Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Might Have Beens

I recently splurged half a week's worth of grocery money to purchase Garrison Keillor's Good Poems, a purchase well made. The book appropriately titled! There are a few poems that keep echoing through my head. On my mind tonight is Dana Gioia's "Summer Rain." Actually, it has been on my mind the past few weeks. The last couple paragraphs keep swirling through my head. It seems a fitting poem to read as the leaves fall quietly outside my window. Gioia beautifully explores that strange little world of the what might have beens.

My own recent what might have been? On campus I frequently see a young man with a guitar case slung over his shoulder. Today, I found him on the lawn. The guitar was at his lap, the case set aside. He was not yet playing. I wanted very much to hear his music. I sat on a patch of lawn nearby and pulled out a book, half reading, half waiting. I wanted badly to go and sit by him. There was much I wanted to know. What was his name? Why was the guitar his constant companion? How long had he been playing-- if I suppose, he played at all? What sort of music did he love? Did he write his own music? But, I remained rooted to my spot, my nose in the book. I waited patiently, looking up once to seem him softly stroking the strings without producing sound. When I looked up again, he was gone. "There are so many might have beens..."

Summer Storm

Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm–
A gesture you didn't explain–
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn't speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm–
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

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