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.