Friday, March 20

So late, so much, so soon


Sometimes, I wonder if anyone else in the world read Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories (1922) as a child (the photo above is the same version I have since childhood). I'm not sure I've ever met someone who has, for surely if they did, they would remember, and their eyes would light up when I asked them (or so I imagine). They might even find places to work some of those gorgeous phrases into their every day conversation, like the "long yellow leather slab ticket with the blue spanch across it". It is so rare that stories that are written for children roll off the tongue as phenomenal poetry, as this one does.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It doesn't read easily, and requires a complete inattentiveness to the laws of physics--you will read the first few pages, and you will wonder how your children (or other people's children) will ever understand this. Don't worry about that. If you just remember it's poetry, and remember that for a short time they will get to look around and live in the world of the Rootabaga country, even if they don't understand all the words (much like visiting a foreign country, for it is, in fact, a foreign country), you'll be fine.

I bet you're wondering where this came from. Or maybe not. I'm gonna tell you anyway.

It came from feeling tired, feeling like there is so much to write and so much to say and so much to feel and so much that is not appropriate fodder for this blog, and trying to distill a day's experience down into something that I can write about here. In doing so, out of nowhere a passage from the Rootabaga stories filled my head (yes, I hear voices, what's it to you?). And then I knew that's what was supposed to go into this space tonight.

So here is the passage, from the first chapter:

"And they kept on living in the house where everything is the same as it always was. They learned to say just as their father said, "The chimney sits on top of the house and lets the smoke out, the doorknobs open the doors, the windows are always either open or shut, we are always either upstairs or downstairs--everything is the same as it always was.
After a while they began asking each other in the cool o fthe evening after they had eggs for breakfast in the morning 'Who's who? How much? And what's the answer?'
'It is too much to be too long anywhere,' said the tough old man, Gimme the Ax.
And Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions, the tough son and the tough daughter of Gimme the Ax, answered their father, "It IS too much to be too long anywhere."

So they sold their belongings and went to the railroad station, and I'll pick it up from there...
(the interim stuff is also beautiful, but I can't write the whole book here)

"The ticket agent was sitting at the window selling railroad tickets the same as always.
'Do you wish a ticket to go away and come back or do you wish a ticket to go away and never come back?' the ticket agent asked wiping sleep out of his eyes.
'We wish a ticket to ride where the railroad tracks run off into the sky and never come back--send us far as the railroad rails go and then forty ways farther yet,' was the reply of Gimme the Ax.
'So far? So early? So soon?' asked the ticket agent wiping more sleep out his eyes."

And the best part of this is that I discovered, in searching for the image to post at the beginning, that this book is now in the public domain. You can download it for free, and listen to audio recordings of it, HERE. Amazing.

Of course, there are still a few of us out there who have an undying fondness for turning the thin half-century old pages and lingering on the pen and ink illustrations. If so, you can pick up a copy, old or reproduced, at any of your favorite book spots (sadly, unlikely to happen at your independent bookstore, but maybe they could order it for you....you really SHOULD buy your books there, ya know).

Let me know how it goes.

3 comments:

Arial Ray said...

It's a strange thing. I feel like I've read this before, or some of it...but having read the excerpt you posted, I hunger for more.

ConverseMomma said...

Oh....oh...I am so moved by this. I love Sandburg. I love his steele Chicago. But this...this...Oh...oh!
Thank you for this.

Robin said...

The whole book is wonderful. How could a book be bad when one of the chapter titles is: "How Two Sweetheart Dippies Sat in the Moonlight on a Lumber Yard Fence and Heard About the Sooners and the Boomers"?

Yum.