world. I wonder if his dad wasn't a bit of a bastard, didn't drink himself to death, say, as opposed to a dad like mine, who, though also dead now, was as nice as he could be when he was alive. A month before, I’d been in Florence and walked by the casa di cura where my son Will was born 27 years ago, though it's not a hospital now but a home for the old nuns of Le Suore Minime del Sacra Cuore who helped to deliver and bathe and care for him when he was just a few minutes old, and when I look over the gate, I see three of these holy sisters sitting in the garden there, and I wave at them, and they wave back, and I wonder if they were on duty when Will was born, these women who have had no sex at all, probably not even very much candy, yet who believe in something that may be nothing, after all, though I love them for giving me my boy. They’re dozing and talking, these mystical brides of Christ, and thinking about their Husband, and it looks to me as though they’re having their version of the sacra conversazione, a favorite subject of Renaissance artists in which people who care for one another are painted chatting together about noble things, and I'm wondering if, as I walk by later when the shadows are long, will their white faces be like stars against their black habits, the three of them a constellation about to rise into the vault that arches over Tuscany, the fires there now twinkling, now steadfast in the chambered heart of the sky.
This Magic Moment
Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, "I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before."
How’d that happen? Magic, that’s how. I know the poem
she means; it took me years to write it. Songwriter
Doc Pomus was crippled by polio, and he wrote once
about this dream he had again and again: “I used to believe
in magic and flying and that one morning I would wake up
and all the bad things were bad dreams. . . . And I would
get out of the wheelchair and walk and not with braces
and not with crutches,” though when the light came through
the window in the morning, there he was, encased
in steel and leather from hip to ankle, unable to move.
Again and again he has the dream, and then one day
he writes “This Magic Moment,” where the guy meets
the girl, and suddenly he has everything he wants. How?
Magic! Wouldn’t you love to have saved pale Keats
with his blood-speck’d lips? And Fanny, her skin like cream,
listening through the wall. He dies with his lungs on fire,
she mourns, marries, gives birth, and, after her husband dies,
gives Keats’ letters to her children—she had kept them all
that time. We have them, and we have his poems. And his
tool kit, too: look what he does in the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Nobody bolts music and lyrics together the way Keats does,
no one pays more attention to detail. There's a Jack Gilbert
poem that begins with a real incident from World War II,
when the Polish cavalry rode out against the Germans
with their swords glittering, only the Germans had tanks.
But that's not bravery, says Gilbert. Bravery is doing
the same thing every day when you don't want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
Do that, and the magic will come. My dad was frail
and distracted in his last hours. My mother said he asked,
Do we have enough money? and when she said yes, he said,
Then let's just get in the Buick and go. He was looking
at car trips, thirty-cent gas, roadside picnics, these new things
they called motels. My brother, me, the little house
we lived in, fifty years of marriage, a long and happy life as
a Chaucer scholar: all that was in the sunny days to come.