Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I haven't attended my high school reunions for the simple reason that I still live and work in the same town in the town I went to school in. There are enough of those I went to school with, late middle aged, "thickened into silence" or garrulous and bony, who I see during my week. I'm aware enough of who has died, divorced and remarried, who is undergoing treatments for fatal diseases, who has joined AA or started drinking again, who has become a new grandpa or granma. Paying good money to discover news I can get or deliver over a cafe table seems foolish.
There is , additionally, the plain and gruesome fact that there are those in high school I don't care to see again. Old girl friends, druggie friends, bullies, class peacocks, the brown nosers and the brown shirts. Some people were horrible , monstrous entities when they were teens, and although there might be the outside chance that they've changed, found a path, and turned into reasonable, decent people, there is the awkwardness of running into someone you haven't seen in years, someone with whom you've had only a tangential connection, and finding yourself standing there, struggling for words after a hesitant greeting, a handshake with a loose grip. Who is this person? Do I owe them money? Did he steal my gal? Did I steal his copy of Led Zeppelin lV?
John Hazard writes as if he's suffered through this voluntary form of punishment in his poem "Luanne Again, Southeastern Ohio", and conveys the dulling shock of seeing other members of his peer group showing the evidence of gravity and time taking their combined toll. Everyone he witnesses in the conference room seems lifeless or somehow inert and drained of whatever animation made their memories intriguing enough for the narrator to come to a reunion,
Reunion: some sit almost nameless
in a motel conference room—red and gold
balloons. Folding chairs and ham. Forty years.
Some have thickened into silence. Some are hard.
He does make an effort to imagine that it is the obvious peculiarities of the scene and the resented confines of the conference room that makes his situation so stifling, a reality where the faces might radiate life in response to a world they’ve made for themselves since graduation:
For all I know, those faces on a normal day
might stare over sinks, dandelion yards,
the children's children playing there,
grass-stained photo ops.
Still, it is deadening all the same, the faces remain expressionless masks, and so the narrator’s mind wanders over names of those who are not there, Shirley, Fred, and especially Luanne. Hazard does an interesting trick here of isolating a moment of daydreaming life when someone’s name and face come to mind, someone who one hasn’t thought of it years, not thought of but haven’t forgotten; what he gets here is the swift and seamless segue to that conscious filling nano- second where there appears a name, a face, an event, vivid and sharp, and just as brief. Hazard’s character here concentrates on Luane,
Sometimes I dream about that dog of hers,
brown or maybe tawny, hit by a car
outside my uncle's grocery. It lay
in its blood as she fled crying
to the family store (hardware, paint)
the way I ran home later that year—
fat old Rudy, coal truck,
as I watched by the side of the road.
Her dog was bloodier.
In the place that she's inherited,
is her silence richer, too,
than my packages of words?
I wouldn't be the reporter she would choose.Hard and compact, these are details that are alive as the narrator tells it, and reveals a slight change in tone, where the foregrounding scene in the conference is an evocation of stasis, entropy and this scene of the past, where there is life, vivacity, real emotions witnessed. Here there is history, here there are events that mark a consciousness still forming a world view.
It’s not a big moment, not a third act of a Hollywood movie where there is some moral that’s learned the hard way and the beginnings of a mythologized justice being brought to bear on what has been amiss. Hazard’s narrator has only a fleeting regret, the recognition of an unspecified opportunity missed .
But here I am, Luanne, to say I regret
the vast rock between us. For all I know,
the dogs of your other life—not frisky,
not mean, not especially sweet—have been
steady, staring for scraps or staring from a porch
at grass in a breeze. For all I know,
your other dogs were happy and lived forever.
Hazard’s instincts here are right sized for the size of the perception he sought to convey on paper; this poem has the unlabored purity of the passing thought; it is the best that someone already ensconced in the complications of their life can do as the memory and
unresolved nature of whatever happened to? arises and distracts the bearer from the faces in front of him. It’s a thought that has to be tied up in a hasty knot, a botched ribbon as present circumstances demand an audience. One concludes with a soft regret of the distance that has grown between them, an admission that admits no guilt, no self-incrimination, and a bland wish that Luanne has in the intervening time prospered somehow and that he dogs , if she still kept them, lived long and prospered with her. What I appreciate here is the lack of specifics beyond the accident involving Luanne’s dog; the lines are graceful and taut in equal measure, and achieve a balance of composition. Anymore freight might have compelled Hazard to offer up a dirge along the lines of Robert Lowell, a dangerous poet to model yourself after. Hazard’s intents are much more modest and this poem has an admirable precision in getting at inglorious subject: middle aged man remembers a girl from school who’s image he cannot wait to shuttle off again into some obscure corner of the mind. There comes a time, always, when you have to stop rummaging around the attic and move fore worth with what needs to be done now; laundry, shopping, bill paying, a kiss for the woman you love in this life, not the one you left behind.