Monday, August 31, 2015

The Hand

This seems to be a picture of my grandmother, 
Susan Redd Butler. with her seven children. 
I don't know whose hand it is, but I think it makes the shot!
Front, left to right, my mother, Olga Hopper, Grandma Susie, Marita Brimhall.
Rear: Wendell (Windy) lady in blue--is this Hazel? --it doesn't look like her, 
but she is the only one missing-- Karl Douglas, Louise, and Merwin.
I hope some of my cousins will clear this up for me.

Arizona sun--
the siblings line up
one more time

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Usually I pick the picture first and link the poem to it somehow. 
But I was putting the Kooser away when I noticed I had marked this poem, 
so I went looking for blue. Or dawn. This Lily of the Nile is blue;
soon I will come back to its garden, but I will have missed the bloom this year.
I have always liked the way the sun strikes the dried sepal in this portrait,
making it look like a piece of wrinkled tan silk.


Freely chosen, discipline
is absolute freedom.--Ron Serino

The blue shadow of dawn settles
its awkward silks into the enamelled kitchen
and soon you will wake with me into the long
discipline of night and day--the morning sky
startled and starred with returning birds.
You half-whisper, half-sigh, "This will never stop."
And I say, "Look at the constellations
our keys and coins make, there,
on the polished sky of the dresser top."

From what sometimes seems an arbitrary
form of discipline often come two words
that rhyme and in the rhyming fully marry
the world of spoons and sheets and common birds
to another world that we have always known
where the waterfall of dawn does not drown
even the haloed gnats where we are shown
how to find and hold the pale day moon, round
and blessed in the silver lake of a coffee spoon.

Mekeel McBride

in Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual; practical advice for beginning poets, University of Nebraska Press, 2007, page 141.

Bonus picture; an actual blue dawn-tinted sky in Michigan!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Behold My Red Eye

Most of the Wood Ducks have moved on. But this guy remembers, 
and sometimes comes and sits on the end of the stair-rail. 
He is a duckling-of-this-year and may even be one of the 13 ducklings
that were the first batch to hatch. You can see how his adult face-markings 
are not quite complete, and he still has some juvenile body-feathers;
but he is getting there! I was very happy to see him today 
and moved very quietly to take his photograph.

Keeping It Together

For a start you use
tea and talk, the day's
first dark headlines
and your dreams go
numb--that looming face
pretending to be a ripe
harvest moon stands still,
then fades to a dot 
like a TV turned off.
Next your delicacy gathers
in the eggs you carry
to the stove--the shells
are so thin these days,
they break into
such small pieces.
You drive over those pieces
to the delights of key,
office, mail and the heady
vertigo buried in
the heart of grammar.
(Oh, be with me now,
muse of the commasplice!)
Such rich incident carries
you to three, though the clock
is so hesitant, pausing so long,
as if holding its breath
before its nervous leap forward.
And finally the omens:
Scrawny birds on that 
skimpy tree out your window,
the exit marked Graceless,
and rain whispering
its million run-on sentences.

Vern Rutsala       (February 5, 1934 – April 2, 2014)

How We Spent Our Time
University of Akron Press, 2006, pages 41-42.
This book is also inscribed 
to the former owner in teensy writing: 
                                                                                                                 All the best, Vern Rutsala

This generation of poets is fast leaving the planet. If you meant 
to write any fan letters, now might be the time. 
I wish I had thanked them more...

Friday, August 28, 2015

a few words in my ear . . .

Shining white mother and child on a late summer afternoon boat ride 
with my grandsons on the Indian River, July, 2009.
On some days, the light is right and you just get lucky!
An idea came to me for a photograph . . .


An idea came to me
for a rhyme? A poem?
Well--fine--I say, stay awhile, we'll talk
Tell me a little more about yourself.
       So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Ah, so that's the story--I say--intriguing.
These matters have long weighed upon my heart.
But a poem about them? I don't think so.
        So it whispered a few words in my ear.
It may seem that way--I reply--
But you overestimate my gifts and powers.
I wouldn't even know where to start.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
You're wrong--I say--a short, pithy poem
is much harder than a long one.
Don't pester me, don't nag, it won't turn out.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
All right then, I'll try, since you insist.
But don't say I didn't warn you.
I write, tear it up, and toss it out.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
You're right, I say, there are always other poets.
Some of them can do it better.
I'll give you names and addresses.
          So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Of course I'll envy them.
We envy even the weak poems.
But this one should . . . it ought to have . . .
           So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Exactly, to have the qualities you've listed.
So let's change the subject.
How about a cup of coffee?

           It just sighed.

           And started vanishing.

           And vanished.

Wislawa Szymborska

Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

HERE, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, page 11,13.

This delightful. light-touch-yet-serious poem about writing and inspiration by Nobelist Szymborska has an interesting structure. Almost every line is a complete sentence. And the line about whispering is repeated seven times, with three lines between each repetition after the first time. But I wish we had the poem that almost got written . . .

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Each Day

It is hard for me to resist playing with that Waterlogue app!
This is the Little Union Canal, one of the homes of my heart.


Forest shade, lake shade, poplar shade, highway shade,
backyard shade, café shade, down-behind-the-high-school
shade, cow shade, carport shade, blowing shade, dappled
shade, shade darkened by rain above, shade under ships,
shade along banks of snow, shade beneath the one tree in a
bright place, shade by the ice cream truck, shade in the new-
car sales room, shade in halls of the palace as all the electric
lights turn on, shade in a stairwell, shade in tea barrels, shade
in books, shade of clouds running over a distant landscape,
shade on bales in the barn, shade in the pantry, shade in the
icehouse (the smell of shade), shade under runner blades,
shade along branches, shade at night (a difficult research),
shade on rungs of a ladder, shade on pats of butter sculpted
to look like scallop shells, shade to holler from, shade in the
chill of bamboo, shade at the core of an apple, confessional
shade, shade of hair salons, shade in a joke, shade in the town
hall, shade descending from legendary ancient hills, shade
under the jaws of a dog with a bird in its mouth trotting
along to the master’s voice, shade at the back of the choir,
shade in pleats, shade clinging to arrows in the quiver, shade
in scars.
Anne Carson

The New Yorker, August 10 & 17, 2015.

This is an interesting poem, and I was very glad to find it in The New Yorker! Try making a list of something like this and using it as the basis for several different forms of poem!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

as we leave dreams to the night

The squirrel finally knocked this feeder down enough times to break the bottom off.
I was able to hang it upside down, and today I bought some more sunflower seeds 
for the short time remaining here, Upside-down or right-side-up, it is very popular,
both with the squirrel and the house finches you see here.
I also bought a sack of something called dove and quail mix, and it is doing
very well in the other feeder. I love the bright afternoon light in this picture.


A thousand times
we've read words of parting
a hundred times
seen paintings of the same
it is you and I
who cross this old threshold
offer no wishes
say no goodbyes
these are like acting
silence is best
concealment's never false
leave memories to the future
as we leave dreams to the night
leave tears to the oceans
and wind to your sails
Gu Cheng

Nameless Flowers; selected poems of Gu Cheng
George Braziller, 2005, page 49.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brother with Cat

This is my brother Robert William Hopper (1945-1997)
He was good with animals, good with little kids, good with his students.
He was a teacher and student of words and the way we speak to one another.
And he liked my poems!
I still think of him all the time.

The Dwelling of the Past

This poem believes in the work
ethic, believes you fashion
your own route through memory
and wilderness, blazing low
trails that dissolve overnight,
the wilderness rebuilding itself
on footprints and the bones
of travellers.
                      But for guide
we have only the horseshoe bends
of pages --- to the bottom and then
the perilous turn to the next,
adding lines, scattering the inky
gravel, the road fading behind us,
losing its way without our will
tamping it in place between
the shoulders.
                       That gravel is these
broken syllables, the last we have
of words, their residue, the squawks
and grunts, their rock-language
baby talk.
                 Yet with them we build
the dwelling of the past, word
by word, our flashcard house rising
like a tower in spite of winter
wind, in spite of darkness.
Without these words night will
enter bringing all its casualties.

Tonight they hang back, and all
things meet now on the round table
mixing like the grain of oak.
But the early light dims
                                       goes dirty
toward darkness, a murk descending
and water muddy where I dredge.
And now I find only the muddy
boot of cliche, the dump
                                         of stereotype,
They swarm our countryside, fleeing
from the burning hills of our
neighbors' dreams.
                               But this poem believes
in the work ethic, I want
the crackpot plan, my perpetual motion
machine in a bottle, my yacht
in the cellar. I'm sick
                                   of the medieval
walls of junk our cities grow,
sick of how we're forced to tug our
forelocks until we're bald, sick
of how our masters permit some
pleasure now and then, some bread ---
a fleabag circus under the banner:
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.
Which is why I travel toward my
private beefsteak mine, my
shadow home of memory. I have
the shares, I own fifty-one percent.

Backtracking, Story Line Press, 1985, pages 45-46.

(My copy was used when I got it and has the author's signature 
and inscription in tiny, tiny, tiny writing. This is what it says:

                                                    To Sandy --
                                                         With all good wishes on
                                                          a good night in 
                                                          Tacoma --
                                                                              Vern Rutsala

I am thinking now that
                                        "On a Good Night in Tacoma"
would be an interesting title or poem prompt. I think Vern left it here for me.

I like the way that this poem travels down the page: making something like a stanza-break
at the ends of some sentences and in the middle of others, causing our attention to focus
on the word after the break. Another strategy to try. Good Night!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Actual Grapes

This is my Mom, Olga Butler Hopper, demonstrating that she could grow actual edible grapes 
outside of her retirement condominium, where they didn't approve of gardening! 
She also had a small apricot tree, which bore fruit every year. The space she used 
was supposed to be an enclosure for garbage cans. 
I don't remember who took this picture, maybe one
of my many siblings, could have been me!


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 he 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, its 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.

My mother, above, lived to be 96 3/4, outdoing her own mother by 1/4 of a year! She was always a good example about aging, continuing Tai Chi into her 90's and keeping a lively mind. I didn't find the work of Roo Borson, until recently; now she is one of my favorites!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

For the Record

The children of John Rukin Hopper and Marjory Ann Carr Hopper, left to right: 
Jack Hicks Hopper, Mary Lillian Hopper, Marjory Lynn Hopper and John Carr Hopper. 
This is a professional photograph and would have been taken either in Portales, New Mexico (birthplace of Jack, my father, on Dec. 19, 1906) 
or after they moved to Yuma, AZ, where he finished high school, and
where my grandparents lived out their lives.
The beautiful girl in white died of cancer at age 40; my father died at 80, 
after a long struggle with Parkinson's Syndrome.
Carr, the older boy, lived until age 93 and left a large family.
Mary Lillian never had children, but was married to an Army man, Colonel Mason Elder.
She taught school and became an artist after she retired.
This one of my favorite photographs, which is why it is here on The Memory Thread.

The silence afterwards

Try to be done now
with the provocations and sales statistics,
the Sunday breakfasts and incinerators,
the military parades, the architecture competitions
and the triple rows of traffic lights.
Get through it and be done
with the party preparations and marketing analyses
for it’s too late,
it’s far too late,
be done with it and come home
to the silence afterwards
that meets you like a hot spurt of blood against your forehead
and like the thunder on the way
and the chimes of mighty bells
that make your eardrums quiver
for words are no more,
there are no more words,
from now on everything will speak
with the voices of stones and trees.
The silence that lives in the grass
on the underside of each blade
and in the blue intervals between the stones.
The silence
that follows after the shots and the bird-song.
The silence
that lays a blanket over the one who is dead
and that waits on the stairs until everyone is gone.
The silence
that nestles like a fledgling between your hands,
your only friend.

Rolf Jacobsen

translated by John Irons

Rolf Jacobsen is my recent discovery of a poet about the same age as my father.  This is a link to the entry on Jacobsen in Wikipedia. You can see in the entry what stature this poet has in his native Norway.

This translation is one I found here on the blog of the translator, and there are quite a few things I like better about it than the translation I have in Twenty Poems that was done by Robert Bly. Of course, what I "like" is not very significant, since I do not understand Norwegian. But this translation has a little more "fullness" that I prefer, except for in one place. Hey, it's my blog! Reading these poems has touched me deeply, and I hope to introduce some of them to others.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Methods of Transport

April 11, 2009. I was there with my red Panasonic DX07, 
which made a record of the time and date. 
I don't remember where;
I do remember saying, "A motorcycle with a serape!" 
Because my folks were from Arizona, 
I have always liked serapes, and they were
always, so to speak, "Laying around the house,"
when I was a child.
I love the sunlight in this picture,
the gleaming chrome.
the possible journey.

River Song

Of satin-wood our boat is made,
Our oars of ebony;
Jade pipes and gold flutes
Play at stern and prow.
A thousand gallons of red wine
We carry in the ship's hold;
With girls on board at the waves' will
We are glad to drift or stay.
Even the rishi had to wait
For a yellow crane to ride;
But the sailor whose heart had no guile
Was followed by the white gulls.
Ch'u P'ing's prose and verse
Hang like the sun and moon;
The king of Ch'u's arbours and towers
Are only hummocks in the ground.

Li Po             
Translation by Arthur Waley

Friday, August 21, 2015

Present at this ceremony

(A single click on the photo will enlarge it.)
The newspaper photographer came to our house to photograph our family after our mother,
Olga Butler Hopper, was selected as Mother of the Year for Schenectady County, NY.
We are all here, I am wearing my favorite dark dress with the small flowers on it that
I made for myself. Marjory is on mother's lap with her chickenpox scabs still showing. 
Susan is wearing plaid. Brothers, left to right: Robert, Richard, John and David.
I thought I must have used this picture on this blog already, but maybe not.
At any rate, I cannot find it here.


We each leaned, palm down with all our weight, into the fresh con-
crete and then it rained, and the handprints in sunken relief turned 
      Present at this ceremony of hands:
      our mother;
      our father;
      the elder of my two brothers, the faint smile and beard already
putting him just beyond reach;
       my sister, with the beautiful, half-formed breasts;
       and next to me my other brother, the one we would each in turn
       while the handprints, orderly, grew smaller, mine the last.
       We're born into the family in a kind of sleep, unmem-
orable. . . the awakening occurs much later. This archive began not 
in words on a day whose details don't matter. Only the handprints
remain, confirming as if by chance an earlier existence, beside the
bird of paradise, inflamed in the twilight, orange and blue.
         On awakening though: to be true to that first glimpse! - that
was the vow. Never to betray.
     And from that moment on, I have memories.

Roo Borson

The Whole Night, Coming Home
McClelland and Stewart. Ltd,, 1984, page 89.

I have been a big fan of the Canadian poet Roo Borson, ever since I encountered her
in an anthology of Canadian poets. I have tried to reproduce the poem the way it is printed,
which may have some alteration from the way she wrote it because of the limits of the page.                                                                                   
Below, my scan of the yellowed clipping. Schenectady Gazette, 1950.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Last Light, last night

In this summer heat, the evenings are balmy and pleasant outdoors. 
I brought my gift Christmas aloe outside and it is looking happier, too!

Whispered ---

just small
small words
almost without breath
for us

like broken straw
words without light
and almost without form
words among tree
small half-words
that lie asleep 
for us.

Amidst all that is great
small, small words
to keep hidden 
on the back of a hand
or your earlobe
small words
utterly without light
like animals
or grass.

Rolf Jacobsen

The Roads Have Come to an End Now; 
selected and last poems of Rolf Jacobsen
Copper Canyon Press, 2001, page 101. 
(Bilingual edition with the Norwegian text on the facing page.)

This poem uses mostly one-syllable words. There are 11 two-syllable words;
the only three-syllable words (two of them) are in the last three lines.
This structural plan, and the title, make this a very quiet poem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Wind Sketches in the Grass

Grandsons Trey and Tanner riding Old Charley on their farm in Michigan, circa 1993-4.
Charley was a sturdy cross between a draft horse and a pony.
The darker pines in the right background have recently become 
a Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserve: The Waldron Fen,
in Emmet County, Michigan.

Memories of Horses

The lines in the hands of old people
gradually curve over and will point soon toward earth.
They take with them their secret language,
cloud-words and wind-letters,
all the signs the heart gathers up in the lean year.

Sorrow bleaches out and turns to face the stars
but memories of horses, women's feet, children
flow from their faces down to the grass kingdom.

In huge trees we can often see
images of the peace in the sides of animals,
and the wind sketches in the grass, if you are happy,
running children and horses.
Rolf Jacobsen  (1907-1994)
Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Hedin.
The Roads Have Come to an End Now; selected and last poems of Rolf Jacobsen, Copper Canyon Press, 2001, page 79. (Bilingual edition with the Norwegian text on the facing page.)
Jacobsen is of the generation of my parents, Jack and Olga, who were born in December, 1906 and April, 1907. Although Jacobsen wrote long ago, he is a recent discovery for me, through the translations by Robert Bly. Many critics feel Jacobsen ranks with the greatest 20th century Moderns, such as Auden, Eliot and Montale. In this poem, I am particularly fond of the compound words: cloud-words and wind-letters.

Bonus Horses from the Antiquities Museum in Athens
from the trip to Greece.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where are you going, where. . .

This is my father, obviously off on a business trip. Those might be the steps to an airplane behind, or the entry to a train or boat. There is a line of other travels boarding. Dad (we always called him "Daddy" then) is wearing a suit which is most probably of the color my mother called "mailman blue" -- she got him to buy a brown suit once, but it was never worn. Hats were the ticket, then, too. I remember seeing a picture of a Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants crowd with the men all wearing hats. Daddy always had his shirts professionally laundered. This photo of my father was probably taken in the mid-1940s perhaps when he was going to an annual convention (circa 1942) to deliver a paper on metals. 
I found the announcement in my mother's papers after he died. 
I was seven or eight at that time, so don't remember anything about it. 
When I get back to my papers, I'll try to give some details here.

Addendum: My sister-in-law sent me the following note after I posted the blog. My brother, John, remembers: "I understood that this was a photo taken just before Jack boarded the airplane that took him to Holland. Olga followed on another flight. John remembers. You might have been older than seven or eight. ??" Jeanne Hopper

With this new information, I can reconstruct that it was probably about 1953. Dad did go to Europe in 1953 and was not at home in New York State for my high school graduation that year. Dad does look slightly older than in the 1940s. I've left my original note as it was and offer this correction. I love family history!!


To get into it
As it lies
Crumpled on the floor
Without disturbing a single crease

Of the way I threw it down
Last night
The way it happened to land

Almost managing
The impossible contortions
Doubling back now
Through a knotted sleeve

Charles Simic

Classic Ballroom Dances, Braziller, 1980, page 35

Yesterday I found this short poem by Charles Simic. Three four-line stanzas.
Very short lines. No rhyme, no punctuation. The impossibility of having thought
about getting back into a shirt without disturbing the way you left it. Simic!
Getting back into the shirt reminds me of the difficulty of recovering my father 
in his business-travel getup so many years ago. Goodnight, Daddy!

In Memoriam, Jack Hicks Hopper
December 1906---April 1987

Monday, August 17, 2015

To pick a sprig of mint . . .

A long time ago, when I used to travel in airplanes 
and always asked for the window seat, I saw
the San Francisco Bay from the sky.


I summoned Christopher Columbus.
At the hour of the wolf,
He came out of the gloom
Looking a little like my father.

On this particular voyage
He discovered nothing.
The ocean I gave him had no end.
And the ship – an open suitcase.

He was thoroughly lost.
I had forgotten to provide the stars.
Sitting in the dark with a bottle in its hand.
He sang a song from his childhood.

In the song the day was breaking.
A barefoot girl
Stepped over the wet grass
To pick a sprig of mint.

And then nothing –
Only the wind rushing off with a screech
As if it just remembered
Where it’s going, where it’s been.

Charles Simic

Classic Ballroom Dances
Braziller, 1980, page 36.

Where have your travels taken you lately? 
I hope you had time to pick a sprig of something aromatic. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gray Poem

Many years ago, we went to the zoo in Traverse City with my daughter, 
grandsons and their Aunt Dorothy. They had some great river otters, splashing and playing!
But what captured my attention the most was this lynx that circled and circled his enclosure.
He knew he didn't belong there and so did I. There was such beauty to his wildness 
and his sharply fur-tipped ears. Oh, lynx, I never saw a wild one, only you!


Another gray morning
in this month of valley fog.
Everything seems old, little threads and roots
sucking a cold sea.

When I look into it, the mirror
cups my face in its silver hands.
I hear my grandmother whispering 
beneath her shawl---

Cloth of forgetfulness
Skull of the one night
Shag of wisdom
White grass of misery

In the yards, our children
are turning into clouds.

There are times when I shut my eyes
I stand in a place
from which journeys are forever beginning---

in the distance
a small feather of smoke, a haze
where the earth falls off,
                                                                     (parts 1 and 2 of a four part poem)
Peter Everwine

Collecting the Animals, Carnegie Mellon, 1999, page 62.

I love the motion of mind in this poem. 
We are compelled to follow, even in strange directions.
I think the poem goes well with the wildness, and even with the grayness, of the lynx, 
my lynx of memory. My memory thread of wildness.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

shade at night (a difficult research)

Cassie usually goes to bed before I do, and sleeps in my place until I get there.
She had gone quite gray and now she is deaf, but we are making good progress
on creating hand signs for what we want her to understand,
On the Daily Walk, she loves to find a nice patch of lawn
for a good roll.


Forest shade, lake shade, poplar shade, highway shade,
backyard shade, cafe shade, down-behind-the-high-school
shade, cow shade, carport shade, blowing shade, dappled
shade, shade darkened by rain above, shade under ships,
shade along banks of snow, shade beneath the one tree in a
bright place, shade by the ice cream truck, shade in the new-
car sales room, shade in hall of the palace as all the electric
lights turn on, shade in a stairwell, shade in tea barrels, shade
in books, shade of clouds running over a distant landscape,
shade on bales in the barn, shade in the pantry, shade in the
icehouse (the smell of shade), shade under runner blades,
shade along branches, shade at night (a difficult research),
shade on rungs of a ladder, shade on pats of butter sculpted
to look like scallop shells, shade to holler from, shade in the
chill of bamboo, shade at the core of an apple, confessional
shade, shade of hair salons, shade in a joke, shade in the town
ha;;. shade descending from legendary ancient hills, shade
under the jaws of a dog with a bird in its mouth trotting
along to the master's voice, shade at the back of the choir,
shade in pleats, shade clinging to arrows in the quiver, shade
in scars.

Anne Carson

The New Yorker, August 10 & 17, 2015, page 32.

Tonight this has reminded me of the pleasure I took in the repetition in Mark Strand's, Chicken, Shadow, Moon and more. (Three examples are on this blog are linked here.) I am quite certain list-making of these types would lead to useful poetry-thought for your own compositions, even if the results were nothing like either model.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Snapshot's Deckled Edge

The trunk structure of this creekside cottonwood shows up best in early morning light.
Near the bottom, under the chicken-wire, you can see the green place where the tree often tries
to send out new shoots. This is the place on the tree the beaver took his last trial at chiseling 
just before we moved in. When I went down to the creek for the first time, 
there was a pile of good-sized chips of fresh, beavered wood 
on the ground, and a big new wound on the tree!
The beaver was the reason I wanted to live here, but
Idaho Fish & Game have relocated him, perhaps to a place further from the suburbs.
This spring, my neighbor took the chicken-wire off the trunk of his cottonwood-next-door,
which is the kind of job I don't really want to do, and it doesn't seem essential.
When I was in Printmaking Class, Marianne had a project of making portraits
of specific trees and then creating small editions of prints. I liked them very much!
This tree would have made her a good subject.


Off to one side, under the leaf shade, I spot myself
staring toward the snapshot's deckled edge, curious
apparently about something going on there, some mar-
ginal event, perhaps even a stranger passing by, or a dog
on a dog's serious round. I've forgotten the lens and
closed my eyes to the photographer's directions and
stepped back into the shade while the others, all
strangers now, practice their various poses, each trying
to win whatever prize it is that photographers seem to
offer. The strangers work hard at it, showing their teeth
of different sizes and conditions, squinting quizzically, 
or raising their eyebrows with all the supercilious
aplomb of eight-year-olds. So eager, so sure to win while
I have done everything possible to take myself out of the
picture without actually walking away. I still wonder
what moves beyond the stiff margin, lying low behind
the thick leaves that shade the house, watching.

Vern Rutsala
A Handbook for Writers; New & Selected Prose Poems,
White Pine Press, 2004, page 109.

Here is another prose poem from that master of the form, Vern Rutsala. I love the clear description and the emotional tenor of this poem. Have you tried writing a poem on a snapshot of you as a child? I should, my mother took many fine pictures of me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Josephine Herbst

   I tried to find a picture of myself about the time of Pearl Harbor.
But this picture of me with my first sibling Susan was probably taken
a year and a half before that.
Because the book Hotel Florida got us started reading about the Spanish Civil War,
we have kept on trucking through John Dos Passos, Hemingway, Soviet communism, spies, double agents, Martha Gellhorn, et. al. I made it eventually to the biography of Josephine Herbst who also stayed in the Hotel Florida with all the other journalists in Madrid. This biography is a painstaking work of scholarship by a writer with a deep affinity for the left-wing Herbst which is based on the author's own youthful involvement in the politics of the 1960s. I found it fascinating and a good corrective to the bald, unsympathetic article on Herbst in Wikipedia.

From the Wartime Journal (unpublished) of Josephine Herbst:
[December 8, 1941]
Great discussion as to the meaning of the attack, the radio announcing it was a suicide gesture on the part of the Japs and invigorating us all with the information we could lick em hands down and military experts said this and that and they had no fuel, no food, no sources of supplies, but have we not heard these tales before in other connections and has not war endured and the have-nots gradually become powerful through agencies unforeseen? . . .
As usual everyone feels events have been going forward behind our backs and only time will reveal what has been going on these many days. Everyone puzzled, subdued, talking at once of death . . . . So natural when death has come creeping in this new general way of violence toward us all and today in the papers, 1500 were killed by bombs and machine gunning and so on the Hawaiian islands and the first boy to have his death announced had a Polish name and his father lives in Michigan. The boy was 22.
Today all talk on street echoes war, and words Jap etc and at the hour Roosevelt broadcast war, girls and men pouring out of the Automat on 14nth Street, huddled around taxicabs to hear the radio. Polly came in from her meeting that was to have begun work on stop the war, and and they reconsidered how they could go on under [what] slogans and for what purposes, many were against it even now... holding fast to their convictions, but the time is going fast and at last there is War again so awaited by so many people, with all life suspended in so many ways so long as if it were not worthwhile beginning vast dreams when destruction or violence were near at hand. It is ten years since Mike Gold said to me, this is no time to write, general war is coming next year, it was said again all through 1934, every time there was a crisis, first Manchukuo, then Ethiopia, and later on, drop by drop, it came, everyone saying this is the war, now coming, and it was coming, too, just as we grow older without truly appreciating it, and near our dying without exactly knowing how.

from Josephine Herbst by Elinor Langer, 
Atlantic, LITTLE, BROWN, 1984, page 246.

This is a passage from the book that took me back to the broadcasts that day when I was a few months older than six years old. Grownups were gathered listening to the radio and I could tell it was important, but I didn't grasp what was going on and no one explained it to me. They were listening too intently.

It is interesting to read journal entries like this that are put down in a rush of emotion. The final part beginning, "It is ten years since Mike Gold. . ." Would work quite well as a poem if it were put into lines, I think. I can't do it now, it is Garbage Night and I have to fill the Recycle Bin and roll the cans to the curb.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I am the bird . . .

I was about to delete this picture I took yesterday; then I realized
that the while blotch was another house finch coming in and catching the low morning sun.
This surely is the season for dining on sunflower seed!

Guardian Angel

I am the bird that flutters against your window 

     in the morning,
and your closest friend, whom you can never 
blossoms that light up for the blind.

I am the glacier shining over the woods, so pale,
and heavy voices from the cathedral tower.
The thought that suddenly hits you in the middle 
     of the day
and makes you feel so fantastically happy.

I am the one you have loved for many years.
I walk beside you all day and look intently at 
and put my mouth against your heart
though you’re not aware of it.

I am your third arm, and your second
shadow, the white one,
whom you can not accept,
and who can never forget you.

Rolf Jacobsen; translated by Robert Bly

TWENTY POEMS, The Seventies Press, 1976, pages 43,45.

I preserved the indentation caused by lines that were too long for the format, because I liked
the way it opened up the form slightly. What do you think? I think that the translated poetry from Scandinavia is going to make me very happy for a long, long time!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In a Green Wood

This is my mesh sunflower seed feeder, which lets the birds and the squirrel
get one seed at a time. Still, they can empty it now in two days. 
I think these are house finches,
which are abundant here.
The bottom is bent from all the times the squirrels knocked it down;
I can only bend it back partway.

In the Mountains on a Summer Day

Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt, sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.

Li Po       [Li Bai]     (701-762)
Translation by Arthur Haley

That these poems have come to us from so many years ago tickles my fancy,

Monday, August 10, 2015


Last month at the Eagle Saturday Market; I couldn't see the oak 
from which these leaves had come;
it must have been that storm the night before
that also left my yard littered with leafy limbs.


By hook or by crook, by shoestring and bootstrap, by 
running and hiding, by mortise and tenon, by moving
undercover of darkness, by wit and dumb luck, by
spit and polish, by weights and measures, by love or 
money, by hurrying up and waiting, by word of
mouth, by bread and board, by slice and dice, by not 
letting the left hand know, by bed and breakfast, by
nuts and bolts, by nodding and smiling, by mortar
and pestle, by hammer and tongs, by never crying 
over what we spill, by backing and filling, by surf and
turf, by health and safety, by soup and sandwich, by
bourbon and water, by offense and defense, by being
as dumb as an ox is strong, by mind and body, by day
for night, by sturm and drang, by fire and ice, by hit
or miss---oh yes, by hit or miss.

Vern Rutsala

A Handbook for Writers; New and Selected Prose Poems,
White Pine Press, 2004, page 21.

Vern Rutsala is another of those poets I heard read their work in the lively Bay Area Poetry Scene in the 1980s--poet's that we now will hear no more. There are new poets and some of them are very good, but these are the ones I met when I was opening my heart to poetry
after I woke up with a half-finished poem in my head and began to write them.

Here's my first poem:

I hate to change toothpastes.
An unfamiliar flavor in the morning is
I hate to change toothpastes. . .
                                      June Hopper Hymas

(My next poem was better, I'll post that one soon. . .)

Anyway, Rutsala was a MASTER of the prose poem. Look him up! His books aren't hard to find.