Last week I read Seymour: An Introduction, a short story by J.D. Salinger. It is the reminiscences of Buddy Glass about his older brother, Seymour, and he spends a large amount of the story talking about Seymour’s poetry. We never do get to read any of this poetry, except for one poem, sent to Buddy by their sister Booboo, from when Seymour was young:
Please put your scarf on.
As intriguing as that scrap of poetry is, I began to feel deeply the loss of the missing poems. This shows Salinger’s brilliance since, as far as I know, he is describing poems that don’t exist.
Seymour writes Haikus, or rather “double Haikus” – his own invention. Inspired by the negative space in the story, I paused to compose my own Haiku (a single). Here it is:
Baby sleeps. I read.
Use bank receipts as bookmarks.
Ten degrees, March sixth.
Traditionally, the last line of a Haiku is supposed to touch on Nature. See how I did? The syllables are tricky, though, and to be perfectly honest it was twenty three degrees and March seventh when I wrote the poem. But there’re way too many syllables in twenty three and seventh. In my defense, the previous day, March sixth, had been ten degrees (-15 with the wind-chill, a fact which made me question my sanity at choosing to live in Boston).
Even with my Haiku, though, I still feel a lack of poetry. So I’m posting another one of mine, free form, that I wrote a couple of years ago. A little mythological background: Prometheus, if you remember, is the god who took pity on chilly men (who quite possibly were living in Boston, I don’t recall) and brought them fire from heaven to warm themselves. He was punished for this divine rebellion, though at the moment the nature of his punishment escapes me. Edith Hamilton would be glad to tell you all about it, if you really want to know.
Here you go. Enjoy.
When I opened the door of my study
A piece of paper – an idea for a story
Fluttered into the candle and began to burn.
And I thought of all the centuries before electricity,
When people worked by candlelight,
And drafts caused similar accidents.
I didn’t think of other writers,
Though that never-published novel
Which I consequently never read
May be the reason for
That deep and lonely
Ache I sometimes
No, I thought of physicists, philosophers,
Economists, politicians and theologians.
Countless numbers of them, huddled over documents
That would have ended world hunger,
Brought about peace on earth,
Or taught men and women how to understand each other;
In a careless moment, opening a window,
Prometheus’s gift licking the thin pages.
They caught it in time, like I did –
Grabbing the paper and dropping it into the sink.
Their house did not burn down, their wives (or husbands)
And children were safe. No smoke
Choked the family pets, or ruined the drapes.
No one even knew.
And I’ll write that story anyway:
I have a pretty good idea what it was going to be about.
But the exact wording, that particular plot twist
That could have made it Nobel prize-worthy
Is lost. So, maybe, the secret meaning of life,
Discovered, maybe, again and again throughout history,
Was blown into a single flame,
And given back to the gods.