A Gift to Lift You (Poem)

Where are the dear students of Jackson Park Middle School? What became of Mr. Grossman and Mrs. Silvio and Miss Ferguson? The dynamic, confident society that they belonged to has made some wrong turns. Did Ambition have something to do with it? This poem, by Carl Dennis, speaks of the heart feeling that loss and trying to reconnect to that past somehow. It’s from a collection edited by Garrison Keillor.

Can anyone under 30 understand what Dennis is talking about? I dearly hope it is possible for them to make the connection to traditional America, so close and so far away from us.

I disagree profoundly with Keillor’s politics, but he is a person who keeps alive a sense of what pre-1960s America was like. He also has the skills of a politician in connecting with individual members of his audience. I met him once at a book-signing and wanted to have him sign a book as a gift to a friend. We had been instructed to write a note telling him who the book was to be dedicated to and what kind of message we wanted. He looked at the note and asked me a few questions, then wrote an inscription far better and more appropriate than what I’d had in mind. A bit of a Ronald Reagan that way – not that he’s appreciate the comparison.

Invitation

This is your invitation to the Ninth-Grade Play
At Jackson Park Middle School
8:00 P.M., November 17, 1947.
Macbeth, authored by Shakespeare
And directed by Mr. Grossman and Mrs. Silvio
With scenery from Miss Ferguson’s art class.

A lot of effort has gone into it.
Dozens of students have chosen to stay after school
Week after week with their teachers
Just to prepare for this one evening,
A gift to lift you a moment beyond the usual.
Even if you’ve moved away, you’ll want to return.
Jackson Park, in case you’ve forgotten, stands
At the end of Jackson Street at the top of the hill.
Doubtless you recall that Macbeth is about ambition.
This is the play for you if you’ve been tempted
To claw your way to the top. If you haven’t been,
It should make you feel grateful.
Just allow time to get lost before arriving.
So many roads are ready to take you forward
Into the empty world to come, misty with promises.
So few will lead you back to what you’ve missed.

Just get an early start.
Call in sick to the office this once.
Postpone your vacation a day or two.
Prepare to find the road neglected,
The street signs rusted, the school dark,
The doors locked, the windows broken.
This is where the challenge comes in.

Do you suppose our country would have been settled
If the pioneers had worried about being lonely?

Somewhere the students are speaking the lines
You can’t remember. Somewhere, days before that,
This invitation went out, this one you’re reading
On your knees in the attic, the contents of a trunk
Piled beside you. Forget about your passport.
You don’t need to go to Paris just yet.
Europe will seem even more beautiful
Once you complete the journey you begin today.

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4 Responses to A Gift to Lift You (Poem)

  1. Liam says:

    This may cheer and depress you in equal part Stephen.

    Cheer up and rouse yourself my friend. The darkest hour comes before the dawn.

    http://www.from-ireland.net/song/?id=2

    “There’s one hearth well avenge’d in the sack of Baltimore”

    There isn’t much new under the sun. Hope shall live on in some green valley. Human history has been an ongoing struggle, a struggle in which I have no plans to surrender. There have been worse times than this, from Charles Martel to the present day. We have been coddled by the historically insignificantly suburban period we’ve enjoyed in the last 50 years. Onwards and upwards! Look around you at what has been achieved.

    Walk away from it? Never!

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    Thanks Liam. I hope I wasn’t coming off as depressed – though we all have our private moments, I’m sure. This blog aims to contribute to hopeful thinking! And to that end thank you for your inspiring and encouraging words.
    There is sadness in the poem, but also hope.
    The Sack of Baltimore! I had never heard of the event, the place, or the poem. Thank you very much for this. I like what you say about the “historically insignificantly suburban period.”

  3. Liam says:

    Stephen

    That should have read: “insignificant”, rather than “insignificantly.” Hopefully the meaning survives.

    Glad you liked the poem. The North African slave trade that plundered Europe until well into the 19th Century is worth knowing about. It’s vanished entirely from the syllabus in British schools.

    No, you don’t come off as depressed. I can be terribly pompous in my writing style, and I hope my comment didn’t sound patronising or condescending.

    Kind regards

  4. stephenhopewell says:

    Liam, not in the least! Thanks for the inspiring words.

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