The photo is mine, but the words are Louise Erdrich’s and I turn to them often when I forget why I’m here.
The photo is mine, but the words are Louise Erdrich’s and I turn to them often when I forget why I’m here.
Note: This is from five years ago. A lot has happened since, and the woman I was talking to here has died. We were together for 50 years, and my life is a stranger to me now. But I’m back in a similar frame of mind. Perhaps this is just me, needing the solitude of exploration and the wild mountains from time to time. Actually, there is no “perhaps” about it.
Remember this: I still love you.
I still love you, but there are times, like now, I bleed inside, realize I’ve forgotten myself,
Or left chunks behind, or sold pieces of my soul
Too cheaply and must go and find and buy back,
No matter how sad and worn they are now.
I feel like the Tin Man with joints rusted in the rain;
The Cowardly Lion tired of being afraid;
The Scarecrow wanting to burn the bureaucratic straw
That’s stuffed in my head instead of brains.
Weary of those around of shocking dreariness,
Shallow people obsessed with silly things, fearful drones.
I still love you, but want to be alone sometimes;
I still love you, but I wonder these days what I’ve missed,
What one thing I can still do well.
I still love you, yet want to beat my wings against the cage of comfort
And embrace everything, and everyone, and taste each moment.
I still love you, yet know you’ll never share why I am drenched
In awe by the terrible beauty of deep space, of Shakespeare, of solitude.
I still love you, despite things you don’t understand, because
You are still there, loving me as you have forever.
We know each other deeply, truthfully, with
Forgiveness and amusement and tolerance and passion.
But that makes me uneasy, too. Guilty. Resentful. I don’t know why.
Comfort is a trap, sometimes;
Resistance is the Enemy.
Not you. Not ever you.
I still love you, even though I may move on ahead for a while, out of sight, through the mountains.
I still love you, though I need to know that who I am exists without constant validation.
It isn’t always good, and can be a distraction like the song of any
Of the Muses, sung at the wrong time.
I still love you,
So do not be sad.
I may be lost at times, and I will stumble
And happen onto strange and beautiful things.
I will return.
But I must go.
I still love you.
© Hemmingplay 2014.
Note: Don’t be alarmed. I am OK. This poem deals with something that happened nearly a year ago.. It will be in a collection soon to be published, but as I prepare the pieces, I find there are still loose ends in my heart that need to be tied up by remembering. This was one.
Death is not bitter…
death is a silence
But, the dying is bitter.
Dying is full of the noise
of the going out.
It was the sound, I think,
that still haunts me,
the sound of your
(Such a bland phrase,
nothing like the
horror of the real thing.)
It was a drowning,
the lungs full of fluids produced by
the metastases of cancer
the ravisher of lungs,
scatterer of foul seeds,
ghastly, evil children to stick in bone
sounds of drowning, your
poor, battered breastbone lifting,
tough heart refusing to stop
long after it should have.
Morphine hid the pain
but took your mind,
filled it full of phantasms
but it at least lay a
warm blanket over the pain
But the lungs were full
and drowned you deep
in dreamy waters, hours
after your spirit had
abandoned the failing husk.
An old friend said you visited her
in a dream hours before.
You had a spirit body,
alive and vigorous and young, happy, she said,
dressed in spring clothes
and driving a sky-blue convertible.
While I tried to give the body
some peace, and listened to
the rising dreamy waters, rattling,
It was a comfort to learn
you had escaped, and
driven away on your
In bright sunshine,
free, in a blue convertible, like the
one you had when we met
50 years before.
The quality of these trees, green height; of the sky, shining, of
water, a clear flow; of the rock, hardness
And reticence: each is noble in its quality. The love of freedom
has been the quality of Western man.
There is a stubborn torch that flames from Marathon to Concord,
its dangerous beauty binding three ages
Into one time; the waves of barbarism and civilization have
eclipsed but have never quenched it.
For the Greeks the love of beauty, for Rome of ruling; for the
present age the passionate love of discovery;
But in one noble passion we are one; and Washington, Luther,
Tacitus, Aeschylus, one kind of man.
And you, America, that passion made you. You were not born
to prosperity, you were born to love freedom.
You did not say ‘en masse,’ you said ‘independence.’ But we
cannot have all the luxuries and freedom also.
Freedom is poor and laborious; that torch is not safe but hungry,
and often requires blood for its fuel.
You will tame it against it burn too clearly, you will hood it
like a kept hawk, you will perch it on the wrist of Caesar.
But keep the tradition, conserve the forms, the observances, keep
the spot sore. Be great, carve deep your heel-marks.
The states of the next age will no doubt remember you, and edge
their love of freedom with contempt of luxury.
–Robinson Jeffers, 1887-1962
“Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.”
― Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam
I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
And now, for a time, I must find the parts of me I’ve lost, and glue them back into a new whole. Kintsugi, finding beauty in imperfection; the art of precious scars. Perhaps I’ll mend the broken edges with gold this time.
“It’s over, at last. Don’t you wonder what I can see now? I can’t tell you; it’s the rules. But all the stuff you worry about and fear and hate is so utterly petty I can’t be bothered with it any more. It’s just not important.
This will be quick…
You’ll get here soon enough. You’ll find out. I did the best I could there, and I don’t have anything to feel ashamed of. If you can say that, it’ll be OK.
I’m going, now. I won’t be back. (Ghosts are fake news. Why would anyone come back to this after seeing the truth.?) Try to do the best you can.
Just be kind. Just that.”
I do remember certain things,
how it was a Sunday in
April, and the daffodils were late,
How the spring sun was out and
poured through the bay windows
happy and warm,
as though nothing was wrong…
as though everything was normal.
I can’t feel it now–the exhaustion
of that awful last night–
blessed by how the brain
softens things with time.
Then I remember
the Hospice nurse coming at dawn,
to relieve me.
I stumbled downstairs,
leaned against the kitchen counter
beyond my limits,
glad to escape the sound.
Time was short, now.
The nurse said “She’s leaving us.”
Two hours passed, and the
nurse called down
so I could
be there at the end.
She gave us time together.
And then, with sudden stillness
it was over.
TOD: 8:24 a.m.
I opened the curtains to let
more sun in, confused by
a world outside that
didn’t seem to notice.
I touched her cold lips,
amazed at the quiet
and stillness the soul leaves behind.
*Moments like this are rare, now, nine months later. But they do rise up without warning sometimes. If you have known loss, you know this. If you know someone who’s had a loss, don’t hurry them along. Let them know you will listen. Grief is a river you cannot push.
You weren’t my first summer girl—
But were the first one to take me over
Body and soul (and OK, I admit, it wasn’t all that hard to do)
But you are the one from the early days I remember
With only a few sharp regrets, since softened by time.
But also rises in me a wistful toast
To our being so young and eager, so serious, so clumsy,
So lost in hormones and music on the radio
Sitting on the lawn under a black sky sprinkled with stars,
Fumbling, clutching, giddy with freedom, while
Bullfrogs’ song charged the humid darkness with need.
I could always find your lips in the dark, ready, curious, eager,
As glad as mine were to find yours
And we both bubbled with happiness at this secret joy we’d found.
The years have not all been easy, for either of us,
And our paths have never crossed again.
I wonder about you sometimes,
Hope you remember, a little,
The same summer nights, and imagine that you raise a glass
With a smile, and think kindly of me, as I do you,
My summer girl, in the last days of our childhood.
*From almost two years ago. A fantasy from one of my favorite places.*
A pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation,
wait while I, as usual, wait to see
what will happen today.
These things of mine,
Hopeful of attention,
Not expecting much.
It is as though I and these
things are sitting behind a card table
on Jackson Square in
New Orleans, Saturday morning,
while Jock, Buffalo and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
just over there, in the next patch of shade.
Lovely and dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus, on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, with hair held back
by a leather band, plays guitar.
A guitar case is open on the worn
stones and a few coins and bills
are slowly collecting, never enough
to do more than buy one or two meals,
a share of a dive to sleep in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.
They all look like they’re barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each floated to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
at first for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to make tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.
But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
without buying, that Michelle
raises the violin to her chin,
closes her eyes and moves the bow.
She calls forth the voices of angels
who are lost and crying to heaven,
and I feel a touch of the holy,
just for a minute, and my
heart remembers what it waits for.
A dead moon falls forever
above a blasted world
Where thin winds stir
only powders and grains of sand;
Once shallow seas sang wetly to the moon,
And watered wonders
in the shadows and deeps,
rose and fell
by the hand of
the ancient moon.
But for 500 million years
the rocks forgot
the coolness of water
and know only dust
And thin breezes,
And awful silences.
But still the moon rolls past,
night after night,
Playing its pale beams over the
sands, looking, looking,
Sending seductive waves of gravity,
Searching abandoned places,
Reaching out to nothingness,
Not knowing futility, only
The buoyancy of light.
(revised/new art from three years ago)
Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.
I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!
That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine
the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.
A writer of modest talent can only hope one day to put together a word or two—on on a rare week, a phrase—that’s worth keeping. This is not the conceit of perfectionism. This is just the reality of a mediocre vision that cannot totally grasp and share what floats in and out of view. It’s the frustration that has to be managed—The gap between what might be glimpsed, a brief impression of something sublime, and the skill that, were it a painting, only produces stick figure drawings.
So the experience is one of enduring a sense of constant failure, working to press my cheek up against the foggy glass that keeps me from the truth, but still trying to catch a scent of it and convey it honestly….Throwing the lariat a thousand times at a stallion that prances just out of reach, hoping that one more throw will tame the beast and bring him nearer to feel the heat and the true wild life of him.
That’s the job. (Neurotic? Of course it is. But what’s a little neurosis among friends?). It’s just a matter of putting up with failure long enough to feel the hot breath of something beautiful. It is insanity. But oh, so seductive.
On the day the world ends|
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came,
and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons;
cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within
the eye Of the volcanos,
and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend.
The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d;
Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—
She was the Universe.
Put your ear to the earth and wait…
Tune your senses to the long rhythms…
The sun’s daily higher in the sky,
It pounds a fist on the grave’s door:
Dormant in the frozen ground,
Life stirs from a sleep like death
Shudders and swells and pushes its fingers and shoulders against
The things that would keep it dead, climbing toward the
roar of the Sun:
Tune your senses to the long rhythms,
Close your eyes and see with an inner eye.
Life, bundled mystery, sleeps now,
but prepares to stir, move,
Grow from nothing to cover the world,
Rejoicing, contending, affirming, seeking, dying,
living again. Seeking and finding change.
The shoving and shifting and movement toward the light
Makes a soundless roar we will feel through our feet.
© Hemmingplay 2014
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.
–Henry David Thoreau
This is something of a rerun, with apologies. But there’s a back story I’m keeping to myself. Music with lyrics from Carrie Newcomer. Enjoy
“We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the loss we’ve ever known
What is gone is always near
We’re all the love that brought us here
And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here
If I start by being kind
Love usually follows right behind
It nods its head and softly hums
Saying “Honey that’s the way it’s done.
We don’t have to search for love
Wring our hands and wring our hearts
All we have to do is know
The love will find us in the dark
And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here
I can’t change the whole world
But I can change the world I know
What’s within three feet or so
We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the love we’ve ever known
When I don’t know what is right
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
The patience of Old Testament Jøb
the vision of a Steve Jobs…
Good eyes and ears,
Strong heart and lungs
Not too many aches and pains,
not too many pills.
The ability to
stay in shape without
And a quick end.
And I’d like
Striking women to smile and say ‘hi’
And those precious, luscious few–
I hope you’re out there–
To permit that faint, wet stirring
And dare to pause, question,
First silently, then aloud:
“Hello. I’ve never done this… but
Is there a chance we might
Find a good way to spend
And I’d be in favor of some more surviving,
(Without getting hung up about it.)
I’m one day older than yesterday…
One younger than tomorrow,
But– having never been strong in math–
I will n’t count days
Letting them come as they will.
Aside from all that…
Good sleep several times a week.
And a warm body curved
Contented into me,
A person hunting for
the true in herself.
I wish for the wisdom
I’ve paid for with
so many dumb mistakes,
And I wish the stamina of my 60s
flows into my 70s
I’m grateful for
The satisfactions of my 50s and 60s
The energy of my 40s;
The happiness of my 30s;
The libido of my teens and 20s.
If only I knew then how to
Be unselfish. I wish I’d known…
In our sleep, pain
which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon
the heart until,
in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through
the awful grace of God.
—Aeschylus, “Father of tragedy”
c. 523 BCE- 456 BCE
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
n/aSource: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.
Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.
I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.
I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at yet another mystery.
I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;
There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.
I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.
It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.
I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
to the graveyard and to lay away all, the head, the feet, the hands, all:
I know there is something left over they can not put away.
Let the nanny goats and the billy goats of the shanty
eat the clover over my grave
and if any yellow hair
or any blue smoke of flowers
is good enough to grow over me
let the dirty-fisted children
of the shanty people pick these flowers.
I have had my chance to live with the people who have
too much and the people who have
too little and I chose one of the two and I have told no man why.
And I guess I just got in the way.
Doin’ OK, though.
“I think everyone must love life more than anything else in the world.’
‘Love life more than the meaning of it?’
‘Yes, certainly. Love it regardless of logic, as you say. Yes, most certainly regardless of logic, for only then will I grasp its meaning. That’s what I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan: you love life. Now you must try to do the second half and you are saved.”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Quotes from better writers
– From The Talmud, 303
If we do, then not everything we hear or see need be about how awful everything is. The minute we feel the world’s grief, we are obligated to it. If there is more grief in this world, then there is more to do.
Please consider picking up a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes…” at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. The links are below. It’s not a beach book, I’m afraid. But that’s not all bad this time of year.
But don’t take my word for it. From one of the reviews.
August 9, 2018
When the sands
of our deeper selves
shift, slide, scald
at 3 a.m.,
when buried grief
slithers out again,
the night holds its
breath a moment,
exhales and the Eastern
Safe again, we wake.
Strange things stir,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
from the loins of
an ancient earth, from the night.
Secrets lurk between
every second on the clock,
there, then gone, then back…
neither light nor shadow,
but mere potential.
Hiding in plain sight.
shifting with the sand,
teasing us to pull
them into the light,
poisoning us until
The six dogs I’ve known over the years
all thought me better than I was,
lived with no regret or second thought…
protected my children, kept me company
when fevers curled
me up on the floor.
They expected food on time and little else,
thought a run in the woods
was the best thing in the history of the world,
squirrels up in trees where they belonged.
And with such sensitive noses,
not once did they judge morning breath.
(Beyond a sneeze.)
When the short years passed,
they were stoic, trusting
Even in pain, even then.
They trusted with great hearts,
comforted by a last touch,
Even as the needle slipped in, eyes
searched ours as they relaxed and were
Summoned home to wait for us,
Curled up and resting by the fire.
By Elizabeth Hardwick
Those with the least gift are the most anxious to receive a commission. It seems to them that there lies waiting a topic, a new book, a performance, and that this is known as material. The true prose writer knows there is nothing given, no idea, no text or play seen last evening, until an assault has taken place, the forced domination that we call ”putting it in your own words.” Talking about, thinking about a project bears little relation to the composition; enthusiasm boils down with distressing speed to a paragraph, often one of mischievous banality. To proceed from musing to writing is to feel a robbery has taken place. And certainly there has been a loss; the loss of the smiles and ramblings and discussions so much friendlier to ambition than the cold hardship of writing.
–from “Its Only Defense: Intelligence and Sparkle,” in The New York Times in 1986
Robert Frost held a special place in President Kennedy’s intellectual pantheon. Frost died in January 1963, at age 88. The following October, Amherst College held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library. Kennedy traveled to Massachusetts to deliver this speech; a month later, he, too, was dead.
(Did the headline catch your eye? Maybe pissed you off? Sorry. This is a political post, not really about poetry. But it is about poetry’s relationship to power, and how one president used to be. And how that compares to today.)
“Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.
“He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. Continue reading “The Purpose of Poetry”
A gentle reminder for July’s sales (going gangbusters!.. probably): if you meant to get a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes….” and haven’t yet, it’s available through several channels, including Barnes and Noble.
(It’s in stock at the State College (PA) B&N store near the mall, by the way. Or, you may order from B&N online and pickup at a store near you instead of home delivery.)
It’s also on Amazon, both paperback and e-Book. It is helpful if you leave a review and rating, as they use that for the algorithm to determine how visible it is. Thanks in advance. Now I can tell my marketing department I did my bit. 😉
Bulk orders for book clubs are available. Just email me with quantities and location so I can get you the discount price with shipping.
Oh, and I mentioned other channels. Your local small bookshop or library can order this one if you ask them to: ISBN: 978-1-64237-194-9
Different time zones
Different morn and night
hard to tell sometimes…
Might as well be different centuries
connected by a silver
thread so so fine
it’s hardly there
except on clear nights
when the moon is full
on the mountains, dark,
at ha’passed nine,
when the moonlight catches it just so
.and, for a minute, it hums with
a brilliant light.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve just published (via Gatekeeper Press), “Snowflakes and Ashes: Meditations on the Temporary.” It’s still being propagated through the internet, but Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) have it up already. Distribution will also be through independent bookstores, libraries and academic users.
For now, you can take a peek at https://amzn.to/2kpYDLC
Steve Jobs said once that we can’t connect the dots of our lives looking forward. It’s only later, after the journey has a few miles on it, that one can look back and draw some conclusions and see the patterns that are usually invisible at the time. Some things we know, but some things are surprises. I wrote this out of the jumble of my own life, but have the conceit that my experiences and accidental insights are probably similar to some of yours. I hope so. (Solitary journeys can be lonely. Glad to have some company.) I’ll be posting some promo codes as soon as I get them if you can’t handle buying a book at the moment. I am gladly welcoming reviews, however.
by St. Thomas More
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to
take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.
I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.
All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.
By Robert Frost
You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
A brief note as an update… my wife has left the hospital and transitioned to the Hospice program at home.
Some days it’s all about limitations,
And while it’s no use complaining,
That’s never stopped me before.
I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement. Continue reading “Umwelt”
Doubt is my most trusted traveling partner, that “curious questioner” who comes in the night, that voice that says what I’ve done is not what it should be, that I’m not what I should be. And it is then—out of a last-ditch, almost reluctant refusal to betray myself— that everything comes of which I am most proud.
Doubt is my friend and lover. Doubt need not be fear’d, but endured and embraced as a means to an end. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became strong enough. Strong enough…. If I can, you can, too.
I too have—
I too have—felt the curious questioning come upon me.
In the day they came.
In the silence of the night came [they] upon me
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone ho know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudged,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I cared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The world, the snake, the hog not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest. …”
—”Leaves of Grass, ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ briefs, p. 219.
I’ve been reluctant to post some personal news here, but because just disappearing without an explanation seems odd, at the least, here goes.
Starting in November, my wife started coughing, and kept coughing. A blood test and then some scans detected a tumor in her lung, and some additional spots on her spine and pelvis. Biopsies confirmed these were Stage IV lung cancer, metastasized to 5-7 spots on vertebrae, the lungs, and pelvis.
She had radiation therapy to knock back the bone pain in her back, then had one chemotherapy infusion. Within 36 hours of that, we both came down with the flu that everyone’s getting. But it hit her very hard because her immune system is severely compromised. She ended up in the hospital for the flu as one very, very sick girl, and then for the pneumonia that followed. She recovered, although unable to eat much, was at home for nine days, then pneumonia returned and then she spent another week in the hospital. She’s on a feeding tube now and is regaining her strength.
I’ve been well occupied with all of this, obviously, and thought that a few of you would appreciate knowing what’s been happening. I’ll probably be absent a lot over the next months, as what’s ahead is going to be rough. I miss writing and reading your creations, and hope to be back. Until then….
“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony. … A lot of good fiction is sentimental. … The novelist who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then he just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.”
― Jim Harrison
I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.
The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.
To this brief journey,
to this time-travel adventure,
to the utter absurdity of our
helpless leap into the future;
to all the surprises and the pain… Continue reading “Snowflakes and Ashes*”
Lazarus never smiled
after he rose from the dead.
For 30 years, until he died again,
he was haunted by the
unredeemed souls he saw
in the four days he
journeyed in the afterlife.
A pall has settled in over the two of us in Chez Hemmingplay, and on our sons and others, a pall that may turn out to be nothing at all. I’ll have more to say if it seems things have gone sideways. But by accident, a writer friend mentioned some words Joan Didion wrote in “Blue Nights.” We can share these for now.
“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”
“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.
I’ve seen it, several times,
although much later in my own life.
It’s in the eyes
of men who
all had owned real estate
on the hopeless end
of Rockbottom Drive.
I didn’t want to find out
for myself what
was behind that look, though.
My dad made sure, as
He let me visit the address once.
For a little change of pace, I’m sharing an essay I wrote for “Storyworth”, a family history/memoir project brought to me by my two sons. When I run out of gas, or they run out of questions–or both– we’ll end up with a bound hard-copy book for each of us that will be, essentially, my memoir, driven by their questions, and done one week at a time. The following is this week’s essay.
What Gives You Peace of Mind? you ask…
Well… I have to take exception to the premise of this question. At least a little. I’m not against peace of mind in general, but just that I’m not sure that ought to be the goal. Or my goal, anyway.
And I think there’s a difference between being “happy” and having “peace of mind”. And there’s also a time element on both, and on unhappiness, too: nothing seems to be permanent, good or bad.
Lemme see if I can untangle that.
I am well past my 20s,
that golden time
when I only saw a little—and even that
with optimistic eyes.
I’m past the days of cheap
apartments with friends and wine and roaches,
lentils and rice for breakfast,
or leftover cold pizza.
I’m beyond learning of
war and death and pestilence.
The visitations of grief
have marked me, too.
Gone is the luxury of
happy, uninformed innocence,
the blind and smug assurance
that comes with youth.
I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Mysteries that can’t be explained.
If I were a Beatle
the quiet one–
I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
of permanent youthfulness.
The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
only teenagers and children could.
In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”
A little reminiscing. Reposting this just because I love this song. It makes me feel good. Time to head back to NOLA soon. …
“My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word ‘water’ sound SO good. More like ‘Wahrter.’ I love y’all’s town. And the world’s FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me.”
Trying to recapture a feeling…but what do I know? I’m just a white, white boy with too many miles on the transmission who dropped in for a few days of pretend. Nah, I’m just being coo-yon. That place can get under your skin quick. I’ll be going back. Ça c’est bon Continue reading “‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’ *”
Do you have a favorite to share? (And yes, I’m procrastinating…)
A couple to get you primed:
Sometimes writing is beautiful, like making love. Sometimes it’s painful, like having a tooth pulled. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.
“Why won’t the saints look at us?”
“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”
“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”
“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….
That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”
–From Aug. 2016, revised
There is no knowledge without sacrifice
In order to gain anything, you must first lose everything.
Before I can hope for solutions,
I must first identify the problems.
As an ancient voice cried out
in another time of great upheaval,
much like our own:
“The oceans have dried up
The mountains crumble
The pole star is shaken
The gods perish.
I am a frog in a dry well. “
There are no solutions
The problems remain.
I pay attention to this place, this time.
Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.
One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget – I kept saying – that we are all children of the King.
For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.
We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.
Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef – they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.
I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.
By Sharon Olds
I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.
With one exception, no one in the pub that night had heard the story of the unfaithful earl with a spear in his guts…. At least, not since they were children.
It was a quiet evening. Truth be told, most evenings in the little village were quiet. Deadly quiet. It made the people a little odd.
This night was running down in the same way. Nothing moved outside, or inside, except for calls for refills by the few villagers who remained.
But just before closing time, Robert Mordrum, a local farmer, burst into the low-beamed gathering place just before closing, white-faced and speechless.
From “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder
“..Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those … of those about you.To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.
To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another.
Now you know that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to.
Ignorance and blindness ….
If you knew your work would never be read by anyone else—would you still write?
Look, I’m not getting much sleep lately,
so chalk this up to grumpiness, if you want.
Or the back spasms…
And I’m no prude, believe me.
But I am a man who’s old, so most
of you would’t notice me on the street.
I’m a tad bitter about that, you might say,
but have learned what’s important.
Maybe, you could just listen.
I get it: Sex sells,
fantasy sex sells cars and everything else..
All those selfies of you on FB, Instagram,
You posed coyly just to show your good side,
your amazing boobs or butt, the come-hither look.
(And yes, I notice. ) Continue reading “Dear Ladies”
by Leonard Cohen
Good night, good night, my fallen star
I guess you’re right, you always are
I know you’re right about the blues
You live some life you’d never choose
I’m just a fool, a dreamer who forgot to dream of the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
But if the road leads back to you
Must I forget the things I knew
When I was friends with one or two
Traveling light like we used to do
I’m traveling light
This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)
This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.
It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, Continue reading “Lenny”
by Jim Harrison
The old Finn hadn’t washed his cup
in fifty years. “It ain’t dirty,”
he said, “there’s just been coffee in it.”
His wife and baby both died in childbirth
fifty-seven years ago. Inside his cabin
there’s a dust woman near
an unused cradle he made by hand.
Fleeting Emotions, perpetual words.
Intriguing short stories, poetry, christian fantasy, historical dramatization, and science fiction
“The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne." --Chaucer
Awakening the spirit through baring my soul
seeking sublime surrender
A place for short fiction and poetry while your coffee brews or your tea steeps
Exploring the human experience, one cup of coffee at a time.
...in my Mind's Eye
"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman
My sarcastic travels through life while trying to remain true to myself and not kill others.
A Continuing Revolution
Nefesime,hayatıma,aklıma esen her şeye dair.
THE DRIVELLINGS OF TWATTERSLEY FROMAGE