Poetry month

The good people at the Knopf Poetry Center have been e-mailing me a poem each day, in honor of the form's month to shine (April). They've all been interesting at least and striking at best, but so far only this one has truly stuck to my ribs and caused that knowing little ache.

By Heart

The songs come at us first; and then the rhymed
Verses like speech that half-sings; then the tunes
Of summer evening--the train whistle's sigh
Westering, fading, as I lay in bed,
Sunset still creeping past the lowered shade,
The gossip of swallows, the faint, radioed
Reed section of a dance band through an open
Window down at the far end of the street;
The Good Humor man's bells who tolled for me.
And then the strings of digits that we learn
To keep like bunched keys ready to unlock
All the boxes we get assigned to us
By the uncaring sheriffs of life itself.

We play by ear, but learn the words by heart
(Visions we have by head); yet even when
The sight of the remembered page has dimmed
The jingles that we gleaned from it remain
Lodged with us, useful, sometimes, for the work
Of getting a grip on certain fragile things.
We are ourselves from birth committed to
Memory, to broad access to a past
Framing and filling any presentness
Of self that we could really call our own.
We grasp the world by ear, by heart, by head,
And keep it in a soft continuingness
That we first learned to get by soul, or something.

--John Hollander, from Picture Window