Not-So-Aimless Love

 

Billy Collins was born 83 years ago, on March 22, 1941.  I don’t know a lot about him (I’ve made avoidance of modern poets a hallmark of my literary experience), but he was beloved of a dear friend of mine and–on occasion–I can see why.

Above all else, Collins’s poetry was accessible.  Sometimes funny.  Heartwarming, and heartbreaking.  This one in particular (full poem at this link), last stanza:

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap.

God.  If I had a dollar for each time I’ve stood at the bathroom sink gazing down affectionately at the soap.  Whether my intention was to wash away my own sins or to disinfect the sins of others; or to cleanse the nasty fallout from a bad lambing, a tractoring disaster, or another farm mishap; or if it was simply to deliver me from my regrettable tendency to circle the drain and find myself unable to move on from an unpleasant situation that had gone sideways through no fault of my own.

And yet.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
Without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

Love which cannot be wasted.  Love which cannot be killed.

Not-so-aimless love.

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  1. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    With some trepidation I pressed on past “modern poet”. Once you get past Ogden Nash, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and John Gardner (Jason and Medea, two kids kicking back and having a good time in epic fashion), things start to go south.  I knew you posted this for a reason, though, and you usually pay off. Bottle feeding a lamb nine days before Easter? 

    Well played. The soap works, too. 

    • #1
  2. She Member
    She
    @She

    Several years ago, Mr. She and I endured a severe mouse infestation in the house.  Long story, never mind why.  Perhaps I’ll tell it elsewhere, sometime.  Because it is quite amusing.  Still, two recollections:

    One had to do with my washing machine, which–along with the dryer–was in the bathroom at the time.  It was a front-loader, computerized.  Over a year or so (during the infestation), one cycle after another cut out and stopped working.  Eventually, even I had to take notice.

    So I took the machine apart to discover that the motherboard (because it was mostly a computer) had been fried by the little b******s chewing through the wires (discovered a couple of them fried and dead along the way).  That wasn’t the half of it though.  Below the fold, on the next level down, I discovered that they’d been stealing the Q-Tips out of  the glass jars on my bathroom shelves, carrying the sticks with cotton wads on the ends (think Stonehenge Kit, the Ancient Brit) to their destination, peeling off the cotton to make nests, and throwing the sticks away.  Hundreds of them.  Mouse nests.  Dead mice.  Flung away sticks.  Ugh.

    Sorted all that.  Got a new motherboard.  Wired it up.  Duct taped the lids of (washed) cat food tins over any possible entry points on the back of the washing machine that clueless other mice might try to infiltrate.

    Fixed!

    The other remembrance I have (from the same time period) is of parking myself on the bathroom “throne” one day, and of Xena (one of my Great Pyrenees) coming to sit before me.  “What on earth is going on?” I thought, as I watched her twitchy mouth which wriggled from side to side.

    Turns out that she was (as her breed is famous for) saving the weak.

    I grabbed her, took her outside, opened her mouth and allowed the mouse she’d been protecting to escape.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She! I was wondering where you were. I was afraid that you had fallen into a cistern or something.

    • #3
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    She! I was wondering where you were. I was afraid that you had fallen into a cistern or something.

    Thanks.  No such luck. I’m still here.  No cisterns in my immediate vicinity.  Just a well.

    So, well….

    • #4
  5. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    I don’t think that I have ever gazed affectionately at soap, but I appreciate having the use of it when needed. The love of which the poet writes sounds more like an infatuation to me. I suppose that is why I am not a poet.

    • #5
  6. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    I love that dog who saved the mouse.  It’s no wonder that all dogs go to Heaven. 

    Gazing at a bar of soap with “affection” is a bit dotty, Mrs. She.  I can see falling in love with a washcloth. But a bar of soap!?

    • #6
  7. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    We’re talking affection here, not carnal lust. 

    Sheesh. You meet all kinds on this Internet thingy.

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    GRANDMA’S LYE SOAP
    (John Standley and Art Thorson)

    Do you remember Grandma’s Lye Soap?
    Good for everything, everything in the home
    And the secret was in the scrubbin’
    It wouldn’t suds; It wouldn’t foam.

    Mrs. O’Mally, Down in the valley
    Suffered from ulcers, I understand
    She swallowed a cake, of Grandma’s Lye Soap
    Now she’s got the cleanest ulcers in the land!

    Little Herman and Brother Thurman
    Had an aversion to washing their ears
    Grandma scrubbed them with the Lye Soap
    And they haven’t heard a word in years.

    So sing right out for grandma’s Lye Soap
    Good for everything in the home
    And the secret was in the scrubbin’
    ‘Cause it didn’t suds or foam.

    So sing right out for Gramdma’s Lye Soap
    (Sing it loud and clear)
    Good for everything, everything in the place
    The pots and kettles, the dirty dishes
    And for the hands and for the face.

    • #8
  9. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Percival (View Comment):

    GRANDMA’S LYE SOAP
    (John Standley and Art Thorson)

    Do you remember Grandma’s Lye Soap?
    Good for everything, everything in the home
    And the secret was in the scrubbin’
    It wouldn’t suds; It wouldn’t foam.

    Mrs. O’Mally, Down in the valley
    Suffered from ulcers, I understand
    She swallowed a cake, of Grandma’s Lye Soap
    Now she’s got the cleanest ulcers in the land!

    Little Herman and Brother Thurman
    Had an aversion to washing their ears
    Grandma scrubbed them with the Lye Soap
    And they haven’t heard a word in years.

    So sing right out for grandma’s Lye Soap
    Good for everything in the home
    And the secret was in the scrubbin’
    ‘Cause it didn’t suds or foam.

    So sing right out for Gramdma’s Lye Soap
    (Sing it loud and clear)
    Good for everything, everything in the place
    The pots and kettles, the dirty dishes
    And for the hands and for the face.

    Mom with the lye soap on the farm…steel wool might be worse, but not a lot worse. Of course, I was about an eighth of my current size at the time.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    Mom with the lye soap on the farm…steel wool might be worse, but not a lot worse. Of course, I was about an eighth of my current size at the time.

    My grandma made lye soap. It was great for poison ivy.

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I love that dog who saved the mouse. It’s no wonder that all dogs go to Heaven.

    Great Pyrenees really are gentle giants.  My current two (Odo and Xuxa) are delighted by this year’s project:

    Sorry about that last one.  Chinggis is outside exercising his lungs and making his presence known to the world, and wanted to make sure he was included with the rest of the gang.

    Gazing at a bar of soap with “affection” is a bit dotty, Mrs. She. I can see falling in love with a washcloth. But a bar of soap!?

    I aspire to “dotty.”  If I could ever think of such a thing, I’d be the white witch in the enchanted cottage who–having discovered tadpoles swimming happily in the little pools formed in her driveway potholes during the Spring rains–would form a barrier with overturned five-gallon buckets and keep the water supply topped up when things got a bit dry for them, until they grew up and hopped away.  If I could ever think of such a thing.

    Oh, wait….

    I think one of the things the poem is about is the multiplicative power of affection.  Hard to know where it starts or ends (the affection).  Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of it (the poem).

    • #11
  12. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    Mom with the lye soap on the farm…steel wool might be worse, but not a lot worse. Of course, I was about an eighth of my current size at the time.

    My grandma made lye soap. It was great for poison ivy.

    I remember her.  Good on Grandma for sending her packing.

    What I remember about the old ladies of my childhood is not only the restorative substances they wielded to such good effect–lye soap, turpentine, etc–but the tough, leathery, hard-working hands that applied them.   Maudie Nichols, my great-grandmother’s tiny, elf-like maid, used to slather my chest with Vicks and wrap me in flannel, and it was like being kneaded with 80-grit sandpaper.  

    They were loving hands.  I miss them all.

     

    • #12
  13. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    I love the work of Billy Collins. My favorite poem by anyone is his poem about mothers, The Lanyard

    A few years ago I went to hear him do a reading, he shared the stage with Aimee Mann. He would read a poem, she would sing a song. It was a wonderful night.

    • #13
  14. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Johnny Standley’s version of Grandma’s Lye Soap. It is part of a parody of old time revival preaching called “It’s in the Book”. The song starts about 3-1/2 minutes in. 

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    I love the work of Billy Collins. My favorite poem by anyone is his poem about mothers, The Lanyard.

    It was my late friend Andrea who introduced me to Billy Collins, by reciting The Lanyard, which she knew by heart.  We were sorting out memorabilia in her home one day, and we came across many things her daughters had made for her over the years–paper doily Valentine’s day cards, lumpy ceramics, sun-catchers made from odds and ends, many such things.  Given the care with which she’d kept them, and the joy they brought to her face when we found them, I’m pretty sure she considered herself and the girls more than even.

    A few years ago I went to hear him do a reading, he shared the stage with Aimee Mann. He would read a poem, she would sing a song. It was a wonderful night.

    It sounds it.

     

    • #15
  16. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    I love the work of Billy Collins. My favorite poem by anyone is his poem about mothers, The Lanyard.

    A few years ago I went to hear him do a reading, he shared the stage with Aimee Mann. He would read a poem, she would sing a song. It was a wonderful night.

    Yowsa. Two of my favs. I wish I had been there with you.

    • #16
  17. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    I always liked (well, liked might be the wrong word there) “Divorce”:

    Once, two spoons in bed,

    now tined forks

    across a granite table

    and the knives they have hired.

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    I always liked (well, liked might be the wrong word there) “Divorce”:

    Once, two spoons in bed,

    now tined forks

    across a granite table

    and the knives they have hired.

    Ouch.

    • #18
  19. She Member
    She
    @She

    I also feel very affectionately towards my young chickens, having raised them from peeps.  They’re now all in full production mode:

    Prettiest.  Easter eggs.  Ever.

    • #19
  20. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Johnny Standley’s version of Grandma’s Lye Soap. It is part of a parody of old time revival preaching called “It’s in the Book”. The song starts about 3-1/2 minutes in.

    I thought about including that, but I’ve been pestering you all with my eclectic taste in music quite a bit lately, and thought I’d take a break. Thanks for putting it up.

    • #20
  21. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    I love the work of Billy Collins. My favorite poem by anyone is his poem about mothers, The Lanyard.

    A few years ago I went to hear him do a reading, he shared the stage with Aimee Mann. He would read a poem, she would sing a song. It was a wonderful night.

    Yowsa. Two of my favs. I wish I had been there with you.

    “The Lanyard” is new to me.  Was it Ray Charles who attributed his affection for country & western music because it’s so often so simply true–“three chords and the truth?”  Billy Collins’ poetry is like that.  Looks easy, but the poems are like perfect jokes: pleasure in the set-up, and then the ending surprises you with an unexpected rightness.  And when you take the pleasure of rereading it, you realize just how precise the set-up is, and you’re delighted with how inevitable the whole thing is. 

    He reminds me a bit of Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish Nobelist.  Though being a twentieth-century Pole, the material she deals with can be pretty awful.  Her refusal to be defeated by it is a real triumph.  Like Collins, she’s often funny.

     

    • #21
  22. She Member
    She
    @She

    notmarx (View Comment):

    He reminds me a bit of Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish Nobelist.  Though being a twentieth-century Pole, the material she deals with can be pretty awful.  Her refusal to be defeated by it is a real triumph.  Like Collins, she’s often funny.

    Agree. Here’s my post on her: https://ricochet.com/1269930/qotd-portrait-of-a-woman/.

    Another rather “everyday” poet who’s been celebrated in my family is Pattiann Rogers. The late Mr. She (no piker when it came to literary criticism) really admired her.  A bit different, in that she really had a natural world/science bent while being female withal, but still.

     

    • #22
  23. She Member
    She
    @She

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    With some trepidation I pressed on past “modern poet”. Once you get past Ogden Nash, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and John Gardner (Jason and Medea, two kids kicking back and having a good time in epic fashion), things start to go south. I knew you posted this for a reason, though, and you usually pay off.

    Wow. Thank you.

    Is this ever a callout to the past.  This particular John Gardner was one of the guys who introduced Mr. She to me in the early 1970s.

    Back then, Gardner thought that modern retellings of the myths and stories he knew intimately after decades of study would–somehow–make them relevant and bring them forward to a new generation.

    How wrong he was. A super-early cancellation in the wokeness wars, John Gardner died in 1982, in a motorcycle accident at the age of 49.

    His book, The Life and Times of Chaucer, remains a favorite.

    • #23
  24. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    She (View Comment):

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    With some trepidation I pressed on past “modern poet”. Once you get past Ogden Nash, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and John Gardner (Jason and Medea, two kids kicking back and having a good time in epic fashion), things start to go south. I knew you posted this for a reason, though, and you usually pay off.

    Wow. Thank you.

    Is this ever a callout to the past. This particular John Gardner was one of the guys who introduced Mr. She to me in the early 1970s.

    Back then, Gardner thought that modern retellings of the myths and stories he knew intimately after decades of study would–somehow–make them relevant and bring them forward to a new generation.

    How wrong he was. A super-early cancellation in the wokeness wars, John Gardner died in 1982, in a motorcycle accident at the age of 49.

    His book, The Life and Times of Chaucer, remains a favorite.

    I studied Chaucer for four semesters as an undergrad, producing over a hundred pages of papers just on him, and Gardner’s biography led me to both Grendel (which was a fresh take then on the villain/monster viewpoint fiction, now trite and usually ham-handed in execution) and Jason and Medeia. Everything I ever read about Dr. Gardner convinced me he was a very open and humble fellow in person. 

    • #24
  25. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    She (View Comment):

    notmarx (View Comment):

    He reminds me a bit of Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish Nobelist. Though being a twentieth-century Pole, the material she deals with can be pretty awful. Her refusal to be defeated by it is a real triumph. Like Collins, she’s often funny.

    Agree. Here’s my post on her: https://ricochet.com/1269930/qotd-portrait-of-a-woman/.

    kAnother rather “everyday” poet who’s been celebrated in my family is Pattiann Rogers. The late Mr. She (no piker when it came to literary criticism) really admired her. A bit different, in that she really had a natural world/science bent while being female withal, but still.

     

    Thanks She for pointing me to your post on WS.  Still making my way through her collected.  Consistently wonderful.  I’m a very slow reader.  (Speed reading is a waste of time.  Why hurry through  intense pleasure?  An old man now, I almost only read for pleasure.) 

    My entry point to Polish poetry was Milosz.  And he appointed himself an ambassador for his fellow Polish poets.  They’re so damn smart.  And they can sing.  Szymborska’s not the only one with some sort of perfect emotional pitch.   Reading her I always feel instructed by my better, and at the same time never condescended to.  It’s sort of hilarious: in America, the image of the Poles is Stanley Kowalski; in Europe it’s Chopin.  

    Thanks for Pattiann; worth investigating. 

     

     

     

    • #25
  26. She Member
    She
    @She

    notmarx (View Comment):
    It’s sort of hilarious: in America, the image of the Poles is Stanley Kowalski; in Europe it’s Chopin.

    I don’t know if you’re a jazz lover, but the Andrzej Jagodziński Trio does some interesting things with Chopin.

    The late Mr. She and I saw these guys in Pittsburgh one evening.  Wonderful show, and we bought the “Chopin” CD before we left.  I opened it up and put it in the car CD player, and that’s when we discovered that it wasn’t Chopin at all, it was actually their Christmas album.  It’s one of my favorites, with some wonderful pieces, but I always refer to it as the Andrzej Jagodziński Polish joke.

    • #26
  27. She Member
    She
    @She

    This morning’s peaceable kingdom shot (it’s a beautiful day, warm and sunny without the usual biting wind that predominates at this time of year):

     

    • #27
  28. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    She (View Comment):

    notmarx (View Comment):
    It’s sort of hilarious: in America, the image of the Poles is Stanley Kowalski; in Europe it’s Chopin.

    I don’t know if you’re a jazz lover, but the Andrzej Jagodziński Trio does some interesting things with Chopin.

    The late Mr. She and I saw these guys in Pittsburgh one evening. Wonderful show, and we bought the “Chopin” CD before we left. I opened it up and put it in the car CD player, and that’s when we discovered that it wasn’t Chopin at all, it was actually their Christmas album. It’s one of my favorites, with some wonderful pieces, but I always refer to it as the Andrzej Jagodziński Polish joke.

    She, again I’m in your debt.  Andrzej too is new to me.  I subscribe to Tidal streaming.  Half a dozen of his albums on the site.  Looks like my easy chair has some good listening coming up. 

    • #28
  29. She Member
    She
    @She

    notmarx (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    notmarx (View Comment):
    It’s sort of hilarious: in America, the image of the Poles is Stanley Kowalski; in Europe it’s Chopin.

    I don’t know if you’re a jazz lover, but the Andrzej Jagodziński Trio does some interesting things with Chopin.

    The late Mr. She and I saw these guys in Pittsburgh one evening. Wonderful show, and we bought the “Chopin” CD before we left. I opened it up and put it in the car CD player, and that’s when we discovered that it wasn’t Chopin at all, it was actually their Christmas album. It’s one of my favorites, with some wonderful pieces, but I always refer to it as the Andrzej Jagodziński Polish joke.

    She, again I’m in your debt. Andrzej too is new to me. I subscribe to Tidal streaming. Half a dozen of his albums on the site. Looks like my easy chair has some good listening coming up.

    Thanks.  Another favorite (who I’ve also seen perform live) is Grażyna Auguścik. I have a couple of her CDs, which I love.  The live performance was in a rather disreputable jazz bar in Pittsburgh, and she was appearing with a group called Eastern Blok.   Intriguing.  When someone asked what I thought of it, I said it seemed like  a cross between  Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Howling Bulgarian Women (as they are known in my family).

    I prefer Grażyna Auguścik solo:

     

    • #29
  30. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    She (View Comment):
    Grażyna Auguścik

    • #30
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