Category Archives: Poetry

April 2018

Arlington House, April 2018

Arlington House, April 2018

I told you four years ago that I didn’t think that April was the cruelest month (April: Cruelest Month (?), Earth Day, Earth Mother, and the Possible Limitations of Agnosticism). I am still on board with that thought, but T.S. Eliot’s words, the beautiful flowers, and gravestones are keeping me on some emotional edge. Maybe it is because Tom and I have taken to walking through Arlington National Cemetery–just a few blocks from where we now live.

redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and gravestones

redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and gravestones

unknown citizen and old cherry tree

unknown citizen and old cherry tree

I keep thinking of the ones I love: here and now and way back when.  The young, the old, the healthy, the sick, the troubled, and the dead are all crowding around in my head. I remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died, in April. I remember when our youngest son was born, in April. That year, the spring tree green was just starting when we came home from the hospital. My baby son and I sat together on the couch hour after hour and day after day until the spring green turned to full green. I first went to Zion National Park in April. It was spring, and  through the night, boulders rattled down  the canyonsides in the spring runoff.

A week or so ago, I was at my friend Kate’s place and her lilac was blooming near her Zen garden. First lilac of the season for me.  (I didn’t get a photo, sorry. My hands were dirty with planting the lettuce and Swiss chard seedlings). Since then I have been thinking not just about T.S.Eliot, but also of  Walt Whitman: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,”  which was written after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  I remember Lincoln’s words and I think about mercy.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address)

Today, Tom and I walked to Fort Bennett Park and Palisades Trail–about a mile from our condo. We found what we were looking for: two bald eagles in a giant nest taking care of their young. Until today, in all my years of wishing and searching, I have never reliably seen bald eagles flying free.  I am hopeful today that we may yet bind up the nation’s wounds.

My April wish: May you be well. May you be happy. May you have peace. Or as “The Wasteland” has it:

Shantih   shantih   shantih

tulips near the Netherlands Carillon

tulips near the Netherlands Carillon

 

 

Fall Back and Rise Up

maple leaf

maple leaf

So, tonight we fall back again and it can’t come too soon for me.

I love all the seasons, but most of all, I love autumn.  One might think that an odd choice for a gardener.  November has no crocuses (well, Tom tried autumn-blooming crocuses one year, but the squirrels ate them all before we ever saw any blooms) and no crowds or hosts of daffodils.  I have a few peppers hanging on and a couple of cherry tomatoes, but that’s it for summer.

I do not like the hot and humid summer of Virginia, but I love preparing my nest for the winter. Around here, that means finally needing a light comforter with the window open just a bit.  I love soup and chili and, yes, I love football, cider, doughnuts, and good apples.

apples, Charlottesville City Market

apples, Charlottesville City Market

Shifting Gears: Recurrent Fears Every four autumns since I was old enough to vote, I worry about the presidential election. When I taught school in Page, Arizona,  I voted absentee for George McGovern. Later, in Salt Lake City, I voted for Jimmy Carter, even though I always did like Jerry Ford.  In Arlington, Virginia, I couldn’t believe the United States could vote in Ronald Reagan. Reality showed me. I know who won the election in 2000 (the one in fact and the one by Supreme Court fiat). I didn’t believe that George W. Bush could be re-elected after the photos of Abu Ghraib were published.  Now, I am aghast at the specter of  the possibility of a  demagogue poised to claim the presidency by the vote or by the mob.

Tuesday night our friends Daphne and Tom are coming for a sleepover so we can stay up and watch the election returns together.  Reminds me of a pajama party of my youth, where we girls screamed over Psycho. Talk about déjà vu. I think we will all need blankets to cover our heads when scary returns come in. We will be okay, though.  Tom will be making comfort food: spaghetti and meatballs and garlic toast. No one’s (that I’ve tasted) meatballs and spaghetti are as good as Tom’s are and we will have a green salad of lettuce, chard, arugula, and herbs fresh-picked from my fall garden.  I have been considering what dessert will be the homiest and most comforting and I have decided on apple crisp.  I am using Joy of Cooking‘s recipe, which tastes the most like my mom’s–talk about comfort.

The leaves still fall with sunny abandon, so I am not (too) afraid.

path, Ivy Creek Natural Area

path, Ivy Creek Natural Area

I believe that what Maya Angelou wrote (see Still I Rise ) is true for all of us:

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Maybe Tuesday or maybe later, I believe–as I have since childhood–that we will rise all of us: stronger and better together.

 

Words for a Friend

 

Moonrise, Ft. Davis State Park

Moonrise, Ft. Davis State Park

Usually, I have plenty of words. Occasionally, some people have suggested that I might use more than enough words.

That’s is not the case today. I don’t have the words I want to say to a friend who has recently suffered a loss.  So, I am using some other writers’ words and am hoping they help.

From “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot (1930)

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


Golden Slumbers, lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (1969)

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden Slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

Oh yeah, all right
Are you gonna be in my dreams
Tonight

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make

Tom and I love you and wish you well.

Phoenix feathers for you

Phoenix feathers for you

Today

This morning I washed the sheets and put them back on the bed.

I washed, rinsed, and air-dried my hair brushes. What can I say? Is this some proto-spring cleaning of personal gear? Maybe so: Last night, I also darned my husband’s sock. I really don’t know how to darn, but I used my mother’s darning egg, so it gave me another opportunity to think of her.

I made granola. For this batch, I put in oatmeal, oat bran, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, unsweetened coconut, raisins, dried apricots*, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, three tablespoons of coconut oil, and three (plus) tablespoons of maple syrup. When everything that should be baked was baked and when all the ingredients were mixed together, I added some vanilla.

granola

granola

I cleaned out the shelf where some of the baking ingredients reside. Sometimes, I like to straighten shelves. I believe that doing so makes me think I have some control over the universe. In this case, I was also trying to round up stray flax seeds.

I watered the plants. This takes about one half hour of wandering around the house. (I mention the amount of time because I don’t think I will make it to the gym today but I want to get 10,000 steps on my pedometer). I don’t have an indoor watering can, which is okay, because I don’t like them much. I feel like I have more control when I use my big green plastic cup and the bit of old pink towel I use to mop up mistakes. Note: I am good with plants indoor and out. That started a long time ago when my mother and I planted a tiny garden of corn and radishes against the house in Detroit. In college, I rooted some pussy willows and my dad planted them down by the lake, where they prospered. Later, during Tom and my salad days, several of my indoor plants were given to me by my sister-in-law, Betsy. My friend Pat just gave me back a little bay tree that I had given her plus the scion of a clivia that I had given her years back. I like watering the plants.

house plants

house plants

After lunch, Tom and I drove to Ivy Nursery to pick up some spring flowers to take up north tomorrow to some people we love. Daffodils, because sometimes we all wander lonely as a cloud.

daffodils

daffodils

One thing I didn’t do today: I didn’t write Refugees, Part 2 (See, Refugees, Part1) as I should have done. I will soon, though. Spring is coming and my frozen heart will melt.


 

*I chopped the apricots with my trusty nine-inch Henckels French knife. I call it trusty because it has been my constant kitchen companion since my first summer at the North Rim in 1971. Our chef, Floyd Winder, required all the cooks and “pantry girls” (my designation in those unenlightened days) to buy their own knives. With my own knife at hand, I felt professional. The knife still works fine. However, when I searched this morning for the peace symbol I had etched in the handle, I couldn’t find it. I hope that is not a portent of the future. Update 4:15 P.M.: Tom and I both think we see the marks of the peace sign, but they are too faint for me to photograph.

French knife

French knife

 

I Wonder As I Wander

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, Glacier National Park, Montana

I was (still am) the youngest of five children. One of the benefits of this set-up was that I  listened to rock and roll from a tender age. I remember Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” from Cooke School in Detroit. I remember Van Morrison from 6th grade in Milford, mostly because I had a friend named G-L-O-R-I-A. One of my older brothers and his friends used to sing rock a cappela on the school bus.  Another brother annoyed me because he always demanded that I answer the question, “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?…Who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand… (Barry Mann, 1961).” I don’t know that man’s name, but this morning I am happy to report a breakthrough on a similar venerable rock and roll question:

I Wonder, wonder who, who ooh ooh who
Who wrote the book of love?
The Monotones, 1958

The answer, I now believe, is Stevie Wonder. Last night, my husband, Tom, our next door neighbors Mark and Ward, and another (roughly) 10,000 people at the John Paul Jones Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia jammed to Stevie’s skill, power, grace, and love until after the midnight hour. I can’t sing, I can’t dance—my hiking boots stuck to the floor in best WASP-of-a-certain-age-style—but still, I danced and sang with Stevie until I was hoarse and tears were in my eyes. I could go on and on, but, well, maybe I will just a little bit: the geniality, the humor, the call and response, the steel guitar, the harmonica, intertwining The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing in the funkiest and best version of either I’ve ever heard, and on and on.

I do go on, but here’s the take away: Stevie called on us all to love more and hate less. Yes, he referred to the Paris massacre and the gun violence ongoing in this country. I am going to try to accept his challenge. Note: When I say “called on,” I don’t mean that lovey-dovey ideas were just floating in the ether.  I mean Stevie explicitly gave us our marching orders: He told us that we need to start going forward, not backward.

What I didn’t write: Since September 25, I’ve wanted to write about finally getting on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I read the  poet, Vachel Lindsay, sometime in the mid-1960s. Lindsay, more noted for such works as “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” and “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” also wrote a poem called “Going-to-the-Sun” in a volume of the same name.  I’ve searched for the snippet of poetry that had inflamed my imagination all those years ago. I haven’t been able to unearth it yet, but more on that in another post.

Then I came back to Charlottesville and started sifting through books and memorabilia like I have for the last five years. Do I keep this or that piece of paper or shred of cloth? What do I do with the remaining mountains of teaching materials?

A piece of paper

A piece of paper

Then, last night with Stevie, I had to think, yet again, of the innocents and their blood–in this country and around the world–and of the refugees.

Likely I will write some more about poets and rock and roll, my travels, and my memories. Not today, though. Stevie brought it all home for me last night. I know now which sun I am really traveling to:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson (poem to music, 1900)

I’m Starting Now: I love you.

 

Music for January

taking down the dogwood

taking down the dogwood

This morning the Woodson’s Complete Tree Service guys are taking down our dogwood tree.  I expect that this is not a foreshadowing of my or Tom’s early demise. After all, we aren’t as old in people years as the dogwood was in tree years. We sometimes wonder whether this tree was planted when the house was built.  If so, it would be 85 years old. In any case, the dogwood has had dieback for years and had to come down (see the post To Autumn).

Forgive me, it’s just that January’s short days and cold nights make me think long thoughts. I told you a while ago that I was going to write more about the 2014 road trip. I was hoping for a brief, yet comprehensive, summary of what we saw and felt and what we learned. Maybe later.

Back to January My mother died in January. Three years later my dad died in January. That was okay, really, but I do get a bit pensive whenever there is snow on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes (the route we take from Virginia to Michigan for the funerals).

Music of the Spheres Tom bought some new speakers for the stereo system. So we had to try them out by listening to music we’d heard many times to see whether or not the new speakers sound significantly better than the older (by 20 years) speakers.*

The first song I listened to was “Secret Gardens” from Judy Collins’ True Stories and Other Dreams. I listened to it a couple of hundred times when my parents were dying and then died. Thinking back though, even in 1973 when I first owned the album, I cried when I heard this song. I cried Monday when I heard it again. I think they are tears of happiness: “I see you shining through the night through the ice and snow of winter.”

Next, we listened to Joan Baez’s version of “North Country Blues” from her Any Day Now: The Songs of Bob Dylan CD. I think I was checking out the speakers to see how they worked on pure human voices. Very well, I can report.

Next,  I made a quirky choice: “Land of the Navajo” by Peter Rowan. The majority of our CDs are still in storage, maybe that’s my rationale for choosing this CD. Or maybe it’s because, while the plot of the song is opaque to me, Rowan’s evocative yodels (or whatever they are) take me back to the land of the Navajo, which I love.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly

Tom chose Abbey Road, you know by whom. We listened from “Here Comes the Sun” through “Her Majesty.” I was astounded. They sang with the voices of angels. I hadn’t remembered that.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right

How did they know how to write “little darling” instead using heavier words? Baby, I’m amazed.

Next, we listened to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” from Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde CD. Tom has been listening to this song since he was a teenager in the town he always characterizes as “the armpit of Utah.” Looks like songs of love and yearning may work anywhere. I note that I am a person from the lowlands.

Finally, we listened together to some songs from Judy Collins’ Wildflowers including “Since You Asked”:

What I’ll give you since you asked
Is all my time together;
Take the rugged sunny days,
The warm and rocky weather,
Take the roads that I have walked along,
Looking for tomorrow’s time,
Peace of mind.

As my life spills into yours,
Changing with the hours
Filling up the world with time,
Turning time to flowers,
I can show you all the songs
That I never sang to one man before.

We have seen a million stone lying by the water,
You have climbed the hills with me
To the mountain shelter.
Taken off the days, one by one,
Setting them to breathe in the sun.

Take the lilies and the lace
From the days of childhood,
All the willow winding paths
Leading up and outward.
This is what I give
This is what I ask you for;
Nothing more.

Maybe I can use this song as the summary of the road trip/marriage we’ve been on so far.

wildflowers

wildflowers


 

*The verdict on the speakers: I am not an audiophile. I don’t usually listen consciously for sound quality. Nonetheless, the minute I heard these speakers, I had a simile for Tom. The speakers are like my sugar cookies (really Joy of Cooking’s rich sugar cookies). They are so pure, simple, and unadulterated that a person used to inferior baked goods might not notice how delicious the cookies are. Same deal for the speakers.

De Senectute

My hands are worn and my vest is worn. I was able to buy a new vest yesterday, but I am not sure what to do with my hands and the body to which they are attached.

old hands

old hands

old vest

old vest

What started this line of thought: A few days ago my husband Tom read an article that noted that people 65 and older are “elderly.” As I am going to have my 65th birthday in a little over two months, I was not happy to hear it. “Older” I have been using for years. “Mature” I have used as a joke. “Old” I have recently accepted because to do otherwise would seem—to myself and to others—like I was avoiding reality, but “elderly”? I’m not going there. Then there were the articles in the New York Times: I read three of them about aging–one after the other. One article talked about retired people getting rid of possessions and traveling the world as carefree vagabonds. Another article talked about how the elderly (harrumph) can find pleasures in doing the small things in life like going to the public library. The final article talked about some Baby Boomers’ discomfort at finding themselves old.

Looking Backward: When I was a freshman in college, I translated Cicero’s De Senectute (On Old Age). I remember that I found the topic boring, that I wasn’t very good at the translating, and that I only got a C in the class. The good thing about this class for me was that it was Cicero and Catullus, and I loved Catullus.

I forget what Cicero had to say about old age, so I am not going to get any advice there, but I remember what Catullus had to say about love and I suspect that might help me as I look forward. As Catullus wrote to his beloved, I say to my husband: “Suns may set, and suns may rise again: but when our brief light has set, night is one long everlasting sleep.”*

ravens on the South Rim at sunset

ravens on the South Rim at sunset

Note: If you haven’t read Catullus, I recommend Catullus: The Complete Poetry translated by Frank O. Copley. Used copies seem to be available on the Internet from $.01 upward. A new copy sells online for $506.98. Somewhere in storage in Charlottesville, I have my own copy of Copley and perhaps, the notebook where I wrote my own translations.

* This excerpt from poem #5 is translated by A. S. Kline at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Catullus.htm#_Toc531846828