A Perfect Marriage

“2-5-5-0-1-5-1, leave a message when you’re done,” chirped our little boy’s voice on our answering machine to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  I knew from experience that if you could set a tune to something, it increased the chances of successful memorization.  Sam learned his phone number in minutes, and I only hoped that any time he’d need it, someone would be willing to listen to his song.  We were lucky, too, that our phone number rhymed so well.  Imagine having to rhyme with “7”—”living here is really heaven, ” perhaps?  Rhyme, rhythm, message…before he’d reached the school door, my son knew poetry, the natural music of it.

He learned to read with Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go, first chanting after me the rollicking cadence of the verse.  Soon however, he began reading it to himself, and reciting and humming happily as he set up a picnic on his floor with various and sundry stuffed companions.  His first love was Kids Songs videos, themed around topics like animals and sports, and as tedious as they could become, they reinforced language play.  A favorite of Sam’s featured a song with the words, “Mr. Robin Redbreast, you’re such a saucy fellow.”  At dinner one night, fingers slathered with barbecue, Sam crowed, “Mr. Robin Redbreast, you’re such a saucy fellow.”  Alliteration and double meaning, we couldn’t have been happier!

As he grew up, I’d occasionally bring home tapes I had with poets reading their own work and play them while I fixed dinner and he completed homework at the kitchen table.  Once I looked up from chopping to see Sam, head lifted, pencil poised mid-air, listening, listening to Langston Hughes.  “I like him the best.  He has rhythm.”  At nine, he knew what he liked.

One time we were driving somewhere, Sam a teen but not yet licensed, when Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” penetrated the silence.  I expected…I don’t know.  At this time, our musical tastes dramatically diverged, but there were no complaints, no, “Aw Mom, can’t you change it?”  Mitchell wove her spell around us both.  Sam’s comment?  “Now that’s poetry.”

Sam has honored this marriage of poetry and music all his life.  It is no wonder that he is a songwriter and musician, performing in New Orleans, no wonder that two lines of inked poetry wrap around his ribcage as if they have burst free from the many he still carries inside.


Each wave, however deep, is yet discrete
Fitting to be drawn on human skin.
Though always dying, multiplying,
New and sleek;
But in cloth and form the same as before.

The ocean names divide is yet unified.
Finite in gallons, but without one edge,
It meets itself and swirls and reinvents;
No part dies.
In volume, constant but immeasurable.

I have a wave inscribed on my own back,
But were I Earth I’d be swallowed in blue.
I know no panoramic view without
Land’s contact.

—Sam Levine

Tonight a nearby library is featuring PoetryMusic, a duo that “is dedicated to performing poetry that has been set to music, music composed to poetry and poetry as a catalyst for free improvisation” in celebration of National Poetry Month, “…the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in the culture and in people’s lives” (News Times, B-3, 3/30/18).  It is also true that Philip Levine and Benjamin Boone’s collaboration, The Poetry of Jazz, has just been released.  When I think about the union of poetry and music, I remember the meaning of the biblical Psalms, the music and the words that accompany it.  I think: MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE!

Brokeheart: Just like that

When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ 
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.  
and I confess I’m looking 
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn 
is peeking into my third-floor window 
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed 
for three weeks before I slide 
from sink to stove in one long groove 
left foot first then back to the window side
with my chin up and both fists clenched 
like two small sacks of stolen nickels
and I can almost hear the silver 
hit the floor by the dozens
when I let loose and sway a little back 
and just like that I’m a lizard grown 
two new good legs on a breeze
-bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man 
with a three-day wish and two days to live.
And just like that everyone knows 
my heart’s broke and no one is home.
Just like that, I’m water. 
Just like that, I’m the boat. 
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world 
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just 
what comes between the dancing. And bam!, 
my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s 
children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true 
I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days 
and no one ever said I could sing but 
tell me my body ain’t good enough 
for this. I’ll count the aches another time, 
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, 
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, 
I’m missing the six biggest screws 
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind-
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door.

Copyright © 2014 by Patrick Rosal. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 18, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

6 thoughts on “A Perfect Marriage”

    1. I find the photos you have taken for the photo challenge, particularly “Alone,” beautiful.

  1. Your post has me thinking about a lot of things. For one I was somehow expecting your little boy to stay little and I was kind of blown away to understand that he’s grown and away, writing songs, crafting poetry. I found myself also thinking about parenting as comprising so many pieces, steps, phases, moments. The few that you capture here leave me sentimental and comforted. Thank you for surprising me on a few counts.

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