Write me: rjn@richardjnewman.com
Lines That Didn’t Make the Cut: Remembering Claudia

The revi­sion process leaves every writer with bits and pieces of work that no longer belong to the poem or sto­ry or what­ev­er where they first appeared. Some­times these scraps and frag­ments grow to become full fledged works on their own; some­times they get graft­ed onto oth­er works-in-progress; but, as often as not, they end up in a file where the writer rarely, if ever, looks at them again. I went dig­ging into my file recent­ly, look­ing for some­thing that I knew would fit in a poem the begin­ning and end of which I was hav­ing a very hard time con­nect­ing. As I read through bits and pieces I’d put in there, I began to real­ize that, for me, the lines that don’t make the cut as I revise a poem tend to be those in which I am either explain­ing to myself what I am try­ing to say or try­ing to force the lan­guage to go in a direc­tion it just doesn’t want to go. These lines fall into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry:

and if you imag­ine
that night as a film of my life,
then a thun­der­clap or dis­so­nant chord,
the sky and this back­yard lit up by light­ning,

would call the moment to your atten­tion:
lay­ers of mean­ing packed hard
in the still image you’d car­ry home
of what it means to me to remem­ber
that where the large oak
we put chairs beneath
for our sum­mer con­certs
now spreads its shade,
I played when I was nine
tack­le foot­ball with Clau­dia.

In the poem this was orig­i­nal­ly part of I was writ­ing about an evening when I went down to walk off some anger in the gar­den which sits in the cen­ter of the eight-build­ing co-op where I live. Thun­der­clouds gath­ered over­head just a few min­utes after­wards and the rain that fell as I made my way around the con­crete path that marks the garden’s perim­iter felt like small hail­stones on my skin. This gar­den holds a lot of mem­o­ries for me. My grand­par­ents lived in the build­ing next door to mine for near­ly fifty years, and we vis­it­ed them almost every Sun­day from as ear­ly as I can remem­ber until I went away to col­lege. When I was a lit­tle boy, not much more than five or six, I made friends with a red-haired girl named Clau­dia who lived in the build­ing across the way. She was–and I find myself won­der­ing if peo­ple still use this term–a tomboy, and one of our favorite things to do was play foot­ball on what was then a dirt field between the back of her build­ing and the back of my grand­par­ents’. I don’t remem­ber being invit­ed to her house or that she ever came to my grand­par­ents’ place when I was there. Our friend­ship was the kind that lit­tle kids often have; we saw each oth­er when we saw each oth­er; and since she knew I would be there almost every Sun­day, she would just head down to the gar­den to see if I was there; or some­times I would get there first and wait for her.

Any­way, in the mid­dle of what I thought was going to be my last lap around the gar­den, a bolt of light­ning lit that field up, lush with grass after all these years and with a gor­geous, almost moun­tain­ous tree dom­i­nat­ing the cen­ter. (A cou­ple of sum­mers ago, a hawk made itself at home there.) In that flash, I sud­den­ly remem­bered the last con­ver­sa­tion I had with Clau­dia. We’d been friends for about five or six years by that time, so we were eleven or twelve. It was Shabbat–I’m not sure why we were vis­it­ing my grand­par­ents on a Saturday–and so Clau­dia and I were both in shul, hang­ing around out­side the sanc­tu­ary where the adults were busy pray­ing. She was wear­ing a pink frilly dress, which sur­prised me because I’d nev­er before seen her dressed “like a girl,” and she was hud­dled with a group of girls I didn’t know. I tried a cou­ple of times to talk to her, to get her to come with me to the places in the syn­a­gogue where, when we’d met there in years past, on Rosh HaShana for exam­ple, we’d spend time togeth­er until ser­vices were over, but she kept brush­ing me aside. Final­ly, I asked her point blank if she want­ed to come out to play after lunch. (Nei­ther my fam­i­ly nor hers was strict­ly obser­vant.) “No,” she told me, “sports and climb­ing trees are for boys. I’m grow­ing up now, and I am not a boy.” As I recall, she and I nev­er spoke to each oth­er again.

The poem I was work­ing on end­ed up being about some­thing else, but this mem­o­ry still makes me very sad.

2 Comments

  • Prami­la Venkateswaran Posted May 10, 2017 7:41 am

    Richard, I am drawn more to the mem­o­ry of you and Clau­dia in the syn­a­gogue and her sur­pris­ing response to you than to the lines about the yard lit up by light­ning. I am inter­est­ed in your choice not to work this mem­o­ry into the poem…

    • rich­new­man Posted May 11, 2017 2:29 am

      Hi Prami­la,

      Thanks for com­ment­ing. The mem­o­ry about Clau­dia tru­ly did not fit with the rest of the poem, I do want to write about it, though. I’m just not sure if it belongs in a poem or an essay. 

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