The Second Life by Edwin Morgan

I love Edwin Morgan’s poetry so much. My tenth grade English teacher introduced me to his work and I’ve been hunting it down where I could find it ever since. “The Second Life” is a beautiful meditation on aging and more generally the passage of time, and since I turn 40 tomorrow, this seems an appropriate time to share it.

I was 16 or 17 when I first tracked this one down and though I was far from 40 and had no idea how being this much older would feel, I sensed there was something profound and wonderful and transgressive in Morgan’s approach to aging. You can see for yourself below, and you can find this and many more of Morgan’s poems in his Collected Works, which I can’t recommend enough. (And I realize this is a longer poem, but stick with it til the end– it’s gorgeous.)

THE SECOND LIFE

But does every man feel like this at forty —
I mean it’s like Thomas Wolfe’s New York, his
heady light, the stunning plunging canyons, beauty —
pale stars winking hazy downtown quitting-time,
and the winter moon flooding the skyscrapers, northern —
an aspiring place, glory of the bridges, foghorns
are enormous messages, a looming mastery
that lays its hand on the young man’s bowels
until he feels in that air, that rising spirit
all things are possible, he rises with it
until he feels that he can never die —
Can it be like this, and is this what it means
in Glasgow now, writing as the aircraft roar
over building sites, in this warm west light
by the daffodil banks that were never so crowded and lavish —
green May, and the slow great blocks rising
under yellow tower cranes, concrete and glass and steel
out of a dour rubble it was and barefoot children gone —
Is it only the slow stirring, a city’s renewed life
that stirs me, could it stir me so deeply
as May, but could May have stirred
what I feel of desire and strength
like an arm saluting a sun?

All January, all February the skaters
enjoyed Bingham’s pond, the crisp cold evenings,
they swung and flashed among car headlights,
the drivers parked round the unlit pond
to watch them, and give them light, what laughter
and pleasure rose in the rare lulls
of the yards-away stream of wheels along Great Western Road!
The ice broke up, but the boats came out.
The painted boats are ready for pleasure.
The long light needs no headlamps.

Black oar cuts a glitter: it is heaven on earth.

Is it true that we come alive
not once, but many times?
We are drawn back to the image
of the seed in darkness, or the greying skin
of the snake that hides a shining one —
it will push that used-up matter off
and even the film of the eye is sloughed —
That the world may be the same and we are not
and so the world is not the same,
the second eye is making again
this place, these waters and these towers
they are rising again
as the eye stands up to the sun,
as the eye salutes the sun.

Many things are unspoken
in the life of a man, and with a place
there is an unspoken love also
in undercurrents, drifting, waiting its time.
A great place and its people are not renewed lightly.
The caked layers of grime
grow warm, like homely coats.
But yet they will be dislodged
and men will still be warm.
The old coats are discarded.
The old ice is loosed.
The old seeds are awake.

Slip out of darkness, it is time.

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Ice Cream Man, Blue Balls, and The Funny Thing

promo pic

If you read this blog, you know that I mainly use it to promote writing that’s excluded from the canon, but that I find beautiful or powerful or otherwise remarkable. I don’t usually use this blog for self-promotion, but a play of mine, “Ice Cream Man, Blue Balls, and The Funny Thing”, is opening in New York next week and if you like this blog, you might like the play. It’s a wide-ranging play that explores some heavy topics — racial violence, discomfort with disability, the banality of romance — and still manages to be funny. If you’re in New York, you should come check it out! You can get tickets and more information here.

If you come see it, you’ll get to hear this monologue at the opening of the third act, which is a sort of deconstruction of the romantic comedy form. And if you can’t make it, I hope you enjoy the monologue anyway:

What’s that thing Tolstoy said about happy families? They’re all the same? I don’t believe that for a minute. Actually, I don’t believe that happy families even exist, but if they do, they’re probably weird and interesting and all different from each other. What’s all the same is heartbreak. What’s all the same is that hollowed out, empty feeling you get when you’re left alone. It’s always the same, every time, and probably everyone who’s experienced it has experienced it the same way, forever.

The funny thing is I already know how this’ll go. I’ll be depressed for a while and then I won’t. And then I’ll start to forget and, soon enough, I’ll be on to the next thing, but I’m not ready for that yet. I wish I was. I wish I could just let go, but it’s a compulsion. Clinging to things.

I’m Explaining a Few Things by Pablo Neruda (Second Excerpt)

I love this poem. I’ve written about it before, also at a time where the scale and brutality of police violence had my head spinning. You can find the full poem in my favorite poetry anthology (which also happens to be on sale at the University of Texas Press website right now), but the words that keep running through my head today are Neruda’s final refrain:

I’M EXPLAINING A FEW THINGS (excerpt)

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

Going Blind, by Rilke

I don’t know if any of Rilke’s poems can be considered minor works, but this one doesn’t get taught or anthologized very often and it is gorgeous.

GOING BLIND

She sat just like the others at the table.
But on second glance, she seemed to hold her cup
a little differently as she picked it up.
She smiled once. It was almost painful.

And when they finished and it was time to stand
and slowly, as chance selected them, they left
and moved through many rooms (they talked and laughed),
I saw her. She was moving far behind

the others, absorbed, like someone who will soon
have to sing before a large assembly;
upon her eyes, which were radiant with joy,
light played as on the surface of a pool.

She followed slowly, taking a long time,
as though there were some obstacle in the way;
and yet: as though, once it was overcome,
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.