Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How I Got There

Honest Tom Pomposello, when he was alive, was a big, soulful and cynical man. He was a TV producer in the small company where I worked, and he was a blues guitarist. He had a Grammy Award (or maybe an Emmy) in his office with a subway token Scotch taped to it. When I asked him why, he held it up and said, “Because this and a subway token will get me downtown.”

That was a long time ago. The impact of his gesture would have been entirely different if the award had sported a MetroCard.

Tom stopped at my reception desk one day and said, “Let’s give each other a poem a day.” So we did.

It seemed easy for him. Every day he placed a Xeroxed copy of some great poem in my inbox. Some days it would be a whole story, or a passage from a book. The world is ugly and we need to spread beauty, he seemed to be saying.

I don’t remember what I offered him in return. Probably Patti Smith lyrics. Once I copied a passage from a John Irving book of short stories that I can’t even find anymore – something to do with a brandy snifter.

One day Tom told me, “You need to read Writing Down The Bones.”

I did read it, but it was years later. It was before Tom died, but our relationship had already changed. He had started his own company, become less frivolous and maybe even bitter. If I’d met him then, he would have never suggested we share poetry. I don’t think it was something that would have seemed important to him.

Not only did I read Writing Down The Bones, I studied it, along with Natalie Goldberg’s other books on writing. I did the exercises and found writing partners and somehow after reading and writing and writing some more I felt as if I’d become a writer myself.

So even though it was a friend in New York City who had called me last October and said, “Natalie Goldberg is teaching on the east coast in the spring,” it wasn’t really she that got me to the workshop. It was Tom, who, a lifetime ago, nestled a Yeats poem in and among my pile of Memos and Status Reports and Smiler’s Deli Bills. Even though I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, I remember crying before I’d finished the first stanza, and I thought, anyone who would pick that particular poem out of the millions of poems floating around the universe must know a couple of things about writing.

Natalie, too, knows a couple of things about writing – things I want to share – but not yet. First, I have to share this poem, today.

When You Are Old

By W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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