Saturday, December 24, 2016

Feeding Cracked Corn

More snow overnight, of the kind that sticks to the trunks of trees.
My American Wigeons are back and this morning (feed me!)
I had three pairs! Too many mallards to count and 
this years record group of 
American Wood Duck.

I just looked up wigeons and found that 80% 
of their diet is grass leaves. 
But as grass is now covered in snow, they will
eagerly gobble my cracked corn.
The males have a white stripe on the head
that runs back from the bill. You can see part of it
on the two males in this photo,
but it would show more clearly if they were facing you.
As a result of this stripe, they used to be called
Bald Pates, and some hunters still use this term.

Christmas Eve morning
in the fresh snow
ducks wait to be fed


Friday, December 23, 2016

The Fragile Edge of a Leaf

When we were building the place at the edge of the wood
near the Tip of the Mitt in Michigan, 
I was the person who did
most of the interfacing with the architect/contractor,
Dick Kappler. This picture, 
which I took of a blown leaf there, 
reminds me of him in two ways. 
When he was building the porches
(which are a very special part of living there--
the bridge to the woods.)
he made a big point of using cedar wood. 
He also pointed out to me that he used screws,
rather than nails, because of their superior holding power
over time. When I took this photo, 
it was the blown leaf--the hole, the tattered edge--
I noticed. Only later, did I think of the experience
of building that house.     jhh

Harvesting the Attic

3.     Made things

Here's the hula dancer I made.
Here's Santa Claus.
Here's May-baskets. Here's
new crepe paper, and a spool
thing that one runs it through to make
the rushes of the hula skirt.

Here are parts of linen pin-wheels
Grandma made, sitting
in the bay window in the sun,
the sun on her shoulder,
and the heating pad, to help
the sun, and the small hooded hook
darting from the fat pads of strictured
huge-jointed finger and thumb.
The hook flashes, winks sunbursts,
filigrees venomous pain.

Jean Pedrick                (1922-2006)

Wolf Moon; a book of hours by Jean Pedrick
Alice James Books, 1974, page 50.

Jean Pedrick is another gift from my poet/librarian friend, Pat Shelley (1911-1997) who I have mentioned frequently in this blog-- and whom I have thought of even more often. Another friend and I acquired Pat's poetry books, and a brown envelope with three Pedrick chapbooks was part of my share. It was only last year that I read these small books and was stunned by their power. 

Then I got others, including this one, through the used book market.
Jean Pedrick was a founding member of Alice James books, an important group that was formed to publish books by women. I knew about this group, but hadn't know her work. I'll be putting other poems by her into this Memory Thread.

This poem is a section of a longer one about the attic, including the mouse life that was part of that space. I chose this section partly because of the Santa Claus, and partly for the grandmother. My brother Robert talked to me about our father's mother--he got to know her on a long visit after I had left home--and the small braided rugs she made.

And all of this is an example of why I call this blog The Memory Thread. It was that same brother who wrote me--as he was dying from cancer--that the memories he was writing came to him easily--he got hold of a little piece of "string" and kept pulling and the memories came easily.  jhh

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas comes on a sleigh

Snow on the bank where the Great Blue Heron stood in summer, searching, 
like Ungerer's Three Robbers, for victims.
It is cold again this year, as it was during this earlier winter,
on the backs of the Little Union Canal..
Yesterday there were many more ducks in the water than this;
how do they stay warm???  jhh


In my country, there is no one 
who had never been photographed.
Being shot in the face is a way of life.
Frying is not so bad as losing
a photograph of the fried one.
If you spot an egg dying on the sidewalk
you are free to take its picture.
Some prefer to place a friend next to it
but who that might be is up to you.
No two people are alike, although they look
exactly the same. Like snowflakes.
My country is a country of snowflakes,
people just pile up to your wonderment
or disgust (whatever you think is OK).
People take a lot of pictures at Christmas.
People place tiny decorated trees on graves.
Snow country, like the novel by Kawabata.
Everyone wants to live here because we have
invisible fences so if a dog leaves the yard
he's snapped right back in.
You can buy garbage bags with the scent of lemons
or wildflowers. Everyone has a choice.
A man was hired to see if spice scented bags
sold well, if the people liked them, and they
did not, so they took them away.
Don't worry if you are thinking
you'd like something different for your children,
for your own unique little snowflakes,
because we have wonderful schooling in privacy
where a child must stare at a glass of milk
three hours, or until its surroundings grow dark,
whichever comes first.
And children are encouraged to draw, 
always to draw. Christmas comes on a sleigh.
They get their first camera in a pouch.
The wet polaroid slips into their hand,
a memory from the moment of birth.
Another face is born.
My country grows on the deep freeze door
and my country grows in the snowy night.
But no two countries are alike.

Mary Ruefle

Post Meridian, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 
Pittsburgh, PA, 2000, pages 56-57.

I find nothing in my life that I can’t find more of in books. 
With the exception of walking on the beach, in the snowy woods, and swimming underwater. That is one of the saddest journal entries I ever made when I was young. --Mary Ruefle

Someone Reading a Book 
Is a Sign of Order in the World: 
Mary Ruefle

Someone writing a poem that just moves along
and moves along, and moves along,
is a sign of the magic of language,
and of the discovery of interesting sound and meaning
in unlikely juxtapositions. 
June Hopper Hymas

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Loud music, not yours

Quick! The sun's going down 
at 5:04 p.m. this very day!
Turn the porch light on
for our return.


Solitude unchosen, the drone of it rising to a buzz. That poet
you hate, his dead tune on a bad instrument. Hungover, the
terrible fork glancing the excruciating plate and--that same
morning--the frisson of corduroy, your own, as you walk.
Loud music, not yours; somebody else's good time. the or-
atory of an enemy. The cacophony of someone asking for 
love. Another remark after the argument's been conceded, or
the story's over. Your stupid, habitual politeness when the
telemarketer calls. The restrained ha-ha when only a belly
laugh will honor the moment. Any complaint, even the gen-
tlest, from a person incapable of praise. Someone you know
you'll not see again---the dull click of an unslammed door.

Stephen Dunn

Riffs and Reciprocities; prose poems, Stephen Dunn,
W. W. Norton, 1998, page 61.

These poems are paired on facing pages. 
The companion of this one is titled Music. 
 It would be fun to start to work in pairs like this, another task. 
Some of his other pairings: Bedroom/Kitchen,
Money/Indulgence, Reflection/Shadow.

There arre many more types of pairings 

than just opposites; 
one could make almost anything work. . . 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How soon the night falls

Before the snow came, 
there was this tender rim of cloud 
along the horizon.
Just the other day.

World's End

At the world's end
on worn-out ground
the one talks of the flowers
adorning Argonne china
in their red pigment is mixed
the gold of old Dutch ducats
dissolved in aqua regia.
How soon the night falls
the other answers
time goes so fast
in this empty country.

Jean Follain         (1903-1971)
Translated from the French by W.S. Merwin

Transparency of the World; Jean Follain
selected and translated by W. S. Merwin,
Copper Canyon Press, 2003, page 81.

In this uncertain time, when so many of the things 
I have cared about seem under threat, I find 
that the work of this poet, who lived 
in other uncertain times, 
captures a feeling-tone 
very similar to the one 
I have today.  jhh

Monday, December 19, 2016

Where the bird sang

Last night's early sunset. Only a glimpse, 5:32 p.m.


A child is born
in a vast landscape
half a century later
he is simply a dead soldier
and that was the man 
whom one saw appear
and set down on the ground a whole
heavy sack of apples
two or three of which rolled
a sound among the sounds of a world
where the bird sang
on the stone of the door-sill.

Jean Follain       (1903-1971)
              Translated from the French by W.S. Merwin

Transparency of the World; Jean Follain
selected and translated by W. S. Merwin, 
Copper Canyon Press, 2003, page 81.

W. S. Merwin has made a number of splendid translations 
from several languages, They are very worth seeking out.


The recent election, which now threatens 
most of what I have believed in and worked for 
since I became a thinking person,
has made me see more clearly 
the value of these apples and birds. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Nothing that is not there...

The hips on this Rugosa rose at the fence line are most beautiful 
tipped with the recent snows.
Tonight the temperature here is supposed to go down to 5 degrees F.

The Snow Man was one of Pat Shelley's favorite poems. 
Pat was my poetry and librarian friend 
who died in late 1997. 
I'm still missing her and remembering things 
we talked about, 
and many things she said.


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens

Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose,
Library of America, 1997, page 8.

When Lee-Young Lee gave a poetry reading in San Jose 
many years ago, he was carrying only some papers 
and a well-worn copy of Wallace Stevens' poems. 
Since Lee's poems are so good, it's a good hint 
for what you might spend some time on.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The glamour of childish days

I was able to see this Christmas Past image better by lightening it. 
Because of the plaid wallpaper, I think it was taken 
at our traditional Kaestle's Christmas Eve party.
Probably around 1955, after I had left home.
My Sister Susan, who died this past year,
is holding her flute, and that might be Richard at the piano.
Marjory is ar right front. Then my brothers are, front to back,
David, Robert and John. 
I can't place the youngsters on the left margin.
Over the years, many of our Hopper family group photos 
were taken at this Christmas Eve Party.


Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D. H. Lawrence    (1885-1930)

Source: the

This has been one of my favorite poems for a long time.

Here is the original professional scan 
of the very underexposed glimpse of the past
also shown above.   I cropped 
the large dark raised lid of the piano at right
 for the final version.
Maybe I should have left it in for the poem, , ,  

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Weather is the Weather

Through the front window today, the snow gave everything a fairy-tale quality,
which in this Prisma app enhancement is as plain as Tortola to see.


I've never been to Tortola,
though many times I've drifted
to the vast principality of elsewhere
where, no doubt, a Tortola must be,
so I can attest the weather is the weather
I've brought with me, overcast
with periods of sun, always a low
following a high, and the natives
impoverished and gay. You wouldn't
like it here. Go elsewhere. One person's
Tortola is another's Sadness-by-the-Sea.
The duty from which you're absolved
in the duty-free shops comes with a price.
On the other hand, it's beautiful---
the water turquoise, the breeze a constant
caress. Some people actually love
that there's singing in the streets.

Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn, W. W. Norton, 2006, page 45.

Stephen Dunn has many poetry honors, 
including the Pulitzer Prize. 
He is the author of many terrific books of poems.

This poem made me think about what it might be like 
to have lived in many different places. My second cousin, 
a U.S. diplomat, has lived in many different places; 
it gives him a different outlook. I have lived 
in only a few places in the US and have visited 
other countries for one, two or three weeks. 
Count them: Colombia, Japan, Bali and Greece! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Definite Shadows

This Northern Michigan structure has been torn down now, 
but I often used to wonder about its uses and history
as I rounded the corner towards our home in the woods. jhh


by Adrienne Rich


Burnt by lightning nevertheless
she’ll walk this terra infinita

lashes singed on her third eye
searching definite shadows for an indefinite future

Old shed-boards beaten silvery hang
askew as sheltering
some delicate indefensible existence

Long grasses shiver in a vanished doorway’s draft
a place of origins as yet unclosured and unclaimed

Writing cursive instructions on abounding air

If you arrive with ripe pears, bring a sharpened knife

Bring cyanide with the honeycomb
call before you come

The Paris Review, Issue 200, Spring 2012.
(This is just the astonishing first section of a four-section poem.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I don't know what kind of bird I am.

It snowed again today; and since the flakes came down so slowly,
it was strangely unsatisfying. This is another version of the squirrel nest
photo from the other day, as modified by the Mondrian filter in Prisma.

Race With the Wind

Blue day! Blue day! ah! ah!
What a strange thing to say.
Ho can anyone understand?
I love the queer birds,
standing under a tree
with my head stuck up inside.
I thought you could read my mind
but I see you see leaves.
When a bird flies from a tree
something happens.
That is how you know
something is going to happen.
What the thrush said was
I don't know what kind of bird I am.
Put your bird on my shoulder.
You have to catch it first.
Gently! The breast is soft
like the center of a baby's head
before it learns to count.
Poor bird, out of his wits:
his heart is racing with the wind.
One to a zillion.
You'd think there was a bird inside!
This doesn't imply another and another.
It implies only one. Just one.

Mary Ruefle

Post Meridian; poems by Mary Ruefle
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000, page 55.

The amount of punctuation in this poem is very interesting,
In a work of your own that is of medium length, try varied line lengths and plenty of punctuation.  jhh

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Young tufts of spring

My horse, Cindy, and her foal, with Sis grazing in the distance.
Scanned from a slide probably taken by my other in the mid 1950s. 
This foal is the child of the borrowed
Palomino stallion, who had one enlarged and stiffened hind leg. 
This fellow lived in our pasture all one summer, 
and used to mount the mares frequently 
to the delight of children who sat atop the wreck
of an old springhouse in the pasture, cheering him on.


Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. 
Wesleyan University Press, 1990.

This has been one of my favorite poems for many, many years.
I can't think of anything useful to say about it. I was surprised to search this blog and not find any other poems by James Wright.
Read it over again, aloud!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Circular Ideas

Someone I love likes to decorate! I've been fond of her
Christmas smirker!


The anxiety of spring will come
and the birds build nests
out of circular ideas.

Slender of means, sparing of words,
the rain will fall.

The sun will shine and make things certain.

These things will remain a mystery.

Next no contra from anywhere
and the air be seriously entangled.

Mary Ruefle  

Tristimania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004, page 29. (Ruefle's eighth book of poems.)

I was reminded today of one of my favorites, Mary Ruefle, when the Paris Review posted a link to their interview of her on Facebook. 

I have posted many of her short pieces on this blog.   Click the link above to see them.

Your task: write a poem of nine lines in one,
two and three-line stanzas. Express a philosophy based on ruminations about the natural world and its interface with our world. Or something. . .
Go ahead, try!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Unfooted Dusk

This afternoon I liked the way the two squirrel nests
on the same branch show against the sky;
I ran the photo through the Prisma app on my iPhone for the neat effect.

It was Sally Stebbins of the Petoskey Regional Audubon Society
who showed me how squirrels' nests are covered with leaves.
Since then, whenever I spot a nest, 
I remember Sally, who died too young.
I haven't seen any squirrel babies yet, but 
I do have plenty of squirrels scrounging 
for sunflower seeds in my seed feeder
and bird seen mix.  jhh

In a Small Town on the West Coast

The seagulls' tapestry of fish gut and last light,
the ripe blackberries splotching the unfooted dusk,
the ogre's sacks of human shadows heavy with hearts
and dragged over dykes, that low-tide-in-the-mouth taste:
rivertowns are always nostalgic for the days they've lost.

See how the current and the falling night flow together
on the same tracks, the ones walked on by dogs and girls
and old men wedding their dusks in the briney air.
A garter snake twists into a question-mark on the rails.
A girls body pauses long enough for her blood to answer.

The sun is always going home; with people, who can tell?
There's something harsh and honest in a screaming gull
that makes us wince, something lovely, direct and awful.
Perhaps the girl, hearing it, can cause the snake to fall.
Every myth begins where the ogre's sack is full.

Tim Bowling

The Thin Smoke of the Heart
McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000, page 19

Tim Bowling is another of the fine Canadian poets I have discovered recently. Here are 15 long lines 
divided into 3 stanzas. 
There is some end-rhyme and close-to-rhyme, 
especially in the third stanza.  
There are some nice surprises:
tivertowns, unfooted,
And there is a nice fairytale flavor.
So the task might be to write a poem in 
three long-line stanzas--
paying special attention to the natural world--
with some allusions to folklore,
and if you can, some fresh compound words. jhh

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Odd Collisions

Many years ago, I was visiting my mother around Christmastide.
One night, after she was sleeping, I wandered out for the moonlight.
She lived in a condo at a place rightly called
Grandview Farms.
I stayed outdoors in the cold looking at this moon
and the Utah mountains for a long, long time.


Late at night in my one life
I see fireflies scintillating a field
and a fullish moon up there working
on its reputation, which I thought
was secure. And though I'm not one
to stop my car for beauty
I stop, get out, begin to understand
how the first stories winked
of another world. It's as if 
I'm witness to some quiet carnival
of the gods, or the unrisen dead
speaking in code.

Insects are eating each other. Stunned
beyond fear, mice are being given
their first and last flights,
talons holding them dear.
The fox has found a warren.
Everything I can't see 
is at least as real as what I can.
If I stand here long enough
I'll hear a bark and a squeal.

The artist had an eye 
for exaggerated sunsets
splashed with rain, odd collisions
of roots, animals, seeds,
I didn't like a thing I saw
so much effort to be strange.
The moon is hanging from a leafy branch.
The fireflies are libidinous
and will not be denied.

Stephen Dunn

Different Hours; poems. Pulitzer Prize 2000.
W. W. Norton, 2000, pages 87-88.

My daughter-in-law took me to the Bruneau Dunes,
vast amounts of wind-arranged sand,
where things still manage to grow.

To go with this poem, I chose two photos 
from times when I was particularly struck 
by being able to spend time in the natural world.
Your poem might be about a time you remember
being deeply touched by the (often quiet)
life of the outdoors. I am working
with a shape of four four-line stanzas. jhh

Friday, December 09, 2016

Evening Wind

Again, there was a lot of snow overnight. But by late afternoon, 
when most of the neighbors had shoveled their sidewalks,
I put on my boots and the lavendar-striped socks
my daughter knitted for me
and took the small dog for a walk.
He was thrilled! And went charging through 
and scattering small drifts and dancing in the clear air!
We were almost home when a mighty flock of geese filled
the air with their cries. This is the last of several waves;
I had to start up the phone and hold the leash
at the same time,

The light wasn't good, 
but the sound was terrific. jhh

yûkaze ya furimuku tabi ni kari no naku

evening wind--
the geese turn around


This haiku was found on David Lanoue's
wonderful website:
where he has posted a searchable
archive of more than 1000 haiku
by Issa with his own translations.

Your task, take a walk, write 17 syllables
or less about something you find,
and put it in the comments 
on this blog.  jhh

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Male and Female

I love looking at these small, beautifully-patterned ducks. 
For some reason I was reminded 
of Elizabeth Bishop's childhood fascination 
with an illustrated book.
More snow today...

Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance

Thus should have been our travels:
serious, engravable.
The Seven Wonders of the World are tired
and a touch familiar, but the other scenes,
innumerable, though equally sad and still,
are foreign. Often the squatting Arab,
or group of Arabs, plotting, probably,
against our Christian Empire,
while one apart, with outstretched arm and hand
points to the Tomb, the Pit, the Sepulcher.
The branches of the date-palms look like files.
The cobbled courtyard, where the Well is dry,
is like a diagram, the brickwork conduits
are vast and obvious, the human figure
far gone in history or theology,
gone with its camel or its faithful horse.
Always the silence, the gesture, the specks of birds
suspended on invisible threads above the Site,
or the smoke rising solemnly, pulling by threads.
Granted a page alone or a page made up
of several scenes arranged in cattycornered rectangles
or circles set on stippled gray,
granted a grim lunette,
caught in the toils of an initial letter,
when dwelt upon, they all resolve themselves.
The eye drops, weighted, through the lines
the burin made, the lines that move apart
like ripples above sand,
dispersing storms, God’s spreading fingerprint,
and painfully, finally, that ignite
in watery prismatic white-and-blue.

Entering the Narrows at St. Johns
the touching bleat of goats reaching to the ship.
We glimpsed them, reddish, leaping up the cliffs
among the fog-soaked weeds and butter-and-eggs.
And at St. Peter’s the wind blew and the sun shone madly.
Rapidly, purposefully, the Collegians marched in lines,
crisscrossing the great square with black, like ants.
In Mexico the dead man lay
in a blue arcade; the dead volcanoes
glistened like Easter lilies.
The jukebox went on playing “Ay, Jalisco!”
And at Volubilis there were beautiful poppies
splitting the mosaics; the fat old guide made eyes.
In Dingle harbor a golden length of evening
the rotting hulks held up their dripping plush.
The Englishwoman poured tea, informing us
that the Duchess was going to have a baby.
And in the brothels of Marrakesh
the little pockmarked prostitutes
balanced their tea-trays on their heads
and did their belly-dances; flung themselves
naked and giggling against our knees,
asking for cigarettes. It was somewhere near there
I saw what frightened me most of all:
A holy grave, not looking particularly holy,
one of a group under a keyhole-arched stone baldaquin
open to every wind from the pink desert.
An open, gritty, marble trough, carved solid
with exhortation, yellowed
as scattered cattle-teeth;
half-filled with dust, not even the dust
of the poor prophet paynim who once lay there.
In a smart burnoose Khadour looked on amused.

Everything only connected by “and” and “and.”
Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)
Open the heavy book. Why couldn’t we have seen
this old Nativity while we were at it?
—the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
an undisturbed, unbreathing flame,
colorless, sparkles, freely fed on straw,
and, lulled within, a family of pets,
—and looked and looked our infant sight away.

Elizabeth Bishop

Earth Took of Earth;100 great poems of the English Language,
edited by Jorie Graham, ECCO, 1995, pages 176-178.

There really isn't any task that I can give 
that goes with this poem, but I am surely CRAZY 
about the vocabulary 
and the particularity of references. 
Look at something very carefully 
and make your own task.  

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Enter the Fairy Tale

It's been three years, and more, since this mother 
and two young Sandhill Cranes came down
into my Michigan meadow. Looking at the pictures now, 
it is as if I had entered a fairy tale.
I particularly love the spiky foliage on the edges of the wood.

Tonight I want to share this quote
which Fleda Brown uses as an epigraph
to Section II of her fine book of poems:
No Need of Sympathy,
BOA Editions, 2013.

Art. by its very existence
undoes the idea that there
can only be one description
of the real, some single
and simple truth
on whose surface
we may thoughtlessly walk.

Jane Hirschfield

Your task:
when you have written a poem
think about your art:
are you describing
or searching?  

And keep a little notebook of possible epigraphs;
as I have shown in other posts, one can
use up to three at a time!  jhh

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Up and away!

First real snowfall of the year. The ducks kept flying up for more corn. . .


Every year some student would claim to be the Messiah.
It was the rabbi who had to deal with them.
He had jumped, years ago, from a moving boxcar
on the way to a death camp. That leap
left him ready for anything.

This year at Pesach, a Jewish student proclaimed
Armageddon. "Burn the books! Burn the textbooks!"
he shouted to a cheerful crowd,
sang Hebrew songs to confuse the Gentiles,
dressed for the end like Belshazzar.
People stopped to whisper and laugh.

"I have a noble task," the boy explained.
"I must prepare myself to endure
the laughter of fools."

The rabbi was a skeptic.
Years ago he'd been taught, if you're planting a tree
and someone cries out, The Messiah has come!
finish planting the tree. Then
go see if it's true.

Still, he took the boy into his study
and questioned him slowly, meticulously,
as if the poor soul before him might be,
God help us, the Messiah.

Chana Bloch

Blood Honey, Chana Bloch, Autumn House Press, 2009, page 7.

Blood Honey is a stunning book by that excellent poet, Chana Bloch. If you belong to, or come from, a culture with religious beliefs (as I do) you have the material for a poem exploring a facet of that tradition. Notice how Ms. Bloch uses regular English language sentence structure for this poem. Nothing about it is "poetic" save for its arrangement into irregular stanzas and lines broken before coming to the right margin. Use the vocabulary of your tradition (as well as references to its history like the reference to the death camp train, and other references to Judaism in this poem) to explore a traditional belief. There are many things to write about; perhaps this one will surprise you with the strength it has.  jhh

Monday, December 05, 2016

Morning Star or Evening Star

This is a photo of my father and five of his seven children. 
I am the oldest; I am not in this photo.
My baby sister, Marjory Ann (for my father's mother) 
was not yet born when this photo was taken.
The whole family drove west in 1947 to be sealed in the Temple 
and to visit the Western relatives and attend the celebrations 
for the Centennial of the Mormon entry into Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
My brothers wore these outfits. which my mother sewed for them 
and called clamdiggers, They had them in white corduroy (for the temple) 
and in yellow and peach chambrays 
as well as in blue and white stripes. Robert was still in diapers, 
and David often should have been, 
I remember having to change all four outfits (so they would match) 
when he dirtied his on the trip. 
The boys were born between 1941 and 1945.
Robert had his arm on a cast during the trip, 
so this was taken before we went, I think, Or after? But 1947. . .
My sister Susan (named for my mother's mother) and who just died this year, 
is here in a striped shirt, with her sweet smile...
And I am probably off somewhere in a tree, reading a book.

My father was an engineer for General Electric;
he always wore a suit to work--with a white shirt and a tie.
He didn't have sport shirts or tee shirts;
the white shirts went through phases. This is
a picture of Phase Two. The shirt is still nice and ironed,
but the sleeves have been cut off and rolled. 
It is worn as a sport shirt, with the top button sometimes left unbuttoned.
Later the collar and even the sleeves will be torn off
and the shirt will be worn for rough work.

Lastly, my favorite thing about this photo
is that the whiteness of the shirt was too intense for the film
and gives it a celestial glow, which moves out into the air
around my father.

                                    (the final section)

To read again
by the lights of the city

reflected in the windows of the past

a stone wall
towering above the river

morning star
or evening star

the many facets
facing west

solid with 
pink but fading light

to read again, unmoored
as if inside the blackbird's song


while overhead
the sky begins to darken

not quite swallowing
the city

and some other life begins
to read that is

although with difficulty
in that fading light

the names of rivers
faces other cities

stone walls that may yet be to be found
strung out along the river

on its short course to the sea

                         --Durham, 2007, along the River Wear

Roo Borson

Rain, road, an open boat; poems by Roo Borson;
winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, McClelland and Stewart, 
Ontario, Canada, 2012, pages 75-77. 
(This is the final poem in the book.)

I think this is a poem about memory. Roo Borson 
is one of my favorite poets; I have talked about
her work in two other posts on this blog. This poem has 
very short stanzas and a location note, but is not limited 
to a single chain of thought. It functions by accretion
in a very poetic manner. It "contains multitudes" like the
work of Walt Whitman, but in a quieter way.

So your task is to locate yourself in a place or on a journey
and assemble the poem from shards, fragments and 
frangrances of your own memories and cultural memories.
Good night. jhh