Who Needs e. e. cummings?

January 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Last Saturday, January 12, I went to Philadelphia for the funeral of another friend, my high school classmate, Susan Donahue. I have decided to stop lamenting about people in my generation dying, though I surely miss them. What can we do? We’re getting older.

But even if I’m not lamenting, I keep on observing things, –in myself and others. And if it’s not too weird to say, I rather enjoyed my friend’s memorial service. A hundred or so people came. Susan had been a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for about half her adult life (more or less–the details were vague) and a bunch of SNDs and former SNDs and almost SNDs, some of whom I’ve known for fifty years, came to the memorial. Clearly Susan had a good life, teaching school in the South and then working in a free health clinic in DC while she was a sister, and later working with the CDC on HIV/AIDS. And she had wonderful friends who testified to the enormous difference she had made in their lives. We should all do so well at the end.

One thing that kind of put me off, though, was the reading of a poem by e.e. cummings during the service; Susan had apparently loved cummings’s poetry her whole life,  so we heard one of his works, along with a passage from Isaiah, before the eulogies started.

I should perhaps confess at this point that I have ambivalent feelings about the world I came out of. Delaware County, just south of Philadelphia, was in the 50s and 60s mostly white, working class, and Republican; I put a lot of energy into getting out of there. I also love (or loved) a lot of the people I met there.

What came to me about the e.e. cummings part of Susan’s service was, “Deliver us from the poetry we learned when we were teenagers, O Lord. Surely Susan got beyond e.e. cummings!”

I did not say this out loud. Another friend smacked me at a funeral last summer for saying something negative about the deceased,  so I kept my mouth shut this time. But that didn’t stop me from thinking.

Then, a few days after Susan’s funeral, I came across a reference to Dana Green’s new biography of the poet Denise Levertov. I have been in the habit in recent years of reciting a poem to myself as the Q train takes me across the East River from  Brooklyn to Manhattan: “I thank you God for most this amazing day.” I suppose it functions as a prayer for me, though if it’s a prayer, it’s one I sort of say to the Brooklyn Bridge, since I always look at the bridge as we cross the river. Anyhow, I had forgotten who wrote the poem, and then it occurred to me that perhaps Denise Levertov had.

So I googled “I thank you God,” and guess whose name came up? e.e. cummings.

I am writing this blogpost as an act of penance for being, once again, a judgmental twit.

Susan, I hope you’re laughing up there.

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