Sunday

Apr. 20, 2003

Permanence

by Lawrence Raab

SUNDAY, 20 APRIL 2003
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Poem: "Permanence," by Lawrence Raab from Visible Signs (Penguin Books).

Permanence

I can't remember how old I was,
but I used to stand in front
of the bathroom mirror, trying to imagine
what it would be like to be dead.
I thought I'd have some sense of it
if I looked far enough into my own eyes,
as if my gaze, meeting itself, would make
an absence, and exclude me.

It was an experiment, like the time
Michael Smith and I set a fire in his basement
to prove something about chemistry.
It was an idea: who I would
or wouldn't be at the end of everything,
what kind of permanence I could imagine.

In seventh grade, Michael and I
were just horsing around
when I pushed him up against that window
and we both fell through--
astonished, then afraid. Years later

his father's heart attack
could have hit at any time,
but the day it did they'd quarreled,
and before Michael walked out
to keep his fury alive, or feel sorry for himself,
he turned and yelled, I wish you were dead!

We weren't in touch. They'd moved away.
And I've forgotten who told me
the story, how ironic it was meant
to sound, or how terrible.

We could have burned down the house.
We could have been killed going through
that window. But each of us
deserves, in a reasonable life,
at least a dozen times when death
doesn't take us. At the last minute

the driver of the car coming toward us
fights off sleep and stays in his lane.
He makes it home, we make it home.
Most days are like this. You yell
at your father and later you say
you didn't mean it. And he says, I know.

You look into your own eyes in a mirror
and that's all you can see.
Until you notice the window
behind you, sunlight on the leaves
of the oak, and then the sky,
and then the clouds passing through it.


Literary Notes:

Today is Easter Sunday in the Christian church, the holiday that commemorates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. In the Bible, Mark (16:2-8) wrote:
"And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; --it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you."

The roots of the Easter Bunny go way back; the hare was a symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt, the Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess Eostre through her earthly symbol, the rabbit. In the middle ages, those that could afford it wrapped Easter eggs in gold leaf. Peasants colored them by boiling them with the leaves or petals of flowers.

It is the birthday of surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miró, born in Barçelona, Spain (1893). He said, "The smallest thing in nature is an entire world. I find my themes in the fields and on the beach." He's famous for his paintings The Farm (1921), The Harlequin's Carnival (1924) and Dog Barking at the Moon (1926).

It's the birthday of American sculptor Daniel Chester French, born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1850.) He had a long and productive career as America's most famous sculptor of monuments. He designed the 19-foot-tall marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (1922) and many other statues.






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