I don’t usually like poems; that is, they often don’t speak to me as sharply and haltingly as so many short stories – and, more rarely, novels – do. But I heard the brilliant David Rakoff recite this Elizabeth Bishop piece to Terry Gross on my morning walk to work yesterday, and I haven’t been able to shake its lingering mood, lingering images from my head since. Maybe I’ll try to memorize it, too, so that I can keep it close by at important times, just like he once did.
I know he’s missed by many, but after hearing his voice buzz inside my ears for the better part of this month, I have no choice but to add my silly little name to the list.
Letter to N.Y.
For Louise Crane
By Elizabeth Bishop
In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:
taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,
and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,
and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,
and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.
—Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.
More David Rakoff: This American Life’s tribute (my favorites are his blistering Rent piece and his rhyming wedding toast); Fresh Air’s tribute (you, like me, might have to replay (and replay and replay and replay) that moment when Terry Gross asks him if he really feels like he’s “beloved by all but loved by none” — it took me four listenings to really understand what that “lasagna” of a sentence was saying, but I think I get it now, and I think I see myself in it too); this performance, which might make you cry.