By Steve Orlen
I place two cups beside each other
And all the confused voices return
Bickering for a place at the table.
These two cups are fragile
As the moments before a family dinner
When the mother is too busy
To polish the silverware
And the father is attentive
To the two boys made of metal
As they play with toys and make a clamor.
Two cups on a table, wide-open flowers
Eager for a common life. But
Something is lacking, someone
Is too happy, someone is angry,
Stirring the grounds in a jealous cup.
Coffee you can't see through
Is a humble substance. Over the steam
And the image of a face, we sit down
Or stand up, excusing ourselves.
A family at dinner is one long drama,
Needing that frame to be heroic.
These two cups, chipped cold pleasures
Of the mouth, fill, are emptied, filled,
That after dinner two boys may stare
Out a window at stars lighting up,
Filling the heavens' faces, where
Each of them wanders in his solitude.
The first sorrow comes from the first hope.
"People sometimes say an object is 'full of meaning' in a personal way...the rich meaning of a thing is shadowed by a rich pathos. It needs us to fill it with meaning. A poem can enact that process of filling in the emotional meaning," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "The poem builds or acts out with language what is barely noticed or taken for granted in life. In Steve Orlen's 'Family Cups,' the idea of something being full or empty becomes literal as well as emotional. Here, the objects that contain a family's history are actual containers...the humble, unimpressive chipped cups, the ordinary domestic pleasures and miseries, gain the dignity of their plainness. There are no melodramatic claims or dire implications to this 'one long drama.' The homely, unvarnished quality in image and language -- 'angry,' 'happy,' 'emptied,' 'filled' -- is reflected in the direct, generalizing formula of the last line. Defying the writing workshop rule that forbids a summarizing moral conclusion, Orlen makes his reflection feel genuine: that hope and sorrow have a single origin, dramatized by empty cups overflowing with memory."
Since it's January, we couldn't hope for another weekend with temperatures like last weekend's 74 degrees, so we had to settle for...low 60s. I'm not sure where January got lost but other than a few hours in the 40s last week, it hasn't arrived yet. We went to Riverbend Park along the Potomac in Virginia, above Great Falls, where the river is very wide and slowly encroaching on the surrounding woods. There's a nature center with snakes, toads, turtles, and exhibits on local dinosaurs and Native American cultures. Last time we were there, it was early spring and there were bluebells everywhere; today there were only occasional confused spots of spring green, but there were geese and gulls and white oak framed against a stormy sky. It started drizzling when we started hiking and kept it up while we were in the woods, but it never rained hard enough to make it cold or unpleasant, and the river smelled good.
The rest of the afternoon and evening were taken up with football, with a break for dinner. I rooted for the Ravens, who lost to the Colts, which is of double annoyance to longtime Maryland residents because the Colts were Baltimore's team until they snuck out of town in the dead of night to move to Indianapolis (and then Baltimore stole the Browns from Cleveland and caused more bad feelings). I was torn about who to root for in the Eagles-Saints game...New Orleans deserves a break but there is a local hero on the Eagles, a player who went to my high school, and when the Redskins are terrible they're who I root for in the NFC East, so I rooted for Philly and of course they lost. I care much less about Sunday's games (younger son is rooting for the Seahawks, because "they're birds," while older son, like me, is rooting for the Bears, because he was born in Chicago). It's supposed to rain, so perhaps I can get people to go to the movies.
Heads up for gblvr: Andy Robinson is in The Los Angeles Times today! Here!