Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris

My friends' cat died of old age yesterday, and it happened so fast that attending a 2-hour symphony rehearsal Monday night and teaching class from 8:50 am to 12:50 pm on Tuesday made me unavailable to talk to them every time they called.

The leaves from my neighbor's enormous tree that overhangs my driveway and yard have all fallen on the ground and turned from gold to brown. I have a sick parakeet and am keeping the house very warm. The garbage disposal is broken, and it's been a week since I paid for a new one, but since it hasn't come in yet we can't schedule the installation. We're expecting houseguests this weekend.

My youngest child, who is getting almost too old to go out trick-or-treating (at 13) decided what he wanted to "be" for Halloween, and then found out that some adult scheduled the second game of his soccer tournament for the evening of Halloween night.

Up and down all the streets of my small town are campaign signs for a man running for the school board with the express purpose of reinstating the former middle school teacher who burned crosses on his students' arms and taught them young earth creationism as science.

I was initially irritated by the snobbish attitude of this poem--Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris--up until the part where she spends three hours getting her own hair cut and then admits that she adores time travel movies with action heroes in them:

For an hour on the train from Beauvais to Paris
Nord I'm entertained by the conversation of three
American girls about their appointment the next
day with a hairdresser and if there is a subtext
to this talk, I'm missing it, though little else. Will bangs
make them look too dykey? And layers, sometimes they hang
like the fur of a shaggy dog. Streaks, what about blonde
streaks? "Whore," they scream, laughing like a coven of wild
monkeys, and after they have exhausted the present
tense, they go on to the remembrance of hairdos past--
high school proms, botched perms, late-night drunken cuts, the Loch Ness
Monster would be lost in their brains as in a vast, starless
sea, but they're happy, will marry, overpopulate
the Earth, which you can't say about many poets,
I think a few weeks later taking the eighty-four
bus to the hairdresser, where I'll spend three long hours
and leave with one of the best cuts of my life from Guy,
who has a scar on his right cheek and is Israeli,
but before that I pass a hotel with a plaque--
Attila Jozsef, great Hungarian poet, black
moods and penniless, lived there ten years before he threw
himself under a train in Budapest. If we knew
what the years held, would we alter our choices, take the train
at three-twenty instead of noon, walk in the rain
instead of taking the metro? The time travel films
I adore speak to this very question: overwhelmed
by disease and war, the future sends Bruce Willis back
to stop a madman. I could be waiting by the track
as Jozsef arrives in Paris, not with love but money,
which seemed to be the missing ingredient, the honey
he needed to sweeten his tea. Most days I take the B
line of the RER, and one of the stops is Drancy,
the way station for Jews rounded up by the Nazis
before being sent in trains to the camps, but we can't see
those black-and-white figures in the Technicolor
present like ghosts reminding us with their pallor
how dearly our circus of reds and golds has been purchased
and how in an instant all those colors could be erased.

I like the train metaphor going on here, the idea that sometimes it's enough just to stay on track and keep going. And, of course, I like the sense of adventure that the memory of navigating through train stations in and around Paris gives me. I was there! I figured out the RER maps enough to ride over some of the storied ground she rides over in the poem!

And what else is there to do? Kill the bird in the process of trying to transport it an hour away in the cold to an avian veterinarian? Be less brave than my child about the disappointments grownups inflict? Find the source for those campaign signs and impersonate a wacko long enough to get one I can write on and put in my yard? ("Vote Steve Thompson for school board... if you want state-sponsored religion")


FreshHell said...

Sigh, yeah. I don't know.

lemming said...

Just think, I could have dropped that 1:10 TR class.... :-) Sometimes inertia pushes us forward at a glacial pace.

Eva said...

I loved the rhythm, how I kept being drawn to read more and more of the poem. :)

Care said...

I never quite know how to comment on poems but I do like this one. Thank you.

Jodie said...

That man sounds crazy!

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I did end up writing a letter to the editor.

Lemming, I feel like inertia alone would push me much faster than a steaming locomotive, at this point!

Eva, I like the rhythm, too.

Care, I'm glad you like it!

Jodie, oh he is crazy. And his followers are much like him. My letter to the editor is so inflammatory that I'm half scared someone is going to burn a cross on my lawn and/or let the air out of my tires when I'm parked at the high school.

Anonymous said...

I like this poem, and I think maybe her snobbishness is canceled by her discussion of her own haircut later on.
Okay, the man sounds totally crazy, but who would schedule a soccer tournament for 13 year olds on Halloween? That's crazy. And mean, really.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, I agree about the snobbishness; that's why I said I was only initially irritated by it.

Sigh. There are people in Columbus, where the tournament is held, who try to schedule trick or treating on some night besides Halloween. They're doing it tonight. I think this is ludicrous. No one in my small town is doing it tonight, so our kids miss it.

thesmokingsun said...

I'm so glad to find this post! I have fallen in love with this poem. I am having trouble however- I am hoping someone could help me out. Where exactly do you hear the rhythm in Hamby's work? I have recited it over and over and I can not hear it. Is it in the form of slant rhyme or maybe consonance rhyme? help? I really want to dig deep into this work!

Jeanne said...

I don't hear a rhythm in this poem. It's free verse, which means it works more by line breaks, and maybe "cadence" which you can look up under any discussion of what "free verse" is.