Neil Gaiman read me a poem the other day. Okay. So he actually read it to a lot of people last Friday night, as part of MPR’s most recent Wits show at the Fitzgerald, but I caught it on YouTube, having unfortunately been unable to attend. The poem was called “The Day the Saucers Came.”
I wondered if it was something new he was working on. In planning this post, I Googled it (editor’s note: I just used “Google” as a verb … hmm). I realized, I had actually read it before, as it’s published in Gaiman’s collection “Fragile Things.” And I verified … it’s in my copy of the book.
This may seem a bit strange to have not remembered, especially to those who know me well. Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. I’ve said before that he could write my grocery list and I would find it fascinating. People usually think that’s funny. Little do they know it’s probably not a joke. I first encountered Neil by way of the estimable Terry Pratchett. My lovely friend F had gotten me to read “The Colour of Magic” and I was hooked. So I took a gamble on the co-authored “Good Omens,” which was bitingly funny. Then “Stardust” came across my path, and I read that too. And then, I got to “American Gods.” I have yet to describe that book in a way that feels fully satisfactory, when someone asks “so, what’s it about?” It’s dark, deep, and completely engrossing. It’s that good. And that utterly unique. Seriously, just go read it already.
It’s hard to say what I like best. His writing is intelligent and articulate. I’m a sucker for a good vocabulary. At turns, wry, or snort-out-loud funny, or even scary, I think … it’s because he writes life authentically. The funny, the awkward, the scary things we never want to let out of closets much less the dark corners in our heads …
Neil Gaiman likely never set out to be a self-help type of writer. But, some of the things that have rung the truest with me have been things that he’s said about relationships. For example, I remember stumbling across this, more than a year ago, in the midst of a heart-shattering break-up:
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life. You give them a piece of you. They don’t ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore.
Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like ‘Maybe we should just be friends’ or ‘How very perceptive’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain.
Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.”
Those words didn’t necessarily make the situation suck any less. It frelling* hurt. But there was this tiny bit of relief that there were the words for it. The ability to name it with words was the first step in taming the beast, as it were.
So yes, Neil read me a poem the other day, that I didn’t remember. And, as is often the case, he read out the last stanza … and I sat back, in stunned disbelief at the perfectness of the sentiment. “You clever man, you are absolutely right.” It’s not worth missing the saucers. Or the zombies. Or Ragnarök. And definitely not the fairies.
So go ahead, let Neil read to you too.