A Variation on 22 First Lines

 

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[the poem consists of the first lines of 22 books; each line is footnoted. If any of these lines leap out at you , run out and get the book(s). And if you’re ever in Galway, get over to Charlie Byrne’s (http://charliebyrne.com/). Gratitude, admiration, and apologies to each of the authors quoted here. Italicized lines are my own. ]

Scanning Books at Charlie Byrne’s

i.
Wonderfully, it was the boy-[i]
The cancer-ridden only son of a dangerous driver who has thoughts about turning herself into a man[ii]
-
Who saw the gods leave,
Wicking away like water off a skillet.

They departed on the day of the strange tide.[iii]
The plane was nearly empty.

Disease is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.[iv]
‘I’ve been knitting voraciously since I was seventeen.’[v]
He said this to a lover once.
‘I think it is what cured me.’

The premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help to solve the world’s problems: [vi]
It’s what he has replaced Them with
This boy now man
A book: 12 years in the writing
49 years in the making.[vii]
At first glance, it looks very similar to its predecessor[viii]
Pages thin,
Transparent,
You can read the next one through the last.

He drives across Ireland,
A gentle rain, as light as breath,
That soaks him to the skin.
Surely They’re here somewhere;
Hiding is not the same as escape,
Except for when it is.

He settles for the cows.
Blind with highway hypnosis
He has pulled onto a muddy verge, stepped out, watches.
His glasses fog.

Cows have no need of gods, he thinks
They have no need of stories
For them, the present is sufficient
It’s never been for him.

One protests in the rain, the others are silent, damp, standing, pacing, lying down
Tails swishing
Rain in their eyes
Audible chewing
A waft of manure

Women in the river, singing.[ix]

Some that once were here are gone now
Others have yet to arrive
Tucked against their mothers’ flanks
Wondering why they’ve come

If cows wonder.

They don’t, he decides.
They merely are.

Unaccustomed to driving on the left,
He’d clipped a couple curbs
Little Left, Big Right
He couldn’t get too nervous, couldn’t think about how nervous
Or it would be all over.
Critical thinking is something we all do, but we are not necessarily aware of it.[x]

Bó.
In Irish, this is what they’re called.
He makes a point of tackling the language
Of every place he’s ever been.
(A highly inflected and idiomatic language, Irish presents a great challenge for learners.)[xi]

I might be the villain of this story, he thinks. Even now, it’s hard to tell.[xii]

ii.
Words come first, a grid of squares, a puzzle on the plane:
ACROSS:
1. Fastenings
2. Krishna __________
3. Trouble
4. Dickens name[xiii]

Voices next,
In Ireland
People here temporarily,
For different reasons,
Fuzzy with jetlag.
The lives touch across time for a moment
,
Make a little knot of noise
Then go their separate ways
A handful of people
(the palm of God; He doesn’t care what you believe)

And finally, lives, some little moments that will someday go in stories:

Three days shy of her 15th birthday, Alison Pope paused at the top of the stairs.[xiv]

In the early 90s (it might have been 1992, but it’s hard to remember when you’re having a good time) I joined a rock-and-roll band composed mostly of writers.[xv]

Dear Franklin,
You know, I try to be polite.[xvi]

Some that once were here are gone now
Others have yet to arrive:

On the evening of March 27, 1969,
My father was in Leningrad,
In pursuit of his advanced engineering degree.[xvii]

Nine days after Mama disappeared I heard she was throwing down with Shelton Potter.[xviii]

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.[xix]

Do not set foot in my office.[xx]

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.[xxi]

Both before he came here
And after he departs
Each of them has seen, will see
What he is seeing now.

Human life, so bound up in stories
That we are thoroughly desensitized to their weird and witchy power.[xxii]

Order’s inescapable
Big Right
Little Left
Is that the form they’ve taken now, the fickle, absent Gods?
Perhaps they’ve been here all along
In cancers,
Cures
On planes
In puzzles
The hand-lift waves of passing drivers

The gods are maybe ours to conjure
Sure and the stories are ours to tell
Hanging here, in veils of mist
Before and yet to come

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@Melinda Rooney, 2017, with acknowledgement to copyrights of quoted authors

[i] Ireland, Frank Delaney

[ii] Ithaca, Alan McMonagle

[iii] The Sea, John Banville

[iv] Mania, A Short History of Bipolar Disorder, David Healy

[v] Alterknit Stitch Dictionary, Andrea Rangel

[vi] Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa

[vii] Absent Voices, Rochelle Altman

[viii] The Pamphlet Debate: On the Union Between Great Britain and Ireland, W. J. McCormack

[ix] Arcadia, Lauren Groff

[x] The Art of Deception, Nicholas Capaldi

[xi] Irish Grammar, Nollaig Mac Congáil

[xii] The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai

[xiii] New York Times Sunday Crossword Omnibus, Vol. 2, Ed. Will Weng

[xiv] Tenth of December, George Saunders

[xv]On Writing, Stephen King

[xvi] We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

[xvii] The Book of My Lives, Aleksandar Hemon

[xviii]Sweetgirl, Travis Mulhauser

[xix]The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

[xx] Black Swan Green, David Mitchell

[xxi] Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

[xxii] The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall

 

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