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Poetry Friday: “Tomorrow” by Dennis O’Driscoll

By (March 2, 2013) No Comment

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Riding a bus one evening last week, on my way to the grocery store, I couldn’t help but overhear two women talking. I’ve no idea whether they were earnestly measuring out the coming weeks of their spring semesters, appraising their future careers, or simply marking the remainder of the bus ride. “Don’t you have a long way to go?,” one questioned the other. “Honey,” I thought silently to myself, “we all do.”

Some minutes later, waiting in the check-out line in the store, I felt a whispery voice behind me. I encountered the beautiful brown eyes of a very elderly gentleman leaning on his shopping carriage (handful of vegetables and bottle of vitamins). His gaze, uneasily confident, testified to his sincerity. Though I couldn’t hear his quick narrative, I understood enough to know he was gently mourning the loss of some particular aspect of the shopping experience in that store. “Everything is changing,” he intoned. Raising his voice and leaning forward to press home his point, he notified me again: “Everything in the world is changing.” On a day when even the pope had resigned from his work, I had to agree.

The cashier offered me a friendly greeting and smile (they make them do that there). She was a young woman colorfully attired, with tie-dye and bangles and bracelets of all types. The largest of these, a plastic affair of bold and brilliant blue, itself announced: “YOLO” — that giddy and cautionary 21st century meme, “You Only Live Once.”

A short time later, finally seated at a nearby restaurant for supper, I looked up at the young waiter’s approach to hear his reassuring greeting: “I will be taking care of you.”

During this evening of revelation, it was almost as if I was enveloped in a living haiku –

Don’t you have a long way to go?
Everything in the world is changing.
You only live once.
I will be taking care of you.

And I was led to Dennis O’Driscoll’s poem, Tomorrow, the first section of which was quoted at the beginning of the February issue of Poetry Magazine as a memorial note following his recent death.

The poem begins, “Tomorrow I will start to be happy.” Oh no, I thought, this poor narrator is already off to a rocky beginning. He’s writing off the present moment, wishing away his past of “shapeless days” (i.e., “the worst phase of my life”), demanding something better — “Tomorrow I start to be happy; today is almost yesterday.”

He envisions a raucously salvific tomorrow:

The morning will light up like a celebratory cigar.
Sunbeams sprawling on the lawn will set
dew sparkling like a cut-glass tumbler of champagne.

Cigars and champagne for breakfast! For everyone! I couldn’t help but think of families who have a rogue uncle or a fast aunt — this is just the sort of thing they would do. The sunbeams, though, and the brilliantly green grass, tender with the morning’s dew — untrampled, pristine. The Garden of Eden quietly astonishes in much the same way. Does this scene echo the unprecedented promise of a new day, even as unnamed disruptions amass unnoticed?

It’s clear the narrator wishes to partition off his past. By comparing these hopes to the ever-changing encounter between ocean and beach, I think he knowingly subverts his own efforts. Forfeits his hopes. I think he acknowledges that what he desires cannot be achieved –

… as a golden rind
of sand parts slipshod sea from solid land.

The rhythm and sound of this line reminds me of Ozymandias. “King of Kings”, he too had his own problems with sand. And the past. And the future. It was reported: “Nothing beside remains.”

With what, then, are we left?
The present moment. And each other.

Don’t you have a long way to go?
Everything in the world is changing.
You only live once.
I will be taking care of you.

____________________

Irish poet and impresario Dennis O’Driscoll (1954-2012) was an accomplished author and critic, with his ninth collection of poetry — Dear Life — due out in the US this fall from Copper Canyon Press. After his unexpected death this past Christmas Eve, he was eulogized by The Guardian as a “Poet with a direct style [who] stood out among fellow Irish writers”. The Irish Times described his writing as “… a compelling and subtly persuasive body of work [that] saw to the heart of the ordinary, that most defining element of human existence.”

(“Cliff Edge” from HckySo / Mitchell Joyce / cc by-nc)

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