January 02, 2009

Poetry Friday: Finnegan, Begin Again

One of those bizarre phrases my mother used to say to me when I was a kid was "Finnegan, begin again." Generally she said it when I screwed up a math problem and had to start over.

Unfortunately, it's also one of those weird things that welded itself to my own vocabulary, and I found myself saying it awhile ago, and realized I had no idea who Finnegan was, and why he had to begin again.

For this reason, there's Google.

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan
He had whiskers on his chinnegan
They fell out and then grew in again
Poor old Michael Finnegan
Begin again.

Not necessarily the stuff of great poetry, more along the lines of "same song, second verse, a little bit louder, and a little bit worse," but I kind of like the idea of teaching the very small that occasionally everyone has to "begin again." One hopes it won't come as such a bitter surprise later on in life. One hopes.

In honor of the New Year, I have dug out a "begin again" poem from the vaults of the fabulous Wesley McNair. If he's a new poet to you, I beg you -- go, delve. Like Billy Collins, he captures the leaping pulse of Americana and the Western World, and translates it to the page in dry, wry syllables. An older poet, he has a different slant on things that are familiar to us, and often sets the reader at a tilt, thinking.

This one is a little longer than what I usually choose, but is worth clicking through and reading all the way to the end.

The Future

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life's sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them

and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It's not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn't want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened

and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived—the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,

may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn't know we wanted in what
the future brings.

Read the last three stanzas here.

"The Future" by Wesley McNair, from Talking in the Dark. © David R. Godine, 1998.

More poetry by Mr. McNair, audio and print, can be found here. More Poetry Friday selections can be found at A Year of Reading.


Jules at 7-Imp said...

Ooh, ooh, thanks for a new (to me) poet!

Karen E. said...

Oh, he's new to me, too, and a very large thank you, TadMack!

Charlotte said...

Totally ignoring your real poetry friday offering-- If we ever meet in person, I can sing you (if you would like) the tune that goes with Michael Finnegan...and then it can stick inside your head Forever!

TadMack said...

Oh, Charlotte, dear, would you??? Heh, heh. I have a BAD feeling about your generous offer...

a. fortis said...

Ooh!! I'll do it. I will sing you the song that never ends. Except, for some reason, the version I know has the line "He grew fat and then grew thin again." I'm almost positive.

Okay, I looked it up. There are several verses. That page has the tune for you, too, in gorgeous MIDI splendor. :D

TadMack said...

Okay, now you people are officially scaring me. Let's all recall my mother is an Early Childhood Educator. SHE could probably sing this to me, too. But I generally run away when she starts singing about speckled frogs and such -- I've never stuck around for poor old Michael Finnegan...

Em said...

I just saw your comment on my post about The Graveyard Book. So cool that it's going to be on the Cybils blog! I'll keep an eye out. :)

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for introducing me to a new poet--and Happy New Year!

adrienne said...

Oh, yes--as soon as I saw the title, I was singing the song. (Happily, I'm in the Children's Room, so a random child who was near the desk joined me. As if I needed more verification that my career is awesome.) I'm sure I'll be singing it until I jump to its close relative "Miss Mary Mack."

And, yes, the poem is very nice, too. ;)

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