Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky…
So begins T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock. A poem I read in high school and then read again this first morning of October over a half-century later. As a young, energetic teenager with my life spread out in the sky before me, not like “a patient etherized upon a table,” but a grand invitation to adventure, I was impatient with Prufrock’s life measured out with coffee spoons, living a timid indoor life of tea and toast. I was ready to wrestle life’s big questions down to the ground and here he was worried about how to part his hair and daring himself to eat a peach. Not an inviting portrait of growing old, to say the least!
As I begin my walk through the 70’s, I’m happy to report that Alfred and I have lived very different lives. No, I didn’t climb Everest or surf at Waikiki or sky dove from planes. I didn’t report the news from the front lines of the Bosnian War or live with the indigenous Shuar people in the Amazon rain forest or hike the full Appalachian Trail. It was adventure enough to face 3- years old most every day for 45 years and 8th graders, gathering their energies to create some worthy music and dance. To dare to teach in Spanish in Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, even Brazil, Portugal, Italy with nothing but my high school classes in my back pocket. To jump into the dancing circles in Ghana, to walk on to the performing stage at S.F. Jazz, to play Bulgarian bagpipe on stage in the World Music Festival with musicians from Azerbhaijan, South India, North India, China playing the song I taught them. To travel around the world at 27 years old with my soon-to-be-wife, $6000 between us , few plans, no reservations and a deep faith in the kindness of strangers and belief that things would work out. They did. To plunge into the unknown waters of publishing and rise to the surface with Pentatonic Press. To have “heard the mermaids singing” and be astounded that they sang back to me.
What made me think of Mr. Prufrock? The poem I read this morning by Billy Collins that made me laugh out loud. I’ll include it here, but now you are obligated to buy the whole book “The Rain in Portugal.” Which I heartily recommend.
Note to J. Alfred Prufrock
I just dared to eat
a really big peach
as ripe as it could be.
and I have on
a pair of plaid shorts
and a blue tee shirt with a hole in it
and little rivers of juice
are now running down my chin and wrist
and dripping onto the pool deck.
What is your problem, man?