Sunday, July 06, 2014

`Well Pleased and Happy'

A sinewy old man was riding his bicycle and pulling a homemade trailer filled with scrap metal, some of it aluminum siding. He wore bleached-out chinos and shoes without socks. An old woman followed on her bicycle. She wore voluminous blue jeans cinched at the waist, and looked heavier and stronger than the old man. The front tire of his bicycle hit a crack in the sidewalk and the jolt knocked a long scrap of siding out of the trailer. She stopped, lowered the kick stand with her foot, picked up the metal and fitted it back in the trailer more securely, then patted the old man on the shoulder and kissed him on the top of his head. She climbed back on her bike and they resumed their journey.  All of this transpired in the time it took me to stop for a red light on Yale Street in Houston and wait for it to turn green. 

In 2002, Christopher Ricks edited Selected Poems of James Henry (Handsel Books). Without Ricks, Henry (1798-1876) would be mostly forgotten, even by Victorian scholars. His voice is sardonic and notably “modern.” Ricks is reminded of Samuel Beckett, and says in his introduction: “Since I love his voice, I love the thought that it might at last be heard.” I heard Henry’s voice again when I watched the old man and woman on their bicycles, a scene out of Beckett: 

“I saw, in Dresden, on a windy day,
A man and woman walking side by side,
--I tell a plain fact, not a poet’s story,
And to my reader’s judgment leave the moral–
He on his arm was carrying his great coat,
She upon hers, a heavy-laden basket;
When, lo! A blast of wind comes, and the man
Attempting to put on his coat, lets fall
Out of his mouth, ah, misery! His cigar;
But the compassionate woman quickly sets
Her basket on the ground, and with her right hand
Helping the coat on, with the left picks up
And puts into her own mouth, the cigar,
And whiffs, and keeps it lighting, till the man’s
Ready and buttoned up, then gives it back,
And takes her basket, and, all right once more,
Away they go, the man with his cigar
The woman with the man, well pleased and happy.”

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