“Do I turn left or right here?” I ask. We’ve been through this intersection a thousand times. It’s within five miles of our home, and we’re usually coming from the same direction. I have already asked whether we turn left or right out of the bookstore, which we’ve also been to a thousand times, and I’m just not oriented yet.
* * *
“da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM,” she says, flapping her hand on her leg on every second beat. “I can hear it if I take a few minutes to really think about it.” Her stumbling block is meter. Though she teaches English and is very good at it, she can’t pick out an iamb from a trochee, a dactyl from an anapest, a pyrrhic from a spondee.
* * *
It’s strange how our faculties differ. Like a savant child, I can rattle off lines of rolling dactyllic hexameter with hardly a thought:
Tenderly fondling her breast, he assumed she had given permission.
Up in the sky was a man with a plan, a canal, and a country.
Lions and tigers and bears making love to an octogenarian.
And like an explorer or an on-board GPS system, she can decide to turn down a side road she’s never noticed before and find her way home magically in half the time it would otherwise have taken. I don’t understand how she can do it, and she doesn’t understand how I get lost as soon as I leave our driveway. Our handicaps are really very similar in nature, a matter of what we manage to remember, how we process what we perceive.
She asked recently if it would help me to have a little map on the dashboard of the places we frequent, something I could glance at to orient myself, a big X for our house, I can’t help imagining, a book icon for the bookstore, a sitar icon for the Indian restaurant we favor. I couldn’t help picturing also a big map of Knoxville unfolded and taped up to the windshield.
Interstate highways and rivers hung up like a portrait of history.
Navigate poetry navigate, poetry navigate poetry.
I wonder occasionally who got the better deal. It is unsettling to perpetually not know where I am or how to get where I’m trying to go. Hers is certainly the more practical skill, one that I admire and even at times try to cultivate, rather like a blind person trying to cultivate sight. Really, we’ve both fared alright. I, the aimless, have a constant and understanding navigator to keep me ever on course, and she, the meterless lover of words, has her own private poet.