Thursday, February 9, 2017

Betty Freydberg

Oprah Magazine August 2015

I found this in a stack of papers that was set aside to go through some day. Two years later, some day arrived, and I found this gem. The poet, Betty Freyberg, who began writing late in life, died in 2015 at the age of 107 years old. Just a few lines of her poetry is found in the article that originally appeared in "Oprah Magazine," which are: "I am bare now/ Cool to the fire of sunsets/ Gladly undressed of them." It's a rather stunning thought to consider that what was once enthralling has become pedestrian. I think of it in terms of my life and realize that some things just don't hold the same joy as was the times before when I had first experienced it or them or whatever. Strawberries come to mind. As a kid, we didn't see strawberries very often as we probably ate them in season. Later, when I began to set my own table, I always included them because they represented something that was special, but they have become unspecial, especially when I bought them in the supermarket in January. Those weren't the berries of my youth ... they were large, deeply pocked, rubber versions of them. Of course, I got smarter about these kinds of joys. I know now to buy strawberries in June when they are homegrown and sweetest. I get really excited when I see ruby red grapefruits in the market in January because that is when they are their best having been grown somewhere closer than half way around the world. 

But not everything can be figured out so tidily. Yesterday, I was chatting with a colleague who went to the same college as I. In our rambling about the bar and party scene, I remembered a band that I loved that played in a small, strip of a bar called the Club. It was so hipster. All of the Art and Design students hung out there in their new wave or punk gear, drinking cheap beer, and posing. The band was David and the Happenings, which was made up of students from the Art and Design department I am sure of. The band, from what I remembered, was a punky soul band. David loved to sing James Brown. He was skinny and blond, and could move across the stage like a blue-eyed soul man. Come to think of it, he was a hippier version of Darryl Hall of Hall and Oats. The band was just so damned cool. I would wear the old checkered jacket that I took out of my Father's closest, wear a tie, and line my lapels with all of my favorite band's pins. I loved to get it up! As I talked to the colleague, I found that someone had uploaded a video on YouTube of David and the Happenings from 1981. They weren't at our college, but it was surely them. What a prize to find! I sent the link to my brother who attended the same school as I and his response was: "David & the Happenings!  Those were in fact “the Days!" Yes, they were. And as much as I loved them, the band wasn't what I truly remembered them to be. I could see why I loved them ... for a bar band. But the one other person aside from my brother who I would like to share the memory with is no longer living. Sometimes fiery sunsets aren't there to find at the right time as they are gone forever. 

Another poem of Freydberg, "Chorus of Cells," is another that gives me pause. She writes about her making the bed every day. How the making and then getting into the bed is the constancy of her day. She wakes up, makes the bed and is alive. She pulls the covers back at night, for she is alive. My mother is a bed maker. And when I stay with her, I make my bed. When I'm not, all bets are off. But I see in her the rthym of her day and how the bed making marks the passage of another day with the "constancy" of her breathing. From what I have read of Freyberg's work, she portrays the quiet of what must be the end of one's life,particularly one that has been lived in good health and stability. In the quiet of that time, I imagine that one is reflective and though strawberries are sweet and a band makes one dance, it is life itself that one truly experiences the meaning of it all. I wake up; I make the bed. I pull back the blankets; I lie having lived another day. 

Chorus of Cells
By Betty Freydberg

Every morning,
even being very old,
(or perhaps because of it),
I like to made my bed
unhelplessly, 
is the biggest thing I ever do,
I smooth away the dreams disclosed by tangled sheets,
I smack the dented pillow's revelations to oblivion,
I finish with the pattern of the spread exactly centered.
The night is won.
And now the day can open.

All this I like to do,
mastering the  making of my bed
with hands that trust beginnings.
All this I need to do,
directed by the silent message
of the luxury of my breathing.

And every night,
I like to fold the covers back,
and get in bed,
and live the dark, wise poetry of the night's dreaming,
dreading the extent of its improbabilities,
but surrendering to the truth it knows and I do not:
even though its technicolor cruelties,
or the music of its myths, 
feels like someone else's experience,
not mine.

I know that I could no more cease
to want to make my bed each morning,
and fold the covers back at night,
than I could cease
to want to put one foot before the other.

Being very old and so because of it,
all this I am compelled to do,
day after day,
night after night,
directed by the silent message
of the constancy of my breathing,
that bears the news I am alive.

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