Saturday, November 13, 2010

Frank O'Hara, "Autobiographia Literaria"

Upstairs the young people are baking chocolate cake and reading picture books out loud. A mixed group from Middlest's French class. On a kind of field trip to their disappearing childhood, I gather, revisiting a protected pocket of that endangered habitat.

Honestly, I am surprised they would entertain themselves this way.  Did young people when I was one ever gather like this?So innocently? It was all videos and practicing dance moves, I think, back then. One house had a foosball table. Sometimes we would go skating - roller (Xanadu <shudder>) and iceskating.  Sometimes we would get a pizza. In other circles, according to reports that were common property at school, there were the keggers and partying and the cops showing up. That kind of fun.

Boys and girls baking together belonged to the realm of grandmas and Christmas storybooks and the childhoods we all were fleeing.

I wouldn't have imagined this cozy homeyness when I imagined the social goings-on that went on beyond me. A year or two later, in the library stacks at the university, Frank O'Hara's "Autobiographia Literaria" spoke to me like a post card from my past, a promise from a future self:

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

But I did not go there.  Instead here I am, not the center, but the encircling perimeter. 

From the other room, their voices, the intermittent sound of piano, laughing, the smell of baking - all this warmth that happens with no doing on my part.  A sense of wholeness, of things coming right for this moment. 

I have only ever been the empty stage my daughters' plays have been produced upon.  I am the closet of properties, the light crew.  They are the maestros, director and cast, musicians and dancers - the costumes of hospitality inhabited.  And I love it.  Being part of the performance from the privacy of the sidelines.  I talk to their friends.  I come down to my work.  But am still here at the edges of happiness and conviviality.  And it is this, hugely, that I fear I will miss with my daughters' departures, coming and come.
[cross-posted on Imaginary Bicycle]

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