“Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we get from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get?
At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio winding down.”—
But then the dove of hope began its downward slope And I believed for a moment that my chances were Approaching to be grabbed But as it came down near, so did a weary tear I thought it was a bird, but it was just a paper bag
Interviewer: In Love Always you write, about New York: “Life was so difficult that small triumphs began to look like success.”
Ann Beattie: I became disenchanted with New York when I realized that I felt as if I had accomplished something when I picked up the laundry and got the Times and a quart of milk. I spent a lot of time worrying about alternate-side parking. I lived on the fourth floor of a brownstone. If I had messed up and hadn’t jockeyed my car to the right side of the street for the net day and somebody moved their car at four o’clock in the morning, it was an automatic response, in winter or summer, maybe I put my slippers on, but I would run down in my pajamas and get that place. All of a sudden I thought, This is absolutely ridiculous.
You can’t order a poem like you order a taco. Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two” and expect it to be handed back to you on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit. Anyone who says, “Here’s my address, write me a poem,” deserves something in reply. So I’ll tell you a secret instead: poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife two skunks for a valentine. He couldn’t understand why she was crying. “I thought they had such beautiful eyes.” And he was serious. He was a serious man who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly just because the world said so. He really liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them as valentines and they became beautiful. At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding in the eyes of skunks for centuries crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite. And let me know.
“The sun, though not especially hot, was nonetheless so brilliant that it made any fairly distant image - a boy, a boat - seem almost as wavering and refractional as a stick in water. After a couple of minutes, Boo Boo let the image go.”— J.D. Salinger, Down at the Dinghy