Very likely it’s because I have a bad case of “want-to-escape-this-life-itis” (or maybe it’s just this news cycle), but lately, everywhere I look, I see poems about alternate lives.
One that keeps surfacing is a poem from Hold Fast, “Approaching 52,” in which Holly J. Hughes imagines a self realizing “she’ll never be a lion-tamer, tall hat and curling whip,” and it’s “too late for Jacques Cousteau,” or “a wildlife photographer….” Except in dreams — and in the poem.
Along this line of thought, I recently ordered a couple of books by the Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison, purely based on an On Being broadcast that put me entirely under her spell. Here is a somewhat unassuming poem from her book, Turn Thanks:
Just then, in that early afternoon,
I wanted to be that simple woman
who had cooked you Saturday soup
using all golden foods. Bellywoman
pumpkin, yellow yams, sweet potato,
carrots and deep ivory bones of beef.
I would bear it to you in an enamel bowl,
the smell of fragrant thyme and pimento
would waft, domestic incense, as I go.
How the hot Scotch Bonnet pepper
would issue its flavor through
the ripened walls of its own skin
but because like our love its seeds
can scorch, I’d be careful to remove it
before it cooked itself into breaking.
—Lorna Goodison, from Turn Thanks (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
And, really, how lovely in a world of war and contagion, that there is still soup — and poets to recall us, if not to our ideal selves, then somewhere else.
So, if I have an assignment for you this week, it’s just this. Maybe you’re entirely satisfied with your life, but if you — for a few hours — could be someone else (Lion Tamer or Soup Maker), what would that someone be?