The Fish


Elizabeth Bishop – 1911-1979

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Silences


What an odd boy, they used to say of me.
They’re still saying it.
But I’m a writer, my dear, and not right in the head.
That’s all it is. But I do know how to
take my time and listen,
sitting under the willow tree in the spring as the birds
bring me happy messages from God.
I will take my time with other important things, too,
so lay your curves of water here beside me.

If this pleases you,
You may pay me back with your
gift of second sight,
and tell me where my true nature hides,
where my pain
scuttles unhealed,
my illusions fester.

I will love you all the more for it.
These are gifts we give, freely
and they bind us in profound ways
because they reveal. Continue reading “Silences”

To A Contemporary Bunkshooter


Carl and Lilian Steichen Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg

You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . .
yelling about
Jesus.
Where do you get that stuff?
What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
he never made any fake passes and everything
he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
over your lips. . . always blabbing we’re all
going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I’ve read Jesus’ words. I know what he said. You don’t
throw any scare into me. I’ve got your number. I
know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
of the running.

I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
now lined up with you paying your way. Continue reading “To A Contemporary Bunkshooter”

Love in the Time of Corona


I’ve grown tired of disappointing women.
And of being disappointed in them.
I know that’s too broad a conclusion
from a very small sample.
Don’t care. I need a break,
and Corvid-19 is a convenient excuse.

I’m hiding out from another virus
of my own making,
sheltering in place and
eating frozen vegetables.
Aware this might become permanent.

I had a long life with a woman who died,
a life better than most, I think,
not as good as some.
But still, what do I have to complain about?

Younger people have their difficulties,
stemming mostly from being naively stupid,
but older men and women bring
a lot of experienced stupidity to the bed, too.
(If it ever gets that far.)
Continue reading “Love in the Time of Corona”

Vanities


Feel your belly button,
where you were attached to
your mother. But
try not to think about
about the night you were conceived.
Whether it was a result of
a hand up a skirt, urgent kisses
and fevered promises
and premature explanations
on your mother’s couch.
(After consultations with
your inner editor,
let’s instead say it was
after a long talk over wine,
Chopin on the stereo,
tender kisses and happy plans.)

What does it matter now? You’re here.
Don’t screw up.
That’s what it comes down to.

Or wind your watch forward
(humor me, you digital ones)
a thousand years.
Was there ever a coffin
built to last the whole trip?
One that was worth the price?
We could ask Tutenkamen, I suppose,
(Who was bad at office politics
and is still dead.) Continue reading “Vanities”

A Modern Man


I walk too often in the echoes of a cold canyon,
sometimes accompanied by my wife,
dead now barely two years. She’s silent, amused,
faintly attached to this world and soon to go again,
impatient with me for hanging onto melancholic vapors
when it’s obvious–to her, anyway–that I just haven’t wised up yet.

But I’m a so-called modern man, allergic to undue connections,
Even when a dream comes and I
am lurched through a deeper portal and part a
gauzy barrier to walk with skeptical ghosts.
All I know when I wake is this bag of meat and its
pedestrian priorities.

She knew. She told me to find someone.
Knew I would only trust the secrets, the warmth and dampness,
the round softnesses I could hold,
with nipples like rosebuds and mysterious eyes;
knew that all man’s scripture could be held on a 3-by-5 card,
if he weren’t so stubbornly drunk on himself.

Purpose


Sooner or later
each of us asks
did I have a purpose?
What was I born to?

I had such a moment this morning.
Each of my life’s 2. 22 billion seconds
had to have gone exactly as it did
to bring me to this,

to experience the flock of warblers
that burst out of the sky
into the middle of my morning, singing
of their wild and precious lives–

up from Mexico, or Central America,
bonded in common struggle from all those days aloft,
looking for food, now,
for grass and moss for a nest.

The things prayers are made of,
for this moment.

Mountains


 

The mountains,
lustrous at dawn.
Below, here in the valley,
the droplets of last night’s rain
shimmer on blades and twigs, their
molecules respond to the sun
like a woman rising to
meet a beloved’s touch. 

Wait.
Something is going on up there
on the deep-packed slope.
A whirling figure of white, of mist,
there, yet almost not;


A snow giant,
like a tranced dervish, twirls in
the morning’s new energies—
it whirls violently,
fingerless, wispy hands thrust
high into the cold blue,
200 feet tall, or more.
A mile, maybe. It’s hard
to tell from here, as it’s
insubstantial. Massive.

Continue reading “Mountains”

Blue Gravity


The curvature of water

And here, in the kingdom of clouds,
vast continents of mist
dwarf the mountains,
lumber lightly
in from the ocean,
float improbably, silently.
They sometimes, when the air is cold,
leak acres of crystal
in the high wilderness of fir and grizzly,
burying the trees and crags of the
inaccessible mystery in white.

And here, over the empire of emeralds,
they sweep and swell and
break apart and spill out
mighty rivers and silver lakes,
wash the air clean and
sift down through my willow tree,
bit by drop, sink from sight and
hurry to refill the ocean.

From space this
blue globe of oceans and
miles-deep rock,
warped and moulded by

rivers of gravity,
seems serene and cool, but
the vast Himalayas,
Cascades,
Hindu Kush,
Rockies,
Mid-Ocean Ridge,
Andes and Alps,

bend creaking and cracking
under the stars
before the unseen power
of attraction
and, all ’round
a swirling immensity
of water, mother and father of
life, defines the horizon,
for eternity tends
to seek the perfection
of the sphere.

Breakage


By Mary Oliver (2003)

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!

The cusp of the whelk,

the broken cupboard of the clam,

the opened, blue mussels,

moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—

and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,

dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.

It’s like a schoolhouse

of little words,

thousands of words.

First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop

full of moonlight.

 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

Steelhead


By Robinson Jeffers

The sky was cold December blue with great tumbling clouds,
and the little river
Ran full but clear. A bare-legged girl
in a red jersey was wading
in it, holding a five-tined
Hay-fork at her head’s height; suddenly she darted it down like
a heron’s beak and panting hard
Leaned on the shaft, looking down passionately, her gipsy-lean
face, then stooped and dipping
One arm to the little breasts she drew up her catch, great hammered-
silver steelhead with the tines through it
And the fingers of her left hand hooked in its
gills, her slender body
Rocked with its writhing. She took it to the near bank
And was dropping it behind a log when someone said
Quietly ‘I guess I’ve got you, Vina.’ Who gasped and looked up
At a young horseman half hidden in the willow bushes,
She’d been too intent to notice him, and said ‘My God,
I thought it was the game-warden.’ ‘Worse,’ he said smiling.
‘This river’s ours.
You can’t get near it without crossing our fences.
Besides that you mustn’t spear ’em, and . . . three, four, you
little bitch,

That’s the fifth fish.’ She answered with her gipsy face, ‘Take
half o’ them, honey. I loved the fun.’
He looked up and down her taper legs, red with cold, and said
fiercely, ‘Your fun.
To kill them and leave them rotting.’ ‘Honey, let me have one
o’ them,’ she answered,

‘You take the rest.’ He shook his blond head. ‘You’ll have to pay
a terrible fine.’ She answered laughing,
‘Don’t worry: you wouldn’t tell on me.’ He dismounted and
tied the bridle to a bough, saying ‘Nobody would.
I know a lovely place deep in the willows, full of warm grass,
safe as a house,

Where you can pay it.’ Her body seemed to grow narrower
suddenly, both hands at her throat, and the cold thighs
Pressed close together while she stared at his face, it was beautiful,
long heavy-lidded eyes like a girl’s,
‘I can’t do that, honey . . . I,’ she said shivering, ‘your wife
would kill me.’ He hardened his eyes and said
‘Let that alone.’ ‘Oh,’ she answered; the little red hands came
down from her breast and faintly
Reached toward him, her head lifting, he saw the artery on the
lit side of her throat flutter like a bird
And said ‘You’ll be sick with cold, Vina,’ flung off his coat
And folded her in it with his warmth in it and carried her
To that island in the willows.

He warmed her bruised feet in
his hands;
She paid her fine for spearing fish, and another
For taking more than the legal limit, and would willingly
Have paid a third for trespassing; he sighed and said,
‘You’ll owe me that. I’m afraid somebody might come looking
for me,
Or my colt break his bridle.’ She moaned like a dove, ‘Oh Oh
Oh Oh,
You are beautiful, Hugh.’ They returned to the stream-bank.
There,
While Vina put on her shoes-they were like a small boy’s, all
stubbed and shapeless young Flodden strung the five fish
On a willow rod through the red gills and slung them
To his saddle-horn. He led the horse and walked with Vina,
going part way home with her.

Toward the canyon sea-mouth
The water spread wide and shoal, fingering through many channels
down a broad flood-bed, and a mob of sea-gulls
Screamed at each other. Vina said, ‘That’s a horrible thing.’
‘What?’ ‘What the birds do. They’re worse than I am.’
When Flodden returned alone he rode down and watched them.
He saw that one of the thousand steelhead
Which irresistible nature herded up stream to the spawning-gravel
in the mountain, the river headwaters,
Had wandered into a shallow finger of the current, and was
forced over on his flank, sculling uneasily
In three inches of water: instantly a gaunt herring-gull hovered
and dropped, to gouge the exposed
Eye with her beak; the great fish writhing, flopping over in his
anguish, another gull’s beak
Took the other eye. Their prey was then at their mercy, writhing
blind, soon stranded, and the screaming mob
Covered him.

Young Flodden rode into them and drove them
up; he found the torn steelhead
Still slowly and ceremoniously striking the sand with his tail and
a bloody eye-socket, under the
Pavilion of wings. They cast a cold shadow on the air, a fleeting
sense of fortune’s iniquities: why should
Hugh Flodden be young and happy, mounted on a good horse,
And have had another girl besides his dear wife, while others
have to endure blindness and death,
Pain and disease, misery, old age, God knows what worse?

Questions That Come With Age


185762016_0

The clock… relentless.
What’s my allotment going to be?
How to make the best of it?
How to keep dignity,
avoid a failure of imagination,
avoid self-pity….

“Savor each moment…”
Yes, well that’s a cliché.
I know what’s coming,
What I’ve lost for good.
The trick is to
Savor these, too,
With a little grace.

No lies in the mirror.
No false smiles.
No regrets.
No cruelties.
Kindnesses given
with no expectations.

There are enough
bitter herbs around.
But

One surprise smile is enough
to recharge a whole day.
Thank you, darlin’

Continue reading “Questions That Come With Age”

Roses and Thistles


I’ve disappointed a few.
A few have returned the favor;
I’m angry for a while at both of us, but
also wonder if I’m usually wrong
to expect more.

My beard is grey, but inside
is the deluded spirit of Ulysses,
yearning to go down again to the sea
in ships, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
But let me refill that cup, and from somewhere,
perhaps in my own throat—
is that a bird? or merely
the cry of a frightened child,
longing to be gentled
against the soft comforts of
undemanding love?

Island Nights


Full moon sliding fast over the water,
enough to read by,
be burned by,
rolling bright and cool
to the west, painting
a wrinkled, twinkled path
on restless waves of
aching blue turned dark,
reflecting clouds and stars.

Magical island nights, but doomed.
As the moon waned
a little more each night,
so did the magic.
Precious, but fragile.

Continue reading “Island Nights”

Distorted Passage


I swim in
streams and rivers
instead of on land,
looking up
through ripples
seeing mere refractions
of unknowns
filtered through milky moonlight.

Down small creeks,
under
branches splitting
the sky,
dark firs waving in
the breeze like monks
chanting,
and oaks bragging of age;
rocks and crags,
shifting, rippling,
dropping dappled shards of
sunlight on
crystal, chuckling waters.

In spring, the birdsong
coaxes the furled leaves out,
and enchants the forest.
The dawn flows down
hillsides like bronze-gold fire
and I, in my watery cocoon,
am under a spell.

Things skate around the edges,
we new things, like
larvae burrowing in the sand,
or peering with fearful eyes from
under rocks;
hiding, growing,
wary of hungers everywhere.

With the rains
flowing from all sides
the waters puff and
the inexorable,
invisible, seductive,
irresistible waves
of gravity pull us all
to reunion with the
mother of
all waters.

A Cowgirl



I encountered a young Colorado woman, once,
from a distance. Our trails crossed in our personal badlands.

A beauty, she had the raw fire of a mustang.
I caught her at a terrible time in her life.
Or should I say, she caught me.

Her marriage was coming apart,
her husband having lost interest and sunk into cruelty and betrayals.

We never met, except
as passing
electronic ghosts. She writhed and wrote of her pain,
her bruised pride and injured beauty.
She touched us with her anger and anguish,
her soul’s search for beauty nonetheless,
In that state she painted lurid images of
what she would do with me,
to me, what she wanted from me,
pinned against a wall, legs apart,
full of anger, fury, revenge.

Continue reading “A Cowgirl”

Passion, Courage


I have chosen to seek
each day the path of courage
and passion.
I fail, often.

I don’t
say this with bravado,
because I do not feel brave.
If I could choose something
easier, I would.
It never gets easier.

But to make the choice each day,
Each minute, to turn and
face the sadness and suffering,
of the world; the pain and joy,
each on it’s own terms
and not be defeated by it—
that is something that
must be chosen again,
and again, and again.
It is the job of poetry.
No compromises.

It is not a choice of pleasant fictions,
a diversion of entertaining nothingness;
nor like the fog of opium that
leaves us still breathing,
but dead.

Each night, darkness does not fall.
That is the wrong image.
Rather, when the earth spins away
from the sun, it rises up from the deep places
of the earth and the oceans, from
the caverns and the bottom of rivers and lakes and seas.
A deep exhalation.
A time for alternatives. Continue reading “Passion, Courage”

Too Anything


She said it was too hot,
too slow,
too fat,
too skinny,
too long,
too short,
too near,
too far,
too messy,
too loose,
too tight,
too much,
too little,
too soon,
too late.

We were too drunk. Too stoned. Then, in the afternoon,
too sober.

But it was not, and never would be, too anything.
Except, maybe, too unkind.

The School of the Electric Fence


Photo by Richard Calmes

I suppose I knew this,
once upon a time,
but navigating love is a little like
the electric fence I used to
crawl through to get to the woods.

You have to be cautious, not timid.

(I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with
Crosby when he said being with Joni was
like falling into a cement mixer. But
let’s just say I understand more than I used to.)
Continue reading “The School of the Electric Fence”

How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry


wisaawa-szymborskaAdvice for blocked writers and aspiring poets from a Nobel Prize winner’s newspaper column. 

INTRODUCTION

From: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68657

In the Polish newspaper Literary Life, Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Clare Cavanagh, translates these selections.


The following are selections from columns originally published in the Polish newspaper
Literary Life. In these columns, famed poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Translated by Clare Cavanagh, they appeared in slightly different form in our Journals section earlier this year.

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To H.O. from Poznan, a would-be translator: “The translator is obliged to be faithful not only to the text. He must also reveal the full beauty of the poetry while retaining its form and preserving as completely as possible the epoch’s spirit and style.”

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Mr. G. Kr. of Warsaw: “You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.” Continue reading “How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry”

Prey, 1 million BC


Strip away cities and houses and walls;
strip away electricity and shopping malls.
Remove gears and machines

more complicated
than a rock on a stick.
Take away pencil, paper and book.
Forget the wheel, medicine and gun,
Forget having enough to eat,
And climb into trees to sleep.

Strip away comforts in crowds,
Cancel the tools that
made us destroyers of worlds.

Go back to the time of Caligula
then fly before iron tools, tile floors, empire.

Strip away 90,000 years,
100,000, then more
all the way back to
when we were food for those
that slipped through the night
sniffed
under the trees, or eyed
the campfire and caves where we hid

Half-naked and small,
starving, furtive,
huddled around the fire,
sharpened sticks and rocks within reach,
telling quiet jokes to break the tension,
teasing the young one’s nerves,
but living hushed lives,
every ear listening for the whisper of a big cat
chuckling and mumbling with hunger
just outside the circle of light.

How many of us will blunt the beast’s attack?
Will it find me first, or you?
Will our sharpened sticks and stone knives be enough?
This night goes on and on,
An owl call somewhere in the dark,
Something rustles a bush.
Some sleep and some watch,
seeing in the fires’ embers the fiery

memory of the awful relief of the sunrise,
will it come again?–
listening through the hours of darkness,
feeding wood to the fire,
praying the embers will somehow
reignite the blaze of morning
before hunger drives the cat
past the fire.
We are powerless and afraid.
Every night it is so,
watching the embers,
listening for what might be there
not sure if the morning will come.

Before we became Death, the
destroyer of worlds.

Home


I can’t go home, because
home has not stopped
moving yet.
But I do know that
this moment is real;
I know how your lips feel,
I know the heat and
weight of you
In the dark,
or pressed against me
at a dock, oblivious
to jealous eyes,
saying a goodbye,
wordlessly telling
me what feels right.
I know loneliness
melts
in the heat of the
grace of you.
Stay with me a while, dancer.
Let’s walk on the beach,
and look in the sands for courage,
and sit at dawn,
watching the day come up like thunder.

Magic Flows in the Wounded Places


Magic flows in the
wounded places,
brings new life,
growing pains,
new patterns,
new hope.
But the risks…
it’s hard to take the risks.
We’re surrounded by
unfinished things,
always taking the present
and turning it into the future,
over and over and over and over…
it doesn’t end until we do.
Creating courage never ends,
is never perfect,
always full of doubt,
always becoming
—but only through risk. Continue reading “Magic Flows in the Wounded Places”

Survivor’s Scars


(Note: written several months ago as part of the recovery process.) 

Hissing down Highway 1
in the rain,
Baltimore in the rear view.

Brushing against old pain
repressed for 20 years,
but suddenly bleeding
through my chest,
three grey hours ahead.

I wasn’t the one
who was sick, I said.
Not the one who died.
I was just the supporting cast
the nameless crew member
in the red tunic.
Disposable. Unimportant to the plot.
Everyone saw the patient,
Not the one holding the bedpan.

So it didn’t matter, I said,
Pretending to believe it. 

I told myself
I didn’t matter—

So keep quiet.
Keep it quiet.
Be the good soldier.
Be strong.
Zip it.
Do what you must.
Twenty years.
Six times, the same refrain.

You’re not the one who got sick,
the sneering voice said.
You’re not the one who died.
How can you think
you
deserve
anything?

But I did. I do.
The habit I fell into,
of automatically deferring,
balancing the demands of justice, 
on the point of need,
took deep hold.

Justice parses, examines,
denies and diminishes,
clarifies…
but never tells the full truth.

Life has to be about
more than just surviving…

Doesn’t it? 

Does it?

It does. At last.

Standing


daro.jpg
And oh, my dear,
what joy
to hear the robin’s call,
the cardinal’s challenge,
the excited chatter
of all the returning
migrants, full of stories
about tropical fruits
and sunny days and
nights among the
trumpet vines and
camellia blooms
on the Gulf of Mexico.

And Oh, my dear,
I’m a changing
mixture of contentment,
worry, sadness,
happiness and power.
With every day you’re
both further away and near.
Like water, I find
my level.

I’ve let the shovel handle fill
my hand, and bent
my back to the bloody work
you left for me,
stabbing deep in
pain’s dark soil
’til the blisters broke,
again and again.

I am here. Standing.
And oh, my dear, look:
Spring has come again
after all.

Scouting Party of One


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.

Image
Painting by William Tylee Ranney: “Trapper Crossing the Mountains”

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.

Away.

Alone.

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.

And…

I still love you.

© Hemmingplay 2014.

It Was the Sound, I Think


 

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 dying is bitter.
Dying is hard.
With you,
it was the sound.

It was like drowning,
no detail spared,
in slow motion…

with metastases of cancer
that filled the lungs
and grew, sending out
ghastly spawn to live in bone
and brain. The awful
sound of drowning,
frail breastbone lifting
heart refusing to stop
mind full of phantasms
from opiates, 
the price for
masking the pain,that
terrified you.

The sound of drowning,
but at least you did
not feel your body
chewing on itself,
wasting away,
fading from this life
leaving me behind,
leaving us all behind,
one thousand gasps
through water, and
then more thousands.

Death is not bitter…
death is a silence
But, dying is bitter.
Dying is full of the noise
of the going out.
It was the sound
of the last hours—
it haunts me,
the sound of your
struggle, the
death rattle…. 
A bland phrase,
nothing like the
real thing.

It was a drowning,
drowning slowly
inevitably,
the lungs full of fluids of
the metastases of cancer
that ravage the lungs
and scatter foul seeds,
ghastly, evil children to live in bone
and brain.

The relentless
sounds of drowning, your
frail breastbone lifting
heart refusing to stop.
Morphine hid the pain
but took your mind,
filled it full of phantasms
but lay a
warm blanket over 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,
in a dream hours before
you were pronounced.
You had a spirit body, she said, 
alive and vigorous and young, happy,
dressed in spring clothes
and driving a sky-blue convertible.

While I listened to
the rising dreamy waters, rattling,
you had already gone.
It was a comfort to learn
you had escaped, and had
driven away on the
great adventure. In bright sunshine
in a blue convertible, like the
one you had when we met
50 years before.

Shine, Republic


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

No Language But A Cry


alfred-tennyson

alfred-tennyson

“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

Kintsugi


thesink 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
me

–Charles Bukowski

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.

1*2wxN1DsROOl4o0sHhYkDWA

1*2wxN1DsROOl4o0sHhYkDWA

The World’s Longest Epitaph


dreamstime_s_112061186

“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.”

That Morning*


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.

Waiting


*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.

The Buoyancy of Light


5056

 

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)

Moon

Grief Journeys


Loss and pains.
though just part of living…
set us apart,
others didn’t understand.
But we knew. We just knew. 

We wrapped ourselves 
in each other’s griefs,
grateful to need no explanations,, 
understanding without words;
afraid of more losses
(can I go through that again?) 
resisting pain, 
change and the unknown.

In the beginning,
both of us feeling unreal, unworthy,
our pasts full of brutality, but
bathed in Grace at last.
 
Similar stories,
shared at a safe distance, 
until we touched
and became lovers,
hungry to find
comforts,
fiercely grasping life
in both hands,
life through passion
and caring. 

And now….
Not sure what comes next, 
just knowing that 
we were transformed
with an unbreakable bond.
Someday,
Looking back from our
futures,
Whatever we have done
will seem inevitable,
to those strangers
who we
yearn to become.
Who we will be. 

Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew (VII)


Pablo Neruda

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.

Why I Do This


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.

At Least


by Raymond Carver
I want to get up early one more morning, before sunrise. Before the birds, even. I want to throw cold water on my face and be at my work table when the sky lightens and smoke begins to rise from the chimneys of the other houses. I want to see the waves break on the beach, not just hear them break as I did all night in my sleep. I want to see again the ships that pass through the Straight from every seafaring country in the world— old, dirty freighters just barely moving along, and the swift new cargo vessels painted every color under the sun that cut the water as they pass. I want to keep an eye out for them. And for the little boat that plies the water between the ships and the pilot station near the lighthouse. I want to see them take a man off the ship and put another up on board. I want to spend the day watching this happen and reach my own conclusions. I hate to seem greedy—I have so much To be thankful for already. But I want to get up early one more morning, at least, And go to my place with some coffee and wait, Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.
Poet Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver

Questions


Photo by Dmitry Rogozhkin

What do I want?

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 
exercise. 

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–
Confident enough
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 
the afternoon?”

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… 

What Do I wish?

Good sleep several times a week.
And a warm body curved
Contented into me,
A person hunting for
the true in herself.
Always looking. 

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… 

Wisdom


Bust of Aeschylus 
(Photo by Araldo de Luca/Corbis via Getty Images)
Bust of Aeschylus
(Photo by Araldo de Luca/Corbis via Getty Images)

He Who Learns Must Suffer

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


BY RUDYARD KIPLING

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


img_2961

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.

For Posterity
Origin Story
Memory

Childhood

Testament


by Carl Sandburg (1878  1967)

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
people
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.

Save


“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

August’s Book Note


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

“A work of a lifetime, in a way.The story of being human, loving, hurting and healing. It will move you. Read this only if you are passionate about your journey and all that comes to you along the way.”

B&N: http://tinyurl.com/yay5mhaa

Secrets


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
sky brightens.
Safe again, we wake.

Strange things stir,
unknowns,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
primitive emotions,
undisguised by
convention, rise.
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
uncensored,
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
we do.

Summons


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,

every time,;

kept marauding

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.

On the Muse


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

The Purpose of Poetry


 

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 Request


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

A Slender Thread


coast_stones_sea_water_sky_mountain_island_ultra_3840x2160_hd-wallpaper-149153

Different time zones

different continents

different days,

some days….

Different morn and night

hard to tell sometimes…

Might as well be different centuries

different lives

different air

different seasons

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.

Snowflakes and Ashes


41H2AS9iQaL
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.

Prayer for Good Humor


 

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.

Umwelt


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.

The blind tick only cares for butyric acid’s smell,
and the exact temperature of blood.
Then it falls into blackness, hoping
it will land on the fur,
feed on the blood of a passing deer.
It can smell butyric on mammals’ fur,
and sense just the temperature of blood,
which is exactly 37 degrees Celsius.

The small part of the world it senses
is its umwelt. Nothing else is real to it.
Nothing else needs to be.

For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields.
For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves.

For us, it’s a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum
our eyes are adapted to see, the wavelengths
that have the highest energy in sunlight.
The colors of ripening fruit and food, as it happens.

Our other senses are just good enough to get by.
We can’t compete with a bloodhound’s
olfactory genius; we’re pitiful in that department.
Such is our umwelt. We sense a tiny sliver of the world.
We don’t know anything beyond our reality,
Our umwelt, out of which we construct everything
like a sacred myth, what we think we know, but do not.

 

Doubts


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.

Walt Whitman

I too have—
Have—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

—Walt Whitman

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.

Personal Note


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….

Doug

Grit


December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“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

Folding Power


Pillars of Creation: interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born
“Pillars of Creation”: Hubble photo of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born

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.

Continue reading “Folding Power”