05 August 2010

welcome morning {anne sexton}

I wrote the other day about Janet Fitch's 10 rules for writing.  She said that you should consume good poetry to get a handle on how other people use language.

She didn't really say consume because eating paper isn't healthy for you.  So I've heard.  {What?  Stop it with your face looking like that.  Can you seriously say you've never eaten paper?}

One of the poets she recommends is Anne Sexton, and I found a poem of hers, "Welcome Morning," in my very loved copy of Good Poems, the anthology put together by Garrison Keillor.

And with a little Google searching, I found out that she committed suicide by locking herself in the garage with the car running.  She was wearing her mother's fur coat, a delightfully WASPy detail that makes the story especially vivid.

I thought about suicide the other day.  Oh my gosh, no, not in that way.  I should watch my phraseology.  I just mean that I thought about the act of suicide in general—and in specific, how Sylvia Plath killed herself by sticking her head in the oven.

I was scrubbing my oven.  I'd made a French apple tart a few days earlier.  Made my own crust.  Thinly sliced the apples.  Cut them into perfect half-moons and arranged them in a diagonal design.

When the half-cup of sugar and full stick of butter I'd scattered on top of the apples started to melt, it ran over the edge of the sheet and smoke poured from the oven.  I had a friend over for dinner, and we stopped in the middle of the salad to open every window in my apartment and search desperately for the fan I once owned but now cannot find.

Ever resourceful, my friend grabbed another cookie sheet and started to wave the smoke out the kitchen door.  She looked like a modern version of that slave who had to keep everyone cool with palm fronds, except she was laughing a lot as she tried to keep the smoke alarm from going off.

It didn't go off, although I bet that would be a good way to meet my neighbors/some firemen.

And the tart turned out perfectly.  It would have made Joan of Arc and Julia Child overjoyed, had they ever shared a meal.

My oven, though, needed a very intense scrubbing.

On my knees in front of the oven, I removed the racks and stuck my head in.  This was a time I was especially grateful for my weight lifting routine and my love of tennis.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and scratched away at that sugary mess that had made such a smoky smell. 

That smell—and the interrupted salad course and the image of my friend flapping a cookie sheet—is all I need to remember that life is surprising.  And joyful.  And hilarious.  And disappointing.  And learning-ful.

There, with my head in the oven and my arms splitting with the effort, Sylvia Plath crossed my mind.  How she killed herself at 30 and how the inside of an oven was the last thing she saw.

I didn't dwell on that thought, and I don't mean to sound trite or overly blithe when I say this, but:  I'd rather dwell on the small joys of life.

The big ones are nice to dwell on, too, but when it comes down to it, our days are made up of small moments of joy.  Some days, they're few and far between, but at the end of the day, I like looking back through the hours and finding those moments, the ones that roar with life.

Anne Sexton's "Welcome Morning" poem conveys just that idea—to me, at least. You may disagree and that is fine.  But what I see here is an invitation to enjoy the every day.

Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes moments don't need to roar with life but simply whisper quiet with happiness. Thank you for reminding me of this poem.



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