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Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it

When I found out about the topic of the week, I thought wow, make it tough on me! I’ve always loved poetry and written poems when the moment struck me. I also studied with a poetry teacher for years. Yet I know in my heart I love fiction and essays, but studying poetry has made my writing so much better. Not very poetic, but it’s the truth.

Since I can’t pick one poem, I am doing “All The Poetry Through Jennifer’s Life.” I’m choosing one poem from each decade of my life. Yes, I’m cheating, but hopefully you’ll forgive me.

The first poem I learned by heart was “Lovely Lady, Dressed in Blue.” This is a poem my pastor loved and all the children in my class learned the poem one year for his birthday. Mary Lynn Dixon, who wrote several poems about Mary, the mother of Jesus, wrote it and it became popular in the fifties. Take a look:

       Lovely Lady dressed in blue-
            Teach me how to pray!
            God was just your little boy,
            Tell me what to say!

            Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
            Gently on your knee?
            Did you sing to Him the way
            Mother does to me?

            Did you hold His hand at night?
            Did you ever try
            Telling stories of the world?
            O! And did He cry?

            Do you really think He cares
            If I tell Him things-
            Little things that happen? And
            Do the Angels' wings

            Make a noise? And can He hear
            Me if I speak low?
            Does He understand me now?
            Tell me- for you know?

             Lovely Lady dressed in blue-
            Teach me how to pray!
            God was just your little boy,
            And you know the way.

I was telling my mother about the poem and we started reciting the poem together. I still love this poem, even though I’m not religious at all, but I still can picture Mary in blue, smiling at me, saying yes, I will teach you how to pray. Aaron Neville also made this poem into a song.

In my teens I was looking at poetry books in my bookcase, and I found a poem by Lois Wyse titled “Look at Me, Paul Newman” which was all about a crush on, you guessed it, Paul Newman. I can’t find the poem now, but what I remember is how the poem made someone like Paul Newman poetry, and was amazed. I wrote my own poem influenced by it titled “Hello There James Dean” and it was published in my school’s literary magazine.

My twenties were very topsy-turvy, yet I was writing and trying to figure out my life.  The teacher I mentioned above showed me this poem, and what I love about it is the truth of it, how it can say what somehow feels, yet realize that yes, her parents were people too.

I Go Back to May, 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

                                                Sharon Olds

Now that I’m in my thirties, if I had to pick a favorite poem, I would have to choose a poem that was published in The New Yorker after September 11th. I try to reread this poem when I get discouraged about the world.


Try To Praise The Mutilated World



Try to praise the mutilated world. Remember June's long days, and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You've seen the refugees heading nowhere, you've heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth's scars. Praise the mutilated world and the grey feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.  


                                                Adam Zagajewski

I feel this poem is especially good for today for what happened in Haiti. In addition, what I’ve noticed in all these poems (except for the Paul Newman one I can’t find) is this sense of faith, to try to make things better. This is what poetry is to me: to say things that is hard to hear, yet make something of it to help heal another person.

Here’s another poem by e.e. cummings, one that I try to remember every day:

i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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When I was in elementary school, I wrote more poems than stories. It seemed to me that my stories were second-rate...never as good as what you read in a book. But I thought my poems were pretty darned good. HA! I loved to read poetry, too, and I still do. Thanks for sharing the wonderful poems!

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That was a lovely poem

I liked the title of your blog post as well, "Do What You Will Do, and I Will Tell About It" I love the poem about the Mary The Mother of Jesus. It's such a simple gesture but with such grace, it almost immediately gives you that sense of peace, that praying gives you. I am getting into the spirit learing about Red Room, and hopefully will find other like minded people, that hopefully will enjoy my strangeness. I just wrote something, called "The Day The Sun Shined No More", it is kind of surreal in it's reflection of the so called day I woke up, and my lover didn't love me anymore. It is supposed to somehow reflect the writing of Franz Kafka, I usued to love to read him back in the 80's.