By Poet's Choice
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Deborah Garrison has mastered the ordinary -- a difficult, even treacherous terrain for any writer. It takes agility and imagination to write well about the ordinary without condescension or apology, easy jokes or inflation. Garrison's first book, A Working Girl Can't Win (1998), won readers by approaching the material indicated by its title with directness, modesty and unshowy wit. Those qualities also mark her new collection, The Second Child. This time the material includes parenthood and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with their aftermath.Into the Lincoln Tunnel
The bus rolled into the Lincoln Tunnel,
and I was whispering a prayer
that it not be today, not today, please
no shenanigans, no blasts, no terrors,
just please the rocking, slightly nauseating
gray ride, stop and start, chug-a
in the dim fellowship of smaller cars,
bumper lights flickering hello and warning.
Yes, please smile upon these good
people who want to enter the city and work.
Because work is good, actually, and life is good,
despite everything, and I don't mean to sound
spoiled, but please don't think I don't know
how grateful I should be
for what I do have--
I wonder whom I'm praying to.
Maybe Honest Abe himself,
craggy and splendid in his tall chair,
better than God to a kid;
Lincoln whose birthday I shared,
in whom I took secret pride: born, thus I was,
to be truthful, and love freedom.
Now with a silent collective sigh
steaming out into the broken winter sun,
up the ramp to greet buildings, blue brick
and brown stone and steel, candy-corn pylons
and curving guardrails massively bolted and men
in hard hats leaning on resting machines
with paper cups of coffee--
a cup of coffee, a modest thing to ask
dark, bitter, fresh
as an ordinary morning.
"Ordinary" is an interesting word. Related to "order," it can pertain to the official authority of judges and bishops, as well as the familiar meaning "unremarkable." In calling attention to the unheroic, and to the distance between herself and Lincoln, Garrison keeps her blessed and quotidian balance, in a remarkable way.
(Deborah Garrison's poem "Into the Lincoln Tunnel"
is from her book "The Second Child." Random House.
Copyright 2007 by Deborah Garrison.)
Robert Pinsky is the author of "The Inferno of Dante,"
a verse translation.