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Instructions from Lucy in Elmira

June 9, 2011

Today is my big meeting with the president, provost, and ass provost (love that abbreviation, don’t you?) of the college to answer questions about the report and campus visit I orchestrated this spring as part of my big effort to make my part-time job something more of what I think it should be.

So today I’m thinking about another poem from Callings, by Carl Dennis. This one is entitled “Instructions from Lucy in Elmira” and is about persistence and being born to blush unseen and all that stuff:

Now that my editor here at the Beacon
Has again promoted someone else to the job
I wanted, it’s time for you to assure me
He’s made the mistake he always makes:
Preferring charm over substance.

Now your task is to say that the pain I feel
Is evidence that I still believe
Justice is possible, that I haven’t succumbed
To the notion pushed by the skeptical
And ironical that nobody ever changes,
Nobody learns what he needs to learn.

And don’t forget to predict that soon
I’ll be glad I wasn’t assigned to write
Accounts of the lives of the famous and fortunate,
Glad I’m allowed to keep my focus
On the obscure and modest, whose obituaries
Call for deeper reserves of imagination.

I’m sending you here my article on Ellen Tucker,
Our late librarian. Read it and tell me
How it captures a truth useful for anyone
Interesting in imagining what it must have been like
Growing up in Elmira, in the thirties and forties,
On elm-canopied River Street as a bookish girl
Doted on by her parents, a nurse and a pharmacist.

Then persuade me my article leaves its readers
Sorry they never asked for her help
In guiding their reading, never heard her theory
That history books should be read as stories
Of lives the readers themselves have lived
In other places and other times.

Tell me I’m following her advice
By wondering, when I think of her,
Why it was that words that had no effect
When spoken by others
Pierced to the heart when she spoke them.
Tell me you think that maybe one day
Someone might say the same of me.

Then write the Beacon to say my articles
Prove that it’s possible here in Elmira
To escape the narrowness of the provinces,
Though the Beacon at times may suggest the opposite.
I’m trying to take my cue from Ellen Tucker,
Who cast her mustard seeds where she could
And didn’t presume to guess if the soil
Was soft or stony, deep or thin.

I’m trying to take my cue, too. I’m about ready for my close-up now.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 8:42 am

    Fingers crossed.

  2. freshhell permalink
    June 9, 2011 9:13 am

    Hope it goes well!

  3. June 9, 2011 9:23 am

    Good luck. I hope it all goes well. Gray’s poem was one of my very favorites from childhood, thanks to its appearance in one of my favorite movies at the time, Candleshoe starring a very young Jodi Foster. I’m enjoying these poems. I’m glad they were good books and it’s nice to have them curated. Or pre-read for my enjoyment.

    • June 9, 2011 3:02 pm

      You can decide which–curated or pre-read. I also offer a culling service, whereby I send back only the best ones!

  4. June 9, 2011 10:29 am

    Best of luck and I hope the meeting has a favorable outcome!

  5. June 9, 2011 3:05 pm

    My formerly 1/6 time job is now half time. Other changes I have asked for are in progress. If this is a first step, it’s great. If this is all that happens, it’s not enough. But I’m going to rejoice for now and worry about the fact that half-time jobs always take more than half of a person’s time later.

  6. PAJ permalink
    June 9, 2011 5:30 pm


  7. freshhell permalink
    June 9, 2011 9:21 pm

    Ooh, that’s good news.

  8. June 9, 2011 10:21 pm

    Thank you. One of the best things about the new plan is that I will have colleagues. I’ve had ultimate autonomy for almost 20 years, and now I will have people to answer to, but also people to talk to. In real life!

  9. June 10, 2011 7:03 am

    Hooray! Good news. Congratulations!

  10. June 10, 2011 9:44 pm

    You truly do seem to have a poem for virtually every occasion. Here’s to having successful close-up!

  11. June 13, 2011 4:51 pm

    Congratulations, Jeanne! Hope I’ll get to see you more for lunch now.

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