I’ve said on a number of occasions that I am glad that I keep a journal. One of my projects over the past few years has been to go back to the entries that I began keeping in the early 1980’s and read forward. It keeps me honest and prevents me from rewriting my personal history in a way that makes me out to be the hero. (It is amazing what you forget.)
There are some nice surprises, too, and I came across one of those when I was reading in my 1994 journal earlier this week. I discovered a poem that I had written and forgotten for some reason. Perhaps my sensibilities were different at the time and I thought it was incomplete, but on reading it again I really liked it and decided to resurrect it.
The immediate impetus was that Maya had to do a report on Wiliam Faulkner’s story “Barn Burning” and I had read the story to be able to help her if she had any problems.
After years of moving from place to place,
Of constant boils and pinworms from shared beds
Of welfare saying “college is not for you,” “wash dishes”
I understood Abner’s need to put the match to the hay.
Now I live in the white house
Am become one of the columns that is part and support.
It is difficult not to keep glancing out the window to see
If the barn is still standing
Or if perhaps sleep walking I have reverted
And handed it over,
To the flames it deserves.
From an aesthetic point of view, what I like about the poem is that it achieves a sort of simplicity while at the same time, it seems to me, still being to be able to speak to a reader in on terms that s/he can relate to in relationship to their own lives. It is a middle ground between merely reporting and trying to cram in unneeded material, as I am prone to do.
More to the point, however, it serves to keep me honest. After writing the blog about Dad and the military the other day, I’m particularly mindful that, in Faulkner’s famous words, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” More than ever, I’m convinced that is true.