Friday, February 28, 2014

White feather, black feather

                    I am fond of feathers; this is a scan of a small one I found many years ago.

Still sorting through the print matter here. Today I picked up a 24 page historical pamphlet called The Story of the Schenectady Massacre, from the stack on my bedside table. Copyright 1940, reprinted 1977. I don't remember where I got it; I think it must have belonged to my mother. The Burning of Schenectady took place on the night of February 8, 1690; this booklet was prepared for the 250th anniversary. Now the 300th anniversary has come and gone. The event took place during the very beginning of The French and Indian Wars, being part of the first one, King William's War, which ran from 1688-1697. The 60 dead this night included 38 men, 10 women and 12 children. The raiders departed with 27 prisoners and 50 horses. There is an illustrated account of the raid on this blog. This was the beginning of the call for union of the British colonies against the French and Indian domination of this area, which over the next two hundred years eventually resulted in the formation of the USA.

I had the good fortune to be born in Schenectady and to grow up there because my father worked for the General Electric Company. My public schooling included a good deal of New York State history, the Five Fires of the Iroquois Confederation, the Erie Canal, Henry Hudson, Dewitt Clinton, Thomas A. Edison and all sorts of other interesting stuff. And I have kept up this interest over the years by reading various accounts, such as the life of the Iroquois leader known as Joseph Brant. Because of the facts, the lists, and the reproduced town plan, this little booklet has captured my heart; I don't know who wrote it--it might have been a work-for-hire sponsored by the Historical Society and the Chamber of Commerce. The work includes a two-page list of the people killed with details, and one page of the people captured and taken to Canada. Some of these died or were killed on the wintertime trip and a few were later ransomed.

I particularly like this:

List of the Goods sent from New York to be distributed among the Refugees of Schoonechtede, to wit:

This is a two-page list of every single thing sent, down to 7 pairs of socks, with the name of every person and what they got. It makes me giggle that they distributed 2349 ells (cut into varying lengths) to 38 different people of a kind of Osnaberg linen, when they only were sent 2348 1/2 ells. The simplicity of the relief (mostly fabric) really gives one an insight on the material culture of the time.

The local Mohawks (who had found the Dutch settlers a useful source of firearms and other goodies) asked the few remaining people to not to abandon, but to continue the settlement. (The massacre was done by French soldiers and Indians come down from Canada on a long winter march with the original intention to attack the settlement at Albany.)

Below is a plan of Schenectady before the massacre and burning.

Tonight's text is the record of what the Mohawks said at a meeting with the survivors:

"BRETHERN:--Wee are sory and Extreamly grieved for ye murther lately Committed by ye French upon our brethren of Shinnectady wee Esteem this evill  at Shinnectady, we cannot accompt it a great victory for itt is done byyway of Deciet.

"Brethern:--Doe not be discouraged this is butt a beginning of ye Warr. We are strong enough, the whole house have there Eyes upon yrs and they only stay your motion and will bee ready to doe wathever shall be resolved upon by our Brethren.

We Recommen ye brethren to keep good watch and if any Enemies come take care yt  messengers be more speddily sent to us than lately was done we would not advise ye brethern quite to desert Shinnectady but to make a fort there. The Enemy would be too glorious to see it quite desolate and yr town is not well fortyfied ye stockades are so short ye Indians can jump over them like a dogg."

If there is not a poem, or an epic, in this, where is one?? When the settlement was rebuilt it was as a fort with the stockade made Indian-fashion of small tree trunks interlaced with branches. And they kept a watch and locked the gates at night.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

As soon as I finished night's post, I had the *bright idea* to see if Milosz had made an entry for the next day in his A Year of the Hunter, a journal of 1987-1988. And of course, the entry I found was not for today, but for yesterday. It was written on February 26, 1988, near the end of the book on page 208.

Here is the whole entry; as in a blog, some entries are shorter than others.

February 26, 1988

I have an overwhelming aversion to discoursing on poetry, an aversion that set me apart from the thousands of theoreticians, scholastics, martyrs of one or another "ism" who construct their university careers on that "ism." I prefer a poem that was written a thousand years ago by the Japanese woman poet Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)

                      If he whom I wait for
                      Should come now, what will I do?
                      This morning the snow-covered garden
                       Is so beautiful without a trace of footprints.

Is such a poem an instrument of knowledge? Yes, of knowledge, 
and on a more profound level than philosophy.

And now you can see why I went looking for a picture of my garden in the snow. Sleep safe and well!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nandina domestica

The shape of the leaves on the branches of this plant is very pleasing to me. It is budding now; these blooms are not showy, but the berries are very pretty. I just read the article in Wikipedia and found out that it is toxic to cats and--if birds overdo the quantity--to some birds, like cedar waxwings, which come in flocks to strip plants of berries in late winter. This is one plant we see on our Daily Walks, in front of a weathered wooden fence. I love the textures: leaves against wood grain.

The other day I was reading about Derek Walcott (I think it was in the Paris Review, but now  not sure) and the excellence of his long poem, Tiepolo's Hound, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1999. was mentioned. I have most of his other books and have been a fan of his work since he read in San Jose in the early 1980s, and I first heard his astonishing work and his powerful, cultured voice. So I ordered a copy quickly, and it is indeed a very fine poem, and the almost-square book is illustrated with many of his own paintings. He is a master of the English Language, in the way that seems almost lost to us.

This is a YouTube video of Walcott reading from Tiepolo's Hound. It comes with some advertising and the sound at the beginning (sh0ame on you, University of California Television!) is quite poor. The first four or five minutes is his introduction to the reading, while he jokes with the audience and introduces the work. But then he begins to read and what gorgeous stuff it is!

Because of the Daily Walk, I have chosen the very first section for tonight. Page 3.

from Tiepolo's Hound by Derek Walcott


They stroll on Sundays down Dronningens Street,
passing the bank and the small island shops

quiet as drawings, keeping from the heat
through Danish arches until the street stops

at the blue, gusting harbor, where like commas
in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.

Sea-light on the cod barrels writes: St. Thomas,
the salt breeze brings the sound of Mission slaves

chanting deliverance from all their sins
in tidal couplets of lament and answer,

the horizon underlines the origins---
Pisarros from the ghetto of Braganza

who fled the white hoods of the Inquisition
for the bay's whitecaps, for the folding cross

of a white herring gull over the Mission
droning its passages from Exodus.

Before the family warehouse, near the Customs,
his uncle jerks the locks, rattling their chains,

and lifts his beard to where morning comes
across wide water to the Gentile mountains.

Out of the cobalt bay, her blunt bow cleaving
the rising swell that racing bitterns skip,

the mail boat moans. They fell their bodies
leaving the gliding island, not the blowing ship.

A mongrel follows them, black as its shadow,
nosing their shadows, scuttling when the bells

exult with pardon. Young Camille Pissarro
studies the schooner in their stagnant smells.

He and his starched Sephardic family,
followed from a fixed distance by the hound,

retrace their stroll through Charlotte Amalie
in silence as its Christian bells resound,

sprinkling the cobbles of Dronningens Gade
the shops whose jalousies in blessing close,

through repetitions of the oval shade
of Danish arches to their high wooden house.

The Synagogue of Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds
is shut for this Sabbath. The mongrel cowers

through a park's railing. The bells recede.
The afternoon is marked by cedar flowers.

Their street of letters fades, this page of print
on the bleached light of last century recalls

with the sharp memory of a mezzotint:
days of cane carts, the palms high parasols.

It's all here, the island and its history, art, the sea and the harbor, the gulls. . . Flexible and resonant language sets it all before the reader. Come with me!

One is carried along by the flexible five-stress lines, using only a little punctuation as necessary. I love the specificity of the language, the colors, the sights and sounds. I recommend this book!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Glass Green Waves of the Monterey Bay

This view of the Monterey Bay is north of the shore where Robinson Jeffers built his house, Tor House, of sea cobbles. Jeffers had a sort of dramatic stance toward life, and his life in particular, as you can guess from his poem.

I know that they keep publishing new books, which is OK, I guess, but I keep finding books of the past that I missed. The one I started today is by the Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. It is a journal written from August, 1987 until August, 1988, and was published in 1994 by Farrar Straus Giroux (I love the things they publish!) under the title, A Year of the Hunter. The title was borrowed from a hunting book that was important to him as a child. "I did become a hunter, he says, although of a different sort: my goal was the entire visible world and I have devoted my entire life to trying to capture it in words, to making a direct hit with words." He says his meditations will be interwoven with memories of the people, places and events of his past, as he considers his life in his 77th year. It is already extremely interesting! When you get spend time with a person who is really able to think clearly and express himself

He gives this Robinson Jeffers poem at the end of his short introduction. He translated it into Polish "a long time ago." I knew at once that I had found the poem for tonight's blog.


“I hate my verses, every line, every word.
Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
One grass-blade’s curve, or the throat of one bird
That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.
Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
Unlucky hunter, Oh bullets of wax,
The lion beauty, the wild-swan wings, the storm of the wings.”
—This wild swan of a world is no hunter’s game.
Better bullets than yours would miss the white breast,
Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.
Does it matter whether you hate your...self? At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.

Monday, February 24, 2014

California Live Oaks on the horizon

There is something very appealing about this line of scraggy California Live Oaks trying to make it on a hilltop in the worsening drought. I see them, still the same, still struggling, when we take the Daily Walk. I guess I sympathize; the strangest things tug at human heartstrings.

Here is another poem from brochure for the program on Sunday that I spoke about in last night's post. This one is by Kathleen Lynch and appeared many years ago in her chapbook of the same name.

How to Build an Owl

1. Decide you must.

2. Develop deep respect
for feather, bone, claw.

3. Place your trembling thumb
where the heart will be:
for one hundred hours watch
so you will know
where to put the first feather.

4. Stay awake forever.
When the bird takes shape
gently pry open its beak
and whisper into it: mouse.

5. Let it go.

                    **Kathleen Lynch**

A poem that is a list of instructions for something fresh like this is a great idea. We all should try one! I have known and loved this poet and this poem for many, many years.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Take Jack

This is a musical group with a beautiful, almost unearthly sound! They create much of their own music and they are called Take Jack. Today the Sacramento Poetry Center held a special event in a large space in the Sacramento Public Library featuring their music and special setting of the poems of the featured reader, Stephen Dunn and Sacramento poet Kathleen Lynch. I drove up with two friends. It certainly was worth the trip! Dunn's wife, nature writer Barbara Hurd, read from her new book written in partnership with painter Patricia Hilton, Stepping into the Same River Twice, Savage River Watershed Association, 2013. The book is almost equal parts pastel paintings and short prose texts which were created during visits to the river by the talented pair.

Here is one of the poems that Stephen read today. It was in the brochure we all got; I think it is from his book, Loosestrife, Norton, 1998

Tiger Face

Because you can be what you’re not
for only so long,
one day the tiger cub raised by goats

wandered to the lake and saw himself.
It was astounding
to have a face like that, cat-handsome,

hornless, and we can imagine he stared
a long time, then sipped
and pivoted, bemused yet burdened now

with choice. The mother goat had nursed him.
The others had tolerated
his silly quickness and claws.

And because once you know who you are
you need not rush,
and good parents are a blessing

whoever they are, he went back to them,
rubbing up against
their bony shins, keeping his secret to himself.

but after a while the tiger who’d found
his true face
felt the disturbing hungers, those desires

to get low in the reeds, swish his tail
Because he was a cat he disappeared

without goodbyes, his goat-parents relieved
such a thing was gone.
And we can imagine how, alone and beyond

choice, he wholly became who he was—
that zebra or gazelle
stirring the great blood rush and odd calm

as he discovered, while moving, what needed
to be done.

Stephen Dunn

This is, I think, a terrific poem! It moves right along without making a false step. This is a very good example of the type of poem that relates a story or fable. I think it would be a good poem to study with an English class. Notice the variation in line lengths and how the poem flows across the line breaks so smoothly. And how the details are so well worked-out (through observation of people, cats and goats!) and support the story. Also look for Stephen Dunn's very new book, Lines of Defense, Norton, 2014. Earlier he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Different Hours, which is also a fine introduction to his poetry. It was an excellent event; I am really glad I got to attend!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Memories Look at Me

This is my grandson, talking to me on Face Time. That's me in the upper right corner, the way he sees me, with himself in the upper corner. Sometimes I get impatient with all this technology, but this was fun! So here, from the wrong season entirely, a Transtromer poem about memory.

Memories Look at Me

A June morning, too soon to wake,
too late to fall asleep again.

I must go out -- the greenery is dense
with memories, they follow me with their gaze.

They can't been seen, they merge completely with
the background, true chameleons.

They are so close that I can hear them breathe
although the birdsong here is deafening.

Tomas Transtromer 
in New Collected Poems; translated by Robin Fulton, Bloodaxe Books, 1997, page 135.

Why do I love the work of this poet so much? All the birds in his work don't hurt. But I think it is the surprising upwelling of wonderful metaphorical thought.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Look up, look up!

You'll probably see a sky interrupted by wires, and clouds, sunrise or a sunset, or rain; so if you can, listen for bird sound. I tried several other sources I have marked for poems, and surprise, surprise, wound up with another Transtromer. . .this one translated by Robert Bly, who worked with him on many translations. This book of Bly's translations also has Pablo Neruda, Mirabai, Basho, Antonio Machado and many others! Each poet's selection is preceded by a short essay on the life and work by Bly. An excellent companion to dip into frequently!


I wake up my car; 
pollen covers the windshield. 
I put my dark glasses on. 
The bird songs all turn dark. 

Meanwhile, someone is buying a paper 
at the railroad station 
not far from a big freight car 
reddened all over with rust. 
It shimmers in the sun. 

The whole universe is full. 

A cool corridor cuts through the spring warmth; 
a man comes hurrying past 
describing how someone right up in the main office 
has been telling lies about him. 

Through a backdoor in the landscape 
the magpie arrives, 
black and white, bird of the death-goddess. 
A blackbird flies back and forth 
until the whole scene becomes a charcoal drawing, 
except for the white clothes on the line: 
A Palestrina choir. 

The whole universe is full! 
Fantastic to feel how my poem is growing 
while I myself am shrinking. 
It’s getting bigger, it’s taking my place, 
it’s pressing against me. 
It has shoved me out of the nest. 
The poem is finished. 

Translation by Robert Bly in The Winged Energy of Delight; selected translations, 2005. Kindle location 151 following.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tell me your name, spiky-flowered bush

Blooming now in this neighborhood--it's a bush that has been trimmed into hedge-shape. This flower is smaller than she looks in this picture. She's too small to be spectacular, but very interesting in shape. I hope someone will be able to tell me its name.

Tonight we went to a quite wonderful poetry reading at the Willow Glen Library. Renee Schnell was featured. Among varied kinds of poems, she read several sestinas which were extremely interesting to listen to, and not at all programmatic like many sestinas seem to be. That is, the repeated words just occurred in the text, without sticking out. I was very impressed, and hope to try starting a sestina tomorrow for the very first time. Renee told me afterwards that it helps her to begin with a subject that has a strong narrative component. So I am in, I hope! I read my new poem Grains of Sand on the Beach. Many of my poetry group friends were there, reading some fine poems. I was quite surprised by the interesting nature of many of the poems.

So here is a sestina by that outrageous fellow Swinburne, with a fillip of extra rhyme.


                                by ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE

I saw my soul at rest upon a day
As a bird sleeping in the nest of night,
Among soft leaves that give the starlight way
To touch its wings but not its eyes with light;
So that it knew as one in visions may,
And knew not as men waking, of delight.

This was the measure of my soul's delight;
It had no power of joy to fly by day,
Nor part in the large lordship of the light;
But in a secret moon-beholden way
Had all its will of dreams and pleasant night,
And all the love and life that sleepers may.

But such life's triumph as men waking may
It might not have to feed its faint delight
Between the stars by night and sun by day,
Shut up with green leaves and a little light;
Because its way was as a lost star's way,
A world's not wholly known of day or night.

All loves and dreams and sounds and gleams of night
Made it all music that such minstrels may,
And all they had they gave it of delight;
But in the full face of the fire of day
What place shall be for any starry light,
What part of heaven in all the wide sun's way?

Yet the soul woke not, sleeping by the way,
Watched as a nursling of the large-eyed night,
And sought no strength nor knowledge of the day,
Nor closer touch conclusive of delight,
Nor mightier joy nor truer than dreamers may,
Nor more of song than they, nor more of light.

For who sleeps once and sees the secret light
Whereby sleep shows the soul a fairer way
Between the rise and rest of day and night,
Shall care no more to fare as all men may,
But be his place of pain or of delight,
There shall he dwell, beholding night as day.

Song, have thy day and take thy fill of light
Before the night be fallen across thy way;
Sing while he may, man hath no long delight.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Art and its makers

Look at her concentration. This is my baby sister about 1954 or 1955. It is one of the slides taken by my mother that I had scanned last year; I love the windowlight from the side. Finger painting was one of the delights of my childhood. I hope they haven't discontinued it now along with so many other "frills" of education. Making something with your hands and your full concentration has to be one of the great human pleasures. The color of this paint even reminds me of one used in the great Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux.

Here is a poem about making by the British poet Jeremy Hooker. It celebrates the creation of the bust of the poet Ezra Pound by the sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska, who was killed in World War I.


Scholars will speak of vision,
even, without irony, "the final vision".

The mind of Europe
flounders among its ruins.

Words must fail.

The man looks up. The light of the stockade
glazes in his eyes.
He is guarded, and displayed.

There is no shadow for him here,
unless it is memory
peopled with shades:

in his studio under the railway arch,
a man of the renaissance,
the air between them alive with ideas.
They dispose of an age of statues,
a trash of books.
The poet is quick to give.

The sculptor works on the marble,
winning every inch
"at the point of the chisel".

Naturally, the sculpture
will survive the carver,
and outlast the model.
It will gaze back down the century,
over the work of other men of order
whose material is blood and flesh and bone.

The head looks impassively over the ruins.
The poet looks out
towards the mountain, beyond the Pisan cage.

Jeremy Hooker in The Cut of the Light; Poems 1965-2005, Enitharmon Press, 2006, pages 242-243.

If the poet wants to write a poem that makes specific reference to another work of art, it is helpful for his reader to know what you are referencing. In our time, the understanding of the reader is enhanced by the huge amounts of information in Wikipedia and elsewhere. In this case, the ending, with its reference to Pound's imprisonment in an iron cage near Pisa after World War II for broadcasting against the United States only needs to make the reference with the use of the same word Pound used in his poems called The Pisan Cantos.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Evening Walk in the Neighborhood

And I brought my trusty iPhone camera. Silhouetted in the upper left, a spectacular Cork Oak that is almost too big to be a tree lawn tree; they've had to curve the sidewalk around it. I must get a picture of this whole majestic tree!

Tonight I have been reading a book called Van Gogh at Work. It comes from an exhibit by the Van Gogh Museum, and follows the progress of Vincent's gaining skill. On the early pages are some of his VERY early sketchbooks. I had planned to only riffle through and look at the pictures, but it turns out to be the kind of art book that you read the whole thing, including the captions. It certainly makes me feel lazy! He has decided to be an artist and he works so hard! Fortunately, his brother is supporting him, or the world of ART would probably be completely different. He is no only at the beginning, struggling with drawing materials (hard to afford, and not as good as the ones that are so easy for us to get,) struggling with perspective and the appearance of distance. I have understood several interesting things about distance in landscape and planning for perspective through the explanations in this book. I am not even peeking ahead to the Wheatfield with Crows, my all time favorite; I plan to read straight through.

Go to a link to the words for Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)in case you had forgotten some of the lyrics.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Snows of Yesteryear

Well, it's a scanned slide, circa 1956, and very very blue. When I tried to straighten the horizon (I remember how hard it was to see well enough through that little viewfinder) it cropped my baby brother off the edge. I wanted him in, so I left it the way it was.

 I think this is my mother and father with my three youngest siblings on the farm near Rexford, New York. This is the fabled home place that was ours only from 1950-1957, when GE transferred my father to Cleveland, Ohio.

I didn't remember that John Updike wrote poems, but I was trolling around looking for a snow poem and found this captures that time very well, especially the piled up parkas. I love the two-stress lines!


                      by John Updike

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor
And parkas pile up
Near the door.
The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees' black lace
The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brian leaps into the last quarter of the Twentieth Century

And I am there with my camera; I have been trying unsuccessfully to remember what one I used then, but it must have been the Zeiss Contessa, a sweet beauty of a rangefinder camera, my parents brought back from Europe and gave to me when I went away to school. We are with my brother's family at the motel pool in Sedona, Arizona, where we spent a fine week. Those are my two younger children in the pool. It seems like only yesterday and a thousand years ago.

Tonight we watched the Metropolitan Opera production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. In the middle of the opera, while Lensky (who acted like a silly ass over Onegin's flirting with Lensky's wife, Olga, and issued the challenge) is waiting for Onegin (who is late for the duel and comes in eating a breakfast snack) and Lensky sings:

"Where have you gone, o golden days of my spring."
[An English translation of Lensky's second-act aria from Eugene Onegin]

 Where have you gone, o golden days of my spring?
What does the day coming have in store for me?
It escapes my eyes, it is hidden!
Shall I fall to the deadly arrow, or will it pass by?
All for better, there is a predetermined time
For life and for sleep Blessed is a day of simple tasks
And blessed is the day of troubles.
 Will the day beam shine in the morning
And the bright day shall reign
And I, well, will I, perhaps, will descend
 Into mysterious darkness of my fatal tomb?
And the memory of a strange poet will fall into Abyss
The world shall forget me, but you, you, Olga!
Tell me, will you, the maiden of beauty, come to shed a tear
Over the early urn
And think "he loved me, he devoted to me
The gloomy dawn of a troubled life!"
Ah Olga, I did love you, To you alone I devoted
The gloomy dawn of my troubled life
Yes Olga, I did love you! My wonderful friend, my dear friend,
Come, for I am your husband, etc.

Where have you gone, o golden days of my spring?

Translation from the Russian by Stephen Ettinger

That etc, at the end kind of says it all. . .  As it stands it is not a great poem in English,
but I had just decided to use this family photo from the mid-1970s, and
the line about the golden days of my spring brought tears to my eyes, I must admit.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Working toward blossoming

This is a combination of two pictures I took on the daily walk when the almonds were just beginning to blossom. I loved how the tree was sending out new shoots from the trunk to bloom!

And this is a poem that I wrote years ago and just recently revised. (And I just made a few more revisions.) I just felt like putting up something of my own. We watched Olympics again tonight. It made me lonesome for the Olympics from years past.

Portrait in the Colors of Winter

And now the plane rises, 
banks, gaining altitude 
and arcing west above  
the snow-muted fields. 

Twilight suffuses the lake 
where all the waters from 
this high mountain valley 
eventually end. 

Now the clouds are below us 
we see a different side of clouds 
from that which is visible on earth. 
I am flying, flying toward you, 

toward the limitless future 
in one secret corner of the world. 
Late sunlight tip-gilds the western slopes 
of the snowy Sierras. 

Pilot: We are level at thirty thousand feet. 

The weather at home is cool, he reports, 
with high scattered clouds. 
Cruising at thirty thousand feet 
I lean into you, imagining, confident

of being borne up, lifted upon whispers. 
Mountains spread dark wrinkled mysteries
beneath me--their creases marked
by the stark winter foliage of the high pines.

** June Hopper Hymas **

Friday, February 14, 2014


This little bouquet was prepared for a bookmaking and sketching class I took last summer. Whenever I see a very small bouquet, I remember Beth Fletcher. She was a friend I made when I worked at the Gilroy Library. She used to bring me her old New Yorker Magazines and might be responsible for teaching me to love that magazine the way I still do. The library didn't take that magazine then, Once, when someone came to visit her, she brought them into the library to meet me and told her I was "the smartest woman in Gilroy" which was a very nice compliment, I thought, even if exaggerated.

During spring and summer, when things were in bloom in her garden, she usually brought me what she called a "nosegay" a small bouquet of mixed flowers from her garden. These were less than three inches across and required a small vase. The signature thing that she did was to bind the stems of her arrangement by wrapping them (round and rounda) with a flexible stem from Asparagus sprengari, the type of asparagus fern that also grew in her garden. I have a plant of this now, and whenever I weed around it, I remember Beth, who died many years ago. That's tonight's memory thread.


by Tomas Transtromer. (Trans. Kalle Raisanen)


In the evening-dark of a place outside New York, a look-out point

where one glance can encompass eight million people’s homes.

The giant city over there is a long, flickering snow-drift, a spiral

galaxy on its side.

Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are slid over the counter, store-fronts

beg with passers-by, a crowd of shoes that leave no traces.

The climbing fire-escapes, the elevator doors gliding shut, behind

locked doors a constant swell of voices.

Sunken bodies half-sleep in the subway cars, the rushing catacombs.

I know, also — statistics aside — that right now Schubert is

being played in some room over there and that to someone

those sounds are more important than all those other things.

I I.

The human brain’s endless expanse crumpled into the size of a fist.

In April, the swallow returns to its last-year’s-nest under the roof

of that very barn in that very parish.

She flies from the Transvaal, passes the equator, flies for six weeks

over two continents, steers toward this disappearing point in 

the land-mass.

And the man who captures the signals of a whole life in some

fairly ordinary chords by five strings

the man who makes a river run through the eye of a needle

is a fat young man from Vienna, called “Little Mushroom” by his

friends, who slept with his glasses on

and got punctually behind his writing desk each morning.

At which the wonderful centipedes of music were set in motion.

I I I.

The five strings play. I walk home through tepid forests with the

ground springing under me

crawl up like an unborn, fall asleep, roll weightless into the future,

suddenly feel that the plants have thoughts.


So much we have to trust, simply to live through our daily day

without sinking through the earth!

Trust the snow clinging to the mountain slope over the village.

Trust the promises of silence and smiles of understanding,

trust that the accident telegram isn’t for us and that the sudden

axe-blow from within won’t come.

Trust the wheel-axles that carry us on the highway in the middle

of the three-hundred-times magnified bee swarm of steel.

But none of that is really worth our confidence.

The five strings say we can trust something else.

Trust what? Something else, and they follow us part of the way there.

As when the lights turn off in the stair-well and the hand follows

— with confidence — the blind handrail that finds its way in

the dark.


We crowd in front of the piano and play four-handed in F-minor,

two coachmen on the same carriage, it looks slightly ridiculous.

Our hands seem to move clanging weights back and forth, as if

we were touching the counter-weights

in attempt at disturbing the terrible balance of the great scales:

joy and suffering weigh exactly the same.

Annie said, “This music is so heroic,” and it’s true.

But those who glance enviously at the men of action, those who

secretely despise themselves for not being murderers

they don’t recognise themselves here.

And those many who buy and sell people and think that everyone

can be bought, they don’t recognise themselves here.

Not their music. The long melody that remains itself through all

changes, sometimes glittering and weak, sometimes rough and

strong, snail-trails and steel wire.

The insistent humming that follows us right now

up the


This has been one of my very favorite poems for many years; I have read it in several translations and was surprised in some ways by this one. The work of Transtromer has made me really wish I knew Swedish! The linebreaks on such long lines are hard to represent, both here and in print. But the short lines in the end are meant, I am sure, to slow you down at the end. The poem covers a great deal of territory, but in a much more detailed way than last night's poem. Think about the strengths of each approach. And kiss yourself good night with some of the music of that "fat young man from Vienna." Good night!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swan Lake

I picked out this camellia a few years ago, but hadn't been here to see it bloom. It is called Swan Lake and is one of those open fluffy ones, with a golden center. This is the first bloom I have seen, so I am happily excited.

This week's New Yorker came today. I am a big fan of the articles, the short pieces and the cartoons. But usually, the poetry is not that interesting to me. This one is weird enough to be an exception.


Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught
Alexander the Great, who founded a city that would house the most
voluminous library of the ancient world---until it was burned, until
forgetting came back into vogue. The great minds come down through the
years like monkeys descending from high branches. Always, a leopard is
waiting to greet them---in the tall grass, among the magnetic berries, in the
place they should have checked.

Charles Rafferty, The New Yorker, February 17 & 24, 2014, page 78.

I am issuing herewith a challenge: write a poem in seven long lines that recapitulates ancient history in a fresh,cumulative way. End with an extended full-of-detail nature metaphor that makes the reader feel freshly endangered. Very cool.

Just watching the TV news: big lead item is a Berkeley student who caught the measles (perhaps on a trip abroad) and traveled all over on public transit and walking around the campus spreading germs wherever. This made me giggle, because we had measles all over when I was a kid. I know measles can be bad, but giggle.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The wood duck turns his head!

Tonight I decided to change this wood duck to black and white so you could examine the pattern of his feathers! Remember his eye is bright red! These birds are very graceful--almost every position they take is attractive.

Tonight we go back to ancient China for a poem with geese, rather than a duck, from Poems of the Masters; China's Classic Anthology of T'ang and Sung Dynasty Verse; translated by Red Pine, Copper Canyon Press, 2003.

On Geese Turning Back      Ch'ien Ch'i      Page 365

Why do they turn back when they reach the Hsaio and Hsiang
the water is green the sand is bright and both shores are mossy
twenty-five strings echo beneath the moon at night
unable to bear such melancholy they all fly away

The Hsaio and the Hsiang are both rivers, the locations of famous sad suicides. There is a very long footnote about the backstory of this poem. Notice that the translation makes no use of punctuation. Writing short, slightly mysterious poems in this four-line form with quite long lines is a good poetic exercise.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not bass, but koi

                 Hakone Gardens, at the pond; I love the light there.


Having no surface of its own, the pond
Under the shifting grey contingency
Of morning mists, extends even beyond
The swamp beside it, until presently
The thinning air declares itself to be
No longer water, and the pond itself
Is still for a moment, and no longer air.
Then walking bass glide from their sandy shelf,
And sets of concentric circles everywhere
Expand through some imaginary thing
Whose existence must be assumed, until they meet,
When incorporeal ripples, ring on ring,
Disturb a real surface, as if, with dripping feet,
Some dark hypothesis had made retreat.

John Hollander,
in Spectral Emanations; New and Selected Poems, Atheneum, 1978, page 223

I don't remember ever putting up a sonnet on the blog before. Notice the initial capitals, the fine rhymes, the good vocabulary, the poetic "grey" and all the rest of it. John Hollander was one of our excellent mid-century poets, and these selected poems make a strong volume.

Monday, February 10, 2014

When icicles hang by the wall

Well these are Idaho icicles from last winter, but I found something in this picture tonight that I hadn't noticed before. See the dove on the branch on the very left edge of the photo? For several weeks I heard a dove calling, but it didn't sound like the mourning doves I was familiar with. I was looking for a white-winged dove, a bird which was featured in a story about his boyhood that my father told me a few months before his death. But I couldn't spot the white on the wings. Then my daughter-in-law told me she was seeing a "fat" dove in her yard across the street every day. So I looked harder and finally saw the ring on the back of the neck. I was seeing a "life bird" for me, the Eurasian Collared Dove, right in my own backyard. Then I tried to get a picture, but they always flew away. There were a pair, and thus a lot of calling, especially in the morning. And they are fatter than your average mourning dove. And now I see the other dove is in this picture, too, toward the center of the picture, smaller, and higher, and seen between two icicles with slightly greater space between them.

Tonight's poem by the Bard of Avon has been a favorite of mine for many years; I'm not sure if it is because of the owl, or of 'greasy Joan" or just the rollicking English sounds in it. I love my language!

When icicles hang by the wall

When icicles hang by the wall 
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail, 
And Tom bears logs into the hall, 
And milk comes frozen home in pail; 
When blood is nipt and ways be foul, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl: 
Tu-whit! Tu-who! -- A merry note! 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. 

When all aloud the wind doth blow, 
And coughing drowns the parson's saw, 
And birds sit brooding in the snow, 
And Marian's nose looks red and raw; 
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl 
Then nightly sings the staring owl: 
Tu-whit! Tu-who! -- A merry note! 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) , from Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, Scene 2

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The tilted world

Here's a little photo hint: if you are on a porch and you want to make a photo of the two vintage houses across the street, and you hold your camera out to get a little closer and under the oak, try to keep the front of the camera parallel to the fronts of the houses. No. there hasn't been another California Earthquake! There are always fine things to take pictures of at the San Jose History Park. I was standing on the porch of the (moved-here) Markham house, where poet Edwin Markham lived with his mom, taught school, and wrote his very famous poem:

The Man with a Hoe

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this--
More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--
More filled with signs and portents for the soul--
More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

----Edwin Markham, 1899

L'homme à la houe by Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) is the title of the French painting (about 1863) that inspired this poem. It became so famous that its author was absolutely besieged with requests for handwritten copies. As you can see, it is a poem of substantial length which must have taken much longer than a sonnet to make a fair copy of. The result is a long skinny piece of paper. We have a framed copy in the Markham House, which is now the home of the San Jose Poetry Center. It is quite a competent poem, and justly famous, I think. Although it probably meant that its author would become a one-poem poet. . .

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Spanish Wine

This fairy-tale creature was on a bottle of wine from Spain. What a great luncheon E gave us on Thursday! We began with a Spanish cheese, and then had a French Salade Nicoise and a French Clafoutie! By the time we left I was feeling positively cosmopolitan~  I love the reflections and colors of light on the bottle in this photograph. I always wish I knew how to use pastels when I see something like this.

If I were to imagine a children's picture book, I could imagine one with this long-eared, long-legged sprite as its hero. What adventures we could have! And his picture on the cover should be embossed in silver-gilt.

I haven't found a poem for tonight. I know the Universe, the Internet and My Own Library should be sufficient for this purpose, but it has been a long day . . .

Friday, February 07, 2014

First Wild Strawberry Bloom and Buds

I wrote about the source of these little fellows several years ago. These are yesterday's very earliest blooms, near the front door.  For the whole story, here is the link! Besides a remembrance of an old friend who is gone, I am enjoying something else this year. I've always thought strawberry leaves were pretty, but look at the beautiful shape of the buds!

All day it has been raining steadily. Not a gullywasher, just a slow steady rain. This morning the oldest dachshund put her foot outside to test a small puddle on the deck in front of the door. Then she decided not to go out. It required a gentle push, because it was certainly time!


Far back, in the most remote times with their fresh colors,
Already and without knowing it, I must have begun to bring
Everyone into the shadowy garden, half-overgrown,

A kind of lush, institutional grounds--
Snugly or in groups, into that green recess. Everything
Is muffled there; they walk over a rich mulch

Where I have conducted them together into summer shade
And go on bringing them, all arriving with no more commotion
Than the intermittent rustling of birds in the dense leaves,

Or birds' notes in chains or knots that embroider
The sleek sounds of water bulging over the dam's brim:
Midafternoon voices of chickadee, kingbird, catbird;

And the falls, hung in a cool, thick nearly motionless sheet
From the little green pond to shatter perpetually in mist
Over the streambed. And like statuary of dark metal

Or pale stone around the pond, the living and the dead,
Young and old, gather where they are brought: some nameless;
Some victims and some brazen conquerors; the shamed; the haunters;

The harrowed; the cherished; the banished--or background figures,
Old men from a bench, girl with glasses from school--brought beyond
Even memory's noises and rages, here in the quiet garden.

Poem from Robert Pinsky Selected Poems, FSG, 2011

This beautiful poem is a lovely extended metaphorical idea. Memory's Garden. The three-line stanza works beautifully with the long lines. (The lines run over because I like the poem's font to be larger, and the blogger has an unexpandable space.)

The fine use of semi-colons strings together memory-people from many times and places.

I have my own memory garden, but mostly plants are in it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Your friendly brain

We had a short consultation in a neurologist's office on Tuesday. Excellent, well-informed, good-communicator fellow. All well, no serious problems found. I couldn't resist this white china bust and was pleased to see that the right hemisphere had the big stuff. while all the many small divisions were on the left hemisphere. So you can tell that the Big Thinkers were already on part of the right track. I am sure there are some great Phrenology images on the web, but tonight I have been looking up home remedies for dachshund diarrhea. Pookie has been wormed and has no other warning signs that she needs the vet. We are trying rice water and 1mg of immodium (crushed in a tablespoon of plain yoghurt) for tonight. Interesting side-note, the website name has recently been listed for sale. The link had looked useful, but no, that vet has vanished into non-paymentland.

We had a wonderful lunch and all-afternoon visit in Los Altos Hills with a long-time friend who taught literature with S for many years. Then we came home down the LONG FREEWAY during the fabled rush hour. Horrid! People change lanes way too much and way too fast.

More tonight from the poet, Edward Thomas. (1878-1917) Now All Roads Lead to France is the title of the excellent biography by Matthew Hollis, Norton, 2011. This short poem, which has become a much-loved favorite in England, is on page 204.


Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

--Edward Thomas, 1915, from a notebook experience in 1914.

It helps with the last line if you pronounce Glo'stershire in three syllables in the English manner. As a birder, of course I love the last stanza! And is not willow-herb a lovely name?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


I'm a sucker for clouds; they always remind me of Constable and English landscape painting.
So, because they just stand there and let me take pictures, I have plenty of pictures of clouds; some people have said: perhaps too many.  .  .

A poet whose work I have loved for a long time returns again tonight with this night poem.


That scraping of iron on iron when the wind
rises, what is it? Something the wind won't
quit with, but drags back and forth.
Sometimes faint, far, then suddenly, close, just
beyond the screened door, as if someone there
squats in the dark honing his wares against
my threshold. Half steel wire, half metal wing,
nothing and anything might make this noise
of saws and rasps, a creaking and groaning
of bone-growth, or body-death, marriages of rust,
or ore abraded. Tonight, something bows
that should not bend. Something stiffens that should
slide. Something, loose and not right,
rakes or forges itself all night.

Li-Young Lee 
from Rose, Kindle location 318 of 848

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Gecko; his frail and useful legs, his bumps

This is my daughter's pet, left behind when her sons grew up. He eats crickets and, in a pinch, mealworms. Look at the tiny bumps all over his body. See, also, how he matches the tones of the wood.
I am particularly fond of his feet. He lives in a glass aquarium on the top of her piano, and when she plays, he wakes up and does a sort of dance.

Today we had appointments, groceries and what I hoped would be a great enchilada, which was only a good one. Then I switched computers and misplaced my planned-ahead poem. But, hey! I did make some progress on Proust, early this morning. I read like crazy and got the Kindle-predicted hours to finish all seven volumes down to 73, but of course, I that means there really are weeks to go yet at this rate. The kid Marcel is still fussing about going to bed. I have read this part before, but one always starts at the beginning, doesn't one??? Well, doesn't one???

This evening I have spent on Now All Roads Lead to France; a life of Edward Thomas. Tonight, after a long apprenticeship at prose, churning out reviews and sch to support his family, he had begun to write poems. The first one he wrote was virtually completed in one day. The book only gives the beginning and the ending of the 115-line poem, in the voice of a barmaid he had conversed with and written about in his notebook. (When notebooks survive, there is a record of compositional struggles that is mostly lost in today's electronic fizzle.) But these parts are enough to tell what an interesting poem it is.


'I could wring the old thing's neck that put it here!
A public-house! it may be public for birds,
Squirrels and such-like, ghosts of charcoal burners
nd highwaymen.' The wild girl laughed. 'But I
Hate it since I came back from Kennington.
I gave up a good place.' Her cockney accent
Made her and the house seem wilder by calling up--
Only to be subdued at once by wildness--
The idea of London, there in that forest parlour,
Low and small among the towering beeches
And the one bulging butt that's like a font.


Between the open door
And the trees, two calves were wading in the pond,
Grazing the water here and there and thinking,
Sipping and thinking, both happily, neither long.
The water wrinkled, but they sipped and thought
As careless of the wind as it is of us,
'Look at those calves. Hark at the trees again.'

There is a nice discussion in the book about the metrical qualities of this poem -- as it relates to a loosely applied iambic meter. See what you think about the metrical qualities,

And here is the whole poem! On a Website called The First World War Poetry Archive!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Pekinese puppy we didn't buy in 1956; a memory thread

My husband, the peacetime draftee, holds one of the puppies our landlady is selling for $75 each. This is the first time I have noticed how much my husband likes dogs. He is really drawn to this little guy, who is undeniably cute. And we do have $75 dollars--it's exactly the amount of wedding gift cash that we have saved for something special.
Here S sits on the ground in what serves both as our front yard, and as the chainlinked dog run. We are renting from a woman (I think I remember her name as Lucille) who lives in the house on the street side. Our place is visible behind S. He is serving in artillery (because he majored in literature) at Fort Sill, in Lawton, Oklahoma. The little cottage we live has a small kitchen, a hallway that passes the bath and a closet, and a front room in which the double bed lifts out of the sofa. Later, my mother ships us a small baby crib and we stick that in one corner for new baby Kimberli. Near the end of my pregnancy I have trouble avoiding hitting my stomach on the opened refrigerator door. Tight quarters.
We don't buy the puppy. We cannot realistically afford even dog food. We have no car and S takes the bus to Ft. Sill. Friends pick us up for church. Sometime later, we will use the $75 as a down payment on a 1952 dark green Chevrolet with a metal sun visor. In which we will go here and there toward the rest of our lives.

Here's some Li Po for the long view:


You ask why I live
in these green mountains

I smile
can't answer

I am completely at peace

a peach blossom
sails past
on the current

there are worlds
beyond this one

FIVE T'ANG POETS, translated by David Young, 
Oberlin College, Field Translation Series 15 page 69.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

His aristocratic profile

We almost forgot to take the daily walk, and as soon as we started out it started to rain, but it was a very light rain, so we just kept on trucking. We went a different way, and passed this front yard with lots of bits of white sculptures. Not all of them had the classical hauteur of this curlyhead. He's quite striking, don't you think? One thinks immediately of questions of taste. Should one put sculptures into the garden? And I wondered whether it was a copy or an imitation. Then we heard someone singing the national anthem. Just now, looking at the news, I think it was Renee Fleming singing at the Super Bowl. Sorry we missed it, when we tuned in, the score was already 28 to nothing! Hardly worth the trouble of paying attention. And that Philip Seymour Hoffman just filled himself with heroin and now he's gone.

Thinking about something classical, I just started to read (again??) Proust. All 7 volumes in the fine old Scott Moncrieff translation available free on Kindle; Amazon suggested it to me last night. I have the newer translation in the living room, still in its pristine slipcase. I read part of it when I got it. Years ago. So this will make how many runs at this for me?? Hard to say . . . After the first few pages, I looked down at the bottom, where the Paperwhite Kindle shows you how much reading time you have left. It said 80 hours and 50 minutes. That's not so bad, I thought: I used to work 40 hours in a week. So then I paused for a bit to do some math. If I read an hour per day, how many weeks would it take me to finish?? Then I tried to figure about what month I would be in. After a bit, I glanced at the line at the bottom again; since the Kindle recalculates, when you change your speed, it now said 91 hours and some minutes. So I speeded up quickly, and soon was back in the 80 hour zone again. Quite a scare!

So, no poem tonight, I'm going upstairs to read!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Light, darkness, old friends and a dream

Today there was a remembrance service for Jack Haeger, who used to work with S in the English Department at San Jose State, and chaired the department for many years. It was moving and varied, since his many friends had been part of so many different things in his life. He played bridge, chess, could make or fix anything, and seemed to make a society quickly wherever he went. His children and siblings also spoke. On the way back we stopped in Los Gatos for an expensive snack, below this fingernail moon.

Yes, that's it, the tiny white smirch in the blackness near the center of the picture! No time for a better shot as the others were hurrying toward the restaurant with the two-hour wait. (We wound up changing to another place, where we ate in the bar. Bright Lights! Big City!  sort of . . .)

When we came out, that's when I saw the skinny-legged mannequins wearing what looks like used boy clothing. (Above.) I couldn't resist the way they were lit from above. Photography is all about light anyway.

Tonight I am thinking back on the years we have spent here, with this crowd of literature teachers, many of whom came, now silver-headed, to this event. I took not a single picture, even of the small dog, which erupted in delightful short fusillades of barking, now and again.

I have been reading All Roads Lead to France, an excellent biography of the British poet, Edward Thomas, who was killed in World War I. He had been a prose writer, but over two short years just before his death, he wrote his poems, good ones.

Here is a short one from the free Kindle Book Last Poems by Edward Thomas.


       Over known fields with an old friend in dream
I walked, but came sudden to a strange stream.
Its dark waters were bursting out most bright
From a great mountain's heart into the light.
They ran a short course under the sun, then back
Into a pit they plunged, once more as black
As at their birth; and I stood thinking there
How white, had the day shone on them, they were,
Heaving and coiling. So by the roar and hiss
And by the mighty motion of the abyss
I was bemused, that I forgot my friend
And neither saw nor sought him till the end,
When I awoke from waters unto men
Saying, "I shall be here again."

Thomas seems to have had a difficult time managing what sounds pretty much like what we might call clinical depression, and was pretty tough on others as well as on himself. I'll probably be talking more about him later, when I have finished the biography and read the poems. He had a very deep friendship with Robert Frost, who had moved to England at that time and published his first book, A Boy's Will, there.