Dr. John Scholl
rides a darkened sea
becalms its bitter storm
laps against porcelain coasts.
This is the single extant stanza from a poem I am trying to write. Of course, I have been toying with the words. “Blankets” is the main alternate to “rides,” and “roasted” to “darkened.” Should I reveal the subject more bluntly by describing the foam as “milky”? For several months, the fourth line read “circumscribed by porcelain coasts,” but “laps against porcelain coasts” preserves the sentence structure of the previous lines. The real problem, however, is that I’m stuck. My great argument, my favorite line, “Michelangelo in a cup,” has not yet made it into a stanza; rather, it is sitting in a pile of unformed thoughts at the bottom of the page.
For a while, I thought the poem would be written if I just kept drinking cappuccinos (the subject of the poem) as often as possible. So I sacrificed myself for art. In the Scholl house, a cappuccino is the result of a fifteen-minute process; espresso made on the stovetop, blanketed by milk, warmed too on the stove and then frothed. To experience a cappuccino on workdays, I woke up earlier and then paused over breakfast just a bit longer–that I might sip instead of barbarically gulping. Yet the poem did not grow, not because the moment was missing, but because, even pausing to sip, I did not stay long enough to write. Often, I read the Bible in the mornings, and certainly that time grew with a lengthier breakfast. But after reading the Bible, I consumed the final dregs and then launched into the first item of the day. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that I am considering, rather than writing, a poem.
Thus far, the fragment suggests something about intention. The historian may wonder what the tower rising from the field was intended to do or to communicate; in this case, the architect has not completed his work. He consumed plenty of cappuccinos, found more space to read his Bible, but rarely slotted pieces into the envisioned structure. How can I create something beautiful, if I do not choose to work on it?
But the poem is supposed to be about something else: a study of something beautiful that is vouchsafed to me, placed for a moment, in my hands, at my table, for my enjoyment. Thus, the line “Michelangelo in a cup.” One thinks of great works of art as being public. The Sistine Chapel is the property of the Catholic Church, but because the Church so generously shares it, Michelangelo’s works seem to belong to no one and to everyone. Museums around the world do the same, and public libraries imply the public ownership of Augustine, Dickens, Cooper, and all their comrades. In the movie National Treasure, Ben Gates wisely recognizes this truth; he cannot keep the Templar treasure because “it belongs to the world, and everybody in it.”
The cappuccino, however, reveals a different aspect of beauty. The Vatican Museum sells a copy of Michelangelo on a cup, but the cappuccino is different; it is not a copy of a work of art, it is the work of art itself. While many can be made, each is authentic and can be mine or yours.
I have been marveling recently at the love of God: that He loves us, of course, that He enables us to love and to receive love from others. Surely, beauty is another aspect of His love. He created the concept of beauty–how amazing that He created not only things but even concepts–and then enabled us to enjoy it, as a community but also as individuals. Mr. Anderson often encourages parents to enjoy their children, to look in on them when they are sleeping and simply to be thankful. The cappuccino is a tiny example of a deeper truth. So much higher and better than items of food, God has vouchsafed to us His beautiful works, children a great example, and given us the privilege of enjoying them at our tables, in our lives. How generous and loving He is!