Named By A Poet

April 2, 2011

We live, we die. We’re fragile, more fragile than we care to notice. In a snap of the fingers, it can all disappear. And on the flipside, if you live long enough, everything you came to know will disappear, and an entire landscape of the unfamiliar will expand out before you. It’s that sort of heady stuff we tend to shirk from, because it’s just too overwhelming. It’s part of why we drown out our confusions and preoccupations in a haze of television and other bright screens. The modern world is just a fantabulous cataclysm of marvels and mayhem.

Avalon, Mad Men, Imitation of Life… Plenty of big and small screen creations tell the stories of our chaotic times tremendously well, what with all the frenzied changes upon changes unleashed by the Industrial Age.

I’m in such a weighty mood after watching that terrific eighties film, Avalon, again after many years. (It features a young Elijah Wood, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.) I couldn’t keep from crying, even though I already knew the scenes were going to play out the way they did. Serendipitous, really, that I wanted to watch that film today, when in my grand plans for National Poetry Month, I’d already slated today’s spot for R.E.M.’s classic single, “Imitation of Life,” itself titled for the fifties film starring Lana Turner, perhaps the style icon dearest to my heart.

What attracts me to poetry is the way it cuts through all our layers of b.s. and puts us face to face with our own fragility. Mortality, after all, is the poetry at the heart of everything, from theatre and film to sunflowers and sunsets. For me, nothing encapsulates that truth more than my own little staged funerals as a four year-old. Even as a young’n, I was attracted to melodrama, theatricality, movement, family history, the geography of a sterile Soviet concrete fortress of an apartment building, through the fact of death. Our ultimate fates are difficult to acknowledge, but it’s best if we face the music sooner rather than not soon enough.

“Imitation of Life” was prevalent on the airwaves back when I obsessively listened to my hometown’s rock stations, before I dabbled with Christian radio and hip-hop and then completely gave up on radio for a decade (TMI? Yeah, probly). At one point, I got the melody stuck in my head, along with the word “sugarcane,” but internet search wasn’t as good back then as it is now, and it took me years to trace the song back to R.E.M., even though I had some of their other tunes, such as “The One I Love,” perfectly squared away in my mental musical ledger. (I remember I had something like “na na na” and “sugarcane” scrawled on a faded blue Post-It note for years, and I tried my hardest not to lose it. Good thing I did not.) Hold tight to your childhood loves, my friends, for you never know if, or when, words like “sugarcane” will be all that you have left.

In the words of the poets…

Imitation of Life

Charades, pop skill;
Water hyacinth, named by a poet–
Imitation of life.
Like a koi in a frozen pond,
Like a goldfish in a bowl.
I don’t want to hear you cry.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try.

You want the greatest thing,
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized.
Like a Friday fashion show teenager,
Freezing in the corner,
Trying to look like you don’t try.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try,

No one can see you cry.
That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s freezing rain, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This sugarcane,
This lemonade,
This hurricane, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This lightning storm,
This tidal wave,
This avalanche, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see me cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry.

Advertisements