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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Sitting outside the café, reading poetry out loud to my daughter, I struggle to gauge her reaction. The young guys at the neighboring table are making me nervous, not because of anything they've done, but because they are too close. What will they think? It doesn't cross my mind to wonder the same about the white and purple scarf draped around my neck. Maybe reading poetry makes sense for someone so idiosyncratically attired.

When I get to the part in Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" that describes a memory of the ladder's rung, inscribed on the musculature, I think of my forays into the mesquite to trim away the excess weight. Charles Bowden has it right. There's something both wonderful and disturbing about a tree that grows so fast. It serves as the ideal allegory for my life. I turn excess into huge piles of waste, spend hours laboriously chopping it into pieces small enough to cart away, then get back up on the ladder to do it all over again the next week and the week after that. My daughter says she gets the poem about two thirds of the way through. I stop. She says she wants me to continue, that she likes it.

Next up is T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The protagonist depresses her, makes her impatient. Some lines resonate but many more fall flat. I am disheartened. But then I decide to read her Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird." This poem, the hardest of the bunch, delights her. Five minutes after I'm done reading I ask her what she thought of it. She enthusiastically quotes a whole stanza back to me, every word in the proper place, even though she has only heard the poem once.

On the drive to the dojo for her martial arts class she comes up with the idea, for a school assignment, of writing about thirteen ways of looking at a banana. I think she's just being silly until she composes a beautiful line about the star you see inside the circle of the peeled fruit's cross-section, what she calls a "perfect figure." She tells me than when she is a teacher she plans to make her students write different poems modeled after "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird."

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