Poems for the common man
You forget how much you love something. Out of sight, out of fashion, out of mind.
Years ago, when I was a child and my parents were half the age I am now, I fell in love with poetry. Not the kind I would come to know in my teens. Not Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson and the “What did the poet mean by this?” tomes full of, to quote the Bard, sound and fury, signifying nothing.
I fell in love with the simple verse that was in the newspaper each day, which my father read out loud with a touch of longing and maybe a little envy, too, because when he’d been a younger man he had also written poetry.
Maybe that’s why he shared it, because there was still within him a poet waiting to be heard. Sometimes it was morning and sometimes it was evening when he read out loud. He’d be at the kitchen table, drinking his coffee and smoking his Chesterfields and suddenly look up and say to me, “I think you’ll like this.” Or he’d call for my mother. “Hey, Dot. Come listen.” And then with great ceremony he would read to us about the snow or the sun or a holiday or a cat or a dog or something about love. He read lots of poems about love.
I don’t recall the words of a single one but I remember, a lifetime later, how I felt sitting across from my father and listening.
James Metcalfe was the poet my father read. Metcalfe had a poem in the newspaper every day for years. There were other poets, too. Sometimes even readers sent in poems. But then one day they were all gone.
I bought a book of Metcalfe’s poems when I was in high school. I had a part-time job at South Shore Plaza. I made $1.15 an hour. The book cost $3.95. It was the second hardcover book I owned. That’s how much his work meant to me.
But out of sight, out of fashion, out of mind.
The book I so loved has sat neglected on a bookshelf for decades. I’ve only now unearthed it because a few weeks ago a man e-mailed me a poem that made me remember Metcalfe and the days when his clever poetry was part of my life.
The man’s name is Jim Biggie. He lives in Melrose and I don’t know him, but I have a feeling that when he was a kid, someone read poems to him, too. This poem he wrote to his wife, Penny:
More than the Red Sox hate the Yanks,
Or a criminal hates a clue.
Or Al Qaeda hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.
I love you more than the Orange Line’s late,
And more than a grapefruit squirts.
I love you more than Madonna’s a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.
As a pain in the neck hates your Ben-Gay
Or Tom Brady hates a shove.
As a burner won’t work on our new stove,
That’s how much you, I love.
I love you more than Aruba has beaches,
And more than a subway jerks.
I love you more than a trip down the Danube,
And more than a hangnail irks.
I swear to you, by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
More than you hate all your aches and your pains,
That’s how much I love thee.
Last week, with spring on the cusp, he sent me a poem about baseball and the double play, called “6 to 4 to 3”:
Of all the things that I might wish,
Of all that I might be.
I’d want to be the middle
Of a 6 to 4 to 3.
I’d take the throw from Tinker,
And I’d be in Evers’ shoes.
And whip it on to Chance and see,
The runner always lose.
To overcome the menace of
A high incoming spike,
To concentrate, to make the throw,
Now that’s what I would like.
No Bolshoi leap upon a stage,
No pirouette of grace,
Can match the perfect symmetry,
Of man and ball to base.
Just being in the middle,
Of a flowing double play,
Just once . . . And I’d remember it,
Until my dying day.
For nothing is as pure and smooth,
Or beautiful to see,
As watching how it all plays out,
A 6 to 4 to 3.
Jim Biggie was named class poet at Somerville High in 1961. In 1961, there was still poetry in newspapers.
Too bad there isn’t any now.
Canton resident Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.