I worked in the carnival for a number of years when I was half the age I am now, and it was a pleasant memory Jeffery Bean evokes with his opening stanza of his poem Major Third, ] the most recent selection by Robert Pinsky for his column in at Slate.
It comes from gravel lots where the state fair
pushes fried dough and bagged fish out the mouths
of red-lit tents. It's pumped out of dunking booths
across the blocks and into windows, up the stairs
My recollections of the carnival are fun and joyous , for the most part, hard work and rough life as it was, mostly because I was young, resilient enough to withstand insane hours, gross monotony, and , being relatively rudderless as a young man, having nothing really better to do. It was an extended lark. Bean's poem, though, does little to reinforce my simpering revelry, as the piece lurks toward the inevitability of death and the details of a departed person's interior life of associations that made his time in life worth the pains it takes to breath comfortably "it" that Bean addresses is undisclosed, but that is the case of reaching for a far recessed memory when one's accumulated life experience becomes crowded and unsorted. It is the essence of experience, perhaps, that sensual texture that is for a second very strong and then recedes as one follows the rhythm of daily life, moment to moment, second to second. "It" , undisclosed, is fluid, ephemeral, but strong in it's allure that we follow it, from one thing to the next, the meaning of that essence, that center of vivid recall, altering as it touches the hems and trouser cuffs of passing phenomena.
...up the stairs
of the apartment where my grandfather is
dying in a room of mums. It's the song of Sunday
traffic, the car horn's hot punch to which he
tunes his hymn, the last tune he remembers.
Something begins to swell, something real is about to emerge from the familiar clanks and clamours of street life, and yet this fades as well, reduced to something tangibly minor and insignificant, puzzling to the casual observer, inscrutable.
It's where the voices in rooms above him drift when
they cheer, or sing, when they ooh and ahh
or rise in anger, say where have you been,
when they call out for help or to mourn—even then.
It's "La Cucaracha".
It's "When the Saints Go Marching In".
"It", after we follow the trail and appreciate the world where it floats on the air, is unknowable to anyone who wants to know the inner experience of a departed they felt they were close to. Sometimes things are revealed soon after the fact that are just baffling and are destined to be just that. Some things are taken to the grave.
Inane songs, quaint aromas, the comings and goings of neighborhoods; all we are privy to are assumptions that these odd elements indicated to the mourned that they belonged someplace in this lifetime. What that means beyond that is a matter for us to infer from our experience, a task too many of us defer until the day before the sightings of daylight. Wonderful poem.