Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s Poet Laureate, is today’s guest blogger.
“When you die, God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the pleasures you were allowed in life that you denied yourself.” My wife cut out this anonymous quote from a magazine and posted it on our fridge. At the time, I believed (foolish man!) it was meant as justification for her beloved indulgence: shoe shopping. Endlessly frugal, I’d spent most of my life turning denial into a veritable artform. Later, when it came out in conversation that the quote was intended, not for herself, but for me – my tears were extravagant and, over time, transformative.
Christopher Jane Corkery’s poem takes us to a tiny Italian hill town near Florence where she savors what seems the simplest of memories: sun, taste, the generosity of the body, those times in life when we’re able to be blissfully unaware of the price time exacts from us all. Three times she mentions “danger” yet, despite some hints of darkness, she plunges ahead, plumbing memory’s irresistible depths – because, back then, that little coltish spring seemed a symbol of ultimate abundance. But what should we make of that old man she meets, squatting on the boundary between the mundane and the mythological? And his offer/command that she – “Bevi!” – drink? Do we ever understand what we’ve been given – or fully appreciate what we’ve lost? Perhaps that’s the poet’s job: to reclaim that lost day – for herself, for her readers – with the gently-inflected music I’ve come to trust in Christopher’s writing. Savoring the poem, we are each, then, left on our own to take account of what beauty our flickering days contain.
My dog-eared copy of her first collection, Blessing (Princeton University Press) remains a favorite of mine. Christopher’s new book, Love Took the Words (Slant Books, 2020) from which “Il Cavallino…” was taken, carries us to faraway places – Ireland, Mexico, Greece, Italy (much appreciated during these homebound days) – as well as towns a mere stone’s throw from Arlington. Poet, educator, essayist, proud grandmother, Christopher is widely published, richly honored, and determined to continue following wherever her pen leads.
Red Letter Poem #48:
The Red Letter Poems Project was created in grateful partnership with many of our town’s cultural resources: the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Robbins Library, the Arlington International Film Festival, and Arlington Community Education. See the full archive of the project at http://artsarlington.org/red-letter-poems/. We’ll send out a poem from a new poet every week. If you enjoy them, we encourage you to forward them to friends – in Arlington and beyond – or to post them on your social media platforms with the hashtags: #RedLetterPoems, #ArlingtonPoetLaureate. If you want to make sure you receive these poems directly – or to receive notices about future poetry events – send an e-mail to: email@example.com with the subject line ‘mailing list’.
In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters. To my mind, all poetry and art – and, in truth, even the COVID-19 crisis itself – serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.
– Steven Ratiner