– 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.
– 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.
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.
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.
“Darkness” is a poem written by Lord Byron in July 1816. That year was
known as the Year Without a Summer, because Mount Tamborahad erupted in
the “Dutch East Indies” (the highest peak on the island of Sumbawa in
Indonesia), casting enough sulphur into the atmosphere to reduce global temperatures and cause abnormal weather across much of north-east America and northern Europe. This pall of darkness inspired Byron to write his poem.
Missing NOLA, so a rerun
The City of New Orleans pulls out of downtown,
setting the ground rumbling, gaining speed,
steel nose pointed hard north,
toward the coming night.
Like a thousand times before,
she finds the scent of the line away from the party,
leaving street-corner musicians,
Heavenly beignets and chicory coffee….And joy.
Leaving Joy, behind—despite misery under freeway overpasses;
Falling away in the rear window down parallel bands of steel
The party goes on, the music getting
fainter, but stuck in my skin like a vaccination scar,
in my ear like an old love song playing soft.
Despite the worst that could happen, the People endure.
God bless the People.
The train rolls north, but carries the place with it.
The passengers carry the place with us.
Old Bourbon St., Canal St. with it’s clackety trolleys;
flood-stained Poydras, Gravier, Decatur streets.
The bars and the shops and the throngs of
sun worshipers on Jackson Square
who lounge and dance to a saxophone player
and drop coins and bills in his open case on the sidewalk.
Or listen to the tolling of the cathedral bells.
The steamboat down at the dock breathes
a hot, breathy calliope tune, luring passengers to the
Big Muddy to taste something old, something new
Something borrowed, and some Blues.
The blond woman, on her cast iron balcony above
The traffic and crowds, waters her flowers, looks
Down at me and smiles. It’s OK, Honey, she seems to say,
Life is good. Isn’t this a great place?
It’s New Orleans: Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
Let the good times roll…
So we roll. The horn blasts again and silent
steel wheels start to turn, gathering speed.
Number 58 follows an old steel line up, up,
slowing now and then but
Always up, up, up, past
Metairie, Kenner, New Iberia, the old names.
Hugging the shore of vast
Lake Ponchartrain, goddess destroyer,
Up, up the steel magic carpet ride
In dusk’s gathering, into the
dark memories of Delta country,
Past fields greening with winter wheat,
into the Mississippi night,
A stop at McComb, then Jackson,
then all the way up, up to Memphis by midnight.
And as we sleep, the car rocks unevenly,
the engine horn blows warnings
Into the darkness, the stars move slowly past.
The conductor’s voice comes over the speaker, tinny,
An hour and a half to Chicago.
“Get your things ready. Breakfast is served.”
Dawn comes early in places like this,
A mist covers the fields and coats them out of focus.
At breakfast, a retired doctor traveling with his daughter
Back home to Chicago
Tells about strawberries
(they’re on the menu this morning)
And remembers tending strawberries
on his father’s farm in
New Orleans, and how sweet
they were, and how he hated
Working in the beds, but loved
eating the sweetest berries in the world.
The sweetest in the world… his voice trails off.
Watching him, his eyes gone soft with old memories,
I wondered if their sweetness was more than rich soil,
But rather some small consolation to the People for
Enduring the swamps and fevers and mosquitos and the hurricanes.
The old doctor remembers the flavors
of strawberries on his father’s farm
In the French Quarter, 70 years, a lifetime ago.
He can taste the past again, and smiles.
The miles evaporate under the clicking wheels
as we talk, and eat
And the car rocks and rolls.
The waiter flies up and down the aisle,
Used to the way the car bucks and pitches on rough spots,
Never spilling the coffee.
The eastern horizon begins to glow.
Through fallow fields and past naked trees we fly.
And like the Resurrection, the sun is up and claims the day,
Keeping pace, rising in the east, burning bright, banishing darkness again.
And out the window,
over the frosty stubble
of an Illinois cornfield,
the old promise rises,
runs alongside, keeping pace.
We race the sun to Kankakee,
yet the faint music still plays,
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
– Carl Jung
With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program
After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.
I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.
I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.
Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear, I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.
I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:
No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.
Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.
Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.
Then give someone else the credit for it.
This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.
Just after sundown,
past the North Carolina border,
our passenger train stops to let
a freight whiz by in the dark.
We’re not as profitable per pound,
and complain when the ride’s too rough.
And, really, just look at us; so flabby and soft.
So we must wait.
It’s good to know your value in
But the delay has already been factored in, and
for the first time in my life I’m
comfortable waiting, in the dark.
I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head. It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….
“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.
“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”
by Jim Harrison
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment…
I’ve been reading some of yours…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.
My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.
I want more than the lazy, the easy;
more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).
I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.
It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.
Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,
get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?
There’s no time to waste, you know,
Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.
Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.
I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).
I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.
For our own precious humanity,
do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.
Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.
Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.
But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
So much more.
Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the news,
Bubbles blown from fantasies, others made of blues.
The farmer’s bubble in the field
The bubble of the boy, forgotten
by the girl he can’t forget.
The doctor’s hero bubble that pays for that Corvette.
The bubble of the longhaul trucker, and
The Mercedes, passing, teasing with a flash of thigh.
The angry white guy’s bubble,
And the angry black guy’s too.
The bubble of a poor girl who wonders which must do.
And over at the Pentagon:
the soldier’s bubble marches, the sailor’s, the Marine’s.
The small-town bubbles of porches and shady streets,
And bubbling battles brewing over things like flu vaccines.
The tribal identity bubbles fought with high school games.
Bubbles of teenagers sleeping rough in the park,
A generation on mental benches, living in the dark.
The city’s bubble, the country’s, the village’s and the farm’s.
Gender’s bubbles mix it up: the myths, desires, the charms
Being sexy’s another bubble, yet you’re never quite sure you are.
The bubble of the man-boys, costumed in beards and plaid,
The laughing girl-herd bubble, strategically underclad.
Pastors in pulpits, Bible bubbles fired into the air,
Sinners in their secret guilt just recite the old Lord’s Prayer.
And all the rich folk’s bubbles… where should I begin?
They keep their teeth past old age,
With gold-plated dental plans.
Then new cars every year, parked in heated garages.
And vacation cruises in the islands, on floating casino barages.
They hire pricey doctors who lounge in those Corvettes,
And look in every mirror for new bulges in silhouettes.
Of course, all are in the bigger bubble, the one we call delusion,
Which only brings on worser woes, and more confused conclusions.
So look ye to the birds above, who neither reap nor sow,
Who– nearly as any ear can tell–
Choose song and freedom,
not a fake and freakish game show.
by Jim Harrison
I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.
[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]
An Obituary printed in the London Times…..
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, “Common Sense”, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– And maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can Continue reading “In Memoriam”
“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are
forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat Conroy,
Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead, Go Instead Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dusk in August under a crescent moon.
People in the neighborhood walk their dogs,
Hurrying, because they have work tomorrow.
But the air has that special kind of softness that
Makes people stir inside, think alarming thoughts.
Her house in the woods is empty tonight.
No kids, no neighbors, no husband, no plans.
So, after the dishes are put away, and a few emails read,
She looks out and sees the moon over the dark woods.
She steps out of her clothes and onto the deck,
Opens her arms and lets the pale light electrify her skin,
Feels a movement in her womb, just as in ancient times,
And she makes of herself an offering, in freedom—
An exhausted suburban wife with laundry to do—
To something primal that she had thought was dead.
The air grows older as it drains through the passages and doorways of
These ruins, where history stopped, where people leaked
Into the sand, were forgot.
If there is no memory left, did it ever really happen?
The stones feel the air drain past, patient, and say “yes, it did”.
The aged breezes surround, inhabit—an oozing, firesome force. They scorch crumbling brick, Caress the sleepers, curious if any faint dreams still stir,
In the soft, reddish dry light,
Under the changeless sunsets of forty wretched centuries.
The air entwines legs, hair, imagination,
The whispers of spirits long gone, their bones still sprawled nearby, call.
Questions, asked like thought from just over the shoulder.
Faded sighs and cries from a room buried and forgotten, born only on the wind.
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
And so we must ask ourselves:
What is freedom?
Do we decide when to wake?
When to sleep?
Do not authorities order our
Or our partners do?
“You have to get up early!”
“Why do you stay up so late?”
Order belongs to the day,
Unordered things, the night.
Nakedness emerges in the night…
Bodies come together, touch, in the night.
What is put aside during the day
And only implied at dinner, or the theater
Finally takes place in the secrecy of the dark.
We trade freedom for order in the hours of light.
We reclaim our freedom in secret, in the night.
There’s a difference between chaos and apparent chaos. I hope you’re sitting down.
It largely depends on whether you see it as just all that red ink in your credit card statement (did I really charge the Giganto Burger weekly special at Five Guys AND a year on my fitness membership?), or the fact that you have a teenager (which really IS soul-sapping chaos, but a different kind.)
I understand. If the wolf is chewing on your leg, you kind of have to take care of that first.
But I’ve tried to remember: the big picture is that there is also “apparent” chaos, and that kind obeys underlying rules. It’s just that I can’t really do much about things I can neither predict nor control. So all I can do is try not to do stupid things too much, and then learn how to roll with the punches.
Of course, it could also be that one anonymous, heartless (but beautiful) bastard/bitch butterfly in Honduras flapping his/her wings, setting in motion a chain of events that ends with the utter destruction by a level 16 hurricane of my beloved French Quarter. That would make me sad.
“The example of such a small system as a butterfly being responsible for creating such a large and distant system as a tornado in Texas illustrates the impossibility of making predictions for complex systems; despite the fact that these are determined by underlying conditions, precisely what those conditions are can never be sufficiently articulated to allow long-range predictions.
Although chaos is often thought to refer to randomness and lack of order, it is more accurate to think of it as an apparent randomness that results from complex systems and interactions among systems. According to James Gleick, author of Chaos : Making a New Science , chaos theory is “a revolution not of technology, like the laser revolution or the computer revolution, but a revolution of ideas.”
Now, about that wolf. Here’s a gun. Shoot the son of a bitch.
Excellent piece. Among other disabilities, I am a history nut. I’ve been especially fascinated my whole life by slavery and the Civil War, which culturally continues through today’s political campaigns. I’ve visited Monticello 4-5 times, Mount Vernon, Madison’s little shack, and every battlefield of note between Virginia and New Orleans (with the exception of Vicksburg). I used to live in Williamsburg (long story, but we moved there when I was 9 and stayed in a guest house owned by William and Mary, where my dad taught for a year; I took a bath in what had been Jefferson’s office at one time.) I have vacationed in the South dozens of times over the years, and usually took in the places and stories wherever I am. I revere the Enlightenment and it’s ideas. This piece summarizes what I, a white guy, finally came to believe. I can barely stand to visit those places anymore, both because of all of the neo-confederate denialism that still bubbles up down south, and because I finally saw beneath the surface into the lives of the anonymous people that built everything. Every single nail and clapboard on the houses of their masters.
I know my reaction is unfair to the majority of Southerners who have to live with and live down all the legacy. But I’m reminded of my Muslim friends who get painted with the same brush when one of their nutcases blows up an airport. It’s not fair to the vast majority, either, but deep down in both there’s one kernel of truth: the South has a legacy problem it still hasn’t completely expunged. Neither has Islam, as both have the same buried, shameful, reflexive tolerance for the old hatreds.
Dear Ms. Sherman, When I read your reflection in The American Conservative I was so sorry to hear that you had mistaken the museum at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for a monument to the Declaration of Independence. This mistake clearly caused much despair to you, and I suspect, to your unwitting children, who later found themselves flung […]
“…Life is a roar of bargain and battle, but in the very heart of it there rises a mystic spiritual tone that gives meaning to the whole. It transmutes the dull details into romance. It reminds us that our only but wholly adequate significance is as parts of the unimaginable whole. It suggests that even while living we are living to ends outside ourselves…”*
*Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. in Address to the Harvard Alumni Association to the Class of 1861, in Speeches(1913), p. 96
…Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter-and the Bird is on the Wing.
Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
I do not trust myself to be completely honest. About anything. Not completely. Does anyone ever become the wave sweeping across the ocean, or sink into the Ground of Being?
I just don’t know enough. Nor do I know whether it is possible to learn or understand enough.
All I can do is keep looking, learning, failing, hoping, healing, moving… and know the journey will probably never be finished.
Morning dawned in New Orleans bright and cold. Not Pennsylvania cold (where it’s in the 20s this morning), but a brisk 54. I’m halfway through the trip from LA to home via the train. Nine days to go, nine marked off on the calendar.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all of it. Traveling by train for this long is a completely different experience than driving or flying. Someone else is driving, obviously. And it doesn’t have the soulless coldness of the airline experience. It’s slower and steady, and you have time to look at the country rolling past in all its vasty dryness in the Southwest. And to think.
I’m headed out later into a great city that has come a long way back from Katrina, when that scene above was much different, under two feet of ocean and all pretense blown to hell. It’s been a few years now, but the vibe is different than I expected so far. There’s an air of friendliness and joy here that comes out easily. And maybe that’s because they took the worst of God’s fury, and found they were tough enough to embrace life. Can’t wait to see more.
It may take time to find the trapdoor,
To get this pavement out of my eye.
I have options, but I see things.
The ones who slept out there last night,
Sitting on worn steps, jittery, cold,
Asking for change, for a cigarette,
Muttering streams of gibberish, eyes haunted.
I’m a warrior on the QT.
But I have options.
Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.
Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.
Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length
Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.
Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in song.
“I love you,” said a great mother. “I love you for what you are knowing so well what you are.
“And I love you more yet, child, deeper yet than ever, child, for what you are going to be, knowing so well you are going far, knowing your great works are ahead, ahead and beyond, yonder and far over yet.”
“I know we’re not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.”
― Dylan Thomas
And tomorrow, a few of us will vote in the neighborhood. 🙂
It happens. The dry spells drift in around my ankles like sand, and before I know it, I can’t move.
Oh, well. These times happen, and we try to figure out what to do. It will pass, and then something new will either delight or dismay, sometimes simultaneously. On this day, a day of sad remembrance, it is a time to pause, and think of the People.
The summer was eventful, meaningful, powerful and full of the closing of some doors and the exciting, tentative opening of others. And over it all hovers the terrible news of murder and suffering and liars loose on the land, of children dying for no reason, of the sins of the powerful, the stupidity of the masses.
In the meantime, I read your posts and silently urge you on. Don’t worry about me. I’m resting, that’s all. Getting down to basics. It happens. It will pass. I look out on the rooflines of old mansions from my high perch. The Fall sunshine kisses the leaves that still grace the trees and suggests things in dappled shadows on the wall. It is a good place to be, a perfect place to rise in order to sink down into the meat of things.
And in the meantime, I read, keeping company with others to show me the way to kick my feet free and to step out onto the long road again….
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.
by Carl Sandburg
I wrote a poem on the mist And a woman asked me what I meant by it. I had thought till then only of the beauty of the mist, how pearl and gray of it mix and reel, And change the drab shanties with lighted lamps at evening into points of mystery quivering with color. I answered: The whole world was mist once long ago and some day it will all go back to mist, Our skulls and lungs are more water than bone and tissue And all poets love dust and mist because all the last answers Go running back to dust and mist.
Reminded me of some of the jobs I’ve had…. H.
by Jim Daniels
An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.
I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He ain’t no average joe.
The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit…
The counter girls laugh.
It is the crucial point-
They are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
“Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!”
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.
“Short-order Cook” by Jim Daniels from Places/Everyone. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. (buy now)
I see her beauty and am charmed, utterly, but then something makes me look ahead in her life. What will she be like in 10 years? In 20? In 50?
All I know now is that it is a long journey she is on, and nothing stays the same. Everything changes, many times. We each roll the dice and play the game, whether we know the rules or not. We roll up the faces of chance, with whatever faith we have. In the end, the ways and honesty with which we love and have been loved is all that matters. And I refuse to believe that something so good, even if it does not last, can ever be bad.
We change as we grow older, become a different person, over and over, but always the same person, too. The things that happen to us do that, but whatever they are, they’re just part of life. Nothing need be wasted unless we stop squeezing meaning from everything, even the disasters. The living of it is the point. And that is what gives up its sweetness to us to taste, and to remember.
So I see her beauty and am charmed, utterly. She is youth, and life, and promise and potential. She makes me remember many things, good things, and some things that still sting.
And, for just the briefest of moments in the grand sweep of changing moments, life is just a little sweeter, a little more good.
–Inspired by the BBC production of “Every Human Heart,” Try it on Amazon.
Lithe embodiment of Grace.
Stay with me a while.
Helpless wings frozen,
Purity speared by sadness
Gift I cannot hold
*Russian ballet dancers photographed by Alexander Yakovlev
Sharing words by others….
by Ted Kooser
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm-a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
“Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser from Flying at Night. © University of Pittsburgh 1985
This was going to be just an anniversary rerun, happily marking one year today since my stroke. And I apologize for the need to make this a little darker than I’d intended. But I think you’ll see why.
I’m doing well, happier than ever, tapping deeper into the craft I love, and enjoying new friends —you— as never before. I’m living much more healthily, have lost 23-pounds on the way to 35 or more, and the satisfactions of this blog alone has reduced stress. I want to be around for a while, tasting the sweetness and bitterness of life in equal measure. I’ve never felt so alive. And so I thought to put up a simple marker to a very interesting and rewarding year.
But the Universe has a perverted sense of humor. Within the week, other news reminded us that there is bad with the good, and that what builds us up can tear us down, too. A meeting with a surgeon today told us what comes next for her.
Cancer. Again. Breast. Third time. Fourth diagnosis overall. The good part, if there is a good part, is that they caught it so early that it’s still at Stage Zero. Some more consultations are to come, of course. And ultimately, a major surgery. But, no chemo this time. We must be content with such small gratitude as this. But it is enough.
It seems that one can have one of two reactions to something like this. We can feel the close brush of the thing we will all eventually face, and be driven inward, fearful. Or, we can realize that Fate comes at a time of her own choosing, and none of us knows the day or the hour. The choice is always between fear and shriveling down, or doing what must be done in spite of the fear.
Life will break you if you let it.
April 24, 2014 ….
On Thursday morning, I woke up feeling funny, my right side partially paralyzed. After waiting far too long, I went to the ER and learned that sometime overnight a tiny blood vessel near the center of my brain on the left side, about the level of my eyes and near the hypothalamus, had been blocked by something. The loss of blood to a tiny, tiny area deep in my brain has made things I took for granted now difficult.
I went to bed feeling normal, woke up a stroke victim.
But, it’s turned out as well as could be expected. I’m home, the symptoms are fading away, and the docs think I should recover completely. I was extremely lucky.
It talking with someone else today I was reminded of this song by Johnny Cash, on the last album he recorded “The Man Comes Around.” The phrase– “whirlwind in the thorn tree –in it sums up the last couple of days, how events can take over and we’re whipped around and wounded, feeling out of control.
One day you’re thinking about ordinary things,
Groceries, taxes, walking the dog, the upcoming weekend,
Problems a friend is having, plans to celebrate a graduation,
Finances, cleaning out the garage,
And all the plans… trips we wanted to take,
Places to finally see, places we put off seeing
Until the kids were launched, happy, safe.
Then we hear thunder over the horizon,
Like the pounding of many hooves,
And the sky darkens, the air grows cold, the sun loses all warmth.
The pounding, the thunder, the messengers’ announcement
Comes up through your feet, sinks into your bones, and you know what it is.
Fear grips your heart, you clutch each other in silent recognition.
Again. Again. Not again.
Plans change in the instant, one one phone call,
Plans are such feeble things, rattled so easily
And so effortlessly by the sound of thunder,
Thudding hooves coming this way, and there is no escape.
Let me hold you tight, whisper in your ear the words I dreaded
I’d say again: “I’ve got you. I’m here. We have to saddle up again. The thunder is coming.
The hurricane will be upon us soon. There isn’t much time.”
How cruel these nights, his belly knows,
Through rocky valleys gorged with snows;
His watchful eyes like shards of ice,
The lonely hunter’s hunger grows.
On solitary trails of white,
In empty days and bleakest night,
Ten million nights have come to this,
Death strikes true, or life takes flight.
A feathered hunter watches near
Taunts “Who is that who founders here?
“Who is it damned to roam the rocks,
“While I soar free and without fear?
Red in tooth, sharp in claw,
Ruthless Nature tests us all.
Eat or die, win or lose,
Five billion years, that’s been the law.
Yet we believe, against mere fact,
Our charms will make the fates retract
What may just be our final act.
What may just be our final act
This was a practice piece, mimicking, again, the meter and patterns of Frost’s “Stopping By a Woods…”
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