Friday, April 25, 2008


We could not have gotten through the past fourteen years at my house without the book Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. One of the most valuable things she does for parents is remind them that when their child gets overstimulated, often they do too. Occasionally my friend Amy, a former child psychologist turned elementary school teacher, would remind me to reread part of that book--and she was right; it always helped.

I've been reading a book that isn't half so good: Mellow Out, They Say. If I Only Could, by Michael M. Piechowski. Sometimes it helps me to look at a new book on the subject, just as a way of reminding myself that the members of my family need to put positive names on the way we can't help being--we're enthusiastic people! Yeah, enthusiasm; that's a good word.

Which brings me to Beth Ann Fennelly's poem "I Need to be More French. Or Japanese." I love this poem excessively; I've read it out loud to everyone who will listen, and now I will type it here for you all, now:

I Need To Be More French. Or Japanese.

Then I wouldn't prefer the California wine,
its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
I'd prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
Said Cezanne: Le mond--c'est terrible!
Which means, The world--it bites the big weenie.
People sound smarter in French.
The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
prefer the rose before it blooms.
Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
they drank it in, but my taste buds
shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
It was the day they gave out foam fingers.
I hereby pledge to wear more gray, less yellow
of the beaks of baby mockingbirds,
that huge yellow yawping open on wobbly necks,
trusting something yummy will be dropped inside,
soon. I hereby pledge to be reserved.
When the French designer learned
I didn't like her mockups for my book cover,
she sniffed, They're not for everyone. They're
subtle. What area code is 662 anyway? I said,
Mississippi, sweetheart. Bet you couldn't find it
with a map. Okay: I didn't really. But so what
if I'm subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
if I'm mellow as the punch-drunk bee.
If I were Japanese I'd write about magnolias
in March, how tonal, each bud long as a pencil,
sheathed in celadon suede, jutting from a cluster
of glossy leaves. I'd end the poem before anything
bloomed, end with rain swelling the buds
and the sheaths bursting, then falling to the grass
like a fairy's castoff slippers, like candy wrappers,
like spent firecrackers. Yes, my poem
would end there, spent firecrackers.
If I were French, I'd capture post-peak, in July,
the petals floppy, creased brown with age,
the stamens naked, stripped of yellow filaments.
The bees lazy now, bungling the ballet, thinking
for the first time about October. If I were French,
I'd prefer this, end with the red-tipped filaments
scattered on the scorched brown grass,
and my poem would incite the sophisticated,
the French and the Japanese readers--
because the filaments look like matchsticks,
and it's matchsticks, we all know, that start the fire.

The redbud trees outside my window have caught fire, clashing with the cardinal sitting in the branches. The forsythias are more green than yellow. The Bradford pear may have reached its peak of bloom this morning, right before the rain comes and begins the process of knocking the blossoms off.

I do not pledge to wear more gray. I like my roses to look like what Thoroughly Modern Millie says when she orders two dozen (!) roses for her boss Trevor Grayden to send to her friend Miss Dorothy--"on the fat side."


harriet said...

What a fabulous poem. You have made my day by sharing it with me. And I'll have to look up that book (the first one, not the second one). It sounds right up our alley.

paj said...

Loved it. Except, Jeanne, I can't quite see you standing in the beer line at Wrigley Field. But to be fair, I can imagine you waving a giant foam finger.

Cschu said...

I agree. This is a great poem. It quite cheers me up because it reminds me not pull myself back from the French attitude she describes. The blooms will come again, even if they look pretty shriveled right now.