Friday, December 02, 2016

Late Sun across the Park

These days are growing shorter, exacerbated by the foolishness of Daylight Saving Time! 
We have to be careful to slot the daily walk in before dark. Today we just made it!

The Kiskiminetas River

It begins in the seepage of salt wells
as if waking from a dream of the sea
before it gathers itself and runs

for twenty-seven restless, hardworking
miles, only to lose itself, swept inland
toward Pittsburgh and the vast Ohio Valley.

Kiskiminetas: the Lenape name means
clear stream of many bends or break camp,
the etymology unclear but apt:

whenever the Lenapes tried to settle,
someone came along and moved them
to a place no one wanted.

My grandfather, in Italy a farmer, dug coal
not far from where it empties into the Allegheny.
His sons would inherit and divide his labor:

coal mines, steel mills, foundries.
The river turned sulfur-orange and stank
from all the mines draining into it—

nothing could live in its waters.
Even the stones of the riverbed took on
the petrified figures of the lost:

Shy Charlie, who took a header off the bridge;
Bobby, who slipped into the current
like raw sewage; my father, who flew

his car over its cindered embankments
in the hard winter of my birth.
Nothing is held in place by a name;

the river changes and is ever changeless.
Today, the mines are closed; the small towns
seem emptier and forlorn at night;

the river runs clear, its surface
shifting in the slant of morning light
or the passing shadows of its seasons.

On the bluffs, overlooking the valley,
my grandfather and his sons have come to rest
among the now, or soon to be, forgotten.

                         from The Southern Review

Peter Everwine

The Best American Poetry 2016, edited by Edward Hirsch,
Simon and Schuster, 2016. pages 32-33.

I have been a fan of Peter Everwine's poetry for quite some time.
If you use the search box in the upper left corner of this blog to search "Everwine" you will find some poems which demonstrate the variety of his work. Not very many other people, for instance, have been working to bring the songs of the Aztecs back to where we can grasp them.

This poem is an example of how place, family history, emigration, natural history--threads from stories we all weave--can create the fabric of a memorable poem. This is a small river--and a large-hearted poem! In your own poem, set yourself the task of using your own material in such an abundant and evocative way.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Not asleep, not dreaming. . .

It was almost too late for the Daily Walk! 
Coming home, the sky was sunset-tinged 
at the bottom edge only.
One nice thing about an autumn twilight 
is the way it reveals
the shapes of the leafless trees 
and the tall conifers.
A few of the neighborhood houses 
have Christmas lighting
on this, the first day of December.


    Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty
only shadow inside?
    No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming---
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of the vast silence.

Antonio Machado      (1875-1939)

Selected Poems; translated by Alan S. Trueblood,
Harvard University Press, 1982. page 93.


Your task: write a poem in 12 lines. The first six lines
ask a question, illustrated by creating a metaphor 
which expands and illustrates the question. 
Answer the question in the final six lines, trying 
to open the space of the poem much wider.  jhh

Note: I chose this poem for my nephew, 
the beekeeper.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At Dusk

The places we call home. . . this is one of them, the one in Idaho.
Winter is coming on.

A new The New Yorker has the requisite two poems, 
a complex pantoum on a bad relationship, 
and this one, which I prefer.


She collected men the way a light left on collected
bugs. It was an old story---money, gravity, the right amount of cleavage. And yet the most successful root never stops fleeing the seed where it began. The cars of two drunks decide to kiss, the lit match gives in to the windy field. Here's a lesson: when people heard there was an albino deer in the woods behind our house, they set out the apples and corn. That was twenty years ago. The shotgun pellets stuck in our tree continue their slow ascent.        
                                  Charles Rafferty

The New Yorker, October 31, 2016, page 55.

Of course I love the part about the root fleeing the seed. But the shotgun pellets ascending is spectacular, too. There is a man who lives near the North Woods who takes many pictures of various albino deer near where he lives. He shows them on Facebook and makes an annual calendar of their portraits, but I don't think he tells people exactly where they live. He has given the deer names; one matriarch is known as Blue Eyes.

Your assignment tonight: write a 10 to 12 line prose poem that tells a story and has some philosophy in it, too.  jhh

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Out of a Crowd

A recent Autumn Dusk; the bird surprised me. Made with the Prisma app.


What happened to the ten lost tribes
is no great mystery:
they found work, married, grew smaller,
started to look like the natives
in a land nobody chose,
Soon you couldn't have picked them out of a crowd.

And if they'd stayed where they were, 
what happiness 
would they have endured!
We can't believe in it.

The face of the cities scares us,
day and night empty us, suddenly
we are no longer 
God's chosen.

                        We salvage
a pewter dish crosshatched as a bubba's face,
a bent spoon, but the sober

dance of the mouth and the eyes before
we knew we were smiling, a language
stripped and intimate---

For a while we camp out under the strange trees,
complaining, planning a return.
But we have taken out papers and will become citizens.

Chana Bloch

The Past Keeps Changing; poems by Chana Bloch,
The Sheep Meadow Press, 1992, page 27.

American poems by the children of exile have become easy to find and with the way things are going in the world now, there will probably not be a shortage in the future. Chana Bloch has had a long and didtinguished career as a poet and professor. 

This poem is varied in structure, and is almost as if the poet were talking to you across a lunch table. Yet the arc of its meaning is clear. Many of her books and translations are readily available, and will replay careful reading.  jhh

Monday, November 28, 2016

Beyond the Fence

On a recent overcast early evening I took a picture of the sky.
Later, I ran it through the iPhone app Prisma.
I may need a new box of crayons. . .


         Chena River, Fairbanks

Tundra swans twine necks
among snowflakes
vanishing into evening's

river. Past break uo,
tablecloths of rotten ice
nest along the bank.

Halfway, swan wings
open, then settle in
like second thoughts.

Maybe they flew
north over Minto
traced halos

over brooding ponds,
saw from far up
without touching

the world is hard
and will stay hard
a while longer.

Peggy Shumaker

Long Journey; Contemporary Northwest Poetry,
Oregon State University Press, 2006, page 238.

Six short three-line stanzas. You can do it!    jhh

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Weather: Goats Love Fog

The magic of Google Photos automatic panorama creation
made this from a recent dog-walk.
In the way of all beautiful weathers,
this beautiful weather has not lasted. . .


They try to watch themselves, drifting in a white sigh,
the boats and trees, and themselves, too,
when they think of it, spun from sheets of gauzy droplets
with which to tar the morning white and walk upon it.
The horizon yawns. The earth is liquid. They can feel
it, and not just it but the blanket meaning of it.
Here, bravado is the pretense of the immortal
before the infinite. There being no other side, 
they must surrender to this, seeing they cannot,
so far, find a door, hack a hole or mark a spot.
Goats love fog. Parked lovers and beachcombers
love fog, and those who fear the authorities, 
and the camera shy love it, and they adore it
who wish to be wrapped in beauty so delicate
one must step outside it to be able to see it.

Marvin Bell

edited by David Biespiel, Oregon State University Press, 2006, page 17.

Some of the best contemporary American Poetry is to be found in regional anthologies. My favorite line in this one might be,
"Goats love fog." and the poet does not elaborate, just goes on along, like a goat along the beach. 
I hope you are getting outdoors as much as you can; it is nourishment for the soul and the body. Your assignment:
make us a little weather poem.  jhh

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Plenty of Road

Isn't he pretty? He was here again today and at last there were four pairs
of wood ducks with him and his common companions. The pair of wigeons
didn't show up today, but they are back! All the way from the breeding grounds 
in the far, far, far, still frozen north!


It's another dream with no roads, but plenty
Of footsteps. One dark tree, a willow, the leaves
Still affected by the rainwater's wanting.
My body is shaped like a dog,
Lying beside a river, watching the grass
On the other side move. My body moves
In no particular direction.
I lie on my haunches and look at the tree.
Blind to the movement of clouds.
Deaf to the sounds of crow.
The tree is shaped like a woman who's crying.
Her daughter has been hot by a car.
Her leg is broken, the bone snapped.
She is screaming. She is pointing 
At her leg and stretching her head back.
A sudden wind and the tree bends. Branches
Stretch against the air, the returning rain.
It is not a woman, but a tree again.
No footsteps in sight, but plenty of road.

David Biespiel

Shattering Air, 
BOA Editions Ltd, 1996, page 34

And now it is time for us to write our dream poems. 
I think mine will also have trees in it!  jhh