Pacific Grove

I don’t remember a single fact
about the elephant seals of Año Nuevo,
or the conversations I had with friends
who spent the day whale watching,
certainly not what we ate
that night in the dining hall,
or why I decided to run ahead
of my classmates and teachers
back to our lodge.

There I discovered our bus driver
playing the piano in the lobby.
He stopped when he realized
I was there, and went to his room.
No one else heard him play.
I was the unwelcome audience.

I was moody that night
and couldn’t explain that I was sad
because my own enthusiasm
had broken something magical.

That unregarded man played
such beautiful music with hands
that had brought us there safely.
I would not even remember him
were it not for the broken music,
and what I really learned that night.

* * * * *

This poem was revised in response to the prompt from Big Tent Poetry to revise a poem from about a year ago.

The first version (see below) was originally written in response to the day twelve prompt to write about a city at Poetic Asides last year, in April 2010.

Pacific Grove

In the excitement
of that first junior high
overnight field trip,
I ran up the hill by myself,
ahead of everyone else.
It was after dinner,
and I discovered the bus driver
playing the piano in the lobby
of our lodge.
He stopped
when he realized
I was there.
No one else heard.
I was the audience,
solitary, unwelcome.
I had broken something magical.
This is what I learned
on that field trip,
not the marine biology
that was the purpose:
Some people are far more
than they appear,
certainly more
than the work they do.

22 thoughts on “Pacific Grove

  1. Both are excellent, Richard, but I believe I like the original best. It better conveys the sadness resulting through interrupting another’s simple pleasure, while focusing on the discovery that people are more than they appear. Both are poignant and beautifully clear.


  2. Can’t put my finger on it, but like the second version. Somehow the language works better or more smoothly. Perhaps it is the structure as you build the story in the revision. Not sure, wish I could be more helpful.



  3. I prefer the second version too. I think it’s mostly because of the different slant to the ending. This:
    ‘I would not even remember him
    were it not for the broken music,
    and what I really learned that night.’
    to me, is much subtler and more effective than the statement in the first:
    ‘Some people are far more
    than they appear,
    certainly more
    than the work they do.’
    Good poem. I like your realisation that ‘my own enthusiasm
    had broken something magical.’ I’ve done that – it leaves one so flat and miserable – those preceding magic moments can never be brought back.


  4. Tumblewords, thank you. Glad you like the revision.

    Mike, thank you for your comments. I still like the ending of the original, and that somehow is less clear/not there in the new version. It seems too simply stated in the original, but I like its honesty. Maybe I need another revision.

    Elizabeth, thank you. I think the revision is more a story than a statement, and the stanzas give it a structure that I like as well.

    Viv, wow, thank you for the kind words. That’s definitely a big vote for the revision.

    Tilly, thanks. It was bittersweet – and is still all these years later. It’s a true story.

    earlybird, thank you. I, too, prefer the subtlety of the new version; it hints rather than states.

    Irene, thank you. I think “richer” is a good way to describe the difference between the two.

    Thanks to everyone who read and commented. I think I’ll be revising more poems from last April.



  5. Great story and I like the revisions. I think this is a good example of “show vs tell” – letting the reader determine what you learned makes for a stronger ending.


  6. There’s a crafted elegance and an attention to narrative pace about the second version that gives it real emotional power. It’s a fine piece, a keeper.


  7. You captured very well the sadness of a young person coming of age, realizing hidden unfairnesses in life. I live the revision very much, and like seeing the direct story from whence it came. A moment of realized privilege – and the idea of being the unwelcome audience . . . very powerful. Thanks for sharing this story.


  8. The details you added in your revision were great. I also like the extra focus on the bus driver, making him the real focal point of the poem. Nice work.



  9. The story is wonderful, and so tender. I think that is clearer in the revision. Which also benefits from the pacing (reminding me of music) and really well done line breaks (classic first line, for example — love how it hangs & changes meaning — one of my favorite things about enjambment!). I like the added details, such as “the elephant seals of Año Nuevo” contrasted with the nameless pianist.

    Seeing the two is a great lesson in craft. Thank you!


  10. versebender, thank you. I agree, implication is the way to go.

    Pamela, thank you for your kind words. The first one seems so spare now, especially since you call the revision a “beautifully painted picture”.

    Kelly, thank you. The original does tell too much, doesn’t it?

    Dick, thank you for “crafted elegance”; I’ll keep that as well, if you don’t mind.

    Nan, thank you, being the unwelcome audience was a big coming of age moment for me.

    Mike, thank you. I’m glad Big Tent Poetry asked us to do this, because I realized the bus driver was the focus of the story, and I had to make him front and center.

    Cathy, thank you. I agree, the stanzas really helped to make it a better poem.

    Henry, thanks. I’m clearly partial to that line myself, as I didn’t mess with it.

    Deb, thank you so much for your kind words. I think I’ve learned a lot about craft in the last year. Of course, without Big Tent Poetry asking me to revise, this would never have come about, so thank you for the idea.

    Madeleine, thanks. I liked the ending of the first draft, but it does tell too much.

    Thank you to everyone who read my poem and commented. I was gone all Mother’s Day weekend, and am just now (Monday evening) getting all caught up. I am overwhelmed by the response to the revised poem. These poems are based on true events in my life, so this one is personal to me, and I cannot express my gratitude. Thank you.


  11. Richard, I did like them both. The first had more detail, and the way you expressed what you DIDN’T remember from the trip – then describing that magical moment found and lost – gave the poem more order. Also appreciated your regret at having interrupted the pianist who was at first simply a bus driver to you.

    The second was more lyrical, perhaps – but what shines through is the ending, since people in America are usually defined by the work they do for money rather than by their talents otherwise employed, which seems to be the opposite of most societies.

    In the end, as a person who might possibly have been caught at the piano, I prefer the first version because of the fleshed out detail. Maybe if you morphed the “moral” from the second onto the first? I dunno, it’s late… Great stuff! Amy


  12. I really like the new beginning. The revision might benefit from a pause to feel whatever made you stop to listen, but I do like it. ( we are always shocked when people have lives outside their roles–actors paint, doctors build model boats, lawyers write. probably before your time, but I remember photos of the huge hands of a football player holding knitting needles)


  13. Amy, I agree. What I like most about the original version is that ending, because that is something I learned that day. I’ve been thinking this needs more revision, to keep the detail and implication, but hint more strongly at that ending. As always, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Briarcat, thanks. That might be where I can fit in that message from the first draft, that moment of discovery/shock for me, followed by the moment of sadness/shock in realizing that I disturbed his playing. Yeah, there was that football player back in the 70s who knit, but I can’t remember his name.



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