By Heart


Not the cartoon I watched about 48 years ago, but pretty good…
 
 
The first poems I knew by heart
I didn’t memorize but absorbed:
Grandma reciting Stevenson’s “The Swing”
whenever she gave us a push;
a cartoon of “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat”
inserted among old Popeyes and Betty Boops,
the words set to music, a melodic
enabling of memory.
 
If prayers and nursery rhymes count,
those came early,
“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”
and “Georgie Porgie” in AA/BB rhyme,
and the Catholic prayers
in first grade. They didn’t rhyme,
but the rhythms took shape,
especially when chanted
by a sing-song-y six-year-old.
 
Required memorization
was for the later grades, a few poems
among historic prose—“O, Captain! My Captain!”
and the Preamble to the Constitution,
“In Flanders Fields” and The Gettysburg Address,
the latter a kind of poem, although
anything without rhythm and rhyme
didn’t quite count.
 
Sometimes, at night, the lines fragment
into snatches that sweep and flitter
like parchment-winged moths
under the amethyst dome
of approaching sleep: up in the air so blue…
the larks, so bravely singing…you elegant fowl…
kissed the girls and made them cry…scarce heard
amid the guns…we, the people…
testing whether that nation…
rise up and hear the bells…my soul to keep…
the moon, the moon,
they danced by the light of the moon…
 

 Prompt source: What was the first poem you ever memorized? (NaBloPoMo, April 2, BlogHer)

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