I was thinking about life driving to work. I’m giving myself a B+ this week for how I’m doing. The blissful feel of the summer is gone. There has been a fair amount of stress since August, both good and bad. But I feel like I’m back in the grove.
Quite suddenly I saw myself as an undergrad standing on a wet windy corner in Cambridge, outside the Harvard Coop. I’d just won a poetry prize, and the judge had asked to meet me. She wasn’t the most important poet in America, but well known enough in my circles. I was excited. A grown-up, a writer, was taking an interest in me.
She never appeared. After a few unpleasant minutes I could tell she wasn’t coming, but I waited at least twenty, growing sadder by the moment. Wet and disenchanted, I finally left. I think she left me a garbled message a few days later about a headache. In any case, we never met.
Recently my husband Rich reminded me that we’d seen W.H. Auden at a Tolkien Society Meeting in Manhattan when we were young. Reminded, though, is the wrong word. I couldn’t remember at all. Then I had an image of the poet, old and frail (he died soon after) bundled in an overcoat. Can this really have happened? And how would I not remember seeing the most famous poet of the time?
At what point did I go from waiting for life to begin to feeling it had? Maybe when I was about fourteen, and had my friends from summer camp and the run of New York City. But instead of feeling blessed I was just angry about all those wasted years of childhood when I had no agency, was under the power of others.
At what point will I go from looking forward to looking backward? It has started a bit already. I ask myself, did you get what you wanted? If framed a certain way, the answer must be yes. I wanted to get out of New Jersey, be a poet, and have boyfriends. These seemed like lofty unattainable goals, and perhaps for me they were. They seem curiously unambitious at this remove, but they were not easy to attain.
And I would never leave a young poet on a windy corner, unmet.