Mary Chapin Carpenter, On the Other Hand, Is Right on the Money

 

How do we write poetry that seizes life with music? Denise Levertov says, “I think it’s like this: first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him [sic] their equivalence in worlds: he is brought to speech” (8). A few years back, I went to a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert in Boston and before she sang “Almost Home,” she described going through that drawer everyone has in their kitchen, the thingamajig drawer as my family refers to it, and feeling just amazed at all the weird stuff she had accumulated. That experience brought her to write this song. I include a link for your listening pleasure. It’s one of my favorite songs, halfway between folk reflection and anthem.

Almost Home                        by Mary Chapin Carpenter

I saw my life this morning
Lying at the bottom of a drawer
All this stuff I’m saving
God knows what this junk is for

And whatever I believed in
This is all I have to show
What the hell were all reasons
For holding on for such dear life
Here’s where I let go

I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

I saw you this morning
You were staring back at me
From an ancient photograph
Stuck between some letters and some keys

I was lost just for a moment
In the ache of old goodbyes
Sometimes all that we can know is
There’s no such thing as no regrets
But baby it’s all right

I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

But there’s no such thing as no regrets and baby it’s all right
I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

I’m not running now, I’m not hiding out, I’m not reaching here
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

And I’m almost home

 

Levertov, Denise. The Poet in the World. New York: New Directions, 1973.

Cascading Home

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I learned about this form of poetry, the Cascade, from Kat Myrman. With a three-line stanza, and capital letters representing repeated lines, the form is ABC deA fgB hiC. (I have also seen this done where the repeating line is the first line of the following stanzas rather than the last, now that I think of it.) Naturally, I chose a seven-line stanza because I am a bloody showoff. Don’t go there, people, or at least not without stretching out first.

 

Home is the place where you write your name

In the dust and it remains your name,

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

You make your way from room to room in the dark

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

In other places, you wander, a stranger

Unremarked and nameless, a cipher

To those you pass by, who do not think

To wonder about your loves and dislikes.

They have their own shopping lists of worries.

Out in the world, you are ever nameless.

Home is the place where you write your name.

 

The geography of naming is such that

Your name points the way back to your birth

Or rebirth. Tell me who you are and I will

Point you toward the river whose water runs

Through your veins, calling itself blood.

Drop your name down a well or toss it

In the dust and it remains your name.

 

The story of your life would require volumes

Or a skilled raconteur with a very long string

Tied end to end and woven into itself,

A cat’s cradle of intention, obstacle, outcome,

And the serendipities that every life engenders.

Come to the window. Trace out your tale in

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale,

 

Which would include a heroic company of friends,

Sister travelers, the wise one, the warriors,

A ring to find, a cup to destroy, some evil

To overcome, and now and then a resting place

Like this homely place, a place to pause between

The small battles and the long weariness

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

 

Returning home to your bed, your armchair,

Your cat sleeping on all the notes you took

On your travels, you settle in almost as if

You had never left. But now you see it

Anew: You have chosen every picture that hangs

On the walls. You have sat in every chair.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

 

All of it is as familiar as your own hands:

Small and compact peasant hands that belie

The spectacles and teeming brain, the sword

Hanging over the fireplace. You can lay your hand

On any book you want at a moment’s notice,

Predict the pattern of new spring leaves in the window.

You make your way from room to room in the dark.

 

At dawn, both sun and cat pat your face,

Clamoring for your attention. As the sun passes

Overhead, the light turns this way and that,

Caressing doors and bookcases, chairs and the cat

Who stretches out in the bright patch of carpet.

In the afternoon, he ambles over to welcome you back.

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

Art by Laura Wilder.