Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tear-Water Tea From Poetry


One of my favorite reading pleasures is the children's series consisting of Frog and Toad Together, and Owl (alone) by Arnold Lobel.
I never read them as a kid but as a grown-up father to my daughter Laurel; no matter, I can pick up one now on my own and while away the contented....minutes!

Owl at Home consists of 5 stories featuring the logically challenged, somewhat obsessive homebody, Owl. I especially like the one entitled "Tear-Water Tea". On a frosty night, Owl gets a hankering for tear-water tea; but to get it he must provide his own tears. So he thinks of sad things like "mashed potatoes left on a plate because nobody ate them.", "a beautiful morning that nobody saw because they were sleeping." and, for me, the topper: "spoons that have fallen behind a stove and are never seen again." Eventually, Owl works up enough tears to get a decent batch which is then boiled and enjoyed in quiet contentment.

While at my day job at the library in the periodical section, I often am reminded of the "spoons fallen behind the stove" but in my version it's "literary or poetry journals that never get read because most people prefer to read about Britney's twisted childhood in US Weekly and the like, while waiting to get on a computer.". So I take it upon myself to peak into them whenever I can and read at least one poem all the way through.

Tuesday i found this poem by Tony Hoagland in the November "Tri-Quarterly". As a jazz musician and lover of words and (reasonably) accessible poems, i thought this to be a find. It also has some invisible, etheric thread of relation to Tear-Water Tea!

Jazz

I was driving home that afternoon
in some dilated condition of sensitivity
of the kind known only to certain heroic poets
and more or less almost everybody else

the sun of the six pm glaring orangely through the trees
as through the bars of some kind of cage
and the poor citizens of Pecore Street waiting for the bus
with their sorrowful posture and bad feet-

I admit when I'm in one of those moods I find it
a little too easy to believe the trees are suffering
to see the twisted branches as arthritic hands,
and the Spanish moss dripping from their scabby limbs
as parasitic bunting.

Someone had given me a jazz CD
he had thought I would enjoy
but the song unfurling on the stereo that day,
it seemed a kind of torture music,

played by wildly unhappy musicians
on instruments that had been bent in shipping,
then harnessed by some masochist composer
for an experiment on the nature of obstruction.

But of all the shrieking horns and drums
it was the passionate effort of a certain defective trumpet
to escape from its predetermined plot
that seemed to be telling a story that I knew:

veering back and forth, banging off walls,
dripping a trail of blood
until finally it shattered through a window and disappeared.

For some reason I didn't understand,
it had to suffer before it was allowed to rest.
It was permitted to rest before being recaptured.

That was part of the composition.
That was the only kind of feedom
we were ever going to know.

11 comments:

Trombonology said...

Frog and Toad ... I can't believe it ... but I guess I should. When I was very little, I had Frog and Toad are Friends, a personal literary favorite, read to me; when my adopted baby sister was small, I read Frog and Toad Together to her. I loved/love the books, the friends. ... Frog's optimism against Toad's pessimism. ... And the illustrations – so drably beautiful. I must confess, though, that I had never heard of Owl – until now. I like him!

Now, who do you suppose is the trumpet player? Is it someone in the relative developmental stage or someone ancient whose embouchure has gone to pot? ... Hoagland should hear Bird's "Lover Man."

Exceedingly lovely words, fellow lover of the things.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Wow!
Just as I was looking into an empty bowl, thinking, "blogs that nobody reads because they couldn't give a hang about Frog and Toad and Owl."!

Your imagery sounds spot on about the trumpet player - i'm going to choose the ancient one with the collapsing embouchure, or at least someone spinning in his chair uncontrollably ala Bird amidst "Lover Man" (an apocryphal story maybe but great for late-night fireside jazz storytime!).

persephone2u said...

I missed out on Frog and Toad when I was a kid, but what a wonderful set of books it sounds! I went to amazon right after reading this and bookmarked it so I can purchase it later. I also love the illustration that you posted here as well and am very excited to read about Frog and Toad's adventures now.

A day job at a library...now that is life lived to its fullest. Libraries are one of my favorite places in the world. What better way to pass your day than in the company of books?

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Persephone -

The library was always a kind of island of peace and a sanctuary when i was younger. I wish i'd started working there a teen, back in the New Stone Age, rather than later in life when my other "career" at the time (sign painter or, as i would prefer, "signwriter" as they
say over in the UK) was starting to go more and more digital and less creative.
Now, the irony is, at least in my neck-o-the woods here in Arizona, that the library is becoming more digital as "readers" become outnumbered by a largely illiterate community. I'm not just referring to immigrants and inner-city folks subject to adverse economic conditions that hamper literacy - it's more and more prevalent among your ordinary American kids whose parents should have known better.
(Fahrenheit 451 here we come!)

The new model for the library (here)is closer to a popular bookstore combined with a computer-based "community center".
Some of this change is necessary and good but i feel feel that, as in our schools and elsewhere, literacy is being dumbed down to a disturbing degree.

Hope you enjoy Frog and Toad and Owl!

- Reading Curmudgeon

Anonymous said...

to my favorite curmudgeon,
frog and toad in your indefinable voice in the dark in the little wooden heart bed helped make l. who she is today...
love and thanks for the tear/tea/poem

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom The Piper's Son,
I miss visiting with you at the "bookstore" complete with the most requested tome, People Magazine. Say, did you see that Britney shaved her head?
We'll always have Octover.
Love and miss you,
L

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Dear L.S. - I was glad to share an elevator with Clare and her beau yesterday! Liam needed to go on the elevator numerous times...
Library Update: not only has Britney shaved her hair, it has grown back just in time to witness
Jamie Lynn's unexpected pregnancy!
I'm sure there will be a glass display about it on the 1st floor
shortly!
(What if I could only end a sentence with exclamations!)

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Koj - Laurel told me it was you. What a numbskull i was!

Anonymous said...

Hoagland must have heard one of my guitar solos and thought it was a trumpet...

Glad to see you back on this blog - it is more aesthetically pleasing than myspace.

Frog and Toad were favorites of mine in grade school. One day I was riding the bus home sitting behind two girls who were reading one of the F&T books. I was so completely absorbed by the stories that my stop went by unnoticed and the route was almost finished before the driver realized I was still on the bus - mesmerized by the amphibious tales.

Eventually they got me home, with only minor scolding...

Matthew

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Good to hear from Matthew!
Frog and Toad are now helping to run the Universal Mind Decoder!

Had a blast the other night romping through The Kicker and stepping into Four On Six. Michelle's Lullaby is a great tune as well...

Matthew H Camp said...

See what you think of this edit of the poem posted here. It would be a real kicker if the narrator could remove himself from the verse and simply address the subject:

Jazz

The sun of six p.m. glaring orange through the trees
as through the bars of some cage,
and the poor citizens of Pecore Street waiting for the bus
with their sorrowful posture and bad feet.

It is too easy to believe the trees are suffering,
to see the twisted branches as arthritic hands
and the Spanish moss dripping from their scabby limbs
as parasitic bunting.

The song unfurling on the stereo is torture music
played by wildly unhappy musicians on instruments that bent in shipping,
harnessed by a masochist composer
for an experiment on the nature of obstruction.

Of all the shrieking horns and drums,
it is the passionate effort of one defective trumpet to escape
veering back and forth, banging off walls, dripping a trail of blood
until it finally shatters through a window and disappears.

It had to suffer before it was allowed to rest.
It was permitted to rest before being recaptured.
That was part of the composition.
That was the only kind of freedom we were ever going to know.