The name of this blog comes from The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, specifically the poem/epitaph Serepta Mason. Like many people (well, many people my age) I first encountered this book as a high school student when my bent and silver-haired English teacher included several of the poems in a reading and writing assignment, with the instruction that after we read them we were to create a detailed description of one of the graveyard inhabitants–what they looked like, where they lived, the sound of their voice, etc.
I didn’t do the character description, but I remember reading some of the assigned poems, and its possible I read them all, but I doubt it. For one thing, I wasn’t a very good student. While there were few things I enjoyed as much as reading, I resented being told what I “had” to read, my adolescent arrogance pushing me more toward mutiny than obedience when it came to homework (and most everything else). But the main reason I doubt I read them all is that I didn’t like them. I was seventeen years-old and there was too much future and fun to be had to bother with the sufferings and regrets of a lot of old people–hell, they weren’t just old, they were dead. What’s more, they weren’t even real. Or, (famous last words) so I thought.
My mother has been dead for almost twenty years. About a year after her death, at the local library’s annual sale of discontinued books, I came across a small, paperback copy of The Spoon River Anthology. Back then the library used to sell their books by the pound, making this little book practically free, and having one of those “I remember this…” moments, I tossed it on my stack. A few months later, on one of those grimy, cold days when the snow looks dirty, the sky looks old, and winter feels endless, I decided to read it. From what I remembered, it seemed to fit the day and my mood.
It didn’t take long to discover Serepta, as it is one of the first poems in the book (the seventh out of 245, as I recall), but her poem was as far as I got that day as I realized that Serepta’s epitaph was also my mother’s. I was a little stunned, but mostly fascinated, awed that a poem written several years before my mother was even born had so completely captured the exquisite and painful essence of her life. That’s when I “got” it, when I finally understood what people (teachers, mostly) meant when they talked about poetry being universal, distilling the innumerable facets of a human life into a few words so perfect that one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years later another human can recognize that life…can say, “I know someone just like that.”
So, to my fussy and patient English teacher, on whatever hill you are now sleeping, this is for you, with my gratitude. Even though I didn’t do the homework, you did your job–you introduced me to Spoon River, and without that introduction, those tiny sparks of recognition and curiosity that led me to pick up that book thirty years later would never have been lit.
MY life’s blossom might have bloomed on all sides
Save for a bitter wind which stunted my petals
On the side of me which you in the village could see.
From the dust I lift a voice of protest:
My flowering side you never saw!
Ye living ones, ye are fools indeed
Who do not know the ways of the wind
And the unseen forces
That govern the processes of life.
The purpose of this blog is to give my ‘flowering side’ a place to bloom, before it’s too late.