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.
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.