Billy Joel Gets Philosophical on Bravo
Last week Walker was home for break, and at the beginning of the week, Ron and I kept asking him if he’d seen this or that on the internet. “No,” he’d say. “How do you guys know about stuff I haven’t seen? You need to read more books instead of being online so much!” By the end of the break, though, he was showing me things I hadn’t yet seen (like Ylvis’ satire-on-Americans-who-think-they’re-so-progressive music video “Massachusetts”).
We loved having him home, loved the sharing of new things, the coming-and-going, and all the singing (even at midnight). But I did realize that I have started to like some predictability to the days in between kid visits and having the house more to myself–that, as Adrian Blevins wrote in her poem “Billy Joel Gets Philosophical on Bravo,” “I’m finding it difficult to live with people. Even the people I love.”
Billy Joel Gets Philosophical on Bravo
That thing Billy said about how we enter someone’s heart when we die?
It’s not A Brief History of Time or anything, but what if Billy’s right?
What if the heart really is a doorway with a silver lock and dying, that’s the key?
Let’s say you die and live in a little apartment in someone’s heart.
Let’s say you’ve got a red velvet chair, an old floor lamp,
and a library filled with all the books you didn’t get to read alive.
Let’s say there’s a cute little deli down the road
and a radio that plays all your favorite songs from the sixties and seventies
and also, on Sunday afternoons, the folk songs, the Knees Deep in Big Muddy.
There’s also be tea bags and after dinner mints.
There’s be a mammoth pile of handwritten letters from
everyone who ever hurt you,
sealed at the point of envelope entry with the person’s initials in wax,
and the prose—the prose would be outstanding—
it would include that loneliness of horses line
from James Wright’s if I could step out of my body poem
and descriptions of everything Hieronymous Bosch
ever thought he shouldn’t, but couldn’t help but think.
The weird thing would be when someone else died
and entered this heart that was your apartment and library and deli.
What if he or she didn’t like your radio?
What if he or she turned off your floor lamp and sat in the dark
despondent about the lack of drugs in this, the Piano Man hereafter?
I’m finding it difficult to live with people. Even the people I love.
As for strangers: you may as well know that’s asking a bit too much—
that’s like knocking on my door and wanting me to believe in angels.
When the housekeeping women in their delicate, prairie-girl clothing
show up with their bibles and small-print documents on the splendor of heaven,
I say I’m sorry, but I’m quite the homosexual.
My sister, on the other hand, once hid in her closet.
What was it like in there? Was there a single light bulb
Hanging from a white socket in the ceiling?
Did she stare at all the coats or rummage through the pockets
of the rejected toddler trousers
while the women knocked and hollered yoo-hoo
in their high-wire voices?
Is that what being dead is? Hiding in the dark with out-of-
What kind of person would stay up all night
thinking about the philosophy of Billy Joel?
Do you know?
Would you please just tell me before the angels materialize
in their onionskin caps and black taxicabs?
The excitement of having to share the “apartment of your heart” every few months when a kid comes home from college is all-too-temporary, as any parent knows. We’re not feeling much of the stereotypical parental dread of them having to live at home for some of that first summer and fall after college; we’re pretty sure they’ll be moving on and taking most of the excitement of their lives with them sooner than we can be ready.
The good part of it being just the two of us again is that now we can look around and see all the books we haven’t read. Not the ones someone else read and put down, but the ones we have been picking out on purpose, for ourselves. It gives a new meaning even to old habits, like collecting favorite children’s books. I hadn’t realized that I’d been in the habit of thinking someday our kids would read all the books we brought home, but I was, and now I’m not–if I bring it home now, it’s mine.
We began a few years ago, making sure each of us had a copy of the Harry Potter Books, The Lord of the Rings, and Firefly. In the next few years our libraries will continue to separate, and Ron and I may well find that we like living in a house that is like “a library filled with all the books you didn’t get to read” while the kids were younger. Also, we will continue to become the creatures in the James Wright poem: “they love each other./There is no loneliness like theirs.”
What were the most essential books you had to take with you when you left home, or that your kids or significant other chose as most essential to them when your libraries started a process of mitosis?