Monday, March 31, 2014

Gate of Cedar Logs

Much loved friends just moved away from this farmstead remnant in Northern Michigan. When they moved here, these weathered logs already supported the fence around the garden. And I am sure they stand there still, having been selected to endure. Trees like this grow in cedar swamps in this part of Michigan. I fell in love with the shapes of the silvered wood. It made me think about practical building, using the right materials for the right job and how things made with care can often last. 

Tonight I met with my poetry group; we call it the Poetry Salon. Through illness, rain and misadventure we were about as small an assemblage as we have ever been--only three women. Yet, we managed to run an hour late, worked over poems and got out other things to read (Fanny Howe from the Best American Poems, 2001) and talked about  , , , The Odyssey! Yes, that one.

A Glimpse of the Eternal

Just now
a sparrow lighted 
on a pine bough
right outside
my bedroom window
and a puff
of yellow pollen
flew away.

        Ted Kooser
from Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, page 82.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Door to the Past

I've always liked to read!! This is one of those skinny negatives that my mother's good Kodak with the bellows used to make before it sprung a light leak. I cannot really be reading it, must just be pretending, because when I made the photo VERY dark I could see this is a book of text with two columns. No illustrations. Can't quite read it, though.

The Back Door

The door through which we step out 
into the past is an easy push, 
light as the air, a green screen door
with a sagging spring. There's a hook 
to unhook first, for there have been
incidents: someone has come up 
out of the past to steal something good
from the present. We know who they are.
We have tried to discourage them
by moving from house to house,
from city to city, but they find us
again and again. You see them coming
sometimes from a long way off--
a pretty young woman, a handsome man,
stepping in through the back garden gate,
pausing to pick the few roses.

Ted Kooser

from Weather Central; University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994, page 81.

I hope you are not getting tired of Ted Kooser. . .  I must reveal that we had EXACTLY that screen door which is so lovingly described here. In the photo, I am sitting on the porch of the house we rented when I was born. We bought the house next door, on First Street in Scotia, New York. The screen door let onto the back porch. The only different thing was that I didn't think then that the purpose of the latch was to prevent people from coming out of the past.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Birthday: March Memory Thread

Place: Lawton, Oklahoma
Time: March, 1957 or 1958
Event: Birthday party for oldest child
Curly-haired guest: Amy Stevenson
Red shoes: Amy's mom, Bernice
Brown shoes and long legs: S, father of the birthday girl
Cake: made by me in heart-shaped pans
Birthday Girl's bangs: I used good scissors; I think I may have taped them first.
Birthday Girl's wardrobe: One of several outfits I made for her using this pattern. The skirt buttons onto the blouse and either one can be made from small scraps of fabric. The blouse was made from scraps from one of my blouses; the skirt from scraps from one of S's shirts. I used to lightly starch and iron these outfits.
Upside down toy: a turtle that moved limbs and head as you pulled it along--this was a good quality toy.
Birthday Girl's expression: Priceless!

This is tonight's memory thread! I took the slide photograph with my Contessa Rangefinder Camera. Looking at it, besides the threads of memory, I see: cut-off partial people, a too-high, skewed viewpoint . . . and a really poor overall composition. I am glad to have this picture, but once again, I wish I had paid more attention to what I was doing.

Here is tonight's translated Chinese poem. It is called Remembering.


The years, their months
turn, grave and slow, their
fall and spring, again.

Mountain flowers, mountain leaves and
each time's new.

Sometimes I sit alone
and smile upon the child I was,

in memory now distant
and a friend.

Yuan Mei (1726-1798)
The Shambala Anthology of Chinese Poetry, translated and edited by J. P. Seaton, Shambala, page 216.

This nine-line poem captures the movement of time through the seasons and years. It is a good length, I think, to try writing one's own poems. And I think it goes with tonight's memory thread as if it were written for it. Sleep well. Dream . . .

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fig leaves unfold in spring sunshine

First, they are like little green candles at the tips of the stems. Then they unfold, first veined, and grow larger in beautiful ways

On my way here, I bopped through my email. I get email from the blog of John Paul Caponigro, famous photographer-son of famous photographer Paul Caponigro. (Google that and look for the photo of the running white deer!) Often on the blog he shares quotes, tips or interviews with other photographers. Tonight it was a series of quotes from Cindy Sherman, whose work I have not really understood. She photographs herself dressed up as other people. These photos make me nervous, command high prices, and give people a chance to pontificate at great length about the meanings and implications of this work. Sigh. . .

“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” – Cindy Sherman
as quoted on John Paul Caponigro's blog. Original source unknown.

Tonight I want to think about this. It rings true to me, even if I don't want to think that I act like this! I am pretty sure that it fits. What about you?? I have yesterday finished the first volume of Doris Lessing's WONDERFUL autobiography, which gives me another person, complex Doris herself, to consider while considering this.

Here's a short self-image poem from Ted Kooser, whose biography I am reading on Kindle which has revealed him to be less simple and more complicated than I had imagined. I was almost five when he was born. I didn't know he was also an artist, and an insurance executive!

Peeling a Potato

Pablo Casals should see me now
bowing this fat little cello,
peeling off long white chords.

I am not famous like Pablo, 
not yet. The amphitheater
of the kitchen sink is nearly empty.
As the notes reel out,
I hear only the hesitant clapping
of a few moist hands.

I am playing the solo variations
of J. S. Bach. Wonderfully,
I sweep with my peeler. See me lean
into the work, tight-lipped,
the light in my hair. Inspiration
trickles over my handsome old hands.

Ted Kooser, Weather Central, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994, page 68.

This poem, at 15 lines, is just about sonnet length. Three lines, six lines and six lines. I can't quickly see a regular pattern of stresses. The entire poem is an extended, embellished idea or thought and happy in tone. I like it, and find much of Kooser's work appealing. Today, I have been pounding those fertilizer stakes into the ground under the trees because we will probably be gone much of the summer. Perhaps I could think of it as making art while I pull up ivy that is going where I didn't send it. Perhaps I could write a poem . . .

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Carefully delimited graffiti

We went out for a burrito last night; and using S's new handicap parking permit, parked right in front of Tap Plastics, which is next door to Baja Fresh, the burrito source. The wall of the building is mud-brown stucco and is immaculate. It looks freshly painted, but there is no paint on the edges of the sign, which is of the quite small regulation parking-lot size like you see everywhere. You will note that the white border of the sign is almost pristine. 

This is the smaller accompanying sign, showing more of the brown wall. This metal sign is also graffitied but in a much more slapdash way--yet still keeping the white borders. I am trying to imagine the creation of this small art exhibit. What was this person thinking. Why such cramped neatness?? The larger one looks like the work of different hands. And if the wall was repainted after being lettered on, why replace the ruined signs and spoil the effect??  America. . .

This is Ted Kooser's screech owl, also trying to be heard.

Screech Owl

All night each reedy whinny
from a bird no bigger than a heart
flies out of a tall black pine
and, in a breath, is taken away
by the stars. Yet, with small hope
from the center of darkness
it calls out again and again.

Ted Kooser, from Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, page 73.
This book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Maybe, I should make a new project. Write a short poem each day (for a month) with a bird in it. I think I would enjoy doing this. [If you should decide to do it, send me a poem for this blog!) Today, we had A T & T internet repairman. (A squirrel had chewed something on a pole a block away!) Then we had termite inspection. I had to clean out closet floors so he could lift the door to get under the house. When I got deep into these closets I found paper towels and light bulbs, tape, markers and pens, all still useful. I wound up rearranging quite a few shelves. So I haven't written a bird (or any) poem. And so, once more, to bed. Sleep well. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Blackbird Lesson


The blackbird song fell on the afternoon,
as assault not just the come-hither
of the April male or June's border warning shots,
but merrily like a composition,
a Mozart firing himself to ever more grandiose
variations on a theme, but the ghost of some whole
partly remembered. The blackbird stopped.
In silence came the second ghost,
a memory of the pedaling upright
on the dining room's threadbare Oriental,
the window bay framing a massive oak stump,
another oak already dying, my sister going
through scales painfully, then a little faster.

William Logan in
The Atlantic Monthly, April, 2014, page 83.

A squirrel has chewed the A T & T line and our internet is BROKEN. This post is from the phone and I cannot get the photo on top. But I liked this poem much better than those I usually find in magazines. Back tomorrow, I hope!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


                     For the love of yesterday's pink azalea after the sprinkler turned off.

When spring has come again and the earliest things begin to bloom in the garden, well, it makes me very happy. Both my parents liked to garden and I do, too, although the necessary attention to grow, for instance, food, is harder for me to sustain. Tra-la, I'm off to read. Here is one of Li Po's classical Chinese poems that has been treated with a light manner (particularly the last two words) by William Carlos Williams. If this were scripture, I wouldn't let him get away with it, but I kind of like it, even though generally I prefer a little higher tone that this last line for these versions from the Chinese.


A young lass 
plucks mulberry leaves by the river

Her white hand
Reaches among the green

Her flushed cheeks
Shine under the sun

The hungry silkworms
Are waiting

Oh, young horseman
Why do you tarry. Get going.

LI PO,  version by William Carlos Williams,
from The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry;
edited by Eliot Weinberger, page 87.

And another thing, I'm glad I don't have to raise silkworms, reel off the silk, spin it and so forth. Seems like pretty tedious work, requiring that you pay attention or the whole effort will be spoiled. The translations/versions in this same anthology by Ezra Pound pay more attention to create more of a costume drama sort of classical effect. That's probably what I would strive for, but I admire WCW's modern exhuberance!

Monday, March 24, 2014


I love the way the unfolding apple blossoms are fuzzy, especially when seen from behind. I also love that I have finally found out how to make the photos larger (too large?) on this blog. It's been a long day, the day we finally took the old dog on her last car ride. Here she is this morning in the garden, just before we left. The whole thing was very gentle and peaceful, although I wanted to run away at the last minute. I still have her blue collar in my purse.

Although I have loved the poems of Michael Palmer for a long time, I don't think I have ever used one on my blog. I only heard him read once (many years ago) and I was struck by his ability to hold the attention of the audience with his bodily movements as well as with his voice. As you can see from the Wikipedia article, he has a long history of collaboration, particularly with dancers, as well as with artists and other creative people. I just got a copy of his Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005. This poem is on page 28.


The perfect half-moon 
of lies in the capital

Crooks and fools in power what's new
and our search has begun for signs of spring

Maybe those two bluebirds
flashing past the hawthorn yesterday

Against that, the jangle of a spoon in a cup
and a child on this day swept out to sea

*Michael Palmer*

Four capital letters, one for each stanza, one comma, and one apostrophe. Eight short lines.
A poem for spring, yet not sentimental. And a surprisingly terrifying ending. Good night.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Murmur of bees

Sitting in the sun with the old dogs today. All afternoon there was the loud murmur of bees in the blossoms on the apple and the plum. I took this picture with the iPhone, but got out my Big Boy camera, too, because it was such a pretty garden day. It makes me happy that there are a few bees left, although we are certainly trying hard enough to wipe them all out. I remember the slogan, "Better Living Through Chemistry" from the early days of television. But, there are things we need to stop spraying RIGHT NOW if bees are to survive. Lots of people know this, just like lots of people knew other things, for instance, things like that the Iraq War would be an ongoing disaster for America and Americans. But the mighty forces grind on and now we all eat genetically modified corn in everything, But even GMO corn requires pollination. But enough of this: long before CMO corn and the frog and bee die-offs, there was a flowering of poetry in Ancient China. Just about my favorite is the poet Tu Fu (712-770) (or Du Fu in the newly preferred system of transliteration.) Here is his spring poem from the 700s in two different versions. That's the Tang Dynasty. Long time back.


It is Spring in the mountains.
I come along seeking you.
The sound of chopping wood echoes
Between the silent peaks.
The streams are still icy.
There is snow on  the trail.
At sunset I reach your grove
In the stony mountain pass.
You want nothing, although at night
You can see the aura of gold
And silver all about you.
You have learned to be gentle
As the mountain deer you have tamed.
The way back forgotten, hidden
Away, I become like you
An empty boat, floating, adrift.

This is the version by Kenneth Rexroth.


In spring mountains, alone, I set out to find you.
Axe strokes crack--crack and quit. Silence doubles.

I pass snow and ice lingering along cold streams.
then, at Stone-Gate in late light, enter these woods.

You harm nothing, deer roam here each morning,
want nothing, auras silver and gold grace nights.

Facing you on a whim, in bottomless dark, the way 
here lost--I feel it drifting, this whole empty boat.

(And this is the translation by David Hinton.)

Both poems are from The New Direction Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, 2003, page 93.

I love the presentation in the couplets with longer lines by Hinton. But I also love looking at both versions and thinking about how they differ. And here is a young fig leaf from this afternoon's garden!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

With a burden of wood

No, Caliban didn't live here; this is in that corner of Oregon we traveled through through to get from Idaho to Nevada, just before last Christmas. America! America! I think Caliban would have had trouble gathering much wood here, but is is spectacular and beautiful country, and untroubled by much except for grazing cattle.

Well, I used to be a reference librarian and I have Google Search at my very fingertips. But I neglected to look up "inchmeal" last night when I was talking about compound words. I just assumed it was a new compound! Just now, reading it, S said, Isn't that in a Hopkins poem? Well, I couldn't find it, but look at this Shakespeare! Here it is in the entrance speech of Caliban!

The Tempest
Act II. Scene II.
Another Part of the Island.

Enter CALIBAN, with a burden of wood.
A noise of thunder heard. 

Cal. All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
By inch-meal a disease! His spirits hear me,
And yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,
Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ the mire,
Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark
Out of my way, unless he bid ’em; but
For every trifle are they set upon me:
Sometime like apes, that mow and chatter at me
And after bite me; then like hedge-hogs, which
Lie tumbling in my bare-foot way and mount
Their pricks at my foot-fall; sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.—

**William Shakespeare**

Just in case you haven't gone to sleep yet, here is something else I found, another "meal" word in Chaucer! Below is part of the thread that answers a question about "flockmeal."
Fabzorba is someone's Internet handle, I guess. I left it here because it tickles me. I don't see a way to use it in a poem just yet!

On Aug 3, 5:41 am, Harrison Hill wrote:
> On Aug 2, 3:11 pm, James Hogg wrote:
> > James Hogg wrote:
> > > Harrison Hill wrote:
> > >> I like to try to keep Chaucer's words alive: "delivernesse" for
> > >> example. He had a single word ending in "...meal" that is the exact
> > >> opposite of "piecemeal" - anyone think they can remember it or Google
> > >> it?
> > > Wholemeal?
> > The serious answer is "flockmeal", as used in "The Clerkes Tale" (but
> > not quoted in the OED).

> Thank you James. A lovely word "flockmeal" and I wonder whyever it was
> allowed to die out?

     Chaucer seems to use 'flockmeal' in the sense defined here:
     flock-meal, by companies or troops (of persons), rarely by groups or
     heaps (of things)

It might get our own estimations of the net into perspective if we
note that of the "40 dictionaries" of OneLook, only ONE, that is the
world leader "Wordnik", gives us definitions of "flockmeal". The
others do not recognize it, none of them.

And so to sleep, or maybe to finish the first volume of Lessing's autobiography before I sleep. . .

Friday, March 21, 2014

Like a fluttering candle

Tonight's pairing is a poem by the great Chinese poet known as Tu Fu or as Du Fu (read about him!) with a Checkerspot butterfly whose image I caught in my own mountain place, Almaden Quicksilver Park. He had just emerged and was drying his wings, which is why he posed so well.

by Tu Fu

Throughout Heaven and Earth, whatever lives
contends. Each place has its own way,
but we all struggle inchmeal, one with another,
tangling ourselves ever tighter in the snare.

Without aristocracy, what would the lowly
grieve for? And without wealth, what could
poverty lack? O, neighborhoods may take turns
mourning, but all time is one lone corpse.

Here, in Wu Gorge, I have lived three unkempt
years out like a fluttering candle, blessed that
after a lifetime growing content with failure,
I've forgotten how splendor and grace differ.

Chosen for court or grown old in some outland,
I need the same workaday rice. But here, my
house of woven bramble east of city walls, I can
pick healing herbs in shaded mountain valleys.

Searching out roots between frost and snow,
I wear my heart away without thinking of lush
branches and vines. It isn't discipline---
this quiet life apart has always been my joy.

They say a sage is taut as a bowstring and
a fool is bent hookwise. Who knows which
I am? Taut hookwise, warming my old back
here in the sun, I await woodcutters and herdsmen.

Tu Fu, translated by David Hinton in The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, edited by Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2003.

One of the things I like about this translation is the compounds the translator has chosen: workaday rice, inchmeal, hookwise to go with other more commonly used compounds such as bowstring, woodcutters or herdsman. It gives the poem an appealing texture.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"the sun is moving outside"

Memory: this is from the scanned slides of my youth. I can see clearly that I am driving the tractor, and my father is assisting Susan and John (the two siblings closest to my age) in stacking the bales on the trailer. The setting is clearly our long rectangular hayfield at The Farm. This place, I do remember, is where I learned the word Timothy, the name of a good grass for hay. I remember my father teaching me this word, and showing me the characteristic seedhead.
What I do not remember: Driving a tractor. Being able to drive a tractor. (I didn't learn to drive a car until I was 26 years old!) Who cut this hay? What equipment did they use. Is this a borrowed tractor? I do remember that plaid shirt I am wearing. Wow! I drove a tractor!

About memory. Today, I have been reading Under My Skin, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography. I cannot believe I missed this before, because I love autobiographies, especially of writers. I carried the book with me when we went to the neurologist today, and laid it on the floor in the examining room by my purse. As we left, Dr. G. looked down, "Doris Lessing," he said, "she didn't like men." So far in this book, that hasn't come up, but I seem to remember that that was at least part of things, as far as her life was concerned. Here is one taste:

Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman, with a more and more detached curiosity. Old people may be observed peering into their pasts. Why? -- They are asking themselves. How did that happen? I try to see my past selves as someone else might, and then put myself back inside one of them, and am at once submerged in a hot struggle of emotion, justified by thoughts and ideas that I now judge wrong.
     Besides, the landscape itself is a tricky thing. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, month, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don't?
     Suppose there is no landscape at all? This can happen. I sat next to a man at dinner who said he could never write an autobiography because he didn't remember anything. What, nothing? Only a little scene here and there. Like, so he said, those small washes and blobs of colour that stained-glass windows lay on the dark of a stone floor in a cathedral. It is hard for me to imagine such a darkening of the past. Once even to try would have plunged me into frightful insecurity, as if memory were Self, Identity -- and I am sure that isn't so. Now I can imagine myself arriving in some country with the past wiped clean out of my mind. I would do all right. It is after all only what we did when we were born, without memories, or so it seems to the adult: then we have to create our lives, create memory.
     Besides, said this dinner companion -- who seemed perfectly whole and present, despite his insufficient hold on his past, 'the little blobs of colour move all the time, because the sun is moving outside.'

Doris Lessing, Under My Skin, volume one of my autobiography, to 1949, Harper Perennial, 1995, pages 12-13.

As soon as I read this passage this morning, I knew it had to become part of The Memory Thread. So I riffled through the slides to find something to use (usually this works the other way around and I start with the picture.) What did you remember today???

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Intricate blossoms of Spanish Lavender

The structure of this bloom is interesting, I think. I love those pale "wings" at the tip of the bloom! It escaped the recent front yard overzealous pruning, because it was in the back yard. Of such chances is life often made. . .

I had an amazingly lovely day of fellowship and haiku poetry today. I will treasure these memories for a long, long time. I almost feel like I am sprouting little "wings" (pale, lavender, made of silken gauze) from the top of my head.

And one doesn't often think of pale tissue-patterns in connection with turkey vultures, which is probably why I picked this Ted Kooser poem for tonight. It is from his Pulitzer Prize book Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, page 51.

Turkey Vultures

Circling above us, their wing-tips fanned
like fingers, it's as if they are smoothing

one of those tissue-paper sewing patterns
over the pale blue fabric of the air,

touching the heavens with leisurely pleasure,
just a word or two called back and forth,

taking all the time in the world, even though
the sun is low and red in the west, and they

have fallen behind with the making of shrouds.

Ted Kooser

Take a bit of time to inspect this poem. Observe the excellent observation of the habits of Turkey Vultures and the way they move. And, since sewing was such an important part of my young life, I was very pleased to see this material in the poem.

Notice how the two-line stanzas give a pleasing shape to the poem, and how that sets off the surprise (even though we knew the useful tasks of vultures) and poem-deepening last line in its own stanza.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sammi in Lamplight

Tonight, she wouldn't get up for her dinner; she ate it when we carried her to it. But, she still looks pretty good in tonight's lamplight, n-est-ce pas? Several vet visits have only established what the problem is NOT. Now they are thinking it might be some kind of soft tissue nerve tumor that is behind a bone and doesn't show on x-rays. She is much too old for exploratory surgery. We are giving her some time to see if she recovers, but she seems to be getting worse; can't get around or go up or downstairs. We carry her, holding carefully to the banister with one hand. It feels like we are saying a measured, slow goodbye.

Tonight another Ted Kooser poem from page 38 of
Winter Morning Walks;  one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison.

december 14

Home from my walk, shoes off, at peace.

The weight of my old dog, Hattie----thirty-five pounds
of knocking bones, sighs, tremors and dreams----
just isn't enough to hold a patch of sun in its place,
at least for very long. While she shakes in her sleep,
it slips from beneath her and inches away,
taking the morning with it----the music from the radio,
the tea from my cup, the drowsy yellow hours----
picking up dust and dog hairs as it goes.

This is the sort of extended conceit that can be done in a postcard poem,
following an idea (the sun) as it moves through the day

All I need to do is get started! And as Robert Frost says, "You come, too!"

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Robert Frost (1874–1963). from North of Boston. 1915.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A flower and a postcard

A camellia we planted after we stopped writing the names in the back of the Western Garden Book; now neither one of us remembers its name, but it keeps on blooming in our garden nevertheless, and is blooming now!

Tonight I am going back to the lovely book I wrote about earlier in this post; click the link to see what I wrote then about Ted Kooser'e Winter Morning Walks; one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison. Kooser took exercise  morning walks before the sun came up (because his radiation treatments had made him sensitive to sunlight) each one is bite-sized or suitable for a small snack! He decided to send the small poems on postcards to Poet-Friend Harrison and later chose some of them to make this book. This sort of poem is particularly likely to bring up a Memory Thread, as in the one that follows. I cannot make a better suggestion than that you try this. Postcards can be made of cardboard, watercolor paper, the inside of old book covers . . .and the inside of those beautiful cream-colored envelopes that advertisements for The Academy of American Poets come in. Or maybe you already have a stack of cards you planned to send from that trip to the Pyramids! Let's start a trend and do our friends at the Post Office a favor by making the mail consist of something besides unsolicited advertisements: unsolicited short postcard poems!

March 13
Overcast and still

High in an elm, a red-bellied woodpecker
rattles a branch, rattling and resting
rattling and resting, each flat dry burst
like a single extended sound. It's the creak
of the painted wainscot ceiling
of my grandparent's porch, under the strain
of the chains of the swing. Somehow
it has carried this far, four hundred miles
and more than fifty years, the sound
of my uncle Elvy watching the highway
and swinging, the toes of his good shoes
just touching the floor.

Ted Kooser, from Winter Morning Walks; one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison, Carnegie Mellon, 2000, page 117.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Terracotta lion with pink azaleas

Terracotta lion in afternoon light just a few hours ago. I've been neatening and fertilizing today. This always stirs up a lot of memories, since we have lived here almost 50 years. We had the deck built after my mother-in-law died, using the small inheritance she saved from Social Security. S laid the paving blocks around all the edges. He did a good job, setting them in sand, and wearing out three circular saws on the ones that had to be cut. They are holding up very well. The yard is a palimpsest of all the projects we did together; for many years, this garden was our shared hobby. We went shopping for plants almost every weekend during the seasons for planting. Tonight I looked at the list of things we planted written in the back of our oldest Sunset Western Garden Book. That is the Garden Bible for this area. Most of these plants didn't make it over the long haul. You can see the (now dry) tangerines still hanging on the tree. They usually are ready the week after Christmas, but this year they were ruined by the third bad frost in our years here. So they hang on the tree, still brightest orange, looking like Christmas ornaments. They are among the remnants of our quest to grow our own citrus. Over the next few days, I hope to talk about the fun we have had, and how working in the garden brings it all back.

In the Hall of Bones

Here we store the reassembled
scaffolding, the split, bleached uprights.
the knobby corner locks and braces
that held up the mastodon's
bag of wet leaves and the ivory
forklift of its head. Over there are
the planks upon which lay the turtle's
diving bell, and the articulated
rack that kept the dromedary's hump
from collapsing under the weight
of its perseverance. And here is
the basket that held the clip-clop
pulse of the miniature horse
as it dreamed of growing tall enough
to have lunch from a tree. And then
here's man, all matchsticks, wooden spoons,
and tongue depressors wired together,
a rack supporting a leaky jug
of lust and worry. Of all the skeletons
assembled here, this is the only one
in which throbbed a heart
made sad by brooding on its shadow.

Ted Kooser, from Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, Kindle location 444.

This is an elegant poem, well-realized, and just as long as it needs to be. The homely descriptions of the things the bony remains resemble is just great!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

White and Green; Two Poems by Wang Wei

Sketching Things

Slender clouds. On the pavilion a small rain.
Noon. But I'm too lazy to open the far cloister.
I sit looking at moss so green
my clothes are soaked with color.

A White Turtle Under a Waterfall

The waterfall on South Mountain hits the rocks,
tosses back its foam with terrifying thunder,
blotting out even face-to-face talk.
Collapsing water and bouncing foam soak blue moss.
old moss so thick
it drowns the spring grass.
Animals are hushed.
Birds fly but don't sing
yet a white turtle plays on the pool's sand floor under riotous spray,
sliding about with the torrents.
The people of the land are benevolent.
No angling or net fishing.
The white turtle lives out its life, naturally.

From The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry; translated bu Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping,
Random House, 2005, pages 111 and 105. (Wang Wei's poems in this book were translated by Tony Barnstone, with his father, Willis Barnstone and Xu Haixin.) I got this poem when Tony and Willis gave a reading in San Jose for the Poetry Center. Tony wrote inside, "The Buddha of poetry says, Enjoy! All Best, Tony Barnstone."

Whenever I look at the poems by Wang Wei (701-761, that's a looong time ago!) my head and heart grow quiet and still. I know there are no white turtles or green moss in the accompanying photo, and the sun flare is not quite quiet and still enough. But somehow I liked this combination. Note the variation in line lengths in the presentation of the translation of this poem. Read it out loud, softly.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Samantha in the bracken

                                   (A single click on the picture will make it larger.)

Walking on Tiptoe
     by Ted Kooser

Long ago we quit lifting our heels
like the others—horse, dog, and tiger—
though we thrill to their speed
as they flee. Even the mouse
bearing the great weight of a nugget
of dog food is enviably graceful.
There is little spring to our walk,
we are so burdened with responsibility,
all of the disciplinary actions
that have fallen to us, the punishments,
the killings, and all with our feet
bound stiff in the skins of the conquered.
But sometimes, in the early hours,
we can feel what it must have been like
to be one of them, up on our toes,
stealing past doors where others are sleeping,
and suddenly able to see in the dark.

Ted Kooser, from Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, Kindle location 50.

The picture is of a granddaughter in the path through the ferns that my oldest daughter had mowed before her family's visit. That's our beloved Michigan house at the edge of the woods. As I took the picture, I was shouting at her not to go into the ferns; I thought I might lose her!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flight of the Pileated Woodpecker

Three years ago, in March, the winter we spent in Michigan, while we were waiting to reverse S's aFib, I took many pictures through the clear window in the kitchen door. This was the one that best shows the feather pattern of the pileated woodpecker in flight. Just spectacular! This was the winter these birds came every day to my suet feeder, when they weren't tearing at the dead poplar tree on the left. All the birds stopped on this tree while they assessed the safety of the feeder, but only the pileated were steadily dismantling it. These were lovely, quiet winter days; no obligations, nowhere you were expected to go. Just the warm house, the clear windows, snow and the beautiful woods!

A Winter Morning         By Ted Kooser

A farmhouse window far back from the highway
speaks to the darkness in a small, sure voice.
Against this stillness, only a kettle's whisper,
and against the starry cold, one small blue ring of flame.

From Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004

I have a really great photo of a copper kettle, but I cannot find it tonight. I love the simplicity
of Ted Kooser's poetry. It makes me feel comfortable and understood. This is not to say that I do not love the mysteries of Transtromer and Adam Zagajewsji, and the wild lyricism of Derek Walcott, because I do!

The old dachshund gets weaker every day; she seems to have lost most of her zest for life, since she took that bad fall down the stairs. The vet finds no injury from that. So we are in a wait and see mode over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Well, I don't suppose Tulips are up in Emily's Amherst yet. But here they are coming out on the Daily Walk. (Which we missed today, what with one thing and another.) Tonight we go back to Emily, the foremother of American poetry and her welcome to the month we are in the midst of now. I borrowed this from the Academy of American Poets website, a fine address. And remember, although every day is Poetry Day, you must never forget that next month, APRIL, is National Poetry Month. Get ready to have some poems in your pocket!

Dear March  -  Come In

Dear March - Come in - 
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat - 
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are - 
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well - 
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds - 
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -         
But March, forgive me - 
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue - 
There was no Purple suitable - 
You took it all with you -         
Who knocks? That April -
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call 
When I am occupied -         
But trifles look so trivial 
As soon as you have come
That blame is just as dear as Praise 
And Praise as mere as Blame -
Emily Dickenson

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Waiting out the winter

Somewhere these guys are making it through the winter somehow. I'm hoping to see ducklings in the spring. So far, I have only seen mallard ducklings; these wood ducks seem to be a little more private with their children, alongside the Little Union Canal.

Tonight another trip back in time to the ancient Chinese poets:

Standing Alone

A bird of prey above the sky
and two white gulls over the river
gliding on wind. A good time to attack,
while they roam about relaxed.
The grasses are all balled with dew
and the spiderweb is not yet closed.
Heaven's secret plan is like human designs
I stand alone with a thousand worries.

Du Fu, in The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry;
edited by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, 2005, page 136.

Look about: can you see the dew on the grass? How many different birds have you seen this week?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Schenectady, New York, circa 1950 and YOU ARE THERE.

Because tonight's poem is called The Station, I searched through the last batch of my mother's slides for something about transportation. Here's a classic bus! But what is that building and why did she take a picture of it?? Then I had a faint memory trace: the Schenectady Library! We visited when we came to town for music lessons from Mrs. Newkirk. Here is a link to her! It was on such a bus that eight-year-old-me had such a bad experience when the bus driver said I was using an old transfer and  I still hate bus travel! Here is a link to the old library on the website. I think I got it! You decide. 
This was a Carnegie Library and had the names of great writers inscribed all around below the roof. I can almost see them in this picture, but not quite.

The Station

A train has just rolled in. Coach after coach stand here,
but no doors open, no one gets off or on.
Are there no doors at all? Inside, a crowd
of shut-in figures stirring to and fro.
Gazing out through immovable window-panes.
Outside, a man with a hammer.
He strikes the wheels, a feeble clang. Except for here!
Here the chime swells unbelievably; a lightning stroke,
peal of cathedral bells, a sailing-round-the-world peal
that lifts the whole train and the landscape's wet stones.
Everything is singing. This you will remember. Travel on!

Tomas Transtromer; from New Collected Poems; 
translated by Robin Fulton, Bloodaxe Books, 1997, page 136

For some reason this makes me very happy. Everything is singing!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

"I used a cracker-hole to pierce the world--"

More recovered history. This is my mother in her garden in the yard of the Shaker Heights home. I cannot figure the exact date but she was in her late 70s or early 80s. I cannot help noticing how the tai chi, yoga and other movement exercises were good for her legs. She took her college degree in physical education, and Reader Me was always a little puzzling to her. She loved to garden and wanted to raise herbs and other things to eat. I often wish I had paid more attention to the things she told me, but that is probably a pretty common regret.

Tonight may be the last of Walter Pavlich's poems for a while; I have really enjoyed this rediscovery! This is from his book, Ongoing Portraits, Barnwood Press, 1985, page 36. I wish you could see the cover image of this book; I would link to it if I could find it online. It is a photo of the author's father with his group, The Herculean Trio in a fantastic gymnastic pose. The muscley effect is offset by the diaperish trunks, white ballet slippers (men-sized!) and white swim caps they are wearing. The costumery was from another time, but they look very strong. I wish I knew more about this. Vaudeville?

On Not Growing Up With Fireflies

Fireflies ascend the rain-coming air,
each arc governed by the need
for another light like his own.
They give up feeding
and just swallow air
or the flight-scent of a luminous mate.
I missed them as a boy
too many clouds spilling 
over to douse them.

But even then I knew
my eyes would not save me
for what I wanted to see.
I used a cracker-hole
to pierce the world--
crows hooked on a telephone pole,
water lifting out of the sea.

I can view them now
in the amphitheatre of the Midwest
bits of dry lightning
cruising and resting.
Bewildered moths veer toward
their intermittent illumination.
I have faith in these aviators
on fire with their on-again
off-again nocturnal ignition,
these quick sparks of eternity.

                   Walter Pavlich

The idea of looking through a hole in a saltine is really great; like a pinhole camera! Did you grow up with fireflies? I did. But the fireflies in northern Michigan are truly spectacular; I try to get there by the first week in June so I can see them again. I love the imaginative flights this poem takes.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Economical Use of Materials

Today we had a wonderful haiku meeting in which we all made art! We met in a classroom studio and got to use all sorts of materials. This is a picture of small haiku-sized books made by Linda P. from grocery bags (some with printed pictures) or other printed advertising. The covers are glued around small rectangles of binder board. Books can be sewn or folded. Inspirational! Every single person wound up making something different! Some of the recycled materials besides paper bags were: abandoned children's art, magazines, donated cigar boxes, fabric scraps and twine. 

Below is a view of the set-up from the table where the little books were displayed. I guess the thing that really thrilled me was that every single project was different, and some of them already included haiku. The level of creativity, plus the unlimited encouragement and the varieties of interesting materials quite lifted the room into the air!

In the spirit of economy of materials, I want to offer this poem, which I found last night in a memorial anthology honoring Walter Pavlich: How to Be This Man; the Walter Pavlich Memorial Poetry Anthology, edited by Sandra McPherson, Swan Scythe Press, 2003 on page 76. This book contains poems by men associated with Swan Scythe Press as well as other poets. The whole poem is below, and is everything that is needed, I think.

James Lee Jobe
Potato Bug Feet

At bedtime my son and I talk to the moon and say
a tiny prayer. How tiny? Smaller than potato bug feet.

This poem knocks me out! I wonder what it would be like with a different title though, so the last line would be surprising. Mayhap it is surprising enough. I want to write a tiny, tiny poem.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Maturity and Experience

Those little stubby antlers were coming along nicely last year. Because of the new rule that bucks must now have four points (not just three) on each side to be legally taken during hunting season, I am hopeful that he might have made it through another year. But, of course, if I spot him, we will not recognize each other! The word "antler" puzzled me as a child. I encountered it, probably in The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (one of the three-named writers, as am I) and confused it with something religious like "altar" -- it took me years to straighten that out and to reform my odd in-between pronunciation. I still can never remember how to say the word "cicada" because of a similar early confusion.

One of the most "mature" poets I have met was Czeslaw Milosz. He really was a grownup! I mentioned before that I have been going through his 1987-88 journal A Year of the Hunter, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994. on the same days this year. Here is the complete entry for today, March 7, 1988,

March 7, 1988

I cannot grasp in verse my basic theme. Experience teaches that in such cases one has to wait.  Let's say for several months. But my hope that I will succeed in catching it is contradicted by my resignation, because, after all, the time will come when one does not write poems anymore.

And there you have it, at least for tonight.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lots of 'either/or' Polarities; Blue Ink

             Recovered from my mother's archives: things to think about.      

Rediscovering Walter Pavlich from the Laurel Review introduced me to his Swan Scythe Press, 2001, book The Spirit of Blue Ink. Then I went in search of inkish images in my Magic Flour Barrel. My mother was working to understand herself her whole long life. Above is one remnant of her process; it looks as if she worked on it over a period of time. It is also interesting for the variety of inks.

Here is the title poem from Pavlich's book. Pages 47-48. Sadly, he died unexpectedly in 2002.

The Spirit of Blue Ink

What, this morning, do I have
As I put out my welcome mat for hope?

Enough millet for six months to keep
My bargain with the finches---I fill,

They eat, and then they fly away.
A yard of Thoreau on the bookshelf,

In case I want a paragraph on sweetgrass,
Floating-heart, or pigweed. Or the dry

Field Guide to the Ocean, the sea
Still in print, with punctuation.

A gospel record, Christ in vinyl from
The Fifties, 33 1/2 hallellujahs

Per minute. A school bell across
The street teaches the lessons

Of time, velocity
And hard music. A mirror waiting . . .

A morning movie shot during
The previous war, smiles and cigarettes,

Bright songs and cocktails.
And if I'm lucky, I can approach

The spirit of blue ink, the glory
Of the hand that works the difficult

And the dead, that waits out the past,
Attached as it is, not to a wrist,

But the heart, The heart that is
The leaf, that blows its way to you.

--Walter Pavlich

I like the movement of the mind through this poem. I also like the little extra formality of the Initial Capitals on each line. I like reading and writing poems that meander through physical objects and into surprising alleyways and gentle, loving conclusions. Now I am thinking of working some more in this way.

When searching through scanned inky delights, I first chose the one below, the first page of a Christmas thank-you to a grandparent from a 9 year old. This was also recovered from my mother's archive. Upon closer reading, I see that the ink was then PURPLE. And then I found the other one. I have more. Scanner's are a true hoarder's delight, if you find little treasures like these. Sleep well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dad trims Sis's hooves, I hold her

A memory thread from one of my mother's slides. We've just moved here from the Village of Scotia. This is Sis, the impulse-purchase horse. Cindy was $75 and if we took Sis, also, she would be $10 off. Both mares were pregnant. I am a sophomore in high school, illustrating how difficult it was then to find clothes for a tall girl. My father is illustrating his all-around competence.

I'd like to give you a haiku tonight: This is from a recent book of haiku, New Sprouts; with illustrations by Delia White, by my friend and haiku mentor, Jerry Ball, who lives in Walnut Creek.

a field of fresh grass
we fancy ourselves pilgrims
crossing a green sea

Jerry Ball

Moving to the Farm was a pivotal experience for our family!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tonight's Sunset and Judy Garland Laughing

This iPhone photo of a slice of tonight's sunset is brought to you through the courtesy of the stop light at Coleman Avenue and Almaden Expressway. I keep wanting to trek up to Quicksilver Park--below those clouds--but today we took an old dog to the vet (her leg isn't broken, just strained) and picked up the cleaned rugs and took some clothes to another cleaner, and ate Chinese Food. Sort of took care of photo sessions!

Last night I mentioned the Laurel Review and my poem that was published there. I was always pleased that my poem was on a page facing a poem by Walter Pavlich, who was at the Foothill Writer's Conference some years ago. I always liked him (he died suddenly, very young) and I was pleased to be in the same magazine. He had two poems there. This is the second one, I'll probably post the other one soon.

Judy Garland Laughing

Not the nervous TV Judy
narcotized, befuddled under
the unkind lights, searching
for the next note, sluggish
uncertain quaver into the wrong
camera, bowing not in triumph
but in relief with a sloshy
neat gin not-so-hidden
behind the scrim.

This is the Judy soon
after Oz, on the Charlie
McCarthy radio show.
The war needed laughs.
So she played to
the extemporizing dummy
with the warm hand
up its back and could not
stop laughing, the audience
at home smiling with its
eyes closed, while the bombs
fell somewhere else.

Walter Pavlich, in The Laurel Review, Volume 27, No, 1, Winter, 1993, page 74.

Since I remember what we will always call "The War" very well and heard Charlie many times in The Years Before Television Ruined Thanksgiving (and all the other holidays) and turned us willy-nilly into Football Nation, this poem has a special resonance for me, although I doubt I heard that broadcast.
And of course I remember how nice Walter was at the conference! So this is a true Memory Thread. Note that the structure of this poem is quite simple: two stanzas. The first one, a description of the Later Judy, makes this memory of Young Judy in the second stanza more poignant. And the terrible touch of the war--which most of us, especially children, only imagined--puts our simple pleasures into a larger and more terrible frame.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Simplicity or excess

Since my mother was 29, when she had me (her oldest child) and had always loved and wanted babies, perhaps she overdid the doll thing, but hey, here I am with the proof that I had a well-stocked doll nursery. Do you spot Charlie McCarthy, top-hatted in the back??

John Ciardi was a Reigning Grey Eminence when I was a young woman and my Aunt Louise sent me her old Saturday Review magazines which he edited. He influenced many younger poets at that time. His collected poems is still ranking up good scores on Goodreads, which sort of surprised me, since it has been 20 years since I looked at one of his books. But I needed a poem about dolls and found this one, which I love because it goes beyond dolls to all the little effigies that have been unearthed from Prehistoric Times, and which have fascinated me for years. And, below Ciardi's poem, I have posted one of mine on that topic that was published in the Laurel Review years ago.

The Dolls
By John Ciardi

Night after night forever the dolls lay stiff
by the children’s dreams. On the goose-feathers of the rich,
on the straw of the poor, on the gypsy ground—
wherever the children slept, dolls have been found
in the subsoil of the small loves stirred again
by the Finders After Everything. Down lay
the children by their hanks and twists. Night after night
grew over imagination. The fuzzies shed, the bright
buttons fell out of the heads, arms ripped, and down
through goose-feathers, straw; and the gypsy ground
the dolls sank, and some—the fuzziest and most loved
changed back to string and dust, and the dust moved
dream-puffs round the Finders’ boots as they dug,
sieved, brushed, and came on a little clay dog,
and a little stone man, and a little bone girl, that had kept
their eyes wide open forever, while all the children slept.

John Ciardi, “The Dolls” from In the Stoneworks 
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1961)

Not Like The Red Paint Peoples' Burials 
by June Hopper Hymas

Cause of death unknown, and, like my father,
too natural to autopsy, a Brewer's blackbird
drops from phone wires above us.
She leaves no books, no photo albums, no polyester raiment.
No mourners now assemble; although, soon,
ants will string a line across the pavement.
How could we honor from this sidewalk
her flexed claw lifting upward
if she had fallen ten feet from us in the weeds—
or witness the regard of her still unclouded eye?
Not like the Red Paint Peoples' burials:
his face down, head to the west, auk beaks in whorls
over his body's red ochre covering. Not armed
with a bone dagger, patterned with aligned dots.
Nor ornamented like her young body
with a necklace of teeth, nor supplied
with a waterbird engraved on an ivory comb.
But dressed only in brown feathers,
cooling on cement, still so warm
the tiny lice in the neck feathers suspect no change.

June Hopper Hymas, The Laurel Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1993, page 72.

Now that I look at it, I think I might perhaps have broken it into more bite-sized chunks. And said "father's" in the first line. It may have been an article in National Geographic that introduced me to the red-paint people; I'll have to look it up. The bird did fall from the sky almost onto me and my friend Diane. I've wondered why it died.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

How doth the little busy bee . . .

This was taken maybe 20 years ago, on Kodak film, when there still were bees, in my mother's garden (illegal in her condominium complex--but that's another memory thread) in Provo, Utah.

Just this last Thursday, the man who does an annual cleanup on our yard sent his brother to trim the tall hedge between our yard and the yard to the east. While Brother had the motorized trimmer in his hand he reduced the blossoming germander, three clumps of budded-out and beginning-to-bloom Spanish Lavender and some rosemary and ceanothus "Carmel Creeper" into either small unattractive cubes or flat remnants. Heartbreak! Then he rang the bell and asked me how I wanted the ugly short hedge near the driveway trimmed. (Doesn't matter, it will still be too big and still be ugly.) No sense getting, as we used to say, one's "tail in a knot" over something without a remedy that will grow back! I think the rosemary and ceanothus might even benefit. But I had actually seen TWO bees working over the lavendar, and I had been very glad to see them. Tonight's pictured bee brought up what I've heard called a "tag-end" this: "How doth the little busy bee?? . . . " So I looked it up (Ahhh, Google!) and it is one of the instructive verses for children by Isaac Watts. Lewis Carroll parodied these verses in Alice in Wonderland (I first typed "Alive in Wonderland," which isn't bad either!) Here is Carroll's utterly superb little verse:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 2.0

 Below is one sample of Isaac Watts's very popular didactic poems for children:

"How doth the Little Bee"

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labour or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.

Isaac Watts, from the World Wide Web

NOTE: I am obliged to relate that my mother used to recite this whole poem to me to promote my industry! I supposed it worked somewhat . . . . . ..


In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good Account at last.