Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Barber's Fingers Move October

I've been sitting through a lot of awards ceremonies, watching in a kind of half-daze as the children of friends and acquaintances and strangers move across the stage, shaking the presenters' hands and accepting envelopes. While I'm glad that my children are doing well in school, I'm not sure that these kinds of ceremonies are a terribly good thing, especially when a couple of kids dominate all the awards or the same group of kids and parents have to go to two ceremonies a week in a three-week period in May. Because such school celebrations usually offer cookies, my kids have taken to referring to any celebration of their scholastic merits as a "smart fat kids" event.

But I do think that if someone wants to give you an award, you should show up. So we do. And I sit there in a haze, sometimes not clapping--I don't mean to be rude, but I get distracted. There's a lovely lemon-yellow dress! There's a kid I haven't seen for two years since he was in an after-school club with my older child! Look, there's a teacher with mismatched socks, and the clock on the wall is ten minutes slow and the curtain on the side of the stage is such a deep, deep red....

These occasions for reverie put me quite in the mood for this poem, recently discovered in a new volume I checked out from the library by Samuel Amadon:

The Barber's Fingers Move October

If I watch two white cats play in a window
which is not the window I should be watching

when a window I watch through is the window
I should be washing, then we know today

is going to be a difficult to listen to all his talking
when his shirts are open, when his face is

pulsing. Would anyone like to see my thumbs
lonely, or growing from one leg to the next

brownstone overflowing with people unprepared
for how happily I'm going to be making lunch

look like a portrait of milk next to seventy-two
days of tomato soup, each peppered

with less cooking makes for opportunity to see
my foot pressed against Grant's Tomb

which is just to say mustache. But
could landmarks be what I've been neglecting

to mention, how unproductive never leaving
the house might actually be what you were

meaning? I'm sorry. Sometimes listening takes
stealing a bus, or finding a way to parking lots

large enough in which to fishtail.
A reason for snow having not come. This year

is going to be a good idea becomes better
after sharing it with strangers, or settle down

before you worry yourself into a newspaper
subscriber who won't take the time to more

than rinse a mug. Isn't water what we were after
all I can't remember, but believe as a child

I was a vision of not really the strongest swimmer
on his hands, collecting grass for filters because enough

with the ceiling fan it's summer Sam no one but me will
believe you are a robot who prefers a beach in tight

khakis with no belt because it's back home holding
his project in rotation, which is sort of like me

now, see how I can make my chair stop or keep
my chair spinning, either way I must be up for something

has made one white cat try hard his face against
the glass until a vein appears which, followed, leads

us back to apparently my bicycle was taken off
the shelf. What if I rode it with my knees spread down

the four flights of stairs out this building
into the street without checking the cars' side

mirrors for if I still pedal with my mouth open?
Better you leave it too precarious in the doorway

for me to follow after the door is knocked
by the wind from a window I will open now

that it's safe to say this has been a full morning
of staring through the half-reflection of my face

figuring out how it would sound
to understand every word you were saying.

I especially like the lines about how "sometimes listening takes/stealing a bus, or finding a way to parking lots/large enough in which to fishtail./A reason for snow having not come." They really evoke the feeling of drifting through an awards ceremony until the moment when someone trips and loses a shoe, or a kid flashes a grin and frames his face with his hands in a show-offy way. It pulls you back.

Or am I the only person who sits through such things watching the mouths move but not always focusing enough to "understand every word"?

7 comments:

PAJ said...

My mind wanders at assemblies, in church, at political speeches, in telephone conversations with my mother, etc. Reading this poem today, I was immediately reminded of my student days.
At the end of a graduate-school lecture that had gone on for too long in a too hot classroom, the professor said, "OK. For the next class, hand in a paper about today's lecture." I looked down at my notes, only to find that there were none. None. My mind had been very active during the hour, but none of its attention was focused on the professor's lecture.
The next class period, I turned in a paper that looked much like today's poem. It was an honest re-creation of my wandering thoughts. I expected to receive a poor grade and a "conference" with the professor, who had a reputation as a no-nonsense guy who was stingy in dispensing good grades and generous with "constructive criticism." Imagine my surprise when the paper received an A. I never asked but have always assumed he was rewarding my honesty--and that his attention also had wandered a bit that day in the too hot classroom.

lemming said...

I could not hear a word of my brother's college graduation speaker. If asked to recreate it, my response would be, thirteen minutes of incomprehensible sound system, followed by someone getting up from the audience to play "To Dream the Impossible Dream" on the violin, followed by another eight minutes of garbled incomprehensibility.

Still I remember it, which is probably saying something.

FreshHell said...

You are not. Our awards have not begun. Next week is the girl scout awards ceremony which is brief. Then the talent show in which I'll have to sit through numerous jesus songs in order to see my kids perform/sing. I do a lot of wandering in my brain during that event. I tend to observe all the things you aren't suppose to be observing during these events. I guess I forget I'm not at the DMV waiting for my number to be called.

Harriet said...

This is exactly how I watch my son's baseball games, which is why I have requested that Mr. Spy never, ever ask me to keep score.

Harriet said...
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Valerie said...

We aren't yet to the major part of the awards season and we don't have many events. That said, the one I attended at the high school Jim's senior year was an excellent place to sit and free associate. It went on forever, and was in the gym, so it wasn't even comfortable enough to cat nap.

Jeanne said...

PAJ, That's a great story! It sounds like the Prof was fishing for honesty. I've been known to do that about who's actually read the book when a discussion flags. I think someone who occasionally reads this blog was in a class I dismissed one day when no one had read the assignment.

Lemming, your graduation experience is closer to what's happening in the poem, since you actually couldn't hear.

FreshHell, glad to know I'm not alone. All the things we're not supposed to be observing usually includes other members of the audience!

Harriet, yes, I do that at my son's soccer games, too, although it's a little different outside, with more to gaze at. The other parents know better than to ask me the score by this point in the season.

Valerie, I would never dare let myself go to sleep! Maybe it's just that if you're tall (and long-waisted, so tall in a chair) you always feel like people might be looking at you in a crowd.