Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Questions You Might Ask

I had fun with my National Poetry Month offering, the poem "Intake Interview," and was amazed at how many people tried to answer more than one or two of those largely unanswerable questions.

For me, one of the pleasures of poetry is mulling it over for a while. This may be strange to those who know me because I'm so often a list-maker--write it down, do it, cross it off, forge ahead. Maybe I like poetry because it's the one place in my life where I don't feel I have to answer all the questions right away.

Here are some questions that are lovely to contemplate, by Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Some Questions You Might Ask:

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn't?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

One question certainly does lead to another. These particular questions are some I've always wondered about. How can people make pronouncements about animals not having souls? It's fun the way this poet takes that question almost (one might argue) to absurdity by including plants and even stones. The questions become, for me at least, questions about what we see, and how far we can see into someone or something.

How much of me is what I look like? (In my case, not much. My intellectual life is somewhat disengaged from my physical existence. I can run in my dreams.) Can you remember a time you became aware that there was more to someone than met the eye?

7 comments:

FreshHell said...

Yes, because it happens all the time. I try to have an open mind about people though assholes usually out themselves within seconds of my meeting them. But, I try to be nice to strangers because it never hurts and you just never know. If the person then decides to be a jerk or take my random kindness the wrong way...well, they're off the list. For example, while parking my car in a lot in Baltimore this weekend, the attendant saw me put my box of CDs in my trunk and asked what kind of music I listened to. We bonded over our love of jazz. It's never wrong to assume there's more than meets the eye. Sometimes that more is good and sometimes not. But, it's worth the risk. Which...this is a bit off-topic but I seem to have my brain set on "stream-of-conscious" thinking today.

Nymeth said...

I do try to remind myself that there's more to people than meets the eye (and sometimes fail, of course). Also, the more I read Mary Oliver the more I love her.

kittiesx3 said...

Oh sure--my husband is the best example. I'd ruled him out when I met him in late 1998 because (a) I was scared of commitment and (b) he's a redhead.

Fast forward to now and I feel pretty stupid for having wasted three extra years with him. Although to be entirely honest, we each did some major changing in those three years, we were both divorced and still had luggage to ditch.

Ron Griggs said...

You know that first moment you meet someone, when somehow through an ineffable process unknown to science, you just know you'll like them or dislike them?

For me, it's wrong often as not. But it took me twenty years to learn that lesson. There's always more than meets the eye. My eye, at least.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, It took me about a year to adjust to small-town life and learn to have conversations like yours with the parking attendant everywhere I go...including NYC, where I embarrassed my kids by it. But hey, that's my job. And as you say, people can surprise you, so it's good to be open to pleasant surprises.

Nymeth, It's easier to do in some contexts than others. I have fewer preconceptions about online friends, and it's always interesting to see photos after "knowing" them for months or even years.

Elizabeth, did you used to have preconceptions about people with red hair? The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love has a funny passage about a girl who did because a red-haired boy she sat next to in elementary school "smelled funny," so she assumed all people with hair that color smelled that way.

Ron, that reminds me of my father's premonitions that are always wrong! Your "wrong as often as not" seems statistically more probable.

Brimful Curiosities said...

I worked at an assisted living center for a few years in my 20's. It's amazing how a place like that somehow manages to group everyone from all walks of life into one category. I met some most extraordinary individuals in my brief time working there.

Jeanne said...

Brimful, so you're saying that before working there, you'd have grouped all those individuals into one category, too? That does seem an extreme example of judging by appearance, but it happens all the time. I do it when I get behind an elderly driver. For all I know, he always drove that way!