Here I am. Here it is, the promised poem.
Have been staring at syllabi all week wondering how I ever got through a single semester of teaching before -- they are, at best, slightly overwhelming. It's my fault; I know already there's too much on each one. And yet, I keep throwing in more and more reading, more and more assignments, as though I'm throwing books and paper and pens at my students, as though I'm in some sort of wild and dangerous arsenal, shouting, "READ THIS! READ MORE! WRITE WRITE WRITE!"
Will regret this later.
And, because my television seems to be, well, busted (each channel sounds like "CHHHHHHH" with all the static and jumpy lines), there's no opportunity for me to relax with the really bad crime shows, featuring Horatio. Which is probably a good thing. There are only so many times you can hear the man say, [in response to a question, say, about alarm clocks and a well-timed murder], "Well, Mr. Fox, he may need a wake-up call. From us." After a while, terrible phrasing and bad delivery can kill the last of anyone's ability to think.
So, in lieu of any other distraction, I've been reading this poem over and over again, getting ready to try to explain what makes a good metaphor to my students, what makes a simile work, what makes writing vivid and interesting.
This, of course, does every bad thing, tongue-in-cheek: metaphors that are in no way workable, metaphors that go so far off-track they are no longer even about the subject, metaphors that are not even metaphors, and similes that are not even similes. But somehow it manages both an unwieldy sense of humor and a great uplift at the end, pushing us back to the startling, as though the poet and the poem can't help but be terrific, and moving, after all.
Here 'tis. John and Mary. Who had never met, of course. (Many thanks to Hannah for sending this to me -- saves my life a little bit every day.)
John & Mary
"John & Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who also had never met."
—from a freshman's short story
~ Stephen Dunn
They were like gazelles who occupied different
grassy plains, running in opposite directions
from different lions. They were like postal clerks
in different zip codes, with different vacation time,
their bosses adamant and clock-driven.
How could they get together?
They were like two people who couldn't get together.
John was a Sufi with a love of the dervish,
Mary of course a Christian with a curfew.
They were like two dolphins in the immensity
of the Atlantic, one playful,
the other stuck in a tuna net—
two absolutely different childhoods!
There was simply no hope for them.
They would never speak in person.
When they ran across that windswept field
toward each other, they were like two freight trains,
one having left Seattle at 6:36 P.M.
at an unknown speed, the other delayed
in Topeka for repairs.
The math indicated that they'd embrace
in another world, if at all, like parallel lines.
Or merely appear kindred and close, like stars.
(This was published in Ploughshares. And elsewhere, no doubt. It came, this time, from my email account. And the energy to research where it was published is lacking. Apologies.)