Friday, December 5, 2008

Suburban, a poem by John Ciardi.

John Ciardi was born at home in Boston's Little Italy in 1916. After the death of his father in 1919, he was raised by his Italian mother (who was illiterate in both English and Italian) and his three older sisters, all of whom scrimped and saved until they had enough money to send him to college, first to Bates College and then Tufts University where he graduated in 1938. The next year he took an M.A. and the prestigious Hopwood Award in poetry at the University of Michigan. He taught at Harvard and Rutgers, although he considered teaching to be "planned poverty." A longtime resident of Metuchen, New Jersey, he died on Easter Sunday, 1986, of a heart attack, but not before composing his own epitaph:

Here, time concurring (and it does);
Lies Ciardi. If no kingdom come,
A kingdom was. Such as it was
This one beside it is a slum.

Ciardi served as a highly popular poetry editor of the Saturday Review from 1956 to 1972. His occasional public television broadcasts were supplemented by his weekly National Public Radio series begun in 1980 as "A Word in Your Ear." Here's a typical example of his work:

Suburban by John Ciardi.

Yesterday Mrs. Friar phoned."Mr. Ciardi,
how do you do?" she said. "I am sorry to say
this isn't exactly a social call. The fact is
your dog has just deposited-forgive me-
a large repulsive object in my petunias."

I thought to ask, "Have you checked the rectal grooving
for a positive I.D.?" My dog, as it happened,
was in Vermont with my son, who had gone fishing-
if that's what one does with a girl, two cases of beer,
and a borrowed camper. I guessed I'd get no trout.

But why lose out on organic gold for a wise crack
"Yes, Mrs. Friar," l said, "I understand."
"Most kind of you," she said. "Not at all," I said.
I went with a spade. She pointed, looking away.
"I always have loved dogs," she said, "but really!"

I scooped it up and bowed. "The animal of it.
I hope this hasn't upset you, Mrs. Friar."
"Not really," she said, "but really!" I bore the turd
across the line to my own petunias
and buried it till the glorious resurrection

when even these suburbs shall give up their dead.

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