Saturday, December 13, 2008

Going home for Christmas

My friend Rick and I are going to walk around in downtown Seattle tonight, and then on Sunday I get to spend some time with my son Caleb; but best of all, on Monday, I get to go home to my beloved Nebraska! 

Here's a poem for Christmas --  My all-time favorite:

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see    i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look   the spangles
that sleep all year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel" 

little tree, by e.e. cummings

All the irony of praise and sorrow are here, I think. 
For 'M' --as always

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dick Allen, Ode To the Cold War

Night Sledding

From Lookout Hill it was a long way down to the village.
The plowed steep road no cars would dare until morning
And the pine trees snowed into each other, forming ruined
Castles and English manor houses and gamekeeper huts
In the ravines and gullies and stark on the ridges,
Seemed more ours than anything would ever be again,
Whether our lives were short or long. I glanced
At the others to see if they felt it: the loosened knot
Of boys whose fathers were mostly off in World War II.
Kneeling and panting in the snow, their bodies
Gnomed by bulky jackets, their faces small round windows
sunk in wool, and saw their tremors
Of frozen-tongued awe, and how they tried to hide them
As I was trying, also, to not say anything
Too stupid or old. There were gusts of wind
Constantly sending clouds of powdered white
Off the rock outcroppings. Above us, a half-blasted moon
Was painted on a white sandpaper field of stars. 

"Let's get going," someone said. Hand-me-down sleds
Lined up, lying on our bellies, boot tips dug into snowruts,
We studied the village below us, the far-off lights
Of the D&H station, the Methodist church steeple,
Lights in the upstairs window of a dozen cottages
And "Isn't this something," the boy beside me whispered,
"Isn't this something!" who started, I don't remember,
But suddenly, faces held up, yelling for dear life,
All of us yelling and whooping, we were steering
Our sleds in great S's as we fell,
None of us trying to win, all of us half-crazed, shouting,
"Watch out! Hang on! Steer to the side!
Steer to the middle! Drop behind! Go ahead!"
Sparks from rocks our runners scraped, and then
At the last sweet drop, an absolute silence among us
As we swooped down, and some of our mothers and sisters
Waiting beneath the streetlights, some applauding
With soft mittened claps as we slowed. Walking home,
My house the last one before the village became a meadow,
I saw a comet streak, leaving in its wake
A crowfoot of light, gone the moment I blinked.

From : Ode to the Cold War Poems new and Selected
By Dick Allen (Sarabande Books, 1997) 

In this narrative poem, the speaker simply describes a group of boys sledding at night; but his description is so exact -- with just the right mix of the real, the imagined, and the philosophical -- to evoke his indelible memory of this moment. The reader can almost hear the "mittened" hands clapping.  I particularly love the line "As I was trying, also, not to say anything too stupid, or old." -- The war looms present, yet is distant enough and the boys who aren't going to be boys for long, some even having "short lives" are awake to life in this moment, perfect, the "sleds in great S's as we fell."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Three poems by Denise C. Banker

Oak Glen

Each day my dog Rosebud
and I hike to this same spot
at Oak Glen where prairie
crisp in late January calms
despite a chill wind

We muse among bur oaks'
rutted, furrowed trunks
and gnarled limbs
Rosebud, let us always return

We wait for wind's timbre
voice to fix us in its hum
to this horizon of grass
To set loose our calamities
To scatter memory's mulch
in lichen, leaves and acorn husks
Let these blow away from us

We walk off a friend's conceit
We lay a stretch of regret
beneath blue berried juniper
We soak a load of animus,
its ugly vapor hissing,
in the beaver's creek

Everywhere the hush alive
invites us to let go
Rosebud, let us let go


The future belongs to anyone else.
I'm staying in the past
where your blue eyes hold me
in their smile, where nights are star-
filled and fragrant, where autumn
has arranged dried leaves in unmown grass.

In the future you will have faded,
so I cling to our past. The map
of your palm unfolded
and held out to me.
I finger our route along
the work-worn surface.

I give the future away,
the box wrapped in silver
and gold, like Christmas,
and write myself into a snowglobe:

the net of snow, the prairie, a dog,
two boys, and their parents walking.


The Platte river pulls a rim of fog
to its lip, and trees in fresh nakedness
toss. There was hard freeze last night.

I wind the clocks,
your old job,
so I take pride
in having learned

to turn the key
eight turns to the left
Wednesday and
Saturday nights.

A silence is here
like in the study of art.
It chisels your absence
into shape:
this fog-scarved river
and these bare trees

shift of stone unnoticed,
sap deep in heartwood,
fog diaphanous
shrouding the river.

Monday, November 24, 2008

William Shakespeare Sonnet 71

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so, 
That I in your sweet thought would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone. 

The Sonnets of Shakespeare 
The Laurel Shakespeare
Francis Fergusson, General Ed.
Text Ed. by Charles Jasper Sisson
Dell (1960)

In this poem of three sentences, the speaker is telling the beloved not to mourn too long when he/she is gone. The poem is a love poem, a warning, and a lament. The speaker, as is made evident in the bitter, sardonic tone, is angry at having to die. The poem is almost humorous in its self-pity. "The wise world" can almost "mock" the dying already. But we shouldn't ignore this bitterness. The speaker loves being alive, and loves whoever is being spoken to. One would do well to heed the poem's warning.  
It's as if the speaker, let's say it's a man to his wife, is saying: death is the ultimate humiliation; please don't let me be further humiliated by you having to suffer, in your inability to overcome your grief, the mockery of the "wise world". I love you too much. I love myself too much. If thinking of me "should make you woe", then please don't think of me. When I am dead ("in the clay"), if to read this verse and "rehearse" my name (long for me) makes you "moan" (cry), I'd rather your love for me decay with my body than have "the world" mock you with my death.
We can apply this sentiment to people we have lost who are still alive, too. 
Sometimes the people who say things like this are serious, and what they are saying makes sense. It's best to remember how a person's life filled yours up, rather than to dwell too long on the anguish the death, or the parting, causes to you. 

Dr. Jill Bolte My Stroke of Genius

This is worth watching. Inspirational.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11 (67)

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
to comprehend a nectar
Requires a sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Hosts
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

as he defeated - dying -
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Final Harvest, Emily Dickinson's Poems
Ed., Thomas H. Johnson
Little, Brown & Co., 1961

In this poem the speaker is lamenting her/his own defeat or, out of some deeper loss suffered that restricts her/his ability to "win" graciously, is mocking those defeated . So at once the poem is the defeated's bitter lament, and the bully's vicious, bitter crowing. We can't know Dickinson's intention exactly, but her point is crystalline: the loser clearly knows the anguish of defeat, and at the same time, clearly knows the definition of success. We all lose at some time in our lives: maybe it's a lover, a beloved spouse, a child, a brother or a sister to death, or to worse; maybe it's our innocence, our faith in government, our resilience, our sense of fair-play.
Sometimes we are the "purple Hosts:" we do demonstrate how much we love someone or want something by trying, with all of our might, to comprehend that person, achieve that something-- "the nectar," as Dickinson says. But to no avail. And sometimes, (go ahead, "write it" as Elizabeth Bishop says), we, for whatever reason, want to add insult to injury: we know the defeated is hurt, but we're too hurt by losing whatever it is we lost to be able to care. How agonized and clear those strains of triumph burst on the forbidden ear.

Here's another poem by Emily Dickinson:

310 (761)

From Blank to Blank-
A Threadless Way
I pushed Mechanic feet-
To stop-or perish-or advance-
Alike indifferent-

If end I gained
It ends beyond
Indefinite disclosed-
I shut my eyes-and groped as well
'Twas lighter-to be Blind-

Same source as poem above

The phrase "indefinite disclosed" coming right after acknowledging "gain" always "ends", is masterfully despondent. And the tag "as well" tells us the speaker is so "Mechanic" in this "Threadless Way" that she/he may as well "grope" around in willful blindness too. The pun on the word "lighter" is sardonic. To say it's "lighter -to be Blind" is to say it's less of a burden to choose to "not see" what you're doing, what's being done, or, simply, what is. Again, we can't be certain of Dickinson's intention. We do know, however, that this is an intense grief, and that neither of these poems is a recollection in tranquility. Poems that are simultaneously personal, private correspondence and open correspondence with the world are what the writer wants to achieve. Dickinson has achieved this in both poems.

Fresh snow on the mountains this morning, chiffon clouds

Saturday, November 22, 2008

King Lear

"The poem is the poet's way of suspending time and attending to the minute vibrations of the inner and outer world." Morris Dickstein "The Undying Animal" Columbia Magazine. more»

November 22

Sunny and cool, thin clouds.

In his drab gray overcoat
unbuttoned and flying out behind,
a stocky, bullet-headed owl
with dirty claws and thick wrists
slowly flaps home
from working the night shift.
He is so tired he has forgotten
his lunchbox, his pay stub.
He will not be able to sleep 
in his empty apartment
what with the neighboring blackbirds
flying into his face,
but will stay awake all morning,
round-shouldered and glassy-eyed,
composing a poem about
paradise, perfectly woven
of mouse bones and moist pieces of fur. 

From Winter Morning Walks, by Ted Kooser
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000
  Used by permission of the author

Ted Kooser wrote his way out of the fog of cancer, with all of its density-- by walking each morning at dawn, or before. He addressed his "postcards" to his good friend Jim Harrison. Often writing our way out of an emotional funk is as good a mental practice as it is an exercise for writers. I know Ted and his poems have taught me a great deal about living and surviving life. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Welcome to Mutable - insides out

A poet's word, a painter's touch, will reach
The innermost recesses of the heart,
Making the pulses throb in unison
With joy or grief, which we can analyse;
There is the cause for pleasure and for pain:
But music moves us, and we know not why;
We feel the tears, but cannot trace their source.
Is it the language of some other state,
Born of its memory? For what can wake
The soul's strong instinct of another world,
Like music? Well with sadness doth it suit
To hear the melancholy sounds decay,
And think (for thoughts are life's great human links,
And mingle with our feelings) even so
Will the heart's wildest pulses sink to rest.
From Erinna, by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1827)