This afternoon I braved my living room, something that doesn’t sound particularly brave, but then again, you probably haven’t seen my living room as of late. [Unless you have. In which case, you contributed to its demise in some way that stemmed from us having fun: the whiskey bottles, pull out sofa, Amy Sedaris DVDs, a striped pair of socks whose owner has yet to present herself, etc. Speaking of which, which one of my friends is missing socks? And how did you arrive with socks but leave sans socks?]
One of the greatest things about cleaning is what you come across amongst the rubble. I found myself putting away books from the coffee table, returning them to their home in the glass bookcase, and pulling out books I hadn’t looked at in years. Books I’d previously loved but didn’t think were worth re-opening or re-examining.
Like an old friend, Billy Collins’ poetry is a standby for me. I never found it as thrilling or as challenging as some other poets’ work, but I don’t think I’ve ever given his work the credit it deserves either. Because it’s unpretentious and seemingly straightforward, maybe I failed to see the complexity, the subtlety of it; it’s easy to do that, particularly when you’re younger & you think you know better. When I was returning a book to its rightful home, I happened upon a copy of Sailing Alone Around the Room and flipped to this poem. I hope you find this poem as beautiful as I do. I think it’s best read aloud. I read it to myself while wearing men’s jeans and a t-shirt (my cleaning clothes), covered in dust, and it felt strangely perfect. Happy reading. xo, m
Remember the 1340’s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.
The 1790’s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.