Monday, August 01, 2011

Poem: Departures


I am on vacation (stay-cation) and am 'supposed' to be working on my book this morning, a self publishing project that I hope to have ready in the fall for anyone interested. Well, I came across this poem in that partial volume, written in 1994, and I thought I'd post it. I am the youngest of eight children. This is about my next older sibling, four years my senior. He doesn't read my blog, but even if he did, I'm not sure he'd find anything in this poem that is untrue or unfair. He was my best buddy growing up. He tried to teach me to laugh at myself when I struck out at neighborhood baseball. He didn't succeed, but I love him for trying.


He arrived home like a Fenian
in his long-haired sheep coat,
dirty from bus sides, the smell of English
cigarettes a celebration in his hair,
maroon patent platforms cracked
from two lavish weeks on London sidewalks,
fulvous Lennon wire-rims the keystone,
his mark of triumph.

At 18,
he had pocketed his tuition money and cast
the coins over his shoulder into the Thames.

I noticed him camber slightly
as they stepped from the station wagon,
then straighten to the same height as Dad,
the first time my brother ever appeared
a stranger in our town, combating the gravel
of the driveway, so unlike Dad, even calumnious
in his gait, the jingle of foreign currency
audible above the restraint of our welcome.

It was then I knew he had entered a mezzanine
decade or century or maybe an island
where he began to linger
away from us, although 25 years later
he still lives in the same town.
He approached my mother and me on the porch
and, looking me in the eye,
departed across the channel, oars cocked.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Photo still of London in 1970 from the movie "Follow Me" found here.



Unknown said...

A beautiful and astute observation of separation, Ruth.

erin said...

this one went directly through me as any oar might, as any beautiful life lived would.

i am absolutely thrilled about your book in progress. to hold...


Nelson said...

(Ruth's oldest brother here) Re: Departures - at age 18, ten years earlier, I left our town to live in a nearby dorm (the rest of my H. S. classmates commuted). In my own obsequious way, I also "departed across the channel," a divide of my own making?

Ruth, your poetically expressed memories are wonder-ful. Thank you.

Miss Jane said...

I enjoyed listening to the podcast of this poem. This one seems more "difficult" in structure (line breaks) and verbiage, so it helped me to hear it read and let it sink in.

"even calumnious
in his gait, the jingle of foreign currency
audible above the restraint of our welcome."

"restraint" shows that tension and
the oars cocked at the end is, well, an amazing closing. It sums up the separation/departure succinctly.

I, too, am the youngest of 8 children. But in a slight reverse of your situation, when I returned from a summer spent in Russia and East Europe, my brother didn't recognize me when he came to pick me up. I was no longer a Midwest farm girl, part of me was draped over with Leningrad and Warsaw, etc. I changed, and, yes, I dwelled in that inner island for a long time.

And! So glad to hear that you're working on a book. I am absolutely interested. Will you illustrate it as well?

hedgewitch said...

Well, blogger appears to have eaten my original comment, so I'll try again--I loved the words in this, not just for their narrative and descriptive power, but their sheer exuberance and individuality. "camber slightly" and ""calumnious" were particularly appealing to me. I can't even imagine the ramifications and dynamics of identity among so many siblings, but divides and departures are, I think, a universal way of staking out the borders of our emerging independence as adults. You give a very vivid sense of that here. I so look forward to a volume of your work. I know it must be work indeed, to get there.

GailO said...

What a story you tell here...this is what I love about entire story in a few lines.

Maroon patent platforms! A picture indeed!

Waiting with breathless anticipation for your book!

Mark Kerstetter said...

The approach is also a departure: it's melancholy. I was reminded of when I went away as a young man and when I spoke to my sister again after just a short separation she sounded a little unfamiliar, like someone who lived far away.

Maureen said...

One of 9 and 7 who lived to grow up together (I'm fourth), I'm taken back to the dynamics in my own family and what it was like as one after another of us left home.

So enjoyed reading this vividly realized poem, and thrilled to learn of your plan to publish a collection.

Allison said...

This is terrific. And I am absolutely interested in buying your book, Ruth.

Babs-beetle said...

You certainly do have a way with words ;)

who said...

I want a copy of your book Ruth. Isn't it eerie, but comforting when you observe a sibling and for the time it takes to show a mannerism there is no distinction between your brother and your dad.

I like this poem Ruth

Lil Coyote said...

wow, what a great last line, Ruth! i love poetry hammered home and nailed down.
i had so much imagery all the way through that i swear i know him and especially his attitude.
and i did lousy at baseball too. never did clear the fence-not even once.

amy@ Souldipper said...

Where is my brother? This makes me so lonely for this caliber of sibling intimacy. The familial understanding of nuance and silence...

Loved it, Ruth, and will be very interested in this book!

Arti said...

It must have been pure joy to have eight siblings, and being the youngest, must have been lovingly protected. Despite parting and each heading off to his/her own path, what you've conveyed here is the tie that binds, the blood that bonds. Thank you for this heartfelt rendition of a departure. How I admire you, Ruth, to be so rich in family relations. Thank you for this poem. And all the best in your writing project. I look forward to reading your book!

Louise Gallagher said...

Love the poem, and the vision of your brother, and the fact, your brother, who doesn't read here, wrote here! Very nice!

And I am excited to hear about your book.... yummy!!!!

annell4 said...

A Brother... I never had one... wish I had... something aching in the heart.

Friko said...

Your bemusement at this - newly - alien creature comes through in every sentence.

This is such a simple poem but it also totally transparent. (I mean this as a compliment)

Brendan said...

You've been at a good while,eh? And though your style has evolved, it has been from fine to wonderful ... This is a great narrative character piece, capturing your older brother's essence in so many crisp ways. How I loved those "maroon patent platforms cracked / from two lavish weeks on London sidewalks"; it brought me back to Chicago in '74, circa "Angie" by the stones, and all those willowy androgynes wobbling through New Town perched atop those platform shoes ... Again, I don't think the title serves the poem well enough -- it's far too vague for all the precision you hone beneath it. Something about the family exile, familiar and strange, or an exile's homecoming ... Good luck on your chapbook. I'm in line already for a signed copy ... Brendan

Brendan said...

ps, those cocked oars are such a powerful way to conclude the poem -- a defensive posture, rebellious as every 18 year old. Yet somehow "oars" in my ears resounded with "ours," the family's claim to a brother ...

Ruth said...

Thank you, Reena. Still pretty separate after all these years too.

Ruth said...

erin, thanks so much, my wonderful friend. It means so much to me that you, too, want to hole my book. There's just something about holding it that pulls at me, opening it to my own words, in the white space of the pages.

Ruth said...

Dear Nelson, yes, you left when I was just 4. Finding you again at age 39, when Dad got sick, is one of the best things of my life. And now, now, the journey we share!

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Miss Jane.

We both youngests of 8! Wow. And you are another one for whom going/studying abroad was a life changer. It's fascinating to picture you then, as you've shared here. I would love love love to hear more about that time for you. Have you written about it?

Thank you for your interest in my book, so much. I am thinking that I will publish one with poems only (there's something about a book of poems, alone, that I need and want), and a larger one with photos. I might, for instance, in one with images include my meditations on pieces of art. I'll keep you posted here, of course.

Ruth said...

Hedge, bummer about the gobbled comment. Thanks for writing again.

I am not at all surprised that you liked these words, being such a stellar crafter of remarkable words yourself. I like all the hard "c" sounds in this one, I have to say. Thanks for your response to the poem, and for your interest in the book. (I would purchase a book of yours in a heartbeat.)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Oliag.

Oh, you should have seen my brother! He was a vision of beauty. 6'2", gorgeous dirty blond hair tossled, lean. The pain of this moment still weighs on my heart. Such visual beauty, departing.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Mark, for reading, and feeling this. Yes, that look in the eye, like defiance. It is still painful to me.

I wonder [rhetorically] what happened to your sister that took her away. What shapes our lives is truly momentous, and sometimes undecipherable.

Ruth said...

Maureen, that is one big blended family! Holy moly. I thought 8 was a lot. Thank you for reading here, your constant encouragement, and for your support of the book.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Allison. I so appreciate your kind interest in the book!

Ruth said...

Ah, Babs, you're so kind. :-) Thank you.

Ruth said...

Dusti! Yay.

Oh yes, two of my brothers, this one and another, remind me of my dad, but especially the other. Even his hands. Well, maybe especially his hands.

Thanks for reading and liking my poem, and wanting my book.

Ruth said...

Rick, thanks so much for reading and for your cool comments. It was a shock, feeling my brother this way, and how he'd changed. Looking back, I really do see it as a dividing moment. And I'm glad to know I wasn't the only failure at baseball. We coulda sat and pouted together . . .

Ruth said...

Thanks a lot, Amy. Funny how those of us with big families might wish for smaller ones, and vice versa. But I believe the big ones are a big blessing, even through the difficulties. As we age, my siblings are some of my very best friends, in fact I don't have many friends besides them, here in the physical world. Thank you also for your interest in the book!

Ruth said...

Dear Arti, we have talked before about your wish for siblings. I was so well loved by mine, and am still. I am only now beginning to understand how much they shaped me, and still do.

Thank you for your kind attentions, and for supporting the book project.

Ruth said...

Louise, thanks a bunch. I love how people can speak through our writing. My family members are being created here as I've never understood them, as I pull up the pieces of them out of my unconscious self. And thank you for your excitement about my book!

Ruth said...

Annell, I wish you had a brother too. I have three now, and I lost one to death, who was very special.

Ruth said...

Friko, I thank you for reading, and for your compliment, which from you is always a clear and sparkling treat.

Ruth said...

Brendan, these were the first days of writing, with Wakoski, in five classes. Poetry was a door, and a vehicle, and it changed everything. But I was still working on the technical craft of it and only getting glimmers of the soul work that comes now. There has been a tipping point this past year in that regard (thanks in part to you), but those early years of practice, practice, practice were essential and the tenets of DW still ring in my ears. . . (no clichés, must have a trope, etc.)

Titles can really be a pain. I remember DW saying how much she disliked one word titles, like this one. Yes, too easy, and broad. I'll keep your ideas in mind, as for the last one you suggested, for the book. Thanks for your encouragement about the book, and wanting a signed copy!

I like your transmutation of 'oars' to 'ours' very much. I'll never forget that look in his eye . . .

Daniel Chérouvrier said...

"Tu quitteras ton père et ta mère" ( et ton frère). Bible
"She's leaving home" from The Beatles
You give another great interpretation of this painfull and beautiful life moment.

VaNeSsA said...

Wow. Killer. I love this.

Ginnie said...

I think we all "departed" in one way or another, Ruth...some of us more drastically than others. That in and of itself would be a book!

This is a poem I have always loved reading because you knew John better than the rest of us, I'm sure!

Unknown said...

Your brother reminds me so much of our Joshua. Josh always walked his own path, regardless of what anyone else thought about his actions or his manner of dress (and yes, he would have worn the maroon platforms and the coat, too, and probably striped black and white tights or fishnet stockings, both of which he did a time or two). Sometimes we had that air of restraint in our welcome, not understanding the real reason for his doing those things. I wish I had been more welcoming.