Thursday, December 24, 2009

"I Wonder as I Wander"

from the Wilton Diptych

"I Wonder as I Wander"
Appalachian Carol (collected by John Jacob Niles)

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, our Savior, did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus, ‘twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise-men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high in God’s heaven’s a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing:
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing;
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have had it, for he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, our Savior, did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jane Kenyon: "Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter 1993"

Nativity icon from Rena Andreadis collection

"Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter 1993"
by Jane Kenyon

On the domed ceiling God
is thinking
I made them my joy,
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
and arguments:

“We’re descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so what does it matter now
if we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?”

God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her the mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Marina Tsvetaeva: "I Bless the Daily Labor"

I have loved this poem for years now - even before I knew anything about the life of its author. And even though I'm still not quite sure what she means by "dusty purple" (her art? her passion? her memories? the majesty of her inner fire?), nor what her dusty staff is "when all light's rays are shed" (her enduring stubbornness? her hope beyond hope?), nor what is the "law of blessings and law of stone" (the gospel of Jesus and the Ten Commandments? grace and justice? the sudden miraculous serendipity that walks hand in hand with relentless reason and unforgiving consequence?)

But I love this poem because, even without knowing exactly what she means - I know what she means.

After WWII, Marina Tsvetaeva faced starvation in Moscow - even mistakenly (and tragically) placing a daughter in a state orphanage where she thought the girl would be better fed. She and her surviving daughter fled to Berlin, where she was reunited with her husband. They moved to Prague, where their son was born, then settled in Paris where she contracted tuberculosis. Then faced ostracism when her husband was revealed as a spy for the Soviet secret police.

Without other options, Tsvetaeva followed her husband to Moscow, but in Stalin's USSR found all doors closed to her. Her sister had already been imprisoned and the two sisters never saw each other again. Friends, afraid for their own lives and reputations, refused to help. Within a few years her daughter (who had increasingly turned against Tsvetaeva) was also imprisoned and Tsvetaeva's husband was shot for espionage. Tsvetaeva and her son were evacuated to an area where she could not find work to support them. She spent the last months of her life desperately looking for any kind of job. Some believe she was at last forced by a squad of secret police to hang herself. She lies in an unmarked grave.

Not so encouraging reading for our Thanksgiving Feast?

But this story traces the shapes of all the things I fear most - the monsters of my nightmares - torn by war, not being able to feed my children, losing the people I love, estrangement, doors closed against me, betrayal, despair - and still, in the face of all these nightmares, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote this poem.

I Bless the Daily Labor
I bless the daily labor of my hands,
I bless the sleep that nightly is my own.
The mercy of the Lord, the Lord’s commands,
The law of blessings and law of stone.

My dusty purple, with its ragged seams—
My dusty staff, when all light’s rays are shed.
And also, Lord, I bless the peace
In others’ houses—others’ ovens’ bread.

A poem which still lives.

Which still carries on, whispering her words into my ears, and now yours, lighting a small and comforting fire on other hearths many years and many miles from her own.

Blessings on all of you,
wherever you are, whoever you are.
Peace to your houses.
May you have peace as your daily bread.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rainer Maria Rilke: "Autumn Day"

"Carnival Evening," by Henri Rousseau

"Autumn Day"
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

(translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Jesus Christ, the Appletree"

"Creation of the Animals," by Master Bertram of the Grabow alterpiece

"The Apple Tree Carol"

traditional carol collected by Joshua Smith

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green;
The trees of nature fruitless be,
Compar’d with Christ the appletree.

This beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see,
In Jesus Christ the appletree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought;
I miss’d of all, but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the appletree.

I’m weary’d with my former toil,
Here I shall set and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the appletree.

I’ll sit and eat the fruit divine,
It cheers my heart like spir’tual wine
And now this fruit is sweet to me,
That grows on Christ the appletree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying soul alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the appletree.

These first of the month pictures and poems (or in this case, lyrics) are like Easter eggs I hid for myself to find - chosen and scheduled far in advance - and when they show up - delight and surprise.

The Apple Tree carol is an old Appalachian song collected Joshua Smith, re-collected by Elizabeth Poston who brought it back with her to England so that these little British boys could sing it so purely. But really the song begs to be sung by some grizzled old guy or a hillswoman with a corn-whiskey twang - it's "set and rest" not "sit" and note the rhyme between "my former toil" and "and rest awhile."

I love the image of Jesus as the tree of life whose branches make a shady place and whose fruit revives. I feel weary, too, with fruitless, former toil and want to make my way to that steady trunk beneath the leaves and set and rest awhile.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Anna Kamienska: "A Prayer that Will be Answered"

Uh, why the eggs?

Because I love the eggs. It's true they do not inspire a passion in me like their lustrous great-aunt the Eggplant. But looking at them comforts me. Taking pictures of eggs is, in fact, a form of meditative yoga among the techno-rural of my particular latitude and longitude.

Because, for reasons I do not entirely understand, looking at eggs and handling them, hefting their light weight in my cupped hand, makes me feel that my life is not actually slipping away like so much sand through Time's long fingers. Eggs are the secret sharer to that poem by Anna Kamienska which also comforts me in a way too deep for me to explain.

"A Prayer that Will be Answered"

Lord let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it

so that someone may bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head.

(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Linda Pastan: "September"

"John the Baptist in the Wilderness," by Geertgen tot Sint-Jans
(click to see the really wonderful detail of his sad and lonely feet)

by Linda Pastan

it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet

I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves

as if after a battle
or a sudden journey

I went to sleep in summer
I dreamed of rain

in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn

. . . and here is the power of poetry.

Last night I set this poem to post this morning - a warm night in late summer. And in the morning awoke to the sound of rain and a cold bedroom. The poem had come true.

I put on, for the first time this morning, a jacket and flannel-lined jeans to walk the hills.

Summer is over.

Yes, she may come back, all golden and blowsy-petaled like an opera star for a final farewell performance - and then again, perhaps, for a really, truly final farewell performance. But we all know. 

Summer is over.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Raymond Carver: "My Work"

"My Work"
by Raymond Carver

I look up and see them starting
down the beach. The young man
is wearing a packboard to carry the baby.
This leaves his hands free
so that he can take one of his wife’s hands
in his, and swing his other. Anyone can see
how happy they are. And intimate. How steady.
They are happier than anyone else, and they know it.
Are gladdened by it, and humbled.
They walk to the end of the beach
and out of sight. That’s it, I think,
and return to this thing governing
my life. But in minutes

they come walking back along the beach.
The only thing different is that they have changed sides.
He is on the other side of her now,
the ocean side. She is on this side.
But they are still holding hands. Even more
in love, if that’s possible. And it is.
Having been there for a long time myself.
Theirs has been a modest walk, fifteen minutes
down the beach, fifteen minutes back.
They’ve had to pick their way
over some rocks and around huge logs,
tossed up from when the sea ran wild.

They walk quietly, slowly, holding hands.
They know the water is out there
but they’re so happy that they ignore it.
The love in their young faces. The surround of it.
Maybe it will last forever. If they are lucky,
and good, and forbearing. And careful. If they
go on loving each other without stint.
Are true to each other—that most of all.
As they will be, of course, as they will be,
as they know they will be.
I go back to my work. My work goes back to me.
A wind picks up out over the water.

for more read "Going to Water"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Portrait by a Neighbor"

“Gardening in the Rain,” by Brian Kershisnik

"Portrait by a Neighbour"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you'll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It's long after midnight,
Her key's in the lock,
And you'll never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o'clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon,

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne's Lace!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Karl Krolow: "The Open Shutter"

"The Open Shutter"
by Karl Krolow

Someone pouring light
Out of the window.
The roses of air
And children
Playing in the street
Look up.
Pigeons nibble
At its sweetness.
Girls are beautiful
And men gentle
In this light.
But before the others say so
Someone shuts
The window again.

(translated from the German by Kevin Perryman)

Monday, May 4, 2009

"May" by Mary Oliver & "Invocation of the Creator" by the Yoruba

There is a hum just beyond our hearing.

A turbine beyond knowing at the hub of being.

Once, walking down the hill road toward the shady gully on a hot still day, we moved step by step into some gradually perceptible hum - I felt it first like fear, my own blood thrumming in my veins, like a warning before waking. And then I saw a shifting cloud, darkling against the trees - frightening and somehow holy. I had no words to name it, but held the hands of my two small daughters more tightly.

How long a moment was that? It seems to still be humming while we stand, still and waiting, the shifting flickering light like a school of fish, like mica flashing as it's wiggled back and forth in the sun, and the hum and buzz mesmerizing us still.

It was a swarm of bees, resting on the air, and moving as with meaning.

Now I understood that Yoruba chant:

Invocation of the Creator
by the Yoruba people (translated by Ulli Beier)

He is patient, he is not angry.
He sits in silence to pass judgment.
He sees you even when he is not looking.
He stays in a far place—but his eyes are on the town.

He stands by his children and lets them succeed.
He causes them to laugh—and they laugh.
Ohoho—the father of laughter.
His eye is full of joy.
He rests in the sky like a swarm of bees.

Obatala—who turns blood into children.

Now I hear that sound of power even in the daily bees who visit the yard, singly and innocent, bent on gathering, to bring back food for the future.

I am following the news of endangered bees and disappearing hives with care because there are fruits beyond knowing and honey beyond sweet that we are losing if we lose the bees.

Mary Oliver's poem, "May," hums with m's and n's - a hum deepening with the voiced echoes of the repeated b's and d's. Her poem buzzes with s's and z's - and even fs and vs and hard ths pick up the buzz like sympathetic wires. She begins like the Yoruba in a chant, composed of short syllables within a strong forward-driving line of four beats, then tumbles (with "dive") down into the throat of flowers at the fourth line, where the rhythm loses itself in delight there in the nectar and pollen, before regathering and backing out onto the lip of the flower, that liminality at the threshold to flight - where lines 5 and 6 swell out to five, six beats each - before pumping back into that heartbeat four-count chant (with one mid-air pause - or one still moment riding at the hub of a spinning top - for emphasis - in the three beats of line 8).

by Mary Oliver

May, and among the miles of leafing,
blossoms storm out of the darkness—
windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees
dive into them and I too, to gather
their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs
is the deepest certainty that this existence too—
this sense of well-being, the flourishing
of the physical body—rides
near the hub of the miracle that everything
is a part of, is as good
as a poem or a prayer, can also make
luminous any dark place on earth.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Naomi Shihab Nye: "Famous"

"Carp," by Hokusai

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anyone said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

e.e. cummings: "#9, suppose Life . . ."

"Spring" by Lee Bennion

by e.e. cummings

Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head.

young death sits in a café
smiling, a piece of money held between
his thumb and first finger

(i say “will he buy flowers” to you
and “Death is young
life wears velour trousers
life totters, life has a beard” i

say to you who are silent.—“Do you see
Life? he is there and here,
or that, or this
or nothing or an old man 3 thirds
asleep, on his head
flowers, always crying
to nobody something about les
roses les bluets yes,
will He buy?
Les belles bottes—oh hear
, pas chères”)

and my love slowly answered I think so. But
I think I see someone else

there is a lady, whose name is Afterwards
she is sitting beside young death, is slender;
likes flowers

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Power of the Psalms

I’ve been asked to teach you how to write a psalm.
In 15 minutes?
So here goes:

a psalm is

a poem sung unto God,

or in praise of
    or about God.

(click on picture to enlarge)
Hand-out: (highlight  Types: Lament,Thanksgiving, etc. Structure of a Lament-type psalm: 1) Statement of distress, 2) Word of trust in God, 3)Appeal for deliverance, 4) Declaration of obedience, 5) Vow to sing a Thanksgiving. Examples of psalms in other places in the scriptures.)
The best way to learn to write a psalm?

Read the psalms – soak up their rhythms, imagery, their spirit of reverence.  Then write from your heart.

And there you have it! – and all under 15 minutes!

I’ll take the next 13 minutes to get you started in reading the psalms. Why psalms anyway?

Deuteronomy 31:19, 21

Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel . . .

And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed . . .
That’s the power of poetry and song – even little jingles stick in your mind: advertising slogans, rhyming bits of advice:
I before E, except after C,”
When in doubt, throw it out.”

We need to lay claim on our heritage – Read the psalms.

Generations before us knew the psalms well - you’ll probably recognize these sayings even if you don’t recognize them as verses of the psalms:
Lift mine eyes unto the hills . . .

Except the Lord build the house . . .

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee . . .

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion . . .

Make a joyful noise . . .

Create in me a clean heart . . .

God is a very present help in trouble . . .

Be still & know that I am God . . .
One of the most interesting things I learned is that what we call the "Book of Psalms" is really separated into 5 Books – each with its own theme (see hand-out). The psalms build on each other, comment on each other.

Realizing this interaction and realizing that different psalms were sung in different settings (on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at certain holidays or times of the year, as a Q&A call-and-response during temple worship) makes the psalms even more interesting.

I can’t do justice to the whole book of Psalms so I will focus just on Book 1

(which is a wrench because I’m dying to talk about Psalm 73 which begins Book 3 and Psalm 80 – both very thoughtful, poignant laments. And Psalm 42-43 which begins Book 2 with its beautiful imagery of the deer panting after water and its repeated refrains – gorgeous lines of poetry. And I wanted to read to you Psalm 104 from Book 4 which re-creates the whole creation line after line – Read it yourself! Great stuff here!)

Book 1 of the Book of Psalms focuses on the path of Wisdom and the Law. As in all the “books” of the Psalms, the first psalm of this section sets the tone and establishes the theme:

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man
that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly . . .
but his delight is in the law of the Lord . . .
and he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper . . .
The mood is trusting, hopeful and innocent, and full of childlike awe. Many beautiful passages describe God and humanity at peace together in the wonder of the creation:

Psalm 8

When I consider the heavens,
the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of god
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech and sheweth knowledge . . .

Psalm 23 – we know it as "The Lord is my Shepherd" – is a psalm of pilgrimage sung while travelling to Jerusalem for feast days at Temple. Doesn’t knowing that setting and imagining the dry and rocky terrain the pilgrims had to travel over, the danger of robbers along the way, add to the significance of this psalm?

Psalm 29 – I wish I could hear this is Hebrew, but even in our English translation it is a great thundering poem describing an awesome storm rising over the Mediterranean (“many waters”) rolling ominously over the mountains of Lebanon and spending itself in the desert. Listen to how these lines build and rumble:

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty,
give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters:
the Lord of glory thundereth:
the Lord is upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars;
yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon . . .
This section, Book 1, is full of Wisdom-type psalms. However, even the Laments you find in Book 1 are more hopeful than in later sections. And only in Book 1 do we find standing alone just the more optimistic parts of a lament – for example, a Song of Trust (Psalm 11) and a Vow (Psalm 16). Remember a vow was usually the last part of a lament where the sufferer promises to sing a Thanksgiving psalm in God’s honor in the courts of the temple once he is delivered from suffering.

For the last seven or so minutes I would like to focus on one particular Lament-type psalm in Book 1, Psalm 22, which begins: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? These are, of course, also the words Christ cried out in a loud voice during the depths of His final suffering on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

Knowing this psalm and knowing how psalms function teaches us something. These lines are more than just the cry of His anguish. It is prophecy of what is coming next – indeed when Christ cries out the words of this psalm in Aramaic, Eli, eli, lama sabachthani? those roundabout mock him, “Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him,” just like verses 7 and 8 of the psalm would have led Christ’s disciples to expect:

All they that see me laugh me to scorn:
they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him
let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
After Christ dies the soldiers will cast lots for His clothing – just like the lines of the psalm in verse 18, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”

This is the power of a psalm – with a few words Jesus can send a kind of shorthand message to His disciples – to prophesy of what’s coming next and to comfort them and to bear testimony to them. Because the psalm doesn’t just describe great suffering:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint:
my heart is like wax;
it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

For dogs have compassed me:
the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:
they pierced my hands and my feet.
But because this psalm is also remarkable among the Book of Psalms for the unshakable trust of the sufferer who knows He is beloved of God and expresses His complete reliance on His Father:

But thou art he that took me out of the womb:
thou didst make me hope
when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon thee from the womb:
thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
So when Christ cries out the opening phrase of a familiar psalm, He starts up a process in His disciples’ minds, that takes them from suffering, through reliance on God, to the victory over death:

Ye that fear the Lord, praise him;
all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him;
and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
neither hath he hid his face from him;
but when he cried unto him, he heard.
And it’s obvious from the way Matthew has structured his account of Christ’s crucifixion, the details that Matthew emphasizes, that Psalm 22 is playing in the background for him as he writes down his testimony of Christ - his testament of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Shortly after He cries out, “My God, my God , why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus gives up the ghost and dies – but if we know the psalm then we know He is also telling us what is really coming next, what comes after the garments are divided among the soldiers, after the apparent victory of the powers of this world.

Remember that the final part of a lament is a vow to sing a Thanksgiving among the congregation at the Temple? Remember that the temple was simply an earthly representation of Heaven? Verses 22 and 25 of the psalm remind us:

I will declare thy name unto my brethren:
in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. . . .
My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation:
I will pay my vows before them that fear him . . . 
The psalm reminds us – and the words of the psalm would have painted a picture in the minds of the disciples mourning there at the foot of that terrible cross – reminding them that Christ would now be ascending to that Great Congregation where He would declare the triumph of His Father’s name in the courts of Heaven and fulfill His vow to sing praise to His Everlasting Father – there amidst all the hosts of heaven.

Christ knew, as the psalmist knew, that “none can keep alive his own soul,” but must submit to the will of the Father. Christ knew that
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24)
as the psalmist knew, that

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
The disciples would have echoing in their ears – as we should also have echoing in our ears – a call to now carry forward Christ’s triumphant message to the rest of God's children:
All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord:
and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s:
and he is the governor among the nations. . . .
They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness
unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
And that is the power of the psalms. Read them and lay claim to the comfort and prophecy and testimony that the psalms have carried – through the years – until our day – for you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

W.S. Merwin : "The Blessing" and "Separation"

I once had a friend who now won’t answer when I write.

This is a long story and because I still think that someday (like Jefferson and Adams) we will be friends again I won’t try to postulate in public the whys (except that I am superficial and conventional and she is running so hard - like the man in Merwin’s poem:

The Blessing

There is a blessing on the wide road
the egg shell road the baked highway
there is a blessing an old woman
walking fast following him

pace of a child following him

he left today
in a fast car

until or unless
she is with him
the traffic flows through her
as though she were air
or not there

she can speak only to him
she can tell him
what only he can hear

she can save him

it might be enough

she is hurrying

he is making good time
his breath comes more easily
he is still troubled at moments
by the feeling
that he has forgotten something
but he thinks he is escaping a terrible
This month is the month of her birthday and so I remember her even with the forefront of my brain and even the surface of my heart. It has been six (seven?) years since we were friends and it is no longer true – that other poem of Merwin’s:


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Or maybe it is so true that I’m not aware any more of the thread that is her absence running through my days.

What is true is that she is irreplaceable for me.

Which is amazing. I have been so unreasonably blessed with the friendship of remarkable people – friends who have come from faraway to this tucked-away corner of the world, friends who have lived beside me for years before unpacking the treasure that is themselves. New friends and old friends, friends who are related to me by blood and marriage, friends who were strangers when we first meet, friends whom I feel I've known forever.

But none of them are her. None of you are. Irreplaceable all of you, I’m afraid, though (please) let’s not separate and see.

I was going to write this week about Eldest Child pointing out that I am unreliable about meals – sometimes I say I am making something for dinner and then get sidetracked and never start or get involved in an hours-long cooking project. This is true. And at the time, her pointing it out was . . . painful seems too strong a word. But the clear-eyed look she bent on me while explaining why she would make her own dinner before finishing something I wanted her to do was diminishing. However, now weeks later, that is all old news – only this sad old sorrow, this friend gone away from me, still feels fresh.

"Dogsbody" is the title of what I thought I was going to write – about the time my friend and I, when we were still friends, confused the word dogsbody with godsbody and insights resulting therefrom that seemed to apply to my daughter and the diminished I, at the beck and call of every household expectation.

But instead all I can think of is what a stupid hound the heart is – you try to yell at it and order it back home and it whines and cowers back, until you aren’t looking, then bounds up around your heels again, ears flapping, tongue flapping, so glad to be out on the road with a friend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Amy Clampitt: "The Smaller Orchid"

"Winter Dancing" by Brian Kershisnik

"The Smaller Orchid"
by Amy Clampitt

Love is a climate
small things find safe
to grow in—not
(though I once supposed so)
the demanding cattleya
du côté de chez Swann,
glamour among the fauborgs,
hothouse overpowerings, blisses
and cruelties at teatime, but this
next-to-unindentifiable wildling,
hardly more than a
sprout, I’ve found
flourishing in the hollows
of a granite seashore—
a cheerful tousle, little,
white, down-to-earth orchid
declaring its authenticity,
if you hug the ground
close enough, in a powerful
whiff of vanilla.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gerard Kelly: "Behold I Stand"

"Behold I Stand"
by Gerard Kelly

When the night is deep
With the sense of Christmas
And expectancy hangs heavy
On every breath,
Behold I stand at the door and knock.

When the floor is knee deep
In discarded wrapping paper
And the new books are open at page one
And the new toys are already broken,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

When the family is squashed
Elbow to elbow
Around the table
And the furious rush for food is over
And the only word that can describe the feeling
Is full,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

And when Christmas is over
And the television is silent
For the first time in two days
And who sent which card to whom
Is forgotten until next year,
Behold, I stand at the door.

And when the nation has finished celebrating
Christmas without Christ
A birthday
Without a birth
The coming of a kingdom
Without a King
And when I am

Behold, I stand.
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