The Long Rhythms


Earth

Put your ear to the earth and wait…

Tune your senses to the long rhythms…

Listen…..

The sun’s daily higher in the sky,

It pounds a fist on the grave’s door:

Awake!

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:

Awake!

Listen….

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.

Listen….

© Hemmingplay 2014

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At the Dig


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Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.

I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.

The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.

The lemon-yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.

Ghazal*: The Water


In Mystery

I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.

In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.

In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.

Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.

I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.

My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.

On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.

_____________
*An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.

In Memoriam, Nov. 22, 1963


dallas-morning-news-kennedy-slain-commemorative-50th-anniversaryThe events in Dallas 53 years ago are dimming in the nation’s mind, but I always remember.

I was just three months into 9th grade in old school building now gone. I was in the downstairs hallway, by the doors to the auditorium, when the principle made the announcement over the loudspeaker that the president had died.

The news hit me hard.

JFK had awakened my political interests just three years before, when I was 11 or twelve, an interest that continued through a six-year stint in journalism and since. I’d just started being aware of politics and presidential elections then, though, and vaguely remember Continue reading “In Memoriam, Nov. 22, 1963”

Adolescence


To My Favorite 17-year-old High School Girl
By Billy Collins

Do you realize that if you had started building the Parthenon
on the day you were born,
you would be all done in only one more year?
Of course, you couldn’t have done that all alone.
So never mind;
you’re fine just being yourself.
You’re loved for just being you.

But did you know that at your age
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory
and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room –
no wait, I mean he had invented the calculator?
Of course, there will be time for all that
later in your life, after you come out of your room
and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.
For some reason I keep remembering
that Lady Jane Grey was queen of England
when she was only 15.
But then she was beheaded, so never mind her as a role model.
A few centuries later,
when he was your age,
Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,
but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies, four operas
and two complete masses as a youngster.
But of course, that was in Austria
at the height of Romantic lyricism,
not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.
Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you –
playing with your food and staring into space.
By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,
but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.

 

 

 

My Luck 


I love this one. Part of my “quotes from better writers” group.
by Joyce Sutphen

When I was five, my father,
who loved me, ran me over
with a medium-sized farm tractor.

I was lucky though; I tripped
and slipped into a small depression,
which caused the wheels to tread

lightly on my leg, which had already
been broken (when I was three)
by a big dog, who liked to play rough,

and when I was nine, I fell
from the second-floor balcony
onto the cement by the back steps,

and as I went down I saw my life go by
and thought: “This is exactly how
Wiley Coyote feels, every time!”

Luckily, I mostly landed on my feet,
and only had to go on crutches
for a few months in the fifth grade—

and shortly after that, my father,
against his better judgment,
bought the horse I’d wanted for so long.

All the rest of my luck has to do
with highways and ice—things that
could have happened, but didn’t.

“My Luck” by Joyce Sutphen from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. (buy now)

Mermaids, Anyone?


Childhood
Cover
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”

Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.

It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.

Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)

“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.

I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but  yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!

If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )

Here’s the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mermaid-sisters-first-dive/id776995608?mt=11

 

Fear and The Light


terror
Who knows when fear arrives for us…
Perhaps the first is in the egg’s big moment,
When she, plump and frisky and motivated,
Feels the urgent “hey, baby, open up!” of a thousand horny
Sperm poking and stroking all sides of her
Like desperate sales clerks
After three slow months
And she’s the one customer with cash.

My first remembered brush with darkness
Was a nameless thing, because I could not yet form words.
I left my family in the living room and wandered around the corner.
I  remember seeing the half-dark kitchen,
All shadows of familiar things turned strange In the gloom.
And toddled onward, lurching over to a corner.
Who knows what I was looking for.

I saw a mark on the linoleum
(I think my creepy brother had told me it was a bug, earlier, and I
was somehow drawn back to it)
There it was, but in the gloom, alone,
It seemed alive and growing, reaching for me.

I froze. And screamed. And fled.
I think that was the first time I’d felt totally alone,
Separate. Safety was gone, and that spot
Was everything that aloneness meant.
The bottom dropped out of my world
And sheer panic made my feet move,
Back toward the light, my parents
Sure something malevolent was following.

I remember hysterics—mine;
Unable to talk yet, I could only babble desperate sounds,
Trying to name a
Terror that no one could understand.
My father took my hand and let me stand in the door
While he turned on the kitchen light
Beckoned me over, and asked what I’d seen.
He was probably expecting a rat.

In the light, the terror, the prehensile primal fear
That had wrapped a tentacle around my chest
Uncoiled. Bit by bit.
It was just a bug-shaped stain on the floor.
I remember approaching it slowly,
Touching it with my toe.
“Go ahead, touch it with your finger,” he said, mildly
Ignoring my brother’s laughter from the other room

The monster shrank from the light, shriveled
And went back into nothing.
A remnant of a splotch of something dropped long ago.

But to this day, I believe that evil is real and
That it cannot
Live for long in the light.

Memory    Obstacles

The Cat, the Hayloft and the Boy


Memory

image
Yes, I know this isn’t a calico cat. Work with me here.

The old calico cat came in from the fields whenever her belly was full of kittens again. She’d lumber to the boy’s house, hang around by the door and mooch a meal, then head to the barn. To the hayloft where she was born, as generations of hers had. It was the way things were.

Mountains of the older-style, small bales from the summer’s haying season made the perfect place to make a nest. Warm. Dry. Quiet. Mice were plentiful, and water was in stock tanks down below.

The boy learned the meanings of her fertility. He witnessed the births of several litters. Watched her as she cleaned them, nudged them to rows of nipple, stretched out and let them feed. It was just the way things were on a farm. Birth and death.

She knew him, and let him come close to her babies, as long as he was quiet. Then, later, she looked on benignly as they climbed and frolicked fiercely around and over him. Twice a year, usually. Once in the spring when the fields were greening, and again in the fall, when the land exhaled and prepared for sleep.

The boy visited and watched. He would open the small door made of weathered old wood, painted red, in the giant set of doors where the tractors would back wagons groaning with hay in once or twice a year.

At harvest times, if there had been enough rain to have more than one cutting of alfalfa, his father and uncle and cousins would swing the bales from the wagon, onto the conveyor, and stack them in walls of fragrance fresh from June’s fields, and August’s. Later on, he would join them and learn the joy of hard labor, together. The teasing. The camaraderie of men. Of family.

But when very young, he just made sure the cat and her kittens were out of the way. Then, after supper, he would spend time among the skyscrapers of summer hay. He watched the cat feed the current litter of miniature tigers, wash them, and curl her body around them while they slept. Season after season, until the kittens eventually grew and left the barn for a life of foraging and danger on their own. The barn seemed empty and more lonely after they were gone.

It marked the passing of time, and taught him the rhythms of things. The natural order of the way things were supposed to be.

When he was still small, he imagined himself curled up safe and warm, looked after, soothed to sleep with the mellow comfort of mama’s purrs.

When it was dark outside, the boy crept out of the small door and shut it tight, to keep the coldness out, and walked the long lane to the house. No one seemed to be looking for him. It was expected that he would learn to take care of himself. He knew that the calico would let him sleep in the quiet of the hay with her kittens, if he turned back.

Maybe tomorrow. It was just the way things were.

Hard and Holy Things


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Stolen from Post Secret. 

I don’t know for sure, but I think the next few decades are going to be hard on our children and grandchildren. They’re going to have to learn how to be tough, tough people. They will be tested more than we have, and I’m afraid we haven’t prepared them. The seas will rise, conflicts will grow and spread, and refugees will flood out away from it. Worse than now (I hope I’m wrong).

 

Alley Time


tedHouse

I walked the dog at dusk down the alley behind our house last night. It was just after the sun had slid behind the mountain and the light shifted to that peculiar deep shade where daytime things start fading into the shadows.

The growing gloom entices the frightened from their burrows, and we hear the quick shuffling of the leaves as a critter darts, stops, listens, darts, stops, eats, listens for sudden death. The dog hears other things I cannot, and strains against the leash, blood rushing to her ears, hunter’s heart quickening. If I let her loose, she would visit swift destruction on anything too slow to escape. It is her nature.

I sympathize, but keep her tethered, sympathizing with those potential victims more.

The wide, quiet back yards exude an air of solidity and age, guarded by huge oaks and elms and Copper Beech and towering, dour Hemlocks. They show a different face than the fronts do. Back here, there is less grooming, less concern with status and social norms. Here, tools are left leaning against sheds to rust by older residents no longer able to care. Here, the grass isn’t cut quite as often, and Nature has more of a presence.

Old carriage house doors sag against rusting hinges, grass and weeds grow in some yards, and you can read the signs.

There is one place with a brick barbecue pit that is covered by vines and wild bushes, with roots growing through mortar joints weakened by rain and too many winter nights. It has been 40 years since the kids and their cousins and friends grew up there, give or take a decade. The grandkids are already away at college or playing in a rock band, or married and living in Baltimore or California. They don’t visit the old people any more.

They did, once. They spent summers there learning about themselves, exploring the same back yard their parent(s) had, basking in the tolerant love of grandparents who learned lessons the hard way. But the visits gradually slowed until they stopped altogether, and the laughter of children stopped.

The grandparents have grown old, and maybe one has died, but the vines and wild overgrowth says they no longer believe in parties in the yard in the summer night, when children’s excited cries bounced off neighbors’  houses from a game of hide-and-seek in a pretend jungle full of scary possibilities.

The adults in that remembered, lost time sat in a circle of chairs with drinks in their hands, talking about football and schools and trips and heartbreaks and that cousin or sister everyone thinks is crazy. Those nights when a picnic table was loaded with food everyone has brought, flickering torches made shadows dance on the canopy of leaves overhead, on the lilac bush by the corner of the house. The scene could have been from an ancient campfire on the Mongolian plain, or in the forests of Europe 10,000 years ago, and only the clothes would be different.

The smoke from the bricked fire, the smell of roasting steaks and hotdogs and hamburgers and sweetcorn kept some bugs away and drew others to the feast, and made the children hungry enough to come in from the game, complaining about someone who cheated, and scratching at mosquito bites.

I stopped last night by the ruins , felt the passage of time, and savored the way life’s sweetest times are so fleeting, and all the sweeter for that, in that relentless, broad, slow flow of the River of the Present into the future.

The dog wants to follow a scent into the underbrush, but I tug on the leash and she gives up and trots down the alley ahead, head down, looking for something to chase. It is her nature.

“As The Twig is Bent…


So is the tree inclined…”.

Click on the graphic to play (sorry, but there’s a 30-second ad in front of this). 

Screenshot 2014-07-15 16.29.40

My oldest posted this on Facebook today and added this:

“For Dad, the editor of all my elementary, middle, and high school school papers.”

Our boys had parents who are both writers and editors, so they never could get away with sloppy writing. I believed, and believe, that writing is hard, but a vital skill if done well.

They’re both pretty good writers now, and voracious readers. It really makes me feel good when one of them will say something like this. Makes up for the teenage years!

Weird Al Yankovich on “Word Crimes” and good writing.  

This if for TK Kim. Sorry, TK. This is Google’s translator. Bing is just hopeless. I hope this doesn’t make you sick. 🙂

–Hemmingplay

Mon plus vieux publiés sur Facebook aujourd’hui et a ajouté ceci:

“Pour le papa, le rédacteur en chef de tout mon primaire, moyen, secondaire et de lycée papiers.”

Nos garçons avaient des parents qui sont à la fois auteurs et éditeurs, de sorte qu’ils ne pouvaient s’en tirer avec l’écriture bâclée. Je croyais, et je crois, que l’écriture est difficile, mais une compétence essentielle si bien fait.

Ils sont tous les deux très bons écrivains aujourd’hui, et des lecteurs voraces. Il me fait vraiment sens bien quand l’un d’eux dire quelque chose comme ça. Fait pour les années d’adolescence!

Weird Al Yankovich sur “les crimes de Word» et une bonne écriture.

What I Should Have Said to My Sons Sooner


A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

Carl Sandburg

Why I Feed the Birds


The things that women give the world, the little and the big.

why i feed the birds

by Richard Vargas

once
i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding
a small god

“why i feed the birds” by Richard Vargas from Guernica. © Press 53, 2014.

On Faith


by Cecilia Woloch

How do people stay true to each other?
When I think of my parents all those years
in the unmade bed of their marriage, not ever
longing for anything else—or: no, they must
have longed; there must have been flickerings,
stray desires, nights she turned from him,
sleepless, and wept, nights he rose silently,
smoked in the dark, nights that nest of breath
and tangled limbs must have seemed
not enough. But it was. Or they just
held on. A gift, perhaps, I’ve tossed out,
having been always too willing to fly
to the next love, the next and the next, certain
nothing was really mine, certain nothing
would ever last. So faith hits me late, if at all;
faith that this latest love won’t end, or ends
in the shapeless sleep of death. But faith is hard.
When he turns his back to me now, I think:
disappear. I think: not what I want. I think
of my mother lying awake in those arms
that could crush her. That could have. Did not.

“On Faith” by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © BOA Editions, 2003.