… all two days that are left of it, that is.
I confess to not being much of a poetry reader as an adult. I was drawn to poetry as a child– as all children are– reveling in imagery and metaphor and wordplay and rhythm. I loved studying poetry in my English literature classes in high school (my teachers were brilliant; college English classes were a disappointment afterward). They also instilled in me the tendency to quote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock randomly at my husband. Now that I have children of my own, I have come full cycle as I watch them explore rhyme and rhythm, and beg to hear poetry and nursery rhymes.
As a young teenager, though, I was moved by several poems (and confounded by several others–I’m looking at you, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird!). The one that stands out in my memory, even after all these years is Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums. Back then it perfectly typified the identity struggle faced by so many of us non-white children living under a colonial legacy. Children who wore shalwar kameez and ate biryani and daal, and went to a prep schools complete with prefects, uniforms, and houses named after British dudes who expanded or governed the British Empire. Children who spoke fluent English, but spoke their native tongues haltingly and hesitatingly. Children who lay in the hot hot afternoon sun with mango and coconut trees whispering outside their windows and immersed themselves in stories of Toms and Janes at boarding school in chilly grey England.
Now that I’m older, my perspective of the poem has changed. For me, it is less of an identity struggle between cultures and more about the transition from childhood to adulthood. When I read it with my adult eyes, it fills me with a sometimes painful nostalgia for times that were simpler; simpler in their contrasts of black and white, simpler in their bold colors and emotions writ large. Now, I am an adult and my life is full of nuance and subtlety and complexity, like a piano concerto (ironically, I even play the piano now!). I look back at my childhood with mixed feelings, often glad that it is over, sometimes missing the comfortable simplicity of it. I am not lost in the mist, bewildered, as Osaka is, but often I’m reminded that I can never reverse time, never go back “home” to childhood again.
As I return to poetry through my children again, I have the added benefit of my adult tastes and perspective meshing with the freshness and playfulness of their outlook. My current favorite poem is one that Sir I. has been working on memorizing: Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti. It combines two things I find fascinating and fearful–wind and trees (ask me sometimes about how my stomach drops into a giant pit when I see our willow branches lashing about in a high wind); it’s simple and songlike; and we’ve had fun discussing its structure. It’s amazing what children will notice about poems.
How about you? What is your favorite poem? Why?