darling, dont drop!
By President Shirley
Poet Julia Kasdorf, now a professor at Penn State University,
returns to campus regularly to read her work, almost always to packed houses.
Her poetry revolves around images and stories from her own past, including her
two years at Goshen College, 1981-83.
One poem, Flying Lesson, has come
to mind often as I prepare for three graduations Goshen Colleges
103rd commencement and two other graduations in our immediate family, including
one that will turn Stuart and me into empty nesters. The college
president in Julias poem is J. Lawrence Burkholder.
Over a tray of spent plates, I confessed
to the college president my plans to go East,
to New York, which Id not really seen,
though it seemed the right place
for a sophomore as sullen and restless
as I had become on that merciless
Midwestern plain. He slowly stroked
a thick cup and described the nights
when, a theology teacher in Boston, hed fly
a tiny plane alone out over the ocean,
each time pressing farther into the dark
until the last moment, when hed turn
toward the coasts bright spine, how he loved
the way the city glittered beneath him
as he glided gracefully toward it,
engine gasping, fuel needle dead on empty,
the way sweat dampened the back of his neck
when he climbed from the cockpit, giddy.
Buttoned up in my cardigan, young, willing
to lose everything, how could I see generosity
or warning? But now that Im out here,
his advice comes so clear: fling yourself
farther, and a bit farther each time,
but darling, dont drop.
I first read this poem through the eyes of the young persona, the sullen
and restless sophomore who now can remember and see more clearly an early
encounter with a village elder, the president. The spent plates
and thick cup bespeak a kind of communion, while the slow strokes
and the action of pressing farther into the dark suggest a chaste
intimacy, the kind that happens when a secret is shared among strangers. I identified
with the young woman buttoned up in her cardigan because I too have
been young and willing to lose everything.
Now, of course, I see the president also. I know he is telling a story the young
woman hears selectively both in the first moment when she hears the story,
and in the second telling through the poem itself. She now sees generosity and
warming and finds beautiful language he never uttered, fling yourself
farther, and a bit farther each time, but darling, dont drop.
She sees and hears partially, and so does he.
What has changed? One thing that changed is the position of the viewer. She
is out here, probably in the New York of her dream and no longer
on that merciless Midwestern plain. Yet what she remembers is not
the plain itself but a plain and merciful man who is suddenly profound because
now she is ready to know his story and to imagine why he told it. Every college
and every college president tells a story and hopes to hear one back again.
As I handed diplomas to this years students, I was saying inwardly fling
yourself and, simultaneously, darling, dont drop. And
to you alumni, parents and friends out there in the cities and villages
of the world, think of us here as the bright spine of another coastline.
We told you stories worth remembering. Now we want you to fly back over us.
We want to glitter like fire on the plain below.
from Eves Striptease, by Julia Kasdorf, ©1998. Reprinted by
permission of the University Press.
Return to June Bulletin
Commencement rites by Rachel
profiles: Ryan Kolb, Andrea Troyer, Joel Jimenez, Lora Nafziger, Greg Stahly,
Melody Bennett, Deana Landis, Alicia Montoya and Rachel Glick
Kasdorf changed my life by Daniel Shank Cruz
choice by Joni S. Sancken 98
A lifetime in family business:
What Ive learned by Leonard Geiser 57 with Rachel Lapp
Allon H. Lefever by Ryan Miller
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