I bet you think I’m going to share a Poe poem today.
I can’t because I’m not wearing black, and my raven’s out sick.
No, today, I’m wearing blue Winnie the Pooh pajamas that glow in the dark. My mentioning this might raise your expectations just a tiny bit — will this post contain a flash of brilliance from A.A. Milne?
When I first read Kenneth Koch’s “You Were Wearing,” I smiled at all the cultural references. I was drawn in right away by the poem’s freshness and curious details, and suitably teased by the suspense. I love Koch’s spontaneity, side-swiping humor and unpredictability. I also love that if you look beneath the light, casual tone, you find a more perplexing message (which I’m still pondering). Koch is a master at enrobing the profound with playfulness.
Just like the narrator and girl in the poem, as readers we approach pieces of writing clothed in expectation of the experience to come. What habits of understanding are you wearing today?
YOU WERE WEARING
by Kenneth Koch
You were wearing your Edgar Allan Poe printed cotton blouse.
In each divided up square of the blouse was a picture of Edgar Allan Poe.
Your hair was blonde and you were cute. You asked me,
“Do most boys think that most girls are bad?”
I smelled the mould of your seaside resort hotel bedroom
on your hair held in place by a John Greenleaf Whittier clip.
“No,” I said, “it’s the girls who think that boys are bad.”
Then we read Snowbound together
And ran around in an attic, so that a little of the blue enamel was scraped off my George Washington, Father of His Country, shoes.
Mother was walking in the living room, her Strauss Waltzes comb in her hair.
We waited for a time and then joined her, only to be served tea in cups painted with pictures of Herman Melville
As well as with illustrations from his book Moby-Dick and from his novella, Benito Cereno.
Father came in wearing his Dick Tracy necktie: “How about a drink, everyone?”
I said, “Let’s go outside a while.” Then we went onto the porch and sat on the Abraham Lincoln swing.
You sat on the eyes, mouth and beard part, and I sat on the knees.
In the yard across the street we saw a snowman holding a garbage can lid smashed into a likeness of the mad English king, George the Third.
~ from Thank You and Other Poems (Grove, 1962).
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol’s Corner. I wonder what she’s wearing. ☺