Three of my favorite literary works are Thornton Wilder’s 1936 play Our Town, Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 short story collection Winesburg, Ohio, and Edgar Lee Master’s 1916 poetry collection Spoon River Anthology, and this poem alludes to characters in all three. Though the commentary made in it is personal, the allusions serve as a comparisons to real life.
I should’ve been George Willard
I should’ve been George Willard, rambling naively
around town, soaking up the double-tongued
tales of some local Parcival,
or showing kindness to the pathetic,
frightened Wing Biddlebaum.
I should’ve been diving headlong
into the heart of our quicksand nuances,
senseless aims, fragile joy, deep suffering—
these formidable truths about how wildly
we misunderstand each other
and how inadvertently
we savage the people around us.
I should’ve been George Willard. I was never
Benjamin Pantier and certainly not George Gibbs.
though I’ve felt at times
like the Stage Manager, plying the roles
that each scene called for,
and other times,
like Trainor the Druggist,
applying my own specialized knowledge
to make sense of what didn’t turn out well.
As the pulleys and cogs and other machinations
redirect this foray into an array
of loosely related charades and foibles,
in my town, we all fall down
less where should than where we do.
Yet, like a will-o-wisp that does not beckon follow,
I instead wander among the disparate
parts, having no like to match my like,
weaving my way and watching with wonder,
ending up instead as Simon Stimson. I was never
George Willard, who at first tied the strange
creatures together but then left anyway.
“He’s seen a peck of trouble,”
they say in low tones on quiet streets.
“I don’t know how that’ll end.” None
of us do, or can, because music
has a language all its own.
About ten years ago, I all but quit submitting poems to literary magazines and began sharing a few here. To read previous (Unpublished) #Poem posts, each with its own mini-introduction, click on the title below: