#5

I almost didn’t choose to include this next poem out of some deep seeded feelings of pain and loss that have never fully healed. This is a series about poems that mean something to me however, and just by the nature of those emotions it has a rightful place here. While being a great poem on its own merit, “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop has come to represent specific events and moments in my own personal life.

The first time I encountered it was when a teacher suggested to put it as the last page in an edition of my high school literary magazine of which I was Co-Editor-In-Chief. Meant to be a farewell to another faculty member who was retiring after a long career and who played a large role in the publication of the digest. It was a nice, poetic farewell to someone who we all had fond memories of tied to writing. I thought it was a really good poem, and then moved on.

Several years later when I was away at college, on the opening night of an art exhibit my, then current, literary group was staging, I learned that a very close friend from high school, involved in that literary magazine, had died in a car accident. This was a seminal moment in my life, having thus far avoided any major losses or grief. It hit me like a ton of bricks and there I was, sitting hunched over on the floor in the corner of an alcove, in the Fine Arts building, shaking my head and sobbing. Everyone in the other room was having a wonderful time.

For obvious reasons, “One Art” came flooding back to me with new meaning. And so, because it seemed like the thing to do, after composing myself as best I could, I read it aloud to everyone in the gallery off of my phone. Sadly, this wasn’t the last time I would say goodbye to a friend with this poem, and it has become my go to embodiment of what losing really is.

I love the way Bishop is playful with the language. The subject matter is sad but that doesn’t mean it has to make you sad. When I think about my close friends that have passed, I smile more often than I cry, though often both. Bishop was a perfectionist, polishing her poems to a shine rather than churning out volumes of them. She has distilled what loss is and what it means to us. How we cope with it and how may move on. The occasional rhyme, the implied smirk, the embedded familiarity, she has baked the very humanity of loss into the lines and created something beautiful and heartbreaking.

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One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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