This Magic Moment
Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, "I wanted
by David Kirby
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before."
How'd that happen? Magic, that's how. I know the poem
she means; it took me years to write it. Songwriter
Doc Pomus was crippled by polio, and he wrote once
about this dream he had again and again: "I used to believe
in magic and flying and that one morning I would wake up
and all the bad things were bad dreams. . . . And I would
get out of the wheelchair and walk and not with braces
and not with crutches," though when the light came through
the window in the morning, there he was, encased
in steel and leather from hip to ankle, unable to move.
Again and again he has the dream, and then one day
he writes "This Magic Moment," where the guy meets
the girl, and suddenly he has everything he wants. How?
Magic! Wouldn't you love to have saved pale Keats
with his blood-speck'd lips? And Fanny, her skin like cream,
listening through the wall. He dies with his lungs on fire,
she mourns, marries, gives birth, and, after her husband dies,
gives Keats' letters to her children—she had kept them all
that time. We have them, and we have his poems. And his
tool kit, too: look what he does in the "Ode to a Nightingale."
Nobody bolts music and lyrics together the way Keats does,
no one pays more attention to detail. There's a Jack Gilbert
poem that begins with a real incident from World War II,
when the Polish cavalry rode out against the Germans
with their swords glittering, only the Germans had tanks.
But that's not bravery, says Gilbert. Bravery is doing
the same thing every day when you don't want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
Do that, and the magic will come. My dad was frail
and distracted in his last hours. My mother said he asked,
Do we have enough money? and when she said yes, he said,
Then let's just get in the Buick and go. He was looking
at car trips, thirty-cent gas, roadside picnics, these new things
they called motels. My brother, me, the little house
we lived in, fifty years of marriage, a long and happy life as
a Chaucer scholar: all that was in the sunny days to come.