Friday, April 10, 2009

Ordinary Life - Barbara Crooker


This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch’s little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa’s ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken’s diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
order themselves
into the winter night.

---Barbara Crooker

Ordinary Life by Barbara Crooker

Today I took my blog on the road, writing from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles location in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I’m waiting for number D461 to be called so that I can change the registration on the Honda I inherited in a trade with my parents this past fall. This should be an ordinary task, but life is teaching me otherwise. A teenage girl just walked by with her brand new license. She laughed with her mother about how red her face is in the picture. An older gentlemen is arguing, no he’s reasoning with a clerk about taking a vision test. He can see the clerk has brown hair, a ring on her finger, and a scar on her cheek. He’s got me convinced. Outside a tow truck is cranking a car up onto its back. The car’s tail is crunched from an accident in the parking lot; I love irony. Nothing about this day of waiting has been ordinary. I should have know better, we should all know better: life is never ordinary.

In her poem “Ordinary Life,” Barbara Crooker proves that the moments that seem unimportant are often the greatest reminders of how splendid it is to be alive. We cultivate such high expectations for ourselves. This is part of being human. High expectations are not bad, assuming we also cultivate a clear sense of perspective. It’s easy to dismiss the daily activities that lack pizazz because we come to expect dazzling greatness, but a healthy dose of perspective will guide us to the magic in the mundane. Crooker’s perspective in “Ordinary Life” is wholeheartedly in tune with her world. She delights in little victories, pausing to notice the remarkable features of her life.

“This was a day when nothing happened,” the use of this understated line to kick off the poem
is clever. The whole poem cuts against this initial thesis, carefully unearthing sparks of grace that surround and infuse our speaker’s life. It’s simple, as simple as “the children went off to school / without a murmur, remembering / their books, lunches, gloves.” This must be a parent’s dream! And our speaker gets to follow it up with a morning of block building with her baby, lunch, naptime, and cleaning the cupboard, “one of those jobs that never gets done.” If we’re fortunate, we’ll earn a handful of grand sweeping victories; undoubtedly these banner moments are special, but they represent five, maybe ten days in an entire lifetime. One of life’s greatest travesties is not appreciating the nuances of being alive. For example, they just called D453 here at the DMV; rather than lament wasting a beautiful Saturday, I’m excited at the progress I’ve made. When I arrived they were calling D440. We’re getting closer to my D461, which means I’ll need to speed up this essay!

Shapes are one the earliest lessons we learn as small children. Circles, squares, triangles, and dodecahedrons…just kidding. Whether it’s “All morning, the baby and I built block stacks / in the squares of light on the floor” or “(I) then sat in a circle of sunlight / and drank ginger tea,” Crooker reminds readers that the lessons of our childhoods remain with us, whether it is simple shapes or the unbreakable roots of love. Our speaker notices those roots spreading now as a parent, even if that means her responsibilities have changed tremendously since childhood. While her children return from school with “the murmur of their stories dappling the air,” she “peels carrots and potatoes without paring (her) thumb.” Our lives and the minutiae which composes them may diverge at certain times, but there are always commonalities drawing us back together. The mother and children’s shared love for their father/husband unites them to “listen together for (his) wheels on the drive.” The ties that bind us together as families, friends, and human beings arise from humble necessities, beliefs, and traditions: we all have to eat dinner and so the whole family gathers for “grace before bread.”

Crooker concludes the poem with gentle details and images, easing readers to the close of her “ordinary” day. The homework her children “drift into”; the baby drives his cars “along the sofa’s ridges and hills”; a stolen “long slow kiss, tasting of coffee and cream.” None of these moments are ordinary to the person who has no one in his or her life, just as a moment of silent loneliness would be foreign to the poem’s speaker. So what do you take from this poem to mold your perspective to see wonder in the quotidian elements of life? Look at how Crooker summarizes her day near the end of the poem: “a day of grace / in the dead of winter, / the hard cold knuckle of the year.” What constitutes a day of grace will be different for each of us, but we all have the ability to make every day soar with grace and amazement. Remarkably, the automated voice just called my number at the DMV. D461 is flashing in red above an open counter. The clerk hunches over the counter and asks what I need. He’s clearly counting down the minutes till his shift is over. I’ll get my new license plates and registration, but first I have to ask him how his day has been, has it been ordinary?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is amazing. helped me a lot with my english 12 homework. thank you