Thursday, January 20, 2011


We woke up to black cold and saw Wednesday's paper delivered again on the ice of the driveway. All of us have somewhere to drive this afternoon, and it's supposed to snow. The rural roads do not see enough snowplow here.

In other words, it's a day I need more courage. I've been re-reading Anne Sexton and found a poem entitled "Courage," which seems to me another good one for the end of January:

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

Today will be a day when getting through the small things takes courage. Sometimes the small things take more courage than the big dramatic events-- although, ironically, one of today's small things is getting my kids to their last dress rehearsal for a dramatic event that opens tomorrow night, a local production of The Laramie Project. Help me hope for no literal broken legs.


FreshHell said...

Yes, I recommend something other than carpet slippers today.

kittiesx3 said...

I hope for no broken bones for you today.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

When I read Sexton, I tend to devour her by the bookful. And I don't think that is the best way, because after a while your heart hardens to the rawness of her words and your onion heart grows a few extra layers of protective skin. But when encountering one poem alone, I am always floored.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I never wear "carpet slippers" anyway, despite years of urging from my parents. Oddly, I don't mind cold feet as much as I mind being cold anywhere else.

Elizabeth, thanks! I've never actually broken a bone before.

Harriet, I adore the phrase "your onion heart." You're so right. I tend to dart in and out of a big book of poetry, like the edition of The Complete Poems I got this Sexton one out of. I think I learned that when we lived near Washington D.C. and took people to the Smithsonian museums--you learn how long most people can be awed and open before the inevitable protective skin starts growing.

Anonymous said...

I love that back door/carpet slipper image. I'm going to keep it.

kittiesx3 said...

Oh man, I LOVE wearing slippers and in fact converted Kent to the joys of slipper wearing.

Lori L said...

Very, very nice poetry selection, Jeanne... I loved the imagery and feelings in enduring a great despair.

Avid Reader said...

Wonderful poem and a good day for something warm on your feet.

Care said...

Aw, well, at first response to this poem, I wanted to challenge you that if driving on snowy roads required such courage, then STAY HOME.
But as I read further,... just please be careful.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, it is nice, isn't it? Not a dramatic exit, just a slip out the back.

Elizabeth, my parents would have liked you for a daughter in that regard!

Lori, Sexton is good for getting some company in your misery. I'm finding her a bit too much for this time of year.

Avid Reader, I prefer a cat for something warm on my feet!

Care, we were careful--Ron and I went out together to get the kids from their rehearsal--the roads were bad, but we went very slowly and saw few other drivers. And then they had no school the next day, and the performance of their play are going well.