Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hard Rain

It was the fall of 2004, when Ron and I heard Eleanor's sixth-grade band begin to stomp their feet and clap their hands--stomp, stomp, clap! stomp, stomp, clap!--that we became aware that what we thought of as the rebellious songs of our adolescence had been fully taken over by elevators and middle school band directors.

Then, in the spring of 2008, we realized that it wasn't enough to be relieved when our kids weren't assigned to the creationist middle school science teacher, that we should have protested the first time we heard about him giving handouts about how dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and then collecting the handouts at the end of each class so parents wouldn't see them.

Now it's 2011, and 17 degrees outside. I've been thinking of going out to one of the two stores in town looking for a bouquet of cut flowers to help me bear having to take down the Christmas decorations. But I'm not sure I'm up to the whole ordeal--a parking place far enough away from the door that I'll have room to extend my stiff leg into the frozen slush to get out of the car, cheery smiles for the people I pass, soft muzak on the store speakers, displays of the headline in the local paper about three murders near the lake we like to frequent in warmer might all be too much.

It's like this poem, "Hard Rain," by Tony Hoagland:

After I heard It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood: there's nothing
we can't pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can't turn into a soft-drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hold golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

"You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy,"
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
"about all those people you killed--
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time--"

And everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood--
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present.
Should I say something?
Signed, America

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth--

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.

I like the line about how "the level of deep feeling has been touched" because it seems to me to get right to the heart of the matter--what business is it of yours if my deep feeling is wrongly bestowed? Who gets to define "wrong" and why? Is there such a thing as evil, and if so, can I point my finger at a person and say that there's no more room for forgiveness, that he's already "History"?

Well, yeah. Not only can I, but I probably should. Although it would be a dreadful world if everybody stalked around showing their true feelings every day (no more of what Holden Caulfield calls "phoniness"), maybe one thing January is for is facing some of the gritty realities that get covered over with lovely growing things during the rest of the year.

Hmm, I'm not the only one thinking like this today; see this xkcd.


FreshHell said...

Funny how this reminded me that I heard a less-than-commercial Clash song coming out of the grocery store speakers recently and it jarred me. Is that what the past is relegated to? Muzak? Everything thrown in there to come out equal? All just the ground beef of music and history? Dunno. I tend to think of the snows of the winter as covering up all the crimes rather than the reverse. Reality is exposed when the snow melts.

Betty (Beth) said...

Wonderful poem. I think I'm going to have to print this one out and keep it at my desk.

Karen said...

Wow, I love this poem.

Karenlibrarian said...

Whatever happened regarding the creationist middle school teacher? That scares the pants off me. And I live in Texas, so I'm particularly interested -- our textbooks are in jeopardy!

Ron Griggs said...

I like the part where

"...they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History."

I don't think I believe in the power of Forgiveness. But I'm not willing to give up on the idea that the power of Redemption is greater than the power of History.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This is a great poem. I'm not sure what to say about it other than that. I love the lines that Ron pointed out.

Jenny said...

That, that's an amazing poem. I may send it to my sister. I love the letter to Abby (advice-columnist junkie that I am).

I am deeply envious of your weather. It's not any colder today than it's been on other days, but for some reason I cannot get warm today. Brrrrrrr.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I like what you say about every kind of music thrown in there and coming out equal--that is what jars us, I think. Every song is "just another brick in the wall"!

Snow does cover things up; we had a lot in December and it has mostly melted away for the New Year, leaving everything soggy and dirty.

Betty, I do that sometimes, print a poem so I can look at it. That can lead to involuntary memorization.

Karen, glad you like it!

Karenlibrarian, the school system has spent a lot of money making its case against him (his lawyer tried to make the case about him having a bible on his desk) and it's dragged on for years. Aside from being a crackpot, he's a nice man and for years was a good teacher, so it's hard in a small community. I think the lawsuit brought by the parents of the boy who had the cross burned into his arm was settled, and they've moved away. The other case is still being decided. News about it rarely makes our small town newspaper; I have to read about it elsewhere.

Ron, we agree that redemption is something you have to do yourself while forgiveness can mean you don't actually change but other people decide to approve of you anyway.

Kim, I like hearing that people are enjoying this poem!

Jenny, the letter to Abby is my favorite part, too.

17 degrees makes you envious? Whoa! When you can't get warm, sometimes the only thing that helps is a hot bath or shower.

Jodie said...

Gah I meant to comment ages ago to say thanks for introducing me to a new poem I like a lot. I was in choral in school and we had to sing a perfectly enunciated version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. I mean we weren't huge Queen fans but we knew enough to knwo it wasn't right.

OMG acoustic covers of rock songs on adverts have to end too. There's this perfectly pretty version of Teenage Kicks doing the round on UK tv, but there are just too many of the same sort of thing for me to like it.

On a sort of related note I had to leave this ad for you: It makes me think of Bill and Ted (when they're talking to Aristotle in the first film and ref 'dust in the wind' and 'these are the days of our lives'.

Jeanne said...

Jodie, that ad using Dust in the Wind is truly horrifying!