Oct. 10, 2007

The God Who Loves You

by Carl Dennis

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Poem: "The God Who Loves You" by Carl Dennis, from Practical Gods. © Penguin Poets, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The God Who Loves You

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don't want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright, screenwriter and director Harold Pinter, (books by this author) born in East London (1930), who has said that the defining experience of his childhood was the bombing of London by the Nazis. He said, "There were times when I would open our back door and find our garden in flames. ... The condition of being bombed has never left me." He went on to make his name writing plays that mix hilarious moments with suddenly horrifying events, constantly throwing the audience off balance. His first major play was The Birthday Party (1958), about an old man renting a room in a boarding house who is terrified to learn that his landlords have decided to take in more tenants. When the new tenants arrive, they subject the man to a kind of police interrogation and then drag him away, while his landlords just go on with their lives. The play ran for only a single week when it opened in 1958, and got only one good review, but it's now considered a classic.

It's the birthday of the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, born in a village near Parma, Italy (1813), who wrote the music for Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853). He was just starting to make it as a composer in the late 1830s when his two children and his wife died within a few years of each other. He fell into a depression, but got himself out of it by composing at a furious pace, producing on average two operas a year between 1843 and 1849. He didn't just write the music, but also edited the libretto, hired the singers, supervised the rehearsals, and conducted the opening performances. The work schedule was exhausting, but it made him the most popular opera composer in Italy. The night that Il Trovatore (1853) premiered in Rome, the Tiber River flooded, and people had to wade through the water and mud to get to the theater, but it was still a full house.

It's the birthday of the jazz pianist Thelonious (Sphere) Monk, (albums by this musician) born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1917), who helped invent bebop in the late 1930s with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Parker and Gillespie achieved fame right way, but Monk spent the next 20 years struggling to make a living. He played any nightclub that would take him, sometimes working for just $20 a week. It wasn't until he began to play with John Coltrane in 1957 that people realized how revolutionary his style was, and some of his compositions became jazz standards, including "'Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser." Thelonious Monk said, "There are no wrong notes."

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