I might have to start calling this the “Emily Every Other Day” project. Sorry, I missed a day. Some mornings I just can’t get to it. The morning runs away. Or the poem I choose confounds me so that my pen doesn’t want to move. I know the page is there, humming on my hard drive, asking for my attention.
So today, you get two for the price of one because I was remiss yesterday. Interestingly, the two poems from yesterday and today, seem linked or progressed, even though I selected each of them completely at random.
The theme for these two days is fantasy or self-deception. For it? Against it? Me, I’m for it. I think Emily is too. Not without caution and some humor, but also a real appreciation for the benefits of dallying in Pretend Land.
The first is #981, c. 1864
As Sleigh Bells seem in summer
Or Bees, at Christmas show—
So fairy — so fictitious
The individuals do
Repealed from observation —
A Party that we knew —
More distant in an instant
Than Dawn in Timbuctoo.
Emily is playful. I love it when she does that. “Sleigh Bells in Summer or Bees at Christmas.” These are absurd possibilities. Just as absurd as her belief in a close relationship to “A Party that we knew.” Then after lightly teasing herself, she twists the knife in her own heart. The bloody tine in the midst of the jokey play. Not at the end. She won’t end with that hard phrase, “More distant in an instant.” Instead she ends with “Dawn in Timbuctoo”, which I read as light, again. It’s the line before that gets to me.
“More distant in an Instant” is the moment of fantasy crashing into a brick wall. Someone she believes she was close to her is, in an instant, not there. Some rupture has occurred. Now she calls it fiction. She questions her own grip on what just happened. This is the bewilderment that inevitably arises when one person shares space with another. Each is a foreign country to the other. The two will never share the same language or story. Em says it must all have been a fiction. If that bond breaks so quickly, how could it ever have been real?
She has sport with herself and this fictionalizing. But I hear that tine of pain. The shock! She can’t help it. Before the sober, sensible adult self steps in to explain things and make light jokes, first the child self has to experience the shock of pain. Oh, I thought that was mine. I thought that was really mine. Where did it go?
That “more distant in an instant” is the bewildering pained space in which the believer has to rearrange her sense of what’s real. She’ll do it because she can and because she has to. But for that instant she is the bereft and bewildered child, in pain and longing for that delightful, counter-rational fiction.
The next poem that leaped into my hand embraces fantasy and holds it up as the thing that makes everything worthwhile.
#1118, c. 1868
Exhilaration is the Breeze
That Lifts us from the Ground
And leaves us in another place
Whose statement is not found —
Returns us not, but after time
We soberly descend
A little newer for the term
Upon Enchanted Ground —
Here Emily adds another layer to the fantasy. That is pure joy. It’s clear that this joy is an unreality. But now she lands squarely in defense of La La Land, as the thing necessary for a sense of renewal.
Being joyful is like a nice two-day drunk, after which “we soberly descend.” When we return from joy to sobriety, we do not experience a loss of joy but a chance to bring some of that drunken enlightenment forward into the rest of the grounded sober life.
We can’t stay drunk forever. Can’t loft in those breezes indefinitely. She’s pretty clear that “other place” won’t support us. We must descend on our own. Joy doesn’t kick us out. We return on our own because we must. But our visit to the idealized realm of joy changes us and makes us better. Why? We get to see things when we are up in the clouds that we can’t see on the ground. Certainly joy expands our vision. It’s a crazy drunk sort of vision that relieves another kind of unreality brought on by a refusal of joy.
Taken as a pair, these two poems show a wonderful movement from pained self-recrimination—something along the lines of this: “How could I be so childish as to believe something I invented?” To a triumph of self-acceptance along the lines of this: “How could I not be so child-like! How could I not invent reasons to run and jump for joy?!” My ability to experience something I have invented as if it were real is my greatest gift. It makes me better and better.
I am influenced perhaps by my reading of Jack Kerouac last night. In his list titled, “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose” he suggests to writers: “Try never get drunk outside yr own house.” Good advice that.
In the end, Emily and I agree that it is not always easy being the sort of person who can invent things with her mind. Such a talent always leaves a girl vulnerable to feeling foolish. However, the alternative is far worse.
I plan never to grow up.