I can’t blame it on getting older. I’ve done it all my life. I mean, I lose things.
You know how it goes. Just when you need your keys, they’re not where you just know you left them. Frantic searching ensues. Sometimes you find them immediately; other times you look on and off for a while, almost (and maybe sometimes actually) resorting to using the backup set of keys (if you can find them).
I promise myself I’ll always put the keys in a bowl on the bookcase just by the door, if I don’t leave them in the door itself and lock the deadbolt from the inside. Of course, at times I come inside with a full armload of things, bump the door closed, and set the keys down somewhere else and forget about it until I need them and . . . they’re gone! Lost!
Sometimes it’s my cell phone. More times than I can count, I’ve had to use my landline to call the cell phone so that I can locate it. I’ll even take the landline outside to the car, hoping to hear the cell phone ring. That usually works. If I’m out somewhere, though, that won’t work and I have to find a friend to call it. Week before last this happened when I was out shopping at Hobby Lobby. I went to the car, put my things in, and got in the car. I drove off, and at a stop sign looked for my phone — not in the purse. Not in the passenger’s seat. Nowhere that I could see. I drove back to the store, went inside, and no one had found it. I went back to the car and looked again. No luck. Back into the store, where a kind stranger tried to call it. No luck. Only then did I realize that I could use the Find My Phone feature on my iPad mini — and a few minutes later found my phone. It was, in fact, in the car after all. Just hiding in a weird place, where I guess I’d tipped it when I was putting my shopping bag into the seat.
The most troubling thing that I’m missing now, though, is my Social Security card, which is in (I think) a white leather zip-around wallet. That is, needless to say, also missing. I realized this loss after the government shutdown. Can’t get a replacement card until that’s over. With my luck, I’ll find it as soon as I get a replacement card. Unless I left it at the Egan house, which I don’t remember doing. Not that that means anything — it could be there, right on my dresser in my bedroom there. I’ll check when I head there in a couple of days.
Elizabeth Bishop has a wonderful poem about losing things — “One Art,” a lovely villanelle. She says:
“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.”
I’ve certainly mastered it, that’s clear. Though I’ve not yet reached the immediate acceptance stage without fluster, even though I do lose things often enough if not daily.
She continues, advising us:
“Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.”
No, not disaster. Not yet, anyway. There was one near-disaster, fortunately avoided the time that I realized I’d forgotten my passport as I was leaving for Greece once (along with the tickets) — but only 10 minutes out of town, so I was able to return home without much time lost, pick up the ticket and passport (sitting right on the table where I’d left them, meaning to put them in my purse), get back on the road, and make my flight in Houston.
Bishop next tells of escalating losses —
“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.”
Obviously Bishop’s moving into exaggeration here, once she moves beyond the possible (losing her mother’s watch) to the less likely losses — a house, two cities, realms, two rivers, and a continent. At this point when I read the poem, I always smile as she ratchets up the losses into grander and less likely losses. Ah, you might think that this is a comic poem, but that’s when Bishop yanks you back to reality and a darker kind of loss:
“- 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.”
The last stanza grounds us in reality, in the darker reality of loss, of a person. Whether the loss results from a lover’s departure or from a broken friendship or from death of a loved one, these lines quickly remind us how easy it is to master such loss. Not in the sense of being able to shrug it off — it’s simply “not too hard to master,” in fact rather easy. No, not hard at all, “though it may look (Write it!) like disaster.”
This past summer in a poetry workshop, we were working on the villanelle form for a couple of days, and Bishop’s fine poem is one of the most common examples of how a villanelle works — and one of the most intimidating, because she makes it look so easy. That’s really difficult to pull off when you have to figure out the whole form and make it sound so natural. Elizabeth Bishop’s poem is, with Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” perfect as a model for how the villanelle is meant to work, both technically and poetically.
Villanelles don’t have any set meter or line length, but have 19 lines, in six stanzas –five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four-line stanza). Villanelles also use two lines and repeats two lines throughout the poem. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas; the last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. Both lines appear in the last stanza. Poets.org says this about the rhyme pattern, “Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2. ”