My parents read to me and to each other — poetry for the most part — and I never went to bed a night without memorizing a poem, or a group of verses. If it were something lengthy like The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, I’d memorize a stanza a night, my hands-down favorite, this:
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: Nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all thy Tears wash out a word of it.”
The woman in the woodcut next to this stanza was draped dispiritedly across the giant Book of Fate, which had been blotted by an inexorable blooper. I could taste the desperation in her rag doll body, wildly streaming hair and claw-like fingers clutching at the ruined page of life.
So this was what your Permanent Record looked like! No wonder everybody was so careful about it. The Rubaiyat thrilled me as no other single volume. The words gave life a sinister, tawdry tinge; they implied a vulnerable underbelly I hadn’t suspected. And those pictures! Lusty men with wine flasks fondling women’s breasts. Sickle-scythed Death stalking a carefree young couple as they played together.
If life could be like this for Irish Catholics as well as Arabs and Victorian poets, there was a lot to contemplate.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2010