Wednesday, August 01, 2007
A Year Without Tagliabue
Amid hectic preparations for a move to Providence, Rhode Island, Professor of English Emeritus John Tagliabue---the muse of Bates College for more than forty years---and his wife, Grace, took time out for portraits by Phyllis Graber Jensen in the garden of Muskie Archives. The caption, a fragment from a poem in John's book New And Selected Poems: 1942-1997, reads "...a breeze hails our way,
we lift our sails;
we hold on to each other for dear life." (Bates Magazine, Spring 1998)
All of us are watchers---
of television, of time clocks,
of traffic on the freeway---but
few are observers. Everyone is
looking, not many are seeing.
---Peter M. Leschak
You ask why I live in the mountain forest,
and I smile and am silent,
And even my soul remains quiet:
It lives in the other world
Which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom.
The water flows.
My nature is subdued
to what it works in,
like the dyer's hand.
And so a year has gone by. A year without friend and poet John Tagliabue. A year without Tagliabue and the sun has shined its radiance with slight dimness. Music of the spheres has played less sparkling. The dancers whirl without shout. His death last year was certainly at his time, but it has meant a year without my teacher pushing me closer to the edge.
Besides a flutter of poems tumbling out like petals from blossoms, his letters and conversation always contained what books to read. He urged them as he did his assignments, shrugging off your foolishness if obviously you didn't read them. There were exhibits at the museums and he would tell you. Dancers and actors on the boards, and he needed to share with his own advertisements. There were foods and people from so many countries to visit. Be sure to have pad and pencil for jotting down impressions of human scenes on the train.
One time, when I was a junior at Bates College, where he taught and I learned, he decided he wanted to see Martha Graham dance in New York. It might be her very last time. We were in Maine. John had a car but he never learned to drive. Refused to. Usually his wife Grace took him somewhere he needed to be, but for some reason this time he asked a few of us students if we wanted to drive him. And we'd see La Martha of course.
As I recall there were 5 of us on the expedition. Two couples and my roommate. We would drive all day, stay one night, see the company's performance, and then drive all night back to Lewiston. I can't think how we fit in that small car. On laps I guess.
When we got to Manhattan, John had us drop him off at his sister's apartment...and then we were left on our own. This was a surprise to us, and hardly our idea of a school field trip. Don lived in New Rochelle, so he just took a train home. Paul's girl friend, like mine, was a sophomore, but he thought he could just bluff his way into a hotel room with her...and he did.
This was 1960, and I wasn't so sure I could get away with it. So Bonnie and I stayed with the car, and drove all over the place looking for a secluded spot to park for the night. Neither of us knew the City. Finally I came to a place near the water that appeared to be a kind of parking lot, at least during the day. It was deserted. Across the bay were a thousand lights...and in the bay stood the Statue of Liberty, far out there. I would later learn this was The Battery, but that's where we stayed---in our fog-windowed coupe. We were not disturbed.
Martha was wondrous, dancing one of her Greek things, but unfortunately barely able to get back up once she had lain down. I never had seen anything like this, but I knew a little about myth and things by then...and sometimes you had to go to the Underworld, and maybe that was happening. The music, also original and strange, sounded underworldly and then maybe rejoicing we were back up. I think dancers waved streamers around or got wrapped in them.
Don drove all the way back. He chainsmoked Camels or Luckys to stay awake, keeping the side vent open to flick an ash or the butt. I think I was in the front seat with him, and maybe Bonnie was up there too. John was in the middle of the back seat, and must be Paul and Carol on either side. We all slept and Don drove. At 3 AM, wherever we were, suddenly this great improvised Kabuki chant shouted. Tagliabue had stirred and needed to announce it! He always made up his own Japanese, whether dance, poem or song. After the fright, we laughed on for miles.
A Japanese friend spoke at John's Memorial Service in Providence a year ago, and said the poet always spoke to him in Japanese. Through all the years he knew him he did that, and the friend would politely reply. But finally the truth could be told: in all those years, he said, he never had understood one word John uttered. But of course that didn't matter. The meaning was clear, always beautiful and somehow about love.
Here's a poem Grace sent to me recently, carefully calligraphied as she is so expert to do~~~
With infinite Play,
with infinite Presentations
Loving to communicate,
loving to touch, to see,
to hear, to be active sensible,
loving to touch with his feet
the Divine Ground, to dance,
to read this to you, he
returned often; as often as
music in the bodies of lovers.