Farewell to the Genie’s Lamp


Sophie Henry

In May, I wanted an emergency exit from my own life, a way to escape from a body ravaged by COVID-19, the flu and stress. In June, I wanted family company, for my parents and my boyfriend to have fun with me in a country I had come to love. In July I wanted to linger in the moments that made me happy, I wanted to get ABBA’s “Slipping Through My Fingers” out of my mind. August’s wish was that I had started writing poetry earlier. And now, I wish I realized that wishing was fruitless, because I fell in love with what I didn’t want – couldn’t – want. I fell in love with writing poetry before bed, in the manner of my favorite poet, Billy Collins, poems that barely count as true poems but mean more than anything I’ve written to date.

I can’t tell you why I like Billy Collins, or how I exactly emulate his style. Yes, he is old, white and famous, a poet to the masses. But he writes about things I realized I care about this summer: the mornings, the good books, the weird gut feelings that follow perfect, fortuitous moments that only happen after long days in the water. He writes about common sentiments in a clear and concise way, although he never belittles their sublimity. In his poems, I sit at the kitchen table in Nice and watch the birds devour the seed my guest father left on the windowsill. I heard Sheku Kanneh-Mason. I am able to name the quiet.

I’m not afraid to try to imitate his ways. When I read the poems I started writing in late June, and then shared in July and August, I hear “Marginalia” and “While Eating a Pear”.

I’ve revisited these poems recently, many of which are the product of that final five-minute push to focus just before bed, made in ignorance of burning lemongrass, crunchy air mattresses, and cramps in hands and feet. wrists. I hardly cared about editing these formless poems, typed on my phone before setting the alarm to wake me up. I wrote about the sparkling San Pellegrino grapefruit and the joy of respectable people. I wrote about late night sprints to Grand Central and light brown wool sweaters, Debussy and my mom’s jewelry. I wrote about how iPhones either make all the noise in the world or they don’t make any noise. And then I wrote about Yale, and about the many things I had forgotten about this place, and also about what it’s like to forget to forget.

I wrote not with the intention of becoming a better writer or poet, but with the aim of trying to understand what the hell was going on in my life. In a way, these poems were love letters to my younger self, whispering “Hey, you’re still here” to the wide-eyed 10-year-old who would be amazed at who she is now. They were the only thing I could do no matter where I was and I felt like, for the moment, I was a naive nineteen year old enjoying the world before her.

My summer took me from watching live, beating hearts in an operating room in France, playing Taboo with my cousins ​​on the Mississippi River, cleaning the F-150 taillights in a Seattle suburb. He saw me walking on the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival and squeezing the fur of three Irish setters from the back of a Tesla that certainly wasn’t mine. It was the jet set through Milan and the Cote d’Azur studying abroad, yes, but also long, hot days in the sun washing cars for pocket money and then training to join the Yale football team before collapsing in a heap on the my bedroom floor. Bouncing from place to place praying the gate agent wouldn’t weigh my suitcase and looking for someone, anyone, to show me how to put the genie back in the lamp. I wasn’t dreaming of Jeannie, rather I was chasing her in circles, asking for more when I was already overwhelmed by what I had.

These poems are proof that I knew who and where I was as I boarded train after plane, Uber after car after shuttle, and proof that I knew that my world was – and still is – changing, and that it could change without looking for a signal. exit. When I read these poems again, I can see that even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I cared deeply about the places I visited and the places I was with.

As I reread each poem now, my toes sink into the sand as a sea of ​​perfect moments brush my ankles. I fill my lungs not with desires, but with hope: no matter the time, no matter the tiredness, the stress, the spiral of fear that one day I will look in the mirror and be disappointed in myself, I have poems that show me that life is simple. Simple is difficult, but simple is good.

I found the ocean I crave. Let me fill my lungs with her salt.

You can read some of these poems at @anabelgmoore on Instagram.

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