Rainy days are such prime stretches for quiet reflection that I can’t believe poems ever get written in the sunshine. These are the days I love to take a nap, or visit a bookstore. If I could take a nap in a bookstore on a rainy day, after some quiet reflecting, that would be a beautiful thing.
One of the books I have hauled up the stairs to my new office is a fairly recent acquisition called “Visions of Paradise.” It was produced by the sharp, photo-loving folks at National Geographic. I love several things about this book. It does have striking pictures. It has really good captions too — which are really small poems (or should be). And I love that I purchased this big beautiful book for $2.46 off a discount rack. And while it is full of beautiful images from very exotic places I will likely never go — the thing I love most about the book are the handful of images that aren’t very striking maybe, and aren’t in exotic places at all — but they are included because they are the place the photographer loves to be most of all. That is paradise for them.
My favorite example is a spread on pages 216 and 217. It’s a photo of an older man holding a big largemouth bass. The light is almost gone, the subject looks barely willing to pose (or at least a long way from excited) the color is wretched and it’s blurry. Like, I just learned how to use a camera blurry.
But it’s the photog’s father in the picture. And they are standing in the last of the light in the backyard of his childhood home after a remarkable day of fishing. The fish is an exceptional specimen — about as large as any bass I’ve ever caught. And his father is proud of his catch, clearly. Being there, with him, after a day on the water, was as close to paradise as he could get. I think I understand that.
Several years ago I wrote a poem about a man who was my neighbor at the time. He has since passed on. We had one talk in his living room where he told me about a place he had been and always wanted to go back. It was his vision of paradise, he told me in his own way.
I think most of us harbor something, or someplace or maybe even somebody like that.
One of mine is a small river in central Florida. My family vacationed there when we could afford to and we loved it. The water was spring fed, very cold and very clear. You could see all the way to the bottom, even 40, 50 feet down and more. Schools of mullet and sheepshead fish, alligators, snapping turtles, great blue herons and manatees all thrived in and around the river. It was a magic, wonderful and happy place for me and my family.
On my honeymoon, my wife and I stopped and stayed the night close to this river and spent the next morning kayaking down it. It was a glorious morning and a wonderful time. But it wasn’t at all what I remembered in many ways. It was smaller than I had made it to be, and I learned something that feels very important to me now — our visions of paradise are too small. That, and we can’t ever go back. Not really.
So at some point, we must look forward. Which is where I want to leave off with this entry: where would you most like to go?