There was so much going on yesterday at the Cupertino Library’s 10th Anniversary Fair! I will post a separate post with all my photos, observations, and special superhero sightings. Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion, slightly altered from the way I read it during the ceremony for the Teen Advisory Board’s time capsule internment. I was honored to be asked to read during that special event.
A Gate in Cupertino
In Cupertino, there is a rickety gate in a redwood fence.
It hides recycle bins and drying laundry.
Cats sit on the gate in the morning
waiting to be fed.
For dreamers in Ancient Greece,
there was a gate of ‘sawn ivory,’
and a gate of ‘polished horn.’
Penelope asked the old stranger
if her dreams of her wandering husband
were false or true.
High in the mountains of Hunan province,
there is a gate on the Yellow River
where a strong carp, who perseveres,
who swims with courage and leaps up,
becomes a dragon.
We live in a modern city
without stone walls, without iron fortifications.
The gates to our city are freeways and wide boulevards.
Here, there is a gateway to learning—
shining with glass and flanked by
trees of fire, the library gates are made of fountains.
Enter these gates today.
You don’t need a magic key.
Enter these gates today to dream,
enter to be transformed.
(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown
for the Cupertino Library 10th Anniversary
October 18, 2014
Notes on the poem
The theme for the Cupertino Library’s Anniversary was “Gateway to Learning.” I spent some time researching famous gates in literature, and the symbology of gates in different cultures and dreams. I found gates mentioned prominently in Milton’s poem “L’Allegro” (1645) and in Book 19 of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. I also discovered a lovely Chinese legend of the Dragon’s Gate, about carp that leap up through waterfalls high in Hunan province, on the Yellow River, and become dragons. There is a proverb that goes like this: 鲤鱼跳龙门. Learning all of this history and culture was great, but I needed an image to start the poem. I’d promised to write one for the anniversary and I was getting nervous. Sitting at my kitchen table Saturday morning, I spotted my cat, perched on the gate outside the kitchen door. Some gates are grand, some are humble. I had my poem.
Right against the Eastern gate,
Wher the great Sun begins his state,
Rob’d in flames, and Amber light,
The clouds in thousand Liveries dight.
Milton, L’Allegro (1645)
“Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams,
one is made of ivory, the other made or horn.
Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved
are will-o’-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit.
The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn
are fraught with trugh, for the dreamer who can see them.”
Homer, The Odyssey (19:630-640) Fagles trans.