The picture tells you all you need to know. I published this on my Calenderpages blog a couple of days ago. I've fallen in love with it in the same way I'm in love with Mark Strand's poem about the dog they call Spot who sings. And finally I want to direct the attention of readers to the Kunitz poem in the right hand sidebar -- "live in the layers not the litter" is a motto for me. Another poem with a line I think of frequently because it's a question that keeps me grounded in the here and now is from Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day" which is "what will you do with your one wild and precious life?"
I think many poets celebrate National Poetry Month as seriously as I do. For me it's an excuse to read and distribute poems to people who migt not read poems very often. So many people are afraid of modern poetry, they have seen "difficult" poems in The New Yorker or other publications and think all poetry is too hard for them to understand. So I say to them, these are clear -- as simple and clear as Hafiz's poem above, simple words, quickly grasped meaning, and words tell you something about how to live. Only a great poet can be so concise. Those are the poems that last hundreds of years.
Never would I have imagined that, at this age, I would think in terms of semesters. This weekend feels especially open and free because a semester ended Friday. I very much enjoyed the semester but it became hectic the last few weeks as I also had to work on a quilting project for a deadline. The last thing I wanted to do was be a teacher. In fact I resisted persistent advice to get a teaching certificate because it was what young women could depend on back in those days. No thank you! I could depend on my typing skills. I did. I never regretted it.
I find I have teaching in my psyche. In my late 20s I discovered yoga. No one in a hundred mile radius seemed to have heard of it, I began teaching my friends the asanas and breathing techniques I found so helpful. I did not specifically teach anything else until three years ago when I began teaching a writing class because I felt the local Academy for Lifelong Learning lacked a class that taught the skills needed by people who wanted to put their experiences into words. Classes existed that just said, "write and read it in class." No -- that's not helpful enough, I thought. People need to remember, or learn for the first time, basics of interesting writing -- description, active verbs, dialog, and so on. Helping adults write well has been satisfying and fun for me and, they say, for them.
Besides teaching, of course, I am taking classes. I am a gatherer of information and experience. So taking ALL classes have been a joy also. Of course, both teaching and learning I've met many people and made friends. So -- to my surprise, my life is now divided into semesters. I face a summer vacation and feel like the school children I remember -- but better. Because summer used to be a rather lonely time. It is not a lonely time now -- plus I live in a beautiful place that is a vacation destination of thousands -- I have the ocean, the beaches, the flower filled towns and streets every day. Plus uninterrupted days to write or quilt or read a book -- whatever. Wonderful!
The cave in Chauvet in France has the oldest paintings known, dating back 32,000 years. Filmmaker Werner Herzog's documentary was shown at a local museum last fall and again today in my documentary film class. Although I watched it on a smaller screen today, I did not have a three or four large heads between me and the screen, which makes a big difference. I often do not care if I discuss something I've seen with others but was the11th class this spring and we all know each other fairly well so the discussion was a good one; the people are thoughtful and sometimes humorous.
The cave allows very limited access, but Herzog filmed and interviewed several experts who are working to understand the cave. The paintings are very fine and don't seem any less artistic and moving than the paintings in the near-by Lascaux cave which is "only" 15,000 years old. The horses, bison, lion, rhinoserus seem very similar. 17,000 years with little change! In that amount of time the ice covering most of Europe north of the valley where the cave was found had melted but apparently the animals remained very much the same and the people as well.
I thought of having gone into the salt mine under Krakow, Poland which has been worked since about 900 BCE. But 1100 years are a mere instant. What if it becomes lost sometime in the next thousand years and is "discovered" 30,000 years from now? What will those future people -- if there are people left on Earth, and not just cockroaches as one person suggested -- make of a great salt mine what contains a cathedral with statues of saints and so forth, all in solid salt?
The art amazes us but the scope of time, it seems to me, is the least comprehensible aspect of this discovery. We feel so knowledgeable and scientific but if we are put in the middle of time -- making ourselves the center, of course, as we always do -- what do our artifacts say? What will the nuclear waste dumps say? Myriads of questions arise. Fine artists, as Herzog is, pose questions. They do not usually have answers ... nor do most of us.
This poem is by Rilke and was sent to me recently along with several others that were new to me.
Do you remember still the falling stars
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes--do you recall? And we
did make so many! For there were countless numbers
of stars: each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate
knowing somehow we had survived their fall.
A great deal of poetry today -- all the better because I was able to introduce several people to Wislawa Szymborska whose poetry I enjoy very, very much. The smallish group gathered for lunch were open to and receptive to a selection of Szymborska's poetry that I gave them to look at and read. Later in the day in a class with a dozen women who don't usually read poetry and aren't attuned to the mores sophisticated word play and thought of someone like Szymborska, several chose to offer poems by Mary Oliver, a very accessible and deeply satisfying poet. (in picture above with furry friend) I was happy to hear a number of the women who are not readers of poetry express gladness and delight at hearing several poems that truly spoke to them.
While I love Oliver's nature poems, her relationship with the local fauna especially but also the flora and her prodding the reader to be more self-aware, and I take just every possible opportunity to introduce people to Szymborska, I am going to quote from Tess Gallagher's book Amplitude:
What Cathal Said
"You can sing sweet
and get the song sung
but to get to the third dimension
you have to sing it
rough, hurt the tune a little. Put
enough strength to it
that the notes slip. Then
something else happens. The song
Some bright flowers are nice on a morning that is gray and damp -- much needed actually as we're in a bit of a drought. It will green the grasses a great deal. Here is a poem by Waslawa Szmborska, the Polish Nobel laureate who died this past February.
Live is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand, rise on wings;
To be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;
Or tell pain
from everything it's not;
To squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.
A short poem on a serious subject that is nevertheless joyous, I think. This is by Robinson Jeffers:
It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
when I think of cremation. To rot in the earth
is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flames--besides, I
am used to it.
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life
no wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had great joy of my body. Scatter my ashes.
A very short poem today because I have been working hard and am inclined to settle into a comfy chair with a novel I am anxious to finish. This is the only writing I have ever read with the same verb repeated three times in a row. It makes one read it slowly and think rather hard.
A few years ago I was so inspired by this piece of a poem by Mark Strand that I spent a lot of time putting shiny stars on a small quilt, along with the poem. Strand's choice of words does for me exactly what I think a poem should, it gives me a sort of internal shiver. My daughter Leslie now has the quilt.
And I stood in the moonlight valley watching the great starfields Flash and flower in the wished for reaches of heaven. Thanks when I, the dog they call Spot, began to sing.
Today a poem I can relate to -- I had a version of the experience -- a meeting after nearly 30 years although the emotional content was different, in fact, much more romantically satisfying. Still I was happy to find a poem on this subject which probably happens more often than younger people realize. The poet is Denise Levertov (1923-1997) who has written other strong poems that speak strongly to me.
A WOMAN MEETS AN OLD LOVER
He with whom I ran hand in hand kicking the leathery leaves down Oak Hill path thirty years ago
appeared before me with anxious face, pale almost unrecognized, hesitant, lame.
He whom I cannot remember hearing laugh out loud but see in mind's eye smiling, self-approving, wept on my shoulder.
He who seemed always to take and not give, who took me so long to forget,
Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings, And Phoebus 'gins arise, His steeds to water at those springs On chalic'd flowers that lies; And winking Mary-buds begin To ope their golden eyes; With everything that pretty is, My lady sweet, arise: Arise, arise!
This is Shakespeare's song which was set to music by Schubert. I like it much better than the very long poem, "The Lark Ascending" by George Meredith. However, at the Cape Cod Symphony this afternoon I herd Ralph Vaughn Williams' tone poem The Lark Ascending preceded by a local wild life specialist telling us that our local larks are different than the English ones Vaughn Williams had in mind and that, indeed, many songbirds, among them larks seem to have local accents in their songs. The Cape Cod larks have somewhat different mating songs than the ones on Nantucket. And truly the local larks too ascend to about 200 feet, sing for some twenty minutes before coming back to earth. Such information I did not expect from going to a symphony concert.
The concert was a further educational experience because whale scientists, photographers and sound recorders were there and spoke of the 325 right whales that summer near here. They had put together a video of whales as well as recordings of their vocalizations which was played during a performance of Alan Hovaness' And God Made Great Whales. Amazing photography and sound!
The concert ended with Beethoven's beloved Sixth Symphony, the "Pastorale" in a heartfelt rendition with still photos illustrating the sections. The conductor seemed to be in his own state of bliss. Spring is at it's most beautiful here, too, with flowering trees and plants.
I've written about tax time, but this weekend probably finds many people in a frenzy to get their tax returns in the mail. Mine is going in, via the accountant, via email. Anyway, money is never far from most people's minds. This little poem by Muriel Spark takes a sanguine look at the matter.
Do you want to know why I am alive today? I will tell you. Early on, during the food-shortage, Some of us were miraculously presented Each with a goose that laid a golden egg. Myself, I killed the cackling thing and I ate it. Alas, many and many of the other recipients Died of gold-dust poisoning.
I took a bus trip from central Cape Cod to Providence, Rhode Island today and I saw no billboards. Only appropriate road signs and then signs on buildings as we entered towns. -- Lots of signs on building in Falll River where it seems all the old factories have become outlet stores. -- I DO remember being young and passing not only many billboards for all kinds of things but the Burma Shave signs that were always fun -- they have now passed into something like folk literature. They were poetry, of a sort:
DINAH DOESN'T TREAT HIM RIGHT BUT IF HE'D SHAVE DINAH-MITE! Burma-Shave
BEFORE I TRIED IT THE KISSES I MISSED BUT AFTERWARD-BOY! THE MISSES I KISSED Burma-Shave
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS NOW LOVES THE KNAVE THE KING RAN OUT OF BURMA SHAVE
NO LADY LIKES TO DANCE OR DINE ACCOMPANIED BY A PORCUPINE Burma Shave
IS HE LONESOME OR JUST BLIND THAT GUY WHO DRIVE SO CLOSE BEHIND Burma Shave?
Does anyone remember them? Am I THAT old? I really enjoyed them -- but then I had the sensibility of a ten year old.
I am thinking about taxes today. The accountant called to tell me he was sending the completed forms which I need to sign and return. Meanwhile he will file the data electronically. I am lazy about learning how to do this electronically myself and the man is a retired IRS accountant so I'm sure everything is totally correct; that assurance is worth paying for.
In my reading of poetry lately, as I've mentioned, I've read a number of translations from early Chinese poets. As we all know, taxes have been around a long, long time and we've heard the Biblical admonishment about rendering unto Caesar ... Here is a poem from Po Chu-I who livee 722-846 CE. He was a tax gatherer -- I wonder what my tax man would have to say about this tax collector's way of life.
After Collecting the Autumn Taxes
From these high walls I look at the town below where the natives of Pa cluster like a swarm of flies. How can I govern these people and lead them aright? I cannot even understand what they say. But at least I am glad now that the taxes are in. To learn that in my province there is no discontent. I fear its prosperity is not due to me and was only caused by the year's abundant crops. The papers I have to deal with are simple and few; My arbor by the lake is leisurely and still. In the autumn rain the berries fall from the eaves; at the evening bell the birds return to the wood. A broken sunlight quavers over the southern porch were I lie on my couch abandoned to idleness.
We often have extraordinary skies. Right now, looking eastward out the window as a very late sun is setting out of my view, the sky is a variety of grays and blues I cannot describe. Three days ago it the moon rose early at at just this hour into a slightly rosy sky and I had to take the photo above.
During this busy but contemplative day I have been thinking of poetry that I am reading and also of the wonderful poet who died in February. I used to say she was my favorite living poet. Alas. I tell my friends about Wislawa Szymborska, they agree her poetry is wonderful, her voice unlike anyone else's. I have so many favorites -- many are longer than I want to copy into here. So here's a fairly short one that is not necessarily typical but then it's not atypical either.
He came home. Said nothing. It was clear, though, that something had gone wrong. He lay down fully dressed. Pulled the blanket over his head. Tucked up his knees. He's nearly forty, but not at the moment. He exists just as he did inside her mother's womb, clad in seven veils of skin, in sheltered darkness. Tomorrow he'll give a lecture on homeostasis in megagalactic cosmonautics. For now, though, he has curled up and gone to sleep.
I rarely post my own poetry largely because I don't think I'm a poet although I write a lot of stuff that is spaced on the page as if it were poetry. I believe in craft. I do not believe just anything becomes a poem. I do not know the poet's craft. I think you have to know what you're doing. Sometimes a small incident moves me very much and I write what I suppose is a poem. I have number of those. The poem below was one of those brief moment when I watched a small incident and it stayed with me a long time, it embodied something I wanted to share with others. Could I be "a poet and don't know it" as we used to teach in high school? I'm caught between the heart and the head.
When I was buying my coffee The young woman in front of me Bought a pack of cigarettes And a $5 lottery card. When I had said the usual hello And thank you and had paid, Waiting to cross at the corner The young woman was waiting too. She dropped the lottery ticket Into the waste basket and lit a cigarette. Five dollars up in smoke, Five dollars in the garbage can. Ten bucks … hey, it’s only money, Easy come, easy go ... a little hope, a little high.
I want to cry, I want to preach. The waste causes me pain Like angina In a heart too Heavily loaded with life, With travel to places Where ten bucks Is a week’s salary For back breaking work And will feed a famly Barely and badly With little hope.
My Life as a Turkey is a beautiful, entertaining, even enlightening video. The title is not metaphoric. Joe Hutto purposely incubated about 18 wild turkey eggs then made sure that the hatchlings immediately imprinted him as their mother. He raised them, lived with them from dawn to dusk for over a year as they grew. He literally learned to "talk turkey" -- understood and made their vocalizations. He saw, as all parents do, the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in the personalities of each individual. When the turkeys, like human children, reached an age of independence and went their own ways, Hutto realized that the extensive notes he had made during the experience would make a good book and movie. SO: he did the same thing all over again and was filmed for the period. The film is beautiful! And it is deeply moving, full of lessons about our misperceptions about other creatures. Most memorably Hutto said during the movie,"I learned we do not have a privileged access to reality." He learned the turkey's reality which is without a sense of future, they live in the present as humans rarely do although many of us strive to learn.
The poem I want to share today says somewhat the same thing. Wendell Berry, a rural man (from Kentucky) knows some of what this movie was saying and he says it eloquently.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world and am free.
In the newest issue of Nature is a report from archeologists who found, in northeast China fossils of a previously unknown dinosaur that was some 30 feet long and COVERED WITH FEATHERS -- fluffy as a baby chick, they say. Picture that bus size beast walking down the road looking all fluffy and cuddly. Boggles the brain a bit, doesn't it? Sounds sort of Dr. Seuss-ish, in fact. That was 125 million years ago.
Today's poem will tickle the imagination a little too, but in a nicer way.
Stand still. The trees and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here. And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here No two trees are the same to Raven, No two branches are the same to Wren, If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you.
Some busy days feel busier than others, not because of things to do but because of intensity of things that happen. I often don't know if the intensity is a function of attention paid or the things themselves. Even when some of the conversations were about sadness, the day feels alive and good.
A poem for today about the flow of life from Thomas Lux:
A Little Tooth
Your baby grows a tooth, then two, then four, then five, then she wants some meat directly from the bone. It's all
over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet talker on his way to jail. And you,
your wife, get old, flyblown and rue nothing you did. You loved, your feet are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.
The Maldives -- what? where? ever heard of it? The world is a big place and many tiny places aren't familiar. The Maldives is the smallest nation in Asia, both in geographic size and population. It is 26 atolls [coral islands] in the Indian ocean -- beautiful! Like wonderful resorts -- EXCEPT ... no part of them is over 6 feet above sea level. This tiny Republic has a population at last count of 328,536 . The President is currently shopping around the area, looking for a place to purchase so that the entire population can move. Because, with oceans rising, they expect the islands to be underwater in as little as a year. Who can deny climate change? Who can understand that a whole nation must move because their land will disappear? That's today's fact to think about.
Here is a poem for today, a short one by Robert Creeley (American, 1926--)
Today's poem is very ancient: Chuang Tze lived in the 3rd or 4th century BCE
The Need to Win
When an archer is shooting for nothing He has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle He is already nervous. If he shoots for a prize of gold He goes blind Or sees two targets -- He is out of his mind!
His skill has not change. But the prize Divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning Than of shooting -- And the need to win Drains him of power.
[Translated from Chinese by Thomas Merton]
This is as true today as it was more than two millennia ago.
I wish I could have illustrated this with a picture from the Nadam archery games in Mongolia which I wittnessed. Both men and women, in traditional costumes [deels] competed within the category of their sex; I felt I was wittnessing something very, very ancient ... indeed, as the poem shows, it was.
If ignorance is bliss, Father said shouldn't you be looking blissful? You should check to see if you have the right kind of ignorance. If you're not getting the benefits that most people get from acting stupid, then you should go back to what you always were -- being too smart for your own good.
I'm feeling a bit on the whimsical side about poetry as I'm currently reading Good Poems for Hard Times, an anthology by Garrison Keillor. His poems are by both the well known and the barely known poets, mostly Americans. It's a wonderful collection.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!