Posted by jdg | Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Even though there are so many new books I want to read, lately I've been picking up old ones. As I scan the pages, trying to decipher the notes made by my 19-year-old hand, I realize that I never really understood as much D.H. Lawrence or James Joyce as I liked to think then. Ulysses hasn't changed since 1996, but I certainly have. And how many stanzas of Ezra Pound or Wallace Stevens had I read without discerning any meaning? Still I refuse to believe I did not take something of value from the words themselves.

I think about this often at bedtime, right at that cusp of freedom that sleeping children provide. Before I can sit down with a book of my own, I often read both of them books way above their heads. In my daughter's case, it's now stories with fewer pictures, more new words and concepts that challenge my ability to explain without doing so recursively. A year later we have nearly worked our way through The Rattle Bag, and have moved on to selections from the Oxford Book of English Verse. I find I have a lot more patience for poetry now. Some of it is knowing my daughter is grasping for any meaning among the words, while I emphasize only their sounds. My son sits silently on my lap alongside his sister for picture books he cannot understand. This patience for lovely nonsense is, I think, a sort of skill, not unlike fearlessly sounding foolish in a foreign tongue. It is one way we learn.

Sometimes I go back and read cringe-inducing things I wrote over a decade ago, occasionally encountering a particularly delicate line and wondering where it came from. Did that come from me? I wonder. The same dope who wore his pants at his knees and listened only to the Wu Tang Clan? Have you forgotten how powerful it feels to stand in awe of what hasn't yet been written, that limitless universe of language in front of you. Have you forgotten how fun it was to be bold and reckless with words? As one ages there are few things as annoying as precociousness. But sometimes knowing too much is a disadvantage.

* * * * *

We are riding in the car and talking about her beloved friend; her teacher describes them together as "like an old married couple." She tells him what to do; occasionally he kicks her in the shin. But mostly there is mutual devotion. He wakes up in the night and tells his mother he misses her. She chatters on and on about their friendship in the backseat: "I do not think he will ever lose his love for me," she says with such earnestness I cannot laugh.

Then: "You can lose your balance. . ." she says. "But you can never lose your love."

* * * * *

If only that were true, I think. But then again what do I know.