Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Forgiveness Ode

Yesterday was my last day of class at the commuter college. Tomorrow they write an exam over the material covered in the second half of the course, and by next Tuesday they turn in a revision of one of their papers as a final exam. I have taught them everything I'm going to have a chance to teach them. The fall, which seemed so full of promise in September, is over. And I'm ready; I've made my mistakes, the students have made theirs, and what happens in the next week is that we all try to come to terms with it.

It's a little bit like having to drop your maternity coverage before you're entirely ready to give up the dream of another baby. Or watching the father of your children, having walked out of the marriage a few years before, move to a distant city where you'll no longer have the chance to see him every day. It's been over, but it's just now hitting you.

I love this poem, the "No Forgiveness Ode" by Dean Young, especially for its last two lines:

The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly,
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night Tybalt's stabbed
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn't it
electricity's blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
fuckup. So in the meantime: epoxy,
the dog barking at who knows what,
signals mixed up like a dumped-out tray
of printer's type. Some piece of you
stays in me and I'll never give it back.
The heart hoards its thorns
just as the rose profligates.
Just because you've had enough
doesn't mean you wanted too much.

I've had enough of this fall, both in terms of what I've done and what I've left undone (to quote part of an Episcopalian confession of sin).

Next we'll want too much from the holidays; it's almost time for me to start gunking up my Thanksgiving roasting pan with this year's expectations and regrets--how about you?


kittiesx3 said...

Timely post for me today (also the one you linked, which broke my heart). I'm struggling quite a bit with being really ANGRY about my current situation. And then I feel like a total loser because a friend of a friend is possibly dying and all I lost was stuff. Bleh.

For someone who doesn't usually get poetry, that poem summed up things rather well for me and I wondered if the author was sitting on my shoulder during the long slow demise of my first marriage.

Man, I'm a crank butt today.

FreshHell said...

I've gotten much of what I wanted from my adult life (two intelligent, funny, healthy children) so I won't complain about the things that may not have panned out too well. Regrets, I've had a few. But, I also attempt to streamline holidays and not expect too much or do too much. Simple and as relaxing as possible is always my goal. The less you plan for, the fewer things that can go awry. I don't own a roasting pan but my thanxgiving expectations are low and pretty much boil down to: no family squabbles and no sickness. I don't wish for anything beyond that.

Andrew Santella said...

Thanks for this. I think the (actual) gunk that never comes off the roasting pan bothers me even more than the (metaphorical) gunk that never comes off the roasting pan.

Amanda said...

You make me think about the new year. I always make goals, for better or for worse, but I haven't felt like it this year because for some reason I'm ahead of schedule. I feel like it's April of 2010 already...

Karen said...


Anonymous said...


Harriet said...

I have a non-stick roasting pan for the turkey, which gets beautifully clean with relative ease. But then, it only gets used once or twice a year. The everyday roasting pan, the small one for chickens, is a different story. It's covered in battle scars. The gunk doesn't really bother me, though. "Seasoning," a cook I once new called it. And while there are certainly disappointments in life, there are many things to be thankful for too. While the post you cited might suggest otherwise, I really am a glass-half-full kind of girl most of the time. "No regrets, only opportunities" is my motto (although sometimes more easily followed than others). Maybe it's a young person's motto. Maybe as I get older, I'm finding it harder to live by. But I actually prefer my well-seasoned pan. It carries a little of the flavor of excellent dinners past. It's not beautiful, but it's interesting.

Jodie said...

Love this poem.

Anonymous said...

Haven't had a bad Thanksgiving in 18 years. For this I am deeply grateful.


Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, maybe we need to get our crankiness out so we can be grateful next week!

Freshhell, that all sounds good to me in theory, but some family obligations defy streamlining...
I hadn't thought about the fact that being a vegetarian means never having to clean a roasting pan.

Andrew, my grandmother always called the actual gunk "pan seasoning." Sounds better, doesn't it?

Amanda, one of the good things about the academic life is how many chances it gives us for a fresh start. I'm particularly fond of trimesters for that. (But my commuter college is switching to semesters in two more years.)

Karen, ReadersGuide and Jodie, glad you like it!

Harriet, I do think that a few regrets makes a person more interesting. And see, someone else uses the term "seasoning" for pans! I inherited a well-seasoned iron skillet from my southern grandmother.

Lemming, I'm glad your Thanksgiving holiday is one you look forward to. I often get a bit depressed at Thanksgiving when we can't travel, but this year we can because the band director accepts a family wedding as a "once in a lifetime event" that gets Eleanor out of having to march in the mis-named local "Christmas parade" on Thanksgiving weekend.

kittiesx3 said...

Wow, even Mr. Ewing wouldn't have been that strict about parades. Sorry your daughter has a scrooge for a band director.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, the band director isn't the only one. It seems to me that all teachers and coaches have gotten much stricter about students not missing their events, to the extent that I've consciously started looking for alternatives to "mandatory meetings" for my student writing tutors...because when everything is mandatory, it gets ridiculous.

lemming said...

What?! A wedding is a once in a lifetime event that shouldn't be missed? Not sure that's a valid argument in Ohio these days.

Anonymous said...

I love that poem...I think it is timely for me as well.

Cschu said...

To quote Kittiesx3, "for someone who doesn't usually get poetry" this was also a great poem and post for me. I am completely in tune with your sense that "I've had enough of this fall, both in terms of what I've done and what I've left undone," though of course mine isn't over yet. But it has been one of those semesters, especially in one class.

Thanks for sharing the poem.

Jeanne said...

CSchu, your friends agree that we would like to see you some day when you're not already thinking about how soon you must rush off as soon as you arrive.