I recently sent an email to my whole mailing list to share some news about my exhibit slow moving to still. Writing about an upcoming radio interview, I described what I hoped would be a far-ranging discussion about “art and ships and ceiling wax,” paraphrasing a well known poem, Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
If you spotted my gaffe, good on you: it’s supposed to read “sealing wax,” which I know perfectly well. But let me explain why I treasure that mistake.
My first connection to this poem was ear-first, not eye-first. I would listen to my mother as she read aloud, and it was one of our favorites. I knew this poem before I could read.
I imagine my 5-year old self listening, sprawled horizontally, possibly even staring UP, and hearing “...shoes and ships and ceiling wax.” The concept of “sealing wax” was beyond my ken, but “ceiling wax” made sense to me, so that’s how I heard the homophone word. I chose the meaning that worked for me, because the word was pure sound, un-tethered from its written form and meaning. Of course I have read and re-read that poem many times since then.
When a colleague pointed out my mistake, at first I was mortified, but then I had a great laugh at myself, and marveled at the workings of my brain. I'm happy to have recovered a forgotten memory of my childhood in such an unexpected and delightful way - an aural illusion, an echo of my brain’s early workings, that stealthily appeared in the present to overwrite what I thought I knew.
My poet friend Sarah H. had an idea for an event wherein people are invited to recite favorite but half-remembered poems. Poems patchily rendered in awkward bursts and delivered in random order with omissions. The cogs of memory set to a coarse-grind. A transmission full of static. Sounds like a good time. I've got plenty of material... what about you?