I met a little Elf-man, once,
Down where the lilies blow.
I asked him why he was so small
And why he didn’t grow.
He slightly frowned, and with his eye
He looked me through and through.
“I’m quite as big for me,” said he,
“As you are big for you.”
-John Kendrick Bangs, “The Little Elf”
When my little brother was six or seven we started saying that poem back and forth to each other. Though we said it differently: it might have been the book we got it from, or our own twist, but the second stanza started “He smiled at me.” I like that. I can still see my brother, grinning mischievously as he trades line for line. And the poem feels like a smiling thing. I guess the frown makes more sense if you think about the elf being mistaken for something he’s not, but as we said it, six-year-old to twenty-something, it was more about each of us starting where we were, in our own reference of bigness or smallness, and then moving (like the poem does) to a different measure.
In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about this post, wondering what I would say in it. And every now and then I’ve found myself stopping to smile at something. The bug that lands on my hand. The bank building with its many stories. A street lamp. A tuft of grass. They all seem to look back, to look me through and through. I feel myself like a little stick figure, drawn into the margins. I feel myself like a kind of fog, floating low. They’re all as big for them, they say, as I am big for me.