May 28, 2010
Our Friends in Minnesota
A woman (I would be her) says
to a man (he would be you),
"Let's go stay with Ted and Jan."
And what are Ted and Jan?
Ted and Jan are our friends
who live by the lake in Duluth.
They have beautiful teenage daughters.
Tanya, the older one, plays the cello.
Shelly captains the Irish dance team.
Ted and Jan have invited us up
to sail with them anytime we want.
Late June is good. In the evening,
we play cards on their screened deck.
Crickets. Cocktails. Tanya comes down
and drapes over the back of Ted's chair,
her arms around his shoulders. "Daddy,
I see you're losing again," she teases.
"Where's the love?" Ted says, and Jan
flourishes another full house. Her cheeks
are reddened from the day on the boat.
Later, we listen to Ted strum the guitar,
and we talk of food and people we know.
When Shelly isn't in by eleven, we hear
of the boy she's taken up with,
the one who threw up in the lilac bushes
outside their window. "He's a good kid,
though," Ted says. Jan arches one eyebrow,
as she's always done. But here's
Shelly now, chiming, "I'm home."
Is it too much to say I'm happy,
viewing from my deck chair, my arms
around my knees? Tucked in the attic bed,
you and I hold hands and giggle and talk
about Ted and Jan. I made them up,
and I made up you. The old boards
shift and settle, as dreamers do.
It's the birthday of poet May Swenson, (books by this author) born in to Swedish-speaking Mormons in Logan, Utah, on this day in 1913. During her life she was often confused with the more famous poet May Sarton, also born in the month of May (just one year prior), also born to Northern European immigrants, and also lesbian. Swenson hated the confusion, and once wrote: "One May S. is a weak poet with a big rep; the other is the opposite."
She moved to New York City when she was 23, during the Great Depression. She worked as an editor at New Directions publishing, then set off on a series of writer-in-residence posts across the country. She became friends, maybe lovers, with poet Elizabeth Bishop. The two exchanged letters for many years. She once wrote to Bishop: "Not to need illusion — to dare to see and say how things really are, is the emancipation I would like to attain."
She said that poetry is "based in a craving to get through the curtains of things as they appear, to things as they are, and then into the larger, wilder space of things as they are becoming. This ambition involves a paradox: an instinctive belief in the senses as exquisite tools for this investigation and, at the same time, a suspicion about their crudeness."
Her collections include A Cage of Spines (1958), Iconographs (1970), Dear Elizabeth: Five Poems and Three Letters to Elizabeth Bishop (2000), and The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson (2003).
It's the birthday of Irish poet Thomas Moore, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1779), who studied at Trinity College and then moved to London to go to law school. He became friends with Shelley and Lord Byron. Besides writing poetry, Moore collected Irish ballads and wrote lyrics to traditional tunes — like what Robert Burns did in Scotland a generation before.
Moore's best-known lyrics include "The Minstrel Boy" and "The Last Summer of Rose," which begins:
'Tis the last rose of summerLeft blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®