Thursday, October 23, 2014

Revisiting September's Battles

Spent a couple of glorious days in mid-September watching these fellows 
have at it in my front yard. No one really got hurt, sort of like TV-wrestling, 
and the younger bucks tripped around outside the ring looking fascinated by the event. 
I have felt incredibly lucky this year to be where I can see deer, turkeys, 
the changing light and the changing seasons.
But I was getting slightly tired of the rain!

It was overcast today on Day Two of the westward trip, but not raining.
What have you been reading recently??


They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable

silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.

Wislawa Szymborska

Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.
This translation first appeared in Poetry, April, 2006

This is a nice example of the usefulness of listing (in this case behaviors from novels) to build up the idea of the poem. Notice that the list here is all in one lengthy stanza, increasing the effect of the listing. In this case, we find it quite funny, as we recognize many of the stock-events of fictions. And what better than to end with than the return of the dog??

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Frosty morning, turning to gold.

The fields were white with frost this morning; 
the poor pot of pansies was frosted on the porch. 
There was so much moisture in the air that the deer are in soft focus 
as they nibble on a strip of grass missed by the mower last time.
With a lot of help from our daughter, we finished loading the car 
and soon we were traveling past the big chicken in Levering 
and crossing the most beautiful bridge ever, the cream-colored Mackinac!

This really doesn't do it justice! But I am fond of the little cloud at the left.

Later we stopped at an overlook with a stairway to walk down to the edge of Lake Superior. 
You can see what a beautiful day it was!

Tomorrow the journey continues; we should stop somewhere in Minnesota.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"even more stunned by the world than I"

This is was taken just a few days ago, 
and today is the first day that the tree is completely bare, 
and golden leaves cover the earth beneath it.

Tonight's poem is from the Nobel Prize Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.


When they first started looking through microscopes
a cold fear blew and is still blowing.
Life hitherto had been frantic enough
in all its shapes and dimensions.
Which is why it created small-scale creatures,
assorted tiny worms and flies,
but at least the naked human eye 
could see them.

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.

The glass doesn't even touch them,
they double and triple unobstructed,
with room to spare, willy-nilly.

To say they're many isn't saying much.
The stronger the microscope, 
the more exactly, avidly, they're multiplied.

They don't even have decent innards.
They don't know gender, childhood, age.
They may not even know they are---or aren't.
Still they decide our life and death.

Some freeze in momentary stasis,
although we don't know what their moment is.
Since they're so miniscule themselves,
their duration may be 
pulverized accordingly.

A windborne speck of dust is a meteor
from deepest space,
a fingerprint is a far-flung labyrinth,
where they may gather
for their mute parades,
their blind iliads and upanishads.

I've wanted to write about them for a long while,
but it's tricky subject,
always put off for later
and perhaps worthy of a better poet,
even more stunned by the world than I.
But time is short. I write.

Wislawa Szymborska, Here, translated by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislaw Baranczak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, pp. 23 and 25.

I love this poem! After reading it, I almost feel like saying, " Go thou and do likewise!" and might even say that except that I am still packing and we plan to leave tomorrow by 10 a.m. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 20, 2014

What we build

One strand of barbed wire, one fence post, two rocks moved to the edge of the homestead, to save the plow. These traces are all that is left more than one hundred years later, but the autumn leaves and gone-to-seed weeds are very beautiful.


To build a quiet city in his mind:
A single overwhelming wish: to build,
Not hastily, for there is so much wind,
So many eager smilers to be killed,
Obstructions one might overlook in haste:
The ruined structures cluttering the past,

A little at a time and slow is best,
Crawling as though through endless corridors,
Remembering always there are many doors
That open to admit the captured guest
Once only.
                            Yet in spite of loss and guilt
And hurricanes of time, it might be built:

A refuge, permanent, with trees that shade
When all the other cities die and fade.

Weldon Kees

from The collected poems of Weldon Kees; edited by Donald JusticeUniversity of Nebraska Press, 2003, page 161.

Because of Tim Bowling's book, In the Suicide's Library; A Book Lovers's Journey, which is partly about his investigation of the life of the poet, Weldon Kees, I have been reading about Kees myself. As you can tell from this poem, he was not really a merry person. Eventually he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, but his body was never recovered. His book of poems had to be edited by the fine poet, Donald Justice.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"more insubstantial over time"

Coming back from the Daily Walk past the majestic maple, 
a quick glimpse of the house today. 
Only two more days to get ready to leave; 
I am running somewhat behind. . .


In one corner of the room, beneath the open window, lies an unabridged dictionary becalmed on its stand. Pressed between its pages are buttercups, sage blossoms, several summers' lavender and rose petals, even a small moth that fluttered in haphazardly one evening just as the book was being closed. These mementoes have stained the pages brown, becoming light and friable, more insubstantial over time. The book itself is a code, a key, a lock, an implement that stands for an earlier time and other customs, containing only those things that need not exist, but do so nonetheless, carrying them forward as a maple seed is carried forward by the wind.

Roo Borson
Rain; road; an open boat; poems
McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Canada, 2012, page 37.

I have just noticed what a lovely, euphonious word is "nonetheless" being triple in its person and pleasant in sound. I do admire the sort of prose meditation (in the short prose piece above) on a physical thing that opens out into something greater and thought-provoking. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Going, going . . .

The view of the west meadow from the porch this morning. 
The aspens have turned to gold and the maple leaves are falling even faster everywhere..
And it didn't rain all afternoon!
Absentee ballots came today from California and we did the voting thing.
The ballots are so heavy that it cost 91cents for each of us to send them back.

Tonight's poem is from a personal friend of mine, Gayle Kaune, who moved away a long time ago and I have not seen for ages.

The Explorer dreams of Sacajawea

soon he would be calling
her name the name the ghost
birds that fly south would speak
her name as they write his longing
across the shoulder of her blue
sky as river enters the heart
of her country it was all light
it seemed
and even shadow
had a geometry
that was pleasing
love and birds
are what kept him going small flutterings
in the grassy space of his mind
large migrations in the path
of his heart oh it was true
sometimes he knew that like
water he was more in touch
with longing than arrival

Gayle Kaune
All the Birds Awake
Tebot Bach, Huntington Beach CA, 2011, page 31.

Look! No stanza breaks, no capitals or punctuation, yet we follow the mind through the poem.
Note particulary the strategy of the longest line with its two parts, that just kept on going without stopping there. It is a rich book and well worth getting.

Same view a few days ago; look for the small conical pine in the center to orient yourself.

Friday, October 17, 2014

All Passion Spent

A little still life from the Daily Walk a couple of days back. 
All day today the golden leaves of the Bigtooth Aspen have been blowing 
across the yard, except when I went outside to try to take some pictures. 
Then the wind paused. 

This red leaf caught me in the center of the drive. 
I love the variety of rain-washed pebbles, 
the little green plants still springing up 
in the center of the two-track this late in the year, 
and all the rest of it. 
Daily Walks in other places are often less interesting. 
When I was uploading this picture and looking at the red leaf, 
the phrase "all passion spent" came into my mind. 
So then I had to look it up. 
Milton wrote it in Samson Agonistes
long before it was borrowed to title books, movies 
and TV series and who knows what besides. 

From 'Samson Agonistes'

ALL is best, though we oft doubt,
What th' unsearchable dispose
Of highest wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Oft he seems to hide his face,
But unexpectedly returns
And to his faithful Champion hath in place
Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns
And all that band them to resist
His uncontroulable intent.
His servants he with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event
With peace and consolation hath dismist,
And calm of mind all passion spent.

John Milton. (1608–1674)

Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.