Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pantoum of the Great Depression

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don't remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don't remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

Her Kind

By Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Grief by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver


Woke up early this morning and from my bed
looked far across the Strait to see
a small boat moving through the choppy water,
a single running light on. Remembered
my friend who used to shout
his dead wife’s name from hilltops
around Perugia. Who set a plate
for her at his simple table long after
she was gone. And opened the windows
so she could have fresh air. Such display
I found embarrassing. So did his other
friends. I couldn’t see it.
Not until this morning.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Thinking Out Loud: The Vinegar Man by Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Thinking Out Loud: The Vinegar Man by Ruth Comfort Mitchell: The Vinegar Man The crazy old Vinegar Man is dead! He never had missed a day before! Somebody went to his tumble-down shed by the Haunte...

The World As It Is

The World as It is

By Carolyn Miller

No ladders, no descending angels, no voice
out of the whirlwind, no rending
of the veil, or chariot in the sky—only
water rising and falling in breathing springs
and seeping up through limestone, aquifers filling
and flowing over, russet stands of prairie grass
and dark pupils of black-eyed Susans. Only
the fixed and wandering stars: Orion rising sideways,
Jupiter traversing the southwest like a great firefly,
Venus trembling and faceted in the west—and the moon,
appearing suddenly over your shoulder, brimming
and ovoid, ripe with light, lifting slowly, deliberately,
wobbling slightly, while far below, the faithful sea
rises up and follows.

Into Arrival

Into Arrival
by Anne Michaels

It will be in a station
with a glass roof
grimy with the soot
of every train and
they will embrace for every mile
of arrival. They will not
let go, not all the long way,
his arm in the curve of her longing. Walking in a city
neither knows too well,
watching women with satchels
given coins to a priest for the war veterans;
finding the keyhole view of the church
from an old wall across the city, the dome
filling the keyhole precisely,
like an eye. In the home
of winter, under an earth
of blankets, he warms her skin
as she climbs in from the air.

There is a way our bodies
are not our own, and when he finds her
there is room at last
for everyone they love,
the place he finds,
she finds, each word of skin
a decision.

There is earth
that never leaves your hands,
rain that never leaves
your bones. Words so old they are broken
from us, because they can only be
broken. They will not
let go, because some love
is broken from love,
like stones
from stone,
rain from rain,
like the sea
from the sea.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


By Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The true beloveds of this world are in their lover’s eyes, lilacs opening, ship lights, school bells, a landscape, remembered conversations, friends, a child’s Sunday, lost voices, one’s favorite suit, autumn and all seasons, memory, yes, it being the earth and water of existence, memory.
~Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms

Monday, January 11, 2016

Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Burning the Old Year" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Back in 2003, I offered a humorous glimpse into my life with my three sons then aged 10, 9, and 8. It was our own Schweddy Ball kind of Christmas tale. Here is the original, with a decade later update:

I am the mother of three young sons, and I take my parental role very seriously. I have read many books about boys, how to help them become promising young men, how not to damage them unduly, how to prevent them from creating a homemade atomic weapon and blowing up the neighborhood, etc...
I was pondering the idea of hardwiring today and considering that while some mothers' experience sons like Thoreau who, while tiny, lisped sweetly, "I am trying to look through the stars to see if I can see God behind them."
I have sons who say things like yesterday's gem:
"Hey, if we melted down this silver baby Jesus nativity scene, we could make a bunch of bullets."
Surely there must be a reason for my sons to emerge from the womb screaming for blood and glory, and refusing all toys except projectiles. Bereft of toy guns by me, their naively idealistic mother, they deftly mastered the art of shaping their toast into the shape of a realistic looking guns and pointing them at me and saying "Bang!" by mere toddler hood.
Television, I detest, yet they have had only a smattering and none before age four. Apparently, have no genes.
Yesterday, I noticed my lovely and realistic 500,001 piece Bethlehem village looked... odd. Looking closely, I discovered someone had carefully placed 100 or so small, plastic soldiers complete with full battle gear at strategic locations throughout the village. Especially daunting was the prone soldier holding Mary at bay with what appeared to be an AK-47.
Kind of authentic really.
Only last night did realize how very little control do I hold over these testosterone laden young mammals. We were doing the traditional kids get to make candy activity with peanut butter balls and chocolate. The boys were busily crafting small spheres of sweetened peanut butter and Christmas music was playing softly in the background.
All was a Christmas postcard.
I heard some smothered giggles and emerged from the kitchen just in time to see my middle son, Benjamin, in the act of chocolate-covering the most perfectly rendered set of male genitalia I have ever seen (created from sweetened peanut butter, that is). Replete in its perfection... he had indeed created peanut butter balls.
Wish me lots of luck with these guys, please.

Update, 10 years later:
It has been a decade and the boys are now 20, 19, and 18. They are all making those tentative steps into the world with college, job seeking, and relationship building. Parenthood never prepares us for new phases, and we generally hear about the bad ones, but sometimes, they are surprisingly poignant. For example, when my sons are together now, and with me, they often enjoy talking about me as if I am not there. They tell family stories and make gentle fun, all while I potter in the background, doing daily things, but listening and enjoying too, kind of like a very present and active ghost. It was disconcerting at first. I would hear: “Remember when mom wore her dark sunglasses uptown and never knew that one lens was missing?” Or, “Remember when mom stopped in the middle of the highway to save that turtle? He was a snapping turtle and tried to kill us all. The stink stayed in the car for weeks.” I was welcome to join, but chose to listen and to just hear. I’ve grown to love the chatter about me, without me, as a way to learn how they remember the events in our shared lives. I have been given a glimpse into the way they may tell family stories to their own children, and those they most certainly will not.
Recently, two of my boys were talking this way and I heard one say, “Yeah, Mom ruined porn for me.” The other, who very recently had gleefully used his online store magazine gift card (a birthday present from his grandmother) to subscribe to Playboy, inquired why. “Well, all those discussions about the male gaze and patriarchy. I end up just feeling sorry for the women. Mom’s feminist agenda rubbed off.” They were silent, thinking about that and I was tallying a small win for myself until the other said, “Well, little brother, I don’t share your issue. “ I silently sighed and erased the point. A parental rub. Clearly, more of “Mom’s agenda” work is needed.

Mostly, however, while raising them, I had no agenda. When they were small it was all I could do to not constantly shriek and collapse. I recall when they were 1, 2 and 3; my main goal was to keep actual shit from appearing around the house, outside of the appropriate shit receptacles. As they grew, my agenda, if I had one was simply to not raise assholes.
Looking back, that was my agenda throughout their childhoods. It factored into every decision: the tough call to remove them from public school despite all three were gifted athletically and other parents thought (and expressed to me) that I was crazy to do so (I wanted to try to raise good men, not great athletes); the decision to continue to work part time, despite financial struggles in order to give them a strong family (because I felt, kids need quantity time, not just quality time). We have spent thousands of hours talking together, arguing together, reading and laughing together. I have loved every minute of it. Now, they go out into the world as young men. We never know who our children will become and the only certainty is life’s unpredictability. As their mother, I hope they are well and warmly received and that they bring some light along to share. I hope they find their voices and stand up and say a few quiet words for good. My hope is every parent’s hope. I can promise the world this though, most of the time, they are not assholes.