Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Woodsman and the Crane

There  is something about cranes that always reminds me of Fairy Tales. 
Year before last for the few days they came down in the meadow, 
and I was able to get some photographs,
I fell in love all over again with their lanky, unworldly beauty.

The Woodsman and the Crane

A crane was standing in a stream, hoping to catch some fish. A huntsman was crawling through the bushes on the riverbank, and spotted the crane. He’d not caught anything that day, and carefully readied his bow and arrow. He took aim and sent an arrow flying towards the crane. The crane heard the movement of the arrow through the air, and raised her wings. Just as she was airborn, the arrow hit her in the thigh. She squealed, but was able to stay in the air and fly away. She didn’t get very far before the pain forced her down. She landed awkwardly in a clearing in the woods. A woodsman who’d been working there, gathering branches, found the poor crane. He took pity on her, and dropped his wood, and carried the crane to his hut. There he removed the arrow, and applied some herbs to help heal the wound. The woodsman took good care of the crane, he fed her and changed her dressing every day. As her wound healed, the crane fell in love with this kind woodsman.

Unbeknown to the woodsman, the crane happened to possess magic powers, and she was able to turn herself into a young woman. When the woodsman came home from his work that evening, he found the woman there, who had prepared a meal for him. The next day she went into the village and procured a weaving loam that she placed in one of the rooms. That night the woman explained to her husband that she’ll be weaving cloth for him to sell in the market. That way they can earn much more money than he can possibly make from selling wood. But she warned him that he must never come into the room when she is working, or something really bad will happen.

Weeks and months passed. Every day the man went to the market to sell the cloth and every evening when he arrived back home, there was a large quantity of newly woven cloth. They were now very well off, and they had a very good life. One day the man became curious, and he determined to see how his wife managed to produce all this very fine cloth day in day out. He set off for the market as usual with the cloth, but once out of sight of the house, he hid the cloth behind some trees, and went back to the house. Keeping very quiet, he crept up to the room where she worked. He could hear her working inside. He slowly opened the door, and peeked inside. To his great shock, there working at the loam was the crane he rescued! Immediately the magic spell was broken, and the crane returned to her natural state. Because he could not control his curiosity, the man lost his wife, and his income from selling the cloth she used to weave.

Jin Lou told this story to Frans Timmermans.

I got this story from  There are many fine tales there. In this one you can find out the difference between the Huntsman and the Woodsman. Next time you need some magic to put into a poem, look up Fairy Tales!
**Addendum: the task, of course, is to combine it with other things, nature, a memory, event in your own life--these things wil combine to carry the freight of your meaning.

Friday, February 27, 2015

One White Hen

My widowed daughter moved to this small farm with her two preschool sons in 1992.
She was given this old horse, Charley, who came with harness and a year's supply of hay.
Here, she is learning to drive him. I don't know the hen's name. 
Look for the younger son who holds onto her skirt.

Miss Lucy Morgan Shows Me a Photograph
of Mrs. Mary Grindstaff Spinning Wool on the High Wheel

Miss Lucy tells that one day
a visitor asked Mrs. Grindstaff
"What are you doing?"

she said, "Spinning."

the tourist said
"Why doesn't it break?"

she said "Because I don't let it."

the charred heart does not break in Appalachia, they
have not let it . . .

the loom hums


Jonathan Williams

The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat;
poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets.
University of North Carolina Press, 1994, page 248.

This is another poem from one of my favorite anthologies. Many of these poets grew up in the old ways or rural living. I chose this poem to go with the photograph above because, later, this young mother raised some sheep and learned to spin and knit. She made wonderful warm and wooly socks, mittens and winter balaclavas for the boys.

Notice that the spoken parts of the poem receive regular capitalization and punctuation. Notice the simple structure of the poem and the use of space. Notice that it's not wordy; it has a short tale,tells it and reaches a conclusion. No padding.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

with a human voice

Ducks in the afternoon, wanting to be in a Japanese woodcut.

Returning to Earth

When Emperor Hirohito announced
Japan's defeat over national radio,
his divinity was broken, fell away
and settled in fine gold dust at his feet.

His people understood the gravity
of the occasion---a god does not speak
over the airwaves with a human voice, 
ordinary and flecked with static. A god 
does not speak in the common voice
of the earthbound, thick with shame.

At the station, my mother, a schoolgirl,
looked on as men in uniform lurched
from the platform into the path
of incoming trains, their slack bodies
landing on the tracks without sound.

Mari L'Esperance

For those of us who lived through these times, this small piece of history brings so much back. Is there something we remember about the times you lived through that can capture what it was like to be there? The form of this poem, stanzas of 4 lines, then six lines, then five, is simple and attractive.

The Darkened Temple, Prairie Schooner Press, 2008, page 16.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Puppet Show,with Shadows

My sister Susan makes a puppet show. 
That's my brother, Robert, 
with the light on his face 
and my brother, Richard, at the far right. 
This is one of those Brownie Reflex photos, 
perhaps taken by John, the oldest of the boys. 
I love the shadows; I love the doll-made-puppet. 
I love my family's whole messy child-filled life!
Perhaps this was taken after we moved to The Farm in 1950.
Or were we still in Scotia?

Here is a poem from a recent New Yorker:


Everyone can't
be a lamplighter.

Someone must
be the lamp,

and someone 
must in bereaved 

rooms sit
unfathoming what

it is to be lit.

Andrea Cohen

The New Yorker,
February 16, 2015, page 69.

Write a short poem on some formulation you have made up to sound like a proverb.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Sooty Shearwaters, Monterey Bay


I thought it had left me, but
it had only receded for a time--

Along the shore beads of moisture
cling to the snarled kelp

like mementos, little souls--

Mari L'Esperance

The Darkened Temple
Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008, page 1.

A task for my self: make a very short poem 
linking nature and self with a strong place or image.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Evening Opens

Old streetlamps at San Jose History Park. 

There was a mystery to that childhood time when 
lamps were just coming on with that faint orangey glow. 
I had to quit rollerskating and go home then, for sure.


Streetlamps release an ivory light like sweet magnolias
Along the humid elms already the odor of autumn,
of expendability.
The leaves flutter like unsold tickets.

The evening opens, 
dragging you along, farther from earth
as far as your eyes will take you.
Telescopes aim and the sky fills
with sight like a spidery shadow.

in the air that twirls toward the nostril like a winged seed,
to some, happiness is a defect.
A fat man sits alone gulping ice cream.

What does it matter
which night this is? Or which, among all of us alive
I am.

Each day puts its arms around you,
each terrain with its infallible time-sense.
Ears, fingers, mouth. Everything that enters
splitting like light in a prism.

Roo Borson

A Sad Device, Quadrant Editions, Ontario, Canada, page 20.

As I have said before, the work of Roo Borson pleases me very much. I was just able to get a copy of another old title of hers. I picked out this poem to use tonight earlier today. When I went to type it, I saw that the bookmark has obscured that the poem was not over at the bottom of page 20, but continued for two and a half more pages. Too much to type. So I spent another hour looking for something else. In the end, I came back to this, because I like it so much. Everything doesn't always work out according to plan. . .

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Music in the field

Mornings in Michigan, I would go out into the mist, looking for beauty.
I often found it there.


At night we read together in the big bed
that I love---yellow lamplight
spilled across our crossed limbs, hip
to thigh, exchanging passages aloud,
then subsiding once again into silence.

There is music in the field behind
our house. Some nights, even
in the day, it rises up on air, then recedes
into the earth. It comes and goes
like this, but is always there, concealed
in the waving grass.

Mari L'Esperance

The Darkened Temple, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008, page 78.

L'Esperance is a poet whose work I had not seen, until something called my attention to it the other day. This is a dynamite book! There are several threads that run through it: Japan and Japanese in World War II, her Japanese mother and the loss of this mother. The poems are strong, and very interesting, and can be understood with a reasonable effort. This is one of the simpler ones. There is one about Hirohito that I hope to nerve up enough to put on this blog very soon. Wars . . . . .

Saturday, February 21, 2015

By the Creek

Late light on the creek as the mallards assemble.

Darkening, Then Brightening

The sky keeps lying to the farmhouse,
lining up its heavy clouds
above the blue table umbrella,
then launching them over the river.
And the day feels hopeless
until it notices a few trees
dropping delicately their white petals
on the grass beside the birdhouse
perched on its wooden post,
the blinking fledglings stuffed inside
like clothes in a tiny suitcase. At first
you wandered lonely through the yard
and it was no help knowing Wordsworth
felt the same, but then Whitman
comforted you a little, and you saw
the grass as uncut hair, yearning
for the product to make it shine.
Now you lie on the couch beneath the skylight,
the sky starting to come clean,
mixing its cocktail of sadness and dazzle,
a deluge and then a digging out
and then enough time for one more
dance or kiss before it starts again,
darkening, then brightening.
You listen to the tall wooden clock
in the kitchen: its pendulum clicks
back and forth all day, and it chimes
with a pure sound, every hour on the hour,
though it always mistakes the hour.

Kim Addonizio
copyright 2015 by the author.

I have known the work of Kim Addonizio for a long time, ever since she was a young poet making a big splash in the Bay Area years and years ago. But I don't think I have featured a poem of hers here. I can definitely recommend the book she wrote on writing with Dorianne Laux, and another called Ordinary Genius; a guide for the poet within, as well as her many books of poems and other writing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Quiet Afternoon at the Office

Yesterday's group of ducks around a small serving of cracked corn reminds me of a campfire.
I guess this is the mallards' office; they're at work. Orange feet help in fiery illusion.
We are having great weather; I guess we had just as well enjoy it.

A Quiet Afternoon at the Office

When you're overwhelmed at your job
       & the room is a field of consciousness,
      forming first the violet edges
   & later the pierced spiral
              of what just happened,
you try to remember events while you
stumble over twigs of the day like a red bee.
        So much anger in the economy
     after too much not enough—
people setting tents in the streets,
              the last of the fruit gives way
on branches you see as you work
   holding the annihilated breath.

Now that the crisis has no locale
there's a sense of the lively unit
into which they had placed feeling:
fatigue & theory, cornice & cup,
links of your spine on the chair…
what will they do, will they do, will they do
when labor rebels but not quickly?
It was so much work to cohere—
a radical hope fills in: revolt
in the square, thin crows,
fat capital, the ash, the lists,
the fire you'd been harvesting, for this—
                                                                                                          for MM
Brenda Hillman

Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, Wesleyan, 2014, page 74.
This newest book of Hillman's is great to hang out with. It is very economical, but not stingy. One needs to read carefully, and think about the times we are living in. The next page gives us this exact same text as A Quiet Afternoon at the Office II, but as a paragraph, with a word-sized space between each line. It is wonderful to compare the effect of each.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

All the quick notes

The symmetrical beauty of feathers is hard to resist; 
I had a childhood friend who wouldn't pick them up because 
of something she called "bird lice" but I never really checked into that. 
Since I have yard ducks now, I often get a chance at a fresh beauty.

Mozart, for Example

          All the quick notes
          Mozart didn't have time to use
          before he entered the cloud boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

    into the hard winter
    and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
    but light and delight,

though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,
if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,
    offering tune after tune after tune,
    making some hard-hearted prince
    prudent and kind, just by being happy.

Mary Oliver
Thirst; poems, Beacon Press, 2006, Kindle location 76.

I, too, find Mozart uplifting, and of a happy spirit. And I was pleased by the way, in this poem, 
all the indented stanzas are not placed at the same distance from the left margin, but that the first stanza is indented more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sunrise in the Mirror

I was taking pictures of one of the spectacular sunrises in Michigan last summer. 
When I turned around to go back to the house I saw 
the light caught in the Tundra's dewy mirror.

Fixing the Foot: On Rhythm

Yesterday I heard a Dutch doctor talking to a
small girl who had cut her foot, not seriously,
and was very frightened by the sight of her
own blood. "Nay! Nay!" he said over and over.
I cold hear him quite distinctly through the
wall that separated us, and his voice was strong
and calm, he spoke very slowly and seemed
never to stop speaking, almost as though he
were chanting, never too loud or too soft, Her
voice, which had been explosive and shrill at
first, gradually softened until I could no longer
make it out as he went on talking and, I sup-
posed, working. Then a silence, and he said,
"Ah" and some words I could not understand.
I imagined him stepping spryly back to survey
his work. And then another voice, silent before,
the girl's father, thanking him, and then the
girl thanking him, now in a child's voice. A
door opening and closing. And it was over.

Philip Levine

The Bread of Time; Toward an Autobiography
University of MIchigan Press, epigraph

Two of the Philip Levine books I ordered (don't have any here in Idaho) the day he died came today. I have been enjoying the revisit. And I felt lucky to find this at the beginning os one of them; it so perfectly expresses how open he was to the people he encountered. And I will be sure to remember to use a calm and measured voice should I ever need to.
Goodnight, sweet poet!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ducks assemble in the late afternoon

Wonderful late light today on this mid-February day. 
A wood duck is about to land on the fence at the right. 
I took this picture with the iPad Air2, which has a great camera. 
Though it feels extremely weird to take pictures 
with a thin slab the shape of a small magazine,
and one with no knurled knobs or stick-out lenses.

Alamitos Creek

A slow crow crosses the street; I stop the car to let him fly.
Slight spring rain on the footbridge, on streamside willows,
on the merganser couple floating just upstream; on lupine leaves
and buds, on the single tall stalk of blue bloom.

As I cross the bridge, startled mallards take flight.
Bright green young clover leaves spill under the fence and beyond.
Golden willow buds tremble above fragrant California sage.
All this with sunset cloud; I'll come back tomorrow.

Eucalyptus branches--dry berries, dry leaves--dislodged by rains.
A sycamore hollow, then another, to summon faery folk.
Tucked amid rank grasses, tiny mustard blossoms. This tangle
of wild roses beginning to leaf, will the mergansers nest here?

White limbs of the sycamore glow in the shadows.
Flattened grass in a body-shape, as if someone too large
for a deer--I imagine: bear--lay down for the night.
Stream-sound, rain-sound and two bees at the mustard.

Tiny fig leaves unfold their intricate veinage.
Wearing a headset, a swift walker in pink misses completely
the black phoebe's chirk, which follows us along the path.
An elongated goose in flight shoots overhead like an arrow.

A weathered oak gall, empty, shows five small round holes
in one end, where the young wasps escaped.
A black lab pup, wearing a bright red harness,
pulls a slight woman too fast down the stairs.

After brief rains, flat clover leaves bear countless clear d
Bending once more to bruise the California sage,
I turn back for this last look.
Heavy seed heads of grasses, in concert, sway in spring wind.

June Hopper Hymas,
Spring, 2010

This is a poem I wrote about my other creek, the one near my home in the Almaden Valley. It needs a little tightening up, but I am feeling creekish tonight. I am surprised that it has almost been five years since I wrote this. If I had guessed, I would have said three; how is your creek doing??

Today I noticed that some tulips I planted in a pot three years ago are sprouting. I thought they had died. It made me happy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Audubon's Flute

Traveling again in April, 2013.  The beautiful, open spacious skies above our open spaces.
This part of the country had not really opened up for travel in Audubon's time.
I had forgotten that Audubon was musical; it has been several years since I read
Audubon; the making of an American by Richard Rhodes, Random House, 2004,
a book that I strongly recommend!

Audubon's Flute

Audubon in the summer woods
by the afternoon river sips
his flute, his fingers swimming on
the silver as silver notes pour

by the afternoon river, sips
and fills the mosquito-note air
with silver as silver notes pour
two hundred miles from any wall.

And fills the mosquito-note air
as deer and herons pause, listen,
two hundred miles from any wall,
and sunset plays the stops of river.

As deer and herons pause, listen,
the silver pipe sings on his tongue
and sunset plays the stops of river,
his breath modeling a melody

the silver pipe sings on his tongue,
coloring the trees and canebrakes,
his breath modeling a melody
over calamus and brush country,

coloring the trees and canebrakes
to the horizon and beyond,
over calamus and brush country
where the whitest moon is rising

to the horizon and beyond
his flute, his fingers swimming on
where the whitest moon is rising.
Audubon in the summer woods.

Robert Morgan

in The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat; 
poems by fifteen contemporary North Carolina Poets, 
University of North Carolina Press, 1994, pages 192-193.

This poem has a formal structure repeating the last line from each stanza as the third one in the next stanza. This is so deftly done that I didn't notice it on my first reading. There are other repetitions as well; look for them.

Robert Morgan has also written biography and fiction. He has a new novel, The Road from Gap Creek that has received excellent reviews, most of which mention the quality of the writing as well as the excellence of the subject material. Morgan is another writer who was introduced to me by this regional anthology.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Plum Blossoms for Philip Levine

Many years ago, in our first garden, we planted two plum saplings in one hole. The yellow-fleshed  one was called Howard's Miracle, the large purple-fleshed one was Elephant Heart. As they grew, s nurseryman told us that we would still need a pollinator, and gave us a branch from the Santa Clara plum. We performed a successful graft; grafting has a miraculous quality to it. Over the years we have had some nice plum harvests, although the trees are now failing and we are not always in California to give them the proper care. Still, they bloom! Plum blossoms have a particularly lovely dainty-yet-vigotous many-stamened quality. And the sky on this day was ever-so-blue!

A Sleepless Night

April, and the last of the plum blossoms
scatters on the black grass
before dawn. The sycamore, the lime,
the struck pine inhale
the first pale hints of sky.
An iron day,
I think, yet it will come
dazzling, the light
rise from the belly of leaves and pour
burning from the cups
of poppies.
The mockingbird squawks
from his perch, fidgets,
and settles back. The snail, awake
for good, trembles from his shell
and sets sail for China. My hand dances
in the memory of a million vanished stars.

A man has every place to lay his head.

Philip Levine, New Selected Poems, Kindle location 952.
Philip Levine is another of the poets that I heard read and speak in San Jose in the 1980s. What luck we had at that time! I remember how "present" he was and how squarely he looked at people, and listened, while he was talking to them. I have heard him praised by a dozen of poets who studied with him. Many of them have posted short remembrances tonight. Pancreatic cancer was not an easy way to die, and now he can rest; still I am saddened and returning to his poetry tonight.

The last line of A Sleepless Night makes a shift and causes one to pay a sharper attention! Notice that he has set it apart from the rest of the poem. It reminded me of the Bible verse below.
King James Bible. Luke 9:58
"And Jesus said unto him, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Learning to drive

This horse, Charlie, was a gift to my widowed daughter. He came with harness 
and a year's supply of hay. His owner was moving and looked out for a good home.
My daughter learned to drive him and used him to prepare and harrow her garden/
Later, my grandsons, rode him. He lived to a ripe old age. Tonight, 
looking for a picture, nothing pleased me. Then I found this, Circa 1993.

Wide Open, These Gates

Going down the road feeling good, I snap
my fingers. Hear, hear! At an auction, my father
bid sixty-five dollars for a fat Hampshire pig
just by rubbing his nose. When my grandfather
scattered his seed to the four corners, corn stood up
tall as his hat brim. My grandmother's sheets
flapped like bells on the line. Crabbed youth,
crab apple, crape myrtle, I mumble

as I shuffle downhill, my crabbed youth
behind me like gnats singing. I've come a long way
from what's been described as a mean and starved
corner of backwoods America. This has a ring 
to it. Rhythm, like my grandmother's hands
in the bread dough. Her food made the boards creak,
my grandfather, mellow. He had a wild temper
when he was a young man. Most folks talk too much,
he'd say, aiming slow spit at a dung beetle.
He never mumbled. sometimes he talked nonsense

to roosters and fierce setting hens. My nonsense coos
like a dove. Goodbye swallows cruising
the pigpen. Goodbye apple dumplings. Goodbye
little turkeys my grandmother fed with her fingers.
Big Belle was a nanny goat. Holler "Halloo"
after sundown and all the cows come home. Some words
are gates swinging wide open and I walk on through
one more summer that like this road's going
down easy. The gnats sing, and I'm going
to sing. One of these days I'll be gone.

Kathryn Stripling Byer

in The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat; 
poems by fifteen contemporary North Carolina Poets, 
University of North Carolina Press, 1994, page 81.

Interestingly, the poem and the picture are roughly contemporary. I love the way this poem is crammed with specific and memorable detail. And the movement from things seen to things heard and back again is great!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Family History

This is a scan of the third of four pages from a Family Bible that looks like it fell apart long ago.
It begins with my Great-grandfather William Anderson Hopper, born 1834. He fought in the Civil War on the losing side. My father, Jack Hicks Hopper, is the last name on this page, below the decorative frame; his birth year, 1906, is missing where the corner has chipped off the page. My brother, with his large family, has custody of these treasures now.


The top 
grain on the peak
weighs next
to nothing and,
by a mountain,
has no burden,
but nearly
ready to float,
to summer wind,
it endures
the rigors of having
no further
figure to complete
and a 
blank sky
to guide its dreaming

A. R. Ammons
The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat; poems by 15 contemporary North Carolina poets, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994, page 21.

A. R. Ammons is a master of the very short line. Notice that this poem has only a few commas and does not end with a period. There are lines with only one or two words. This poet was recommended to me by my brother, Robert, in the year or so before he died. Rob was very fond of Ammons' book-length poem, Garbage, which is about that subject, I was delighted to find him in this regional anthology.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Next month, next year . . .

Memories of ducks in winter; the winter is very mild this year 
and seems over now in the mid-February,


Nightfall. Clouds scatter and vanish.
The sky is pure and cold.
Silently the River of Heaven turns in the Jade Vault.
Tonight I do not enjoy life to the full,
Next month, next year, who knows where I will be.

Su-Tung Po

Songs of Love, Moon and Wind: poems from the Chinese;
translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Eliot Weinberger
New Directions.

Su-Tung Po is among my very favorites. I am midway through his 1947 biography by Lin Yutang. While travel is much easier for me, it is still problematic. I am still hoping to get back to California soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Across the street and down the block

Yesterday we took this Daily Walk, but today S has a cold.

february 10

Cloudy, cool and very still.

Sometimes, at night, my old dog Hattie
will lift her head to bark at nothing,
as if that nothing were silently
crossing the yard in the darkness
and then she'll listen hard and bark again
and it steals away. This morning 
I woke at three o'clock, and nothing
was standing there, silently watching me,
holding its breath at the foot of the bed.
I must have made some little noise
because my wife turned toward me and asked
'What's wrong?" "Nothing," I answered,
and suddenly nothing was gone
and from below us Hattie barked and barked.

Ted Kooser

Winter Morning Walks; one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison
Carnegie Mellon Press, 2000, page 90.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Leaf in the Gutter

As I rushed out to keep the appointment with the eye doctor today, 
this beautiful moisture-patterned leaf spoke to me from the gutter.
And see how the tiny stones from old concrete seem like gems?

Here is another piece from Maxine Kumin's book.


Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Old Way

"Night falls quickly.
Soon the sky in the east has turned deep blue.
In the west the crescent moon is showing
and long red streaks of sunset clouds
lie over the darkening horizon. The air
is cooling noticeably. The first stars appear.
We trudge on not speaking. Even
the children are quiet, perfectly quiet.
Then the new baby whimpers, a tiny sound
and her mother hitches her around to nurse
on the move. In the silent veldt I feel
the night wind rising and hear the whisper
of the grass and the footsteps of the women.
A bat flies over us. A little later we hear
a flock of guinea fowl calling intermittently
as they fly one by one up to their roost
in a tree. Later still a jackal calls
and another answers. The first jackal calls again.
The world of the day is closing. the world
of the night is opening. We keep walking.

          lineated with permission of the author

Maxine Kumin
And Short the Season, Norton, 2014, Kindle location 520

I read Elizabeth Marshall Thomas many years ago, and had almost forgotten. She has a fine prose style, and it is very interesting to see how beautifully this reads as a short poem. A thing, or task, to try: when you are struck by the prose and information in something you are reading, write it out as a poem. You wouldn't need the author's permission, unless you were to want to publish it. I am going to look at the books of Bernd Heinrich.
Also, this has made me think again about guinea fowl. I saw them running wild on a friend's farm in Northern California. I completely missed that they were wild fowl in Africa. They are quite a beautiful bird. Dotted.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Seeing Things

From The Year of the Deer: August 28, 2014.

After midnight last night, instead of sleeping, I read Maxine Kumin's account of the 1998 accident which broke her neck and the aftermath, Inside the Halo and Beyond; the anatomy of a recovery, Norton 2001. Kumin died last year, so this is another letter to the author that I cannot send. It is an excellent book, quite free of self-pity, accurately observed and extremely interesting. Lying there in the dark, with the lightweight and lighted Kindle in my hand, I just kept reading until I finished the book. So tonight, one of the poems I have been planning to use here is the perfect fit.


Why is my brain doing this? I ask the retinologist.
a specialist in the disease that wiped my central
vision away, leaving me with a landscape
through which a tornado had passed, taking my face
when I look in the mirror, taking words on a page,
hands on a clock, taking the great blue who guards
the pond, the spots that freckled the twin fawns
who were still fearless and came nearly as close
to me as you are at your end of this table. I see
a warm blur of your shape before you are crowded out
by visions, sometimes a great huddle of people,
ghostly presences flickering, on and offstage, sometimes
crowded patterns multicolored as a wash of banners
at a demonstration, sometimes cobblestone walls overlaid
with brick that haunt my foreground, middle- and background
sometimes mere fleurs-de-lys or enlarged asterisks.

What you have, he tells me, are harmless visual
hallucinations. They are the product of a mentally
healthy brain that is filling in the blanks in your sight.
Nobody knows the how or the wherefor. Nobody has a cure.
When I go blind, I ask him, will I still see them?
--They will always be with you, he said. Try to befriend them.

Maxine Kumin

And Short the Season, Norton, 2014, page 89. (Also on Kindle)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

We cross the field

Sometimes, pale can be interesting.
I used the app Phototoaster for this.

Untitled poem beginning with a line from Shirley Kaufman, a poet my teacher recommended.

We cross the field
what we seek should be over there
beyond the sheets of yellow mustard,
the abrupt parking lot, domain
of high-rises and shopping malls,
pebbled macadam softening in the California
byways; the hope of something lost returned.

Or something yet unseen revealed--
eerie faint cries of bats pouring up from the cave.
In the great basilica, 
echoes of this past, this stone, the mention
but without specificity. A faint hint
of wintergreen in a chill room; a blanket
thrown carelessly across a chair.

A campanile. They walk, these two
not touching, yet, their arms straight down,
the space between is touched by
light, then by a moving shadow. She enters
the room with identical small flower-filled vases
and sets one on each side of a Buddha, before
she rings the bell.

June Hopper Hymas

This is the poem I promised you last night. I tweaked it slightly and made it into stanzas.
I would still like a title and will work on it some more. 

Now, here is your task: pick a phrase, like "the space between" or "faint cries of bats" 
and use it to take off on your own poem. Send it to me, if you would like to.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Orange All Day Long

Who knew, or considered, that the mallard's feet held the color of the sunset all day long?

For whatever reason, today I have been going over in my mind 
what I might call The Written Accomplishments of My Life. It has been 
depressing and rewarding, all at the same time. I have been storing everything 
on Google Drive, which I recommend.  Tonight, I found some poems there 
that I long ago began with phrases from another poem, like this one
from Shirley Kaufman. "We cross the field . . ."
I am tuning the second part of it up now
and hope to offer it here tomorrow.
But below is not me, but Mary Oliver.
She likes the wild things, too!

What Gorgeous Thing

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes, 
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes, it seems the only thing 
in the world that is without 
questions that can't and probably
never will be, answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and gratefully says so.

Mary Oliver

in Blue Horses,  Kindle location 572.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Winter Light Through the Willow

This is one of those odd things that happen when you photograph with an iPad
in strong light and you cannot really see the pictures until you get indoors.

Willow Poem

It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loath to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river—
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.

William Carlos Williams
(1883 - 1963)

I have always been fascinated by the generation of so many outstanding artists and writers who were born between 1880-1884.  Picasso, T. S. Elior, W. C. Williams, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and so many more! Such amazing artistic ferment was about then. My own grandmother was born in 1880 in Southern Utah. In 1891, her father moved the younger half of his plural family to the Mormon Colonies in Northern Mexico. My grandmother was in the first graduating class from the Juarez Academy, a church high school. I think this was her only formal education. With her husband and two young children, she left Mexico during  a time of revolution and came to Southern Arizona in 1906, just before my mother was born in April. Grandma Susie spent the rest of her life in the Mesa, Arizona area far from the centers of world culture. She managed to persuade all seven of her children to graduate from college. The distance between her life and the lives of the people I just listed could hardly have been greater, And yet, there seems to have been room for people to reinvent themselves! 
I am reading a book on Kindle which is an appreciation of the work of W. C. Willimas by Wendell Berry. Berry has spent a lot of time with the body of Williams's work and has a true appreciation of it. I hope to quote some passages from it soon. In the meantime, you could do worse than spending some time with a nearby tree.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Ways of Looking

Where the stream bends; the grassy bank beyond the tree is where the ducks often take the sun.

The World as I Left It
Wood, cement, steel, polyester
Glass, marble, ink and ether.
Water, ash, asphalt and leather. Plastic.
Stone, fur, copper and silk. Silver, cotton,
paper and clay. Bone, horn, coal, gold,
gas, soil, rubber and cardboard. Mud. Tin.
Wool, wax, lead. Ice, oil, paint and bronze.
Rayon, cork, vinyl and sand. Numbers.
Dust, slate, graphite and glue.
I was almost happy.

Mary Ruefle

Tristimania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004, page 21.

Another task. Try making a poem out of the names of materials, either the types of things used here, furniture, tools, or household objects, or something else tangible. Or list intangibles for another kind of poem. Do the sounds of the named things suggest other words to you? Look at the sounds in Ruefle's poem. 

Were you surprised by Ruefle's last sentence?? Look up the word Tristimania; what single word would be a good title for your book with your poem in it?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

In my red coat, near the Hotel Byrne

 As an example of interesting distractions and the way odd things turn up, here I am in my red coat, circa 1956. This afternoon I picked up a laptop from the repair shop late. The nice fellow at Laptop Repair Boise restored my data, which included an extra set of the last group of my mother's slides that I had scanned last year by Scancafe. So, while I was giving the laptop those little tweaks, like bookmarks, that make it handy for oneself, I found that I was looking at some of these slides, and then some more! This was the last batch of scanning and contained some real oddities, and bits of this and that, like photos of Carol Channing on TV. I don't remember noticing this particular slide before. This is clearly my coat, which I made to take to college most likely in either the summer of 1953 or 1954. I am sure it is my coat because the fabric was a poplin mill-end (does anyone use that term now?) and there wasn't quite enough fabric to face the collar. So I used a bit of heavy black taffeta with white polka-dots on it. The polka-dots were stiff and sort of rubbery. This undercollar is visible in the photo. I do not remember where we were, or when we went there, but I can date the photo because I only had shorter hair in 1955 and 1956, after I was married. This is grown out from the botched home permanent Mom gave me just before my wedding in 1955. After this, I always had shoulder-length hait, So, I am thinking this must be 1956.
Here is another picture! Same location, same red coat. More struggles with time travel below.
In this one, I am talking to a man I do not recognize; it could be Henry Leigh. The boy running up the stairs reminds me of my brother, Richard. I don't know when this was. I don't remember my mother coming West in the year or two after I married. I am guessing this is Arizona or Utah. The Brick building (part of the decaying infrastructure of someplace that tried and couldn't make it) says HOTEL BYRNE in the arch at the top. S. doesn't remember anything either. Do you know this place??

Here is a little poem by a poet that is new to me, Sheenagh Pugh:


Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people will sometimes step back from war,
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they cant leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes out best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Sheenagh Pugh

Beware Falling Tortoises, Poetry Wales Press, 1987, page 24.
I would like you to take a look at the punctuation in this poem, how we go 
semi-colon, semi-colon, semi-colon, all through the poem, until the colon before the kicker:
"may it happen for you." 

Now, the task is to write a poem in three stanzas, with example, and end with a wish.
Send it to me!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Landscape in a golden light

All day today it has been wet and miserable;
the ducks are hanging around drinking from the puddles
that form as the rain runs off the patio roof.
Just a few short days ago, we were blessed by the sun!
And tonight, there should be a glorious moon, but it
is too overcast to tell.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

This poem from the great American master is more tricky than it looks. It has a very complicated sound-scheme that is explained at this link. If one takes it bit by bit one might feel one understood. But if one tried to explain it to someone else in 15 minutes? I'm not ready.

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Black, the White

This is where I can stand, even in the rain, to look past the cottonwoods to the canal.
Changing a picture to black-and-white shows one the structure of things.

The Night, the Porch

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux
Of the matter. Even now we seem to be waiting for something
Whose appearance would be its vanishing--the sound, say,
Of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf, or less.
There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there
Tells as much, and was never written with us in mind.

Mark Strand

And for you, dear reader, what is the crux of the matter.?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Shall not the waters surge. . .

Hard to resist this kind of beautiful design. He just popped out of the water, and shook. 
You can see the tiny droplets of water on his back. 
I almost didn't bother taking the camera outside because
the light wasn't great and I really have enough
duck pictures for one lifetime. Or two.
The feathers that make the white line on his side are beautifully patterned;
last year I found some in the yard, but this isn't shedding season.

(Just one stanza from) 
The Stream's Secret

Stream, when this silver thread
In flood-time is a torrent brown
May any bulwark bind thy foaming crown?
Shall not the waters surge and spread
And to the crannied boulders of their bed
Still shoot the dead drift down?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti  (1828-1882)

This is but one stanza of a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that
(unless I counted wrong, but you get the idea!) has 41 stanzas!
The whole poem can be found here; it is beautiful and like a feast in the possibilities of the English language. Each stanza has the careful rhyme scheme and rhythmic pattern that characterized much of 19th century English poetry. Note the power of the final line in this stanza, with its feast of one-syllable words!