Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Annual Christmas Eve party at Kaestle's

Every year we went to the Kaestle house for their annual Christmas Eve Party
There was a kid's part (games) and an adult's part (drinks) as well as food. 
And many of our family group pictures were taken here, when we were all clean 
and dressed up. At some point during the evening one of my folks 
would sneak out and arrange our Santa gifts at home, 
so when we came home, Santa had already been there! 

I am guessing this to be Christmas of 1947 or 1948 
by looking at the sizes of my siblings. 
Robert (in Dad's arms) was born in November of 1945. 
John, down in front, was born in 1941. 
I am holding David (born August 1944) 
and have made a disastrous and unaccustomed foray 
into the world of bright red lipstick and fingernail polish. 
Richard is in the center and Susan is at the right in front of Mom. 
Marjory won't join us until 1949.

Right now it's New Year's Eve! We are watching the TV coverage
of THE IDAHO POTATO DROP in downtown Boise, Idaho.
We are only three minutes away from the DROP!

This is the final holiday photo of this series.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Marjory Ann with Christmas doll, circa 1956

This group of photos has been hard for me to resist. Partly it is because of the lighting.
My father had rigged up a GE floodlamp on a stand made of a garbage can lid and a broomstich.
He did this to get the light required by the 8mm film, which usually gave the best results outdoors.
So there is this dramatic lighting effect you see here; becasue of the Kodak slide film, these
photos are still very bright and colorful. 
These pictures (taken after I had left home) are also poignant to me
because, if I am estimating correctly, they were taken after my mother had
her "nervous breakdown" and spent four months hospitalized for treatments, 
including electroshock. Marji has a memory of being sent yarn dolls
which Mother had made in the hospital's occupational therapy program.
So, if Mom was just home, this seems to be the Christmas of the Dolls
and more toys and display than usual.

It was a long time ago, but my family is very precious to me.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Snapshot for the Christmas Card

Richard is the highest in the air, with John in the pale hooded jacket below him. 
Susan is holding baby Marjory Ann at the right, and I am the big girl to the left of John.. 
I think that is David at the far left, So the dark lump below the tree must be Robert 
and ??a dog? Susan needs to help me out here.

This is one of a group of pictures taken at The Farm for use as a Christmas Greeting. Probably Christmas 1952, because I left for the university of Arizona in August of 1953. This picture shows one of the elms we felled (Dutch Elm Disease) and the addition we put on the house after moving there. In the previous summer, I had painted the addition's clapboards (one coat of linseed oil on the bare wood and then two coats of white paint.) I got paid $1.00 per hour -- so I had some cash to take to college. This year we made our own Christmas cards, about 5x8, which we developed ourselves and dried by the radiator (they curled up and had to be flattened under weight) and some copies of which we dyed partly pale green or pale pinky red.

As I remember it, the verse went like this, because of course
we didn't get all this done in time to send out to arrive before Christmas:

This greeting's overdue, we know
You see, we waited for the snow
Still we would like to let you know
That we would like to say HELLO!

I am not sure about the third line, but I am confident about the rest.

So I guess that is poetry, and this is truly a memory thread!
Three more days of Christmas memories on this blog.

ADDENDUM: Hoe COULD I have forgotten to mention that the verse was printed on the master copy in my father's masterful all-caps engineer's printing.  When John was in grade school and asked Dad why he printed like that, he told him it was Engineer's Printing. John immediately gave up cursive and all forms of grade-school printing and began to write like that. We all felt like that about our Dad!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

All dressed up with someplace to go

This would have been the Christmas tree of 1957; as the date stamp indicates, it was developed in January of 1958. The Kodak Brownie Reflex (more about this here) is still in use, as is the send-away developing that came back in small tear-out albums. My sister Susan is beautiful, as usual. Richard, my brother, is growing out of his suit and into his ears and promises to turn out well. I have left home and only know about this from the photograph.
The photo was taken in the house on Lee Road in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Christmas Pictures from my past continues until January First!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Kimberli's First Christmas

Lawton, Oklahoma, 1956. (date corrected)
Kimberli didn't seem to like Christmas much that first time.
She mostly seemed to find the changes and fuss distressing. 
If course, we wanted her to like it, but she really didn't.
The dress I am wearing was one of my favorites,
which I made from a beautiful print in tans with touches of turquoise.
Scott had lost weight in Basic Training is still quite thin.

This continues the series of Christmases of the Past
which will continue until the New Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The year of Christmas Electronics

Jackson and Madison, early 1990s, I guess,
This is today's Christmas Past photo.
These will continue until it is 2015,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

David Does 8mm, circa 1956

My brother David taking movies of Marjory and her Christmas dolls.
This was after I had left home, but you can see we are still all about real metal
tinsel, placed on the tree one strand at a time,

Photo from the scanning project of my mother's slides, 
and probably taken by her, thus an Olgafoto.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 1936

The maple child's rocker in the background was still 
in Mom's house more than 60 years later. 
They don't make stuff like they used to!
This shows I have always like Christmas!

Christmas series: one picture a day until January 1st!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tasting Grampy's Christmas Pie

S usually makes pies for Christmas. The grandgirls like to help.
This a taste of the past in beautiful window light.

From now until January first, I will be putting 
pictures from Christmas past on the blog.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Red-winged blackbirds

Four of these guys came to the feeder every day last winter 
and fought over whose domain it was. 
Flaring their red shoulders, 
they charged violently at each other. 
This year I am feeding only sunflower seeds, 
and mostly to squirrels and sparrows. 
But I am still hoping to see some red shoulders soon,
now that we are staying into January,

My niece is reading my blog and asked a question about syllabics.
I wrote about them in my head before I got up and planned to write more all day.
Now it is too late and I am too tired.
So this post is about Futurism and how to avoid
putting things off. . . . . .

Watch this blog for more about syllabics, those poems that have a predetermined
number of syllables in each line. Much verse in English is accentual, that is, one counts
the patterns made by stresses or accents.

Haiku is one kind of syllabic verse, the old discredited 5-7-5.

Here is one of mine:

five flickers converge
on a bush of ripe berries--
disappearing cloud

And so goodnight; at least I don't have 
to bake any Christmas cookies!

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 20, 2014


For many of us, Christmas is all about family get-togethers.
Last year we spent with this big sister and her four younger siblings
and I showed her I could cover her with stars.
We were going to go again this year, but S fell and we have to wait until
his cracked rib feels like a trip in the car.

This is a view from the emergency room where we found out the news 
and S got a tetanus shot because he also scraped his leg when he fell.

This is the haiku that made me decide to do a Christmasy post. It is by my friend,
Patricia and appears in the new Mariposa.

Christmas dinner---
I let my sister tell the story
her way

Mariposa 31, page 17

Friday, December 19, 2014

Brave Amaryllis

This amaryllis blooming in the Target Store, captured my heart with its brave attempt. Even though they were on sale for half price, all the other bulbs in the whole section were resting quietly, under the cardboard lid, on their disk of compressed planter mix, waiting for the signal of water. Only this one pressed its way out from under the lid to show its Christmas color to the last-week shoppers. Now I wish I had bought it, instead of the ones that were better-behaved. Some things just touch your heart, almost before you realize what is happening.


I gaze far and long
Not at cherry blossoms
Not at autumn leaves,
But only at a thatched hut,
By an inlet,
In the autumn dusk.

Fujiwara no Teika, (1162-1241) 

translated by Kenneth Rexroth,
One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese,
New Directions, 1974, 1976, page 54.

Over many centuries, this poem can still reach out and touch us deeply. I think it is about memory and about growing older. Rexroth was very interested in these short poems from long ago and made several small books of them. Because of Rexroth's sympathy and lyric gifts, these translated versions are very beautiful and have been loved by English-language poets ever since they appeared.

The task: to write a six-line poem of almost pure description that is saturated with memory, without describing the memory. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The home of my childhood

316 First Street, Scotia, New York. From one of my mother's slides.

When I was a baby we lived in the two-colored house behind the tree, in the rented apartment on the first floor. Just after Richard was born in 1943, my folks bought this place, and we lived there until the summer of 1950. They paid $6000 for a two-family house with a basement and attic on four city lots with a garage and a row of rental garages on Second Street. Some of their friends told them that they would never be able to pay for such an expensive house! The 1940 census has just been released and there we found that, at this time, my father was making $3000 per year at General Electric in Schenectady across the Mohawk River. The rent on the flat had been $35 per month. In 1950, they bought the farm (140 acres, 3 barns, substantial but derelict house, 40 acres was oak woodland.) for $11,400. At this point, I don't know what they sold the house on First Street for, but my heart often returns there.
The Inlet
In a dream I go
out into a sunlit street
and I see a boy walking
clear-eyed in the light.
I recognize him, he is
Billy Lippert, wearing the gray
uniform of the school
we attended many years ago.
And then I see that my brother
is with me in the dream,
dressed too in the old uniform.
Our friend looks as he did
when we first knew him,
and until I wake I believe
I will die of grief, for I know
that this boy grew into a man
who was a faithful friend
who died.
                Where I stood,
seeing and knowing, was time,
where we die of grief. And surely
the bright street of my dream,
in which we saw again
our old friend as a boy
clear-eyed in innocence of his death,
was some quickly crossed
small inlet of eternity.

Wendell Berry
Given; Poems, Counterpoint, 2005, page 12.

Here's the task now: begin a poem with the words, "In a dream I go . . ." When I do this, I will doubtless be walking along First Street. I admire the almost-stanza break midline, when the poem shifts out of the dream into the poet's thought about time. I think I will try syllabics for this, although Berry is not using them here, A task for the New Year: In a dream I go . . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saturday Night: Yuletide Delight

Don't know how, don't know why, but this horse-drawn equipage was going down the road in front of us as we came home through downtown Eagle, Idaho, Saturday night. The splendid white rumps and fetlocks shone in the headlights. I don't remember seeing a horse with quite these spectacular markings, and there were two of them! The vehicle reminded me of early cars, which were copied from horse-drawn vehicles in the beginning of the automobile era. 
The pace was slow and stately, which just gave me time to boot up the phone camera for a couple of quick and blurry shots--just as they turned off the main road onto a side street. 
This got me in the holiday mood! I want to go for a ride!

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
(Written on Christmas Day, 1863 in the midst of the American Civil War.)

This is a fine piece of writing, in a very consistent and pleasing form, by one of our classic Great American Poets.The poem wasn't set to music until about 1872 and has been set to other tunes and recorded many times in many different styles. I remember singing this many times as a child; it was a pleasure to re-encounter it every year. Singing Christmas music was one of my greatest pleasures when I was young.

I had forgotten the part about the cannons from the South. Our country has been through many trials and this war was one of the greatest of them. The longing for a peaceful world still exists everywhere, but we do not seem to be able to get there. 

Have a splendid holiday season, wherever you are and however you celebrate!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Johnny Appleseed's Canoe

You can spot the slender withe 
that is the trunk of the young maple 
(just left of the main trunk) 
that is grows in the shelter of an old wild plum. 
The plum seems to be on its last pins, but serves 
to protect the young tree from windstorms and other hazards.
I see this sort of thing quite often walking about
on the place in northern Michigan.
This photo was taken last October;
I picked it to go with Johnny Appleseed's canoe.

Nurse Log

The biggest trees in woods will fall
and knock down lesser trees and lie
out level on the slope beneath
a gap that spoils a canopy.
The trunk then rots inside its hull
of bark and floats in leaves for half
a century, a fallen god,
a relic of fertility.
The carcass hollowed out will spill
rich compost from its shell and house
a bear or host a fox or skunk.
But as the giant molders down,
and seeds take root in mineraled rot,
new sprouts appear along its length
and soon a line of saplings claim
the breast of the old corpse that bears,
like Johnny Appleseed's canoe,
a trove of seedlings in the wild
to land them on the future's shore.

Robert Morgan

Terroir; poems by the author of Gap Creek,
Penguin Poets, 2013, page 4

When I was young, I loved the story of Johnny Appleseed! I was particularly fond of apple trees because there was one outside our back door in Scotia, New York. It had a low, stout horizontal branch that was perfect for sitting on and reading. My mother wanted me to be outdoors more and I wanted to read all the time and this seat worked out well for me until we moved to The Farm in 1950. Terroir was recently recommended as a book by a poet who praised the outdoors, and the poetry is very good indeed. But the idea of Johnny Appleseed's canoe is thrilling to me. I have tried to plant apples several times using apples that grow wild in Michigan, but so far without success. So I wonder, did he plant the seeds, bury the apples, did Johnny dig up and loosen the soil first? Did any of these apples acturally grow?? Questions, there are always questions!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Sun

We were out all afternoon gathering (metaphorical) nuts
 and berries for Christmas pleasures. Driving home, 
I reached for the iPhone camera to catch this beautiful winter cloud, 
and the peach slice of sunset beneath it, through the windshield.

I have been putting books away before we leave next week, and that definitely leads to sampling. Today's sample is from Makoto Ueda's very special Modern Japanese Poets.  Ueda puts Masaoka Shiki first among the bringers of a more modern sensibility to the writing of Japanese poems, even though Shiki mostly wrote in the old forms of haiku and tanka, but in a new way. I have read this chapter several times and find it wonderful to revisit for its excellent overview and deep understanding.

On January 8, 1900, the newspaper Nippon announced a tanka contest on the subject "forest." Shiki, the poetry editor of the paper, specified the contest rules. Rule number five was by far the longest, less a rule than a piece of advice for would-be contestants:

In writing a poem it will not do to borrow from classical tanka and use cliche phrases like "a legendary forest" or "a sacred forest." The poem would better depict a scene or express a feeling as actually seen or felt by a man passing through a forest. If you have the time to sit at a desk and read a book on tanka, you should instead pick up a cane and go for a leisurely walk along a path in the woods. When you are in the actual setting, look for some specific part of the landscape (such as a house, a village, a stream, a hill, a field, a tower, a bird, a paper kite, etc.) that you might combine with the forest in your poem. Observe also many other less conspicuous features of the forest (such as undergrowth, a grave mound, a small shrine, a temple, an animal, a watchman's hut, and so forth). When you think you have captured the "feel" of the forest, you can then return home. There you should begin composing many poems, bringing back the scenery in your mind's eye and focusing on one or another aspect of it. If you compose twn or fifteen different poems this way, there will be at least one or two poems that are good. You are not likely to come up with a good poem if you just write one or two.

     The passage illustrates Shiki's idea of the creative process in general, even though he was talking about tanka composition in particular.
     The passage emphasizes observation: a poet who composes from books cannot do shasei. [haiku "sketched" directly from nature] But Shiki wanted the sketching to be done at home rather than amid the actual setting. The time lapse was probably related to his idea of selective realism, since the poet needed time for the scene to settle, for certain aspects to select themselves out as the possible focus of a poem. The landscape had to be recollected in tranquility.

Makoto Ueda
Modern Japanese Poets and the nature of literature.
Stanford University Press, 1983, page 19. 
(Note: all the translations in the book are also the work of Dr, Ueda.)

So there you have it. Take a walk and notice! Then write, write a lot, and then choose. A task for the New Year coming up!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hard Frost

The west meadow in Michigan. The seasons are so clear here.

hard frost
the ping of brussels sprouts
into the colander
Hilary Tann

Dim Sum; Route 9 Haiku Group
2014/II, page 1

I am very pleased by the way this haiku brings indoors and outdoors together.

I have now two weeks to decide
 if I want to keep up this blog on a daily basis next year;
wish me luck and good hunting!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The life inside of stones

In honor of Ritsos' Greece, from which so much of our culture flows,
here is the lighted Parthenon from my hotel window in 2008.

Today, putting away some magazines, I found this poem. In these times of "no-fly lists" and so much in the news about the overreaching of the people whom we have trusted to keep us safe, it struck a chord. I'm now in search of something a little brighter for tomorrow, since I'm so happy to be going to visit grandchildren for Christmas.


Just as he locked the door, as he pocketed the key,
as he glanced over his shoulder, they arrested him.
They tortured him until they tired of it.
                                                              "Look," they said,
"the key is your key, the house is  your house,
we accept that now; but why did you put the key
in your pocket as if to hide it from us?"

They let him go, but his name is still on a list.

David Harsent
from "Three Poems after Yannis Ritsos"
in Poetry, December, 2012, page 348

I have had a poem by Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos on the blog before, but only once; here's the link.

Here is a link to a picture of Ritsos painting on stones.

And here is another link to someone else's blog with a fuller description of this activity.

And here is my poem inspired by reading about how Ritsos painted on stones when he was confined by the government in Greece. I sent the poem out, in the late 1980s, but I don't think I ever managed to get it published.

Baskets of Fresh Stones

He spent every afternoon and evening in the small room
drawing on stones: outlines of naked women, naked men.
Curled, backs outward, showing the nape, the shoulder blades,
vertebrae and buttocks hiding secrets below the belly,
they followed the shapes of river boulders; they crouched
in corners or in fetal piles by the table and bed.
Once he had finished drawing one, he would
rarely pick it up again. His brother, the priest,
brought him baskets of fresh stones from the river's bank.
And when she brought in his food she would stand
near the table watching him, compressing her lips
against a too rapid breathing, a sigh, or a moan.
She viewed him as he viewed them, focusing on his nape,
on the unnatural convexity of his backbone, imagining
his eyes. And when she knew she must fill her lungs again
she began a series of tiny rapid glissant steps 

that took her unwilling body out through the door.

June Hopper Hymas
all rights reserved

And here is one of those blue doorways that match the Grecian Sky.
This one was in Santorini.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seeing the Year Out

This watery picture was chosen 
because of the many journeys by water taken by Su Tung-P'o. 
Journeys to far outposts in Sung Dynasty China (960-1269)
were most often taken by means of river transport;
Su wrote many poems during and about water journeys.

I have read Burton Watson's wonderful slender book of the poetry of Su Tung-P'o twice over in the past couple of days. I chose tonight's poem for my Yuki Teikei Haiku Society cohort. The group will be holding their annual party tomorrow, and I am not in California now. This poem will be read to them during the evening. I should be back in time for the January meeting. Hooray!

Seeing the Year Out (1062)

Three poems on the year's end. At the end of the year we call on each other with gifts of food, and this custom is known as "Year End Presents." We drink and eat together and exchange greetings, and this is called, "Saying Goodbye to the Old Year." Then on the last night we stay up until dawn, and this is known as "Seeing the Year Out." This is the custom in Shu. Now I am assigned to a post at Mt. Ch'i, and when the end of the year came, I thought of how it would be to return to Shu. But of course it was impossible, so I wrote these three poems to send to Tzu-yu.

Want to know what the passing year is like?
A snake slithering down a hole.
Half his long scales already hidden,
How to stop him from getting away?
Grab his tail and pull, you say?
Pull all you like---it does no good.
The children try hard not to doze,
Chatter back and forth to stay awake,
But I say let dawn cocks keep still!
I fear the noise of watch drums pounding.
We've sat so long the lamp's burned out.
I get up and look at the slanting Dipper.
How could I hope next year won't come?
My mind shrinks from the failures it must bring.
I work to hold onto the night
While I can still brag I'm young.

This is the third of the three poems. Shu is the old name for Szechwan, the region where the poet and his brother were born and reared. It should be remembered that, according to Chinese custom, everyone considers himself a year older with the coming of the new year. 5-character

Su Tung-P'o
Selections from a Sung Dynasty poet
translated by Burton Watson,
Colombia University Press, 1965, pages 26 and 27.

The headnote was written by Su and was translated by Watson. The endnote is by the translator. There is a very interesting explanation of Sung poetic form in the book, Poems were usually written in lines of either 5 or 7 Chinese characters. Watson gives us this information about each poem, and his translations of the 7 character line poems do have longer lines. This is one thing that reminded me about using syllabics when writing my own poems. Haiku poets often count syllables, too! Tzu-Yu is the poet's brother. It is wonderful to me that this poem is nearly 1000 years old!!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Drifting clouds--so the world shifts

 One of the great expanses of the American West from the car.

I finally got hold of the slender book of Burton Watson's translations of Su Tung-P'o! This is the final poem in the book. This book has a splendid introduction to the life of Su Tung-P'o and to the complicated poetic conventions of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) and the methods Watson uses to refine his translations.

Bell and Drum on the South River Bank (1101)

Bell and drum on the south river bank:
Home! I wake startled from a dream.
Drifting clouds---so the world shifts;
Lone moon---such is the light of the mind.
Rain drenches down as from a tilted basin;
Poems flow out like water spilled.
The two rivers vie to send me off;
Beyond treetops I see the slant of a bridge.

Su Tung-P'o
Selections from a Sung Dynasty poet
translated by Burton Watson,
Colombia University Press, 1965, page 135.

Written in the summer. The poet had traveled north, then east down the Yangtze to Chinkiang, and was now about to enter the Grand Canal to go South to Ch'ang-chou, where he planned to live the remainder of his life. He died on the eighteenth day of the seventh month of this year, shortly after reaching Ch'ang-chou.
(Note by translator Burton Watson.)

This little poem makes we want to try writing in syllabics; these are often 8-syllable lines or close to that. There is no enjambment; each line is complete in itself. The result is a quiet, competent poem, Watson was born in 1925 and has been living in Japan full-time now since 1973. The short Wikipedia article at this link gives an interesting brief overview of his development.

Nothing much more lovely than a wide sky with great expanses of cloud.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The sleep of light is invisible

 Sleeping granddaughter; now she's five and a blonde!

Mark Strand hasn't been dead a month, and I am looking at many things I never noticed before, like a small, square-shaped book of his called Chicken, Shadow, Moon and More. Each poem is built on a single word.


The sleep of the foot inside the shoe
The sleep of the shoe inside the dark of the closet
The sleep of the sun before it rises
The moon sleeps with its eyes open
Leaves sleep in the arms of mystery
A cloud will sleep within itself
The sleep of light is invisible
The sleep of meaning within a word
The sleep of madness inside of reason
The sleep of money inside the pocket
The lemon weeping for lack of sleep
The sleep of the future within the clock
The shadow cast by a star in the sleep of another star
The sleep of nakedness within desire
The sleep of desire in the flight of bees
February sleeps while June walks back and forth
The tired sleep of too much sleep
The sleep of the genius in her studio
The fluorescent sleep of a horse in the Peruvian midlight
The drummers have come but they are noiseless---
              someone must be asleep
The grass of sleep covers the bones of the true
Sleep is always asleep
When sleep awakes, it forgets what it was
The knowledge if sleep is the knowledge of nothing
Sleep is a hole inside of the night

Mark Strand
Chicken, Shadow, Moon and more, 
Turtle Point Press, 2000. Pages 37-39

Out gang of four sleeping; now only the top one remains.

Interesting, don't you think so? No punctuation except one dash; structural variation and return, many different methods of attack on the idea of sleep. I think you had better work on this tomorrow. Mark Strand's book is still available.
Sometimes, one just can't help it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Our Door

At Thoreson Farm, a historical preserve, Leelanau County, Michigan.

At the Door

How I wish there were a doorway
where, mornings, sun would shine on grass.

We would stand
leaning on our door,
the door low, but the sunlight bright,

the grass seeding, wind shaking its blades,
we standing, not speaking.
That would be so fine.

If there were a door that we needn't open
and it were ours, that would be so fine.

Mornings. Night would drift off.
We'd give him a guitar, but not go with him.

We need the earth,
need the indestructible earth.
Let us keep it
all our lives.

The earth is coarse, sometimes narrow,
but it has a history,
has a sky, a moon,
dewdrops and mornings.

Gu Cheng

Nameless Flowers; Selected Poems of Gu Cheng; 
translated by Aaron Crippen. Braziller, 2005. page 111.

I cannot explain, just describe, how deeply Gu Cheng touched my heart the one time I heard him read. Carolyn Kizer had brought some of the "Misty Poets" to San Jose State. I liked them all, but I had the strongest response to Gu Cheng and his interplay with the audience about his hat, which he made from a starched denim cut-off trouser leg. I guess I might use the word, ineffable; I sensed something beyond explanation.
Gu Cheng's father was also a poet, and the family were sent out to raise hogs during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The boy and his father used to say their poems to each other and then burn them in the fire they were using to cook the food for the hogs.  He opened one little door to China for me.

Doorway in Greece, from my sketchbook.

This house is gone now, like Gu Cheng, who killed his wife and then himself 
at the age of 37 in their home in New Zealand.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Because we are human

This is a path in the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Emmet County, Michigan.
It connects to a real pond and then to Lake Michigan.

The Path

you tell me
there is a path
serene and strange
overgrown with free grass

but we have never sought it
never walked it
because we are human
and quite common

the pigeon says:
it connects to a real pond
the beetle says: it leads into trees

                A real pond, also in Emmet County.

but I believe 
childhood's footprints are there
and etched brick headstones
and crickets' low chirping

Gu Cheng
Nameless Flowers; Selected Poems of Gu Cheng; 
translated by Aaron Crippen. Braziller, 2005. page 32.out

While you are on the path, don't forget to look up; there may be Geese in the Air!

I got to thinking about Gu Cheng in the night; when I went to find him, he was on the shelf where I left him last year! Where are your childhood footprints??

Sunday, December 07, 2014

"cloudless summer days seem infinite"

Wood ducks under the willow, stretching out autumn.


Now think of the weather and how it is rarely the same
For any two people, how when it is small, precision is needed
to say when it is really an aura or odor or even an air

Of certainty, or how, as the hours go by, it could be thought of
As large because of the number of people it touches.
Its strength is something else: tornados are small

But strong and cloudless summer days seem infinite
But tend to be weak since we don't mind being out in them.
Excuse me, is this the story of another exciting day,

The sort of thing that accompanies preparations for dinner?
Then what say we talk about the inaudible---the shapes it assumes,
And what social implications it holds,

Or the somber flourishes of autumn---the bright
or blighted leaves falling, the clicking of cold branches,
the new color of the sky, its random blue.

Mark Strand
Dark Harbor; a poem, Knopf, 1991, page 26.

Dark Harbor is a long poem of forty sections, slightly shorter or longer, but each fitting on one page. Each section is written in three-line stanzas, and is complete in itself, yet the whole coheres. Each line begins with a capital letter, giving the poem a slightly more formal look on the page. Harold Bloom has written a long essay in praise of this book. 

The whole book is full of beautiful phrases--in the poem above, for instance, there are many phrases that one could use to begin, or to title, another poem. The language is quite sober, even formal, which gives colloquialisms like "what say" a little extra wallop!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Autumn hanging on into winter

For some reason, maybe because of an early freeze, 
the leaves are hanging on this year. This is different from last year
and I might not have noticed if I had not been rereading The Forest Unseen.

The best discussion I have ever read of the mysteries of rising sap, seeds and falling leaves and the processes and timing of annual phenomena of trees is in The Forest Unseen; a Year's Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, 2013. For this book Haskell chose one square meter of Tennessee forest (that had never been logged) and visited it daily observing, describing and explaining scientific findings on whatever he observes. We get everything from chickadee's eyesight and the movement of different kinds of photons as they leave the sun, to wildflower structures and accommodations to the differences in how the sap travels upwards in maple and in beeches; to the "short violent lives" of shrews and the varied lives of insects. He has the scientific background to explain so many things I had never even thought about. This is a book to treasure and re-read, full-to-bursting of the how, the why and the natural processes of the forest at work. Maybe next year I should write a blog on nature writing, rather than poetry. . . Here are a couple of passages:

"In the nineteenth century we stripped more trees from the land that the ice age accomplished in one hundred thousand years. We hacked the forest down with axes and handsaws, hauling it away on mules and railcars. The forest that grew back from this stripping was diminished, robbed of some of its diversity by the scale of the disturbance." page 73

"This is why the sky is blue; we are seeing the redirected energy of blue photons, the glow of billions of excited air molecules." page 94

"Chickadees must daily find hundreds of food morsels to meet their energy budget. Yet the mandala's larder looks utterly empty. I see no beetles, spiders, or food of any kind in the ice-blasted forest. Chickadees can coax sustenance out of the seemingly barren forest in part because of their outstanding eyesight. The retinas at the back of the chickadees' eyes are lined with receptors that are two times more densely packed than are mine. The birds therefor have high visual acuity and can see details that my eyes cannot. Where I see a smooth twig, birds see a fractured, flaking contortion, pregnant with the possibility of hidden food. Many insects pass the winter ensconced inside tiny cracks on tree bark, and the chickadees' discerning eyes uncover these insect hideaways." 
Page 19.

If you love the woods, you will also want to look up the piece by Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996) in The New Yorker, Dec. 1, 2014, pp 40-45. "Days in the Branch" is the title. The Branch was a wet North Carolina woodlands with cypress, black gum and tulip poplar, ancient virgin trees, and all the associated plants and wild living things. Mitchell spent as much of his youth there as he could manage, and his descriptions are marvelous! His was a true early 20th century boyhood. This is an unfinished section from his unfinished memoir.

I have been looking again at the work of Seamus Heaney (1939-2014) since his death a short while ago. It was this short poem that sent me to this photo and reminded me of the the other works cited above.

The Poplar

Wind shakes the big poplar, quicksilvering
The whole tree in a single sweep.
What bright scale fell and left this needle quivering?
What loaded balances have come to grief?

Seamus Heaney

The Spirit Level; poems, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1996, page 61.

I love the word "quicksilvering"! And you will notice that Heaney begins all his lines with a capital letter. Four lines, two questions. Rhymes ABAB. Four lines! Go outside or look out the window and try it before you go to bed. Don't forget a title!

Friday, December 05, 2014

"Staples and Scraps of Paper"

Ms. Wood Duck is patiently awaiting cracked corn.
In this best of all possible worlds, she will get some soon!

                                     [first unnumbered section, December]

You've seen those telephone poles upon which hundreds of notices have been posted and then torn away: the lost, the found, the evenings' events, the faces of those who disappeared and then whose pictures vanished, too, leaving staples and scraps of paper. All of us think our lives unique, those pages that have been stapled up to tell the world of us, but this morning, all along the street, the old poles stand warming themselves, some leaning a little, holding up one side to the sun, wrapped in our tattered life stories, every one alike, and coated with a frost of staples.

Ted Kooser

The Wheeling Year: a Poet's Field Book, 
University of Nebraska Press, 2014, page 77.

This is a lovely book--a true treasure. It would make a swell Christmas Gift. It speaks from the heartland of American life directly to my heart. Once again, I want to find a quiet place with one of those lined notebooks (with the mottled black-and-white stiff cardboard covers) and a Pilot Pen in my right hand, And then really think about ordinary things, memories, dreams, , ,and write it down.  

A few night's ago I put a picture of my mother's whole family in 1934 on Facebook, and my cousins noticed things. My grandfather, for instance, never looks at the camera when being photographed; and in the picture, all the women's dresses are very nearly the same length, Cousins went on from there to talk about my Uncle Karl, and how he held himself. Most of these are my western cousins, whose families stayed in Arizona, while my parents came east and my father was very proud of working for General Electric, which corporation now seems to be getting a reputation as an evil non-taxpaying environmental disaster. But no matter, that is the life I've lived. And it is wonderful to think about the now-all-gone family I might have known if my parents had stayed in Arizona.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Wet Wood Duck preening by the Little Union Canal.

Tonight, one haiku from the new issue of Dim Sum,
the haiku magazine of the Route 9 haiku group.

wild daisies
am I too old
to ask questions

Yu Chang
Dim Sum 2014/11
page 3

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

"I go among trees and sit still."

Because they just got out of the stream, 
there are droplets of water on their backs.
They are waiting for me to go back into the house 
before they come closer for today's cracked corn.
Here you can also see the splendid colored feathers 
that the females hide in their wings.



I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Wendell Berry
A Timbered Choir; the Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
Counterpoint, 1998, page 5.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"the first faint stars".. .

"And how can I reach that birdfeeder?"
I love the shapes and the poses of squirrels. 
This one, like most of the ones here, has a less-than-classic tail,
but he carried it with aplomb today.


Along Claremont Avenue the stores are closing.
The streetlights have just remembered to come on, and the first
faint stars. In the pharmacy the old man
leans behind the counter in the middle of those
well-stocked shelves as it gets dark outside.
Only a few shapes cross the window. Now and again
a young face glances in with a look that says
old man you're past it, as if her were the enemy.
Across the street the bus stop with its huge old oak
that was here even before him.
The bench under it: he remembers being young there, with a girl.
No one sits there anymore, it's gone
ice-cold in the shadows, almost invisible.
The young kids waiting for the bus would rather stand
at the edge of the curb, under the streetlamp
as the cars go by. There's that look in their eyes.
They want to see who's in them.

Roo Borson

The Whole Night Coming Home; poems by Roo Borson
McClelland and Stewart, LTD, 1984, page 35.

I don't know why I should object to the "old man" when I hardly notice the "old oak" but I do because I am "old." I have noticed a lot of fussing lately about words, what with insults, anti-feminist hooting, insults to people of color, insults to policemen (my son is one,) insults to the wardrobe of the President's daughters, and other fussing. Much of this seems beside the point when our current issues are so multiple and so serious and affect the future of the planet that sustains us. I hope we can become a more civil society, but I wouldn't bet actual money on it.

I love the way Roo Borson captures here a time, a place, generations young and old.
I need to go downtown and look around.

Monday, December 01, 2014

'it shines in there"

It snowed in the night and the snow outlined 
the beautiful, twisted form of the willow
by The Little Union Canal.

I Don't Know

I don't know what this land means to others, this little country
circled by fire, place of my birth,
world of my childhood, rocking in the distance.
I grew out of her like the fragile branch of a tree,
and I hope my body will sink down in her.
Here, I'm at home. When, one by one, bushes kneel at my feet,
I know their names and the names of their flowers.
I know people who walk down the roads, know where they're going,
and on a summer evening, I know the meaning of pain
that turns red and trickles down the walls of houses.
This land is only a map for the pilot who flies over.
He doesn't know where the poet, Vorosmarty lived.
For him factories and angry barracks hide on this map.
For me there are grasshoppers, oxen, church steeples, gentle farms.
Through binoculars, he sees factories and plowed fields,
I see the worker, afraid for his work.
I see forests, orchards filled with song, vineyards, graveyards,
and a little old woman who weeps and weeps quietly among 
        the graves.
The industrial plant and the railway must be destroyed.
But it's only a watchman's box where a man stands outside
sending messages with a red flag. There are children around him,
in the factory yard a sheepdog plays, rolling on the ground.
And there's the park and the footprints of lovers from the past.
Sometimes kisses tasted like honey, sometimes like blackberries.
I didn't want to take a test one day, so on my way to school
I tripped on a stone at the edge of the sidewalk.
Here is the stone, but from up there it can't be seen.
There's no instrument to show it all.
We're sinners, just like people everywhere,
we know what we did wrong, when and how and where.
But innocent workers and poets live here too.
Knowledge grows inside nursing babies,
it shines in there. Hiding in dark cellars, they guard it,
waiting for the day when the finger of peace will mark our land.
And their new words will answer our muffled ones.

Night cloud, you who stay awake, spread your great wings over us.

January 17, 1944

Miklos Radnoti, version by Stephen Berg, pages 170-171
The Steel Cricket, Versions 1958-1997, Copper Canyon, 1977.

Another great Copper Canyon book! Berg has translated (he uses the word "versions" which is really better I think. The book contains versions of Eskimo songs, Aztec songs, lots of Radnoti and versions of the work of many other European and South American poets!

Here is a link to an essay about Radnoti, another version of this poem and one of the short "postcard" poems  of those found in his pocketbook when his body was exhumed from a mass grave after World War II. It was interesting to me to find out that Radnoti was a "twinless twin" whose twin died at birth. Their mother died also, but he was not told until he was ten. Some people feel that twinless twins have qualities that were caused by this early loss, of which they have somatic memories. An example was Elvis Presley, whose missing twin was often spoken of by his family. Radnoti was well raised by other members of his family; his life is one of the countless cut-short tragedies of World War II.