In The Midden Of My Mind

Climbing-Trees

“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories.  And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.”

Stevie Wonder

Motown Cross

(Excerpt – Sonnet #3 in the crown of sonnets)

by Patricia Smith

Silk where his throat should be, and growling grace,
Little Stevie made us wonder why
we even needed sight. His rhythm eye
could see us click our hips and swerve in place
whenever he cut loose. Ooh, we’d unlace
our Converse All-Stars. Yeah, we wondered why
we couldn’t get down without our shoes, we’d try
and dance and keep up with his funky pace
of hiss and howl and hum, and then he’d slow
to twist our hearts until he heard them crack,
ignoring what was leaking from the seams.
The rockin’ blind boy couldn’t help but show
us light. We bellowed every soulful track
from open window, ’neath the door—pipe dreams.

If you want to check out Smith’s entire crown of sonnets Motown Cross published in Rattle in 2010, check out the link or video below.

 


The best known crown of sonnets is John Donne’s La Corona that begins, “Deign at my hands the crown of prayer and praise.”   It sets the standard by which all others are measured.  If you are not familiar with a crown of sonnets or sonnet sequence, it is a poem containing anywhere from seven, eleven or thirteen sonnets, written around a theme.  Modern sonnet sequences are not always in rhyme and do not necessarily follow the supposed “rules” of a crown of sonnet, but I am impressed that Patricia Smith went old school in her poem Motown Cross and followed the structure of Donne, in which the first line of the first sonnet is the last line of the last sonnet, the last line of the first sonnet is the first line of the second sonnet, and so forth with successive sonnets until the end.  The challenge in this structure is figuring out a rhyming sequence that you can continue from the end of one sonnet to the next and not have repetition and still carry the narrative forward. It provides a bigger canvas in which to work in the sonnet structure but that larger size carries with it it’s own unique set of challenges.

Like Smith, when I sat down and wrote a crown of sonnets, I looked sentimentally to the past.  She focused on music that shaped her during her, I focused on memories of growing up.   The entire sonnet sequence, In the Midden of My Mind, started with the word midden.  I came across it and it’s association with storage cupboards and sailing ships immediately conjured thoughts about climbing trees as a child, a place of mystery and serenity that still exists in my memory. I grew up in the 1960’s in a suburban landscape on a dead end street with a forest of mature trees at my door step  to explore and climb.  I had my favorites that I knew the route that I could climb to the very top and peer out over the entire world and hide from my sisters and my mom if I chose. I spent many happy summer and fall afternoons climbing trees. The act of climbing a combination of strategy, knowledge of trees,  athleticism, experience, upper arm strength and some courage.   I never fell. I have visceral memories of being at the top of swaying trees and seeing a perspective of the world that looked completely different than being on the ground.

Stevie Wonder’s album, Songs in the Key of Life was one of the very first albums I ever purchased.  It came out when I was thirteen and I listened to it over and over as a teenager.  Patricia Smith, a black woman from inner city Detroit and me a white man who grew up in suburbs of St. Paul, couldn’t in some ways be more different in our experiences, but we both danced to Stevie Wonder in our converse All Stars and we both somehow gravitated to writing a crown of sonnets to capture the mood and rhythms of our past. It took me more than six months to write In the Midden of My Mind. There were many starts and stops along the way, trying to maintain a consistent voice throughout and articulate something genuine.  In the end, I let the rhyme and sentiment both have the upper hand and though it is not one of the best things I have ever written, it has held up over the test of time in that I don’t cringe when I read it.   It still says what I want it to say. Nostalgia does not always translate well to others, our own sentimental journeys best kept as personal, but it is a way to share our common experience that connects us in ways that remind us that the human condition has more similarities that bind us together than differences that divide.


In The Midden of My Mind

By T. A. Fry

In the midden of my mind, it lies
Unbidden: the flagship of my boyhood home.
A relic hidden under bluest skies.
Where childhood’s ghosts are free to roam.
Danger beckoned me to its lofty realm
Bound by vistas from the tallest tree.
High in oaks and elm, I was at the helm
Of  tall ships sailing effortlessly.

Oh, to climb into youth’s panoply,

The dappled greens of windy murmur.
The swaying solitude of the canopy,
Above the scrambling of terra firma.
Though nostalgia’s pastel does not grow dreary,
The past’s colors blend until I’m leery.

 

The past’s colors blend until I’m leery.
It bends, then fades to form a rosy veil.
What once was real becomes more a theory,
In retelling tales that time assails.
Those days when marbles were like Midas gold,
Jewels handed down to daughters and sons.
When aggies, clears, cat-eyes and shooters rolled
To clack, smack and crack, nothing less was fun.

In long grass we played, our days unbroken.

While wildflowers buzzed with a winged milieu.
A place where kindness, if it went unspoken,
Was felt in the warmth to see us through.
A timeless landscape that shall never lapse.
When all the marbles were within my grasp.

 


When all the marbles were within my grasp.
Some gained, some lost, but all in fair play.
Until one day I turned to find the hasp
of my chest broken and all in disarray.
Death’s screech hailed me beneath a tire
Revealing the flash by which souls burn.
Chance disrobed the vagary of death’s attire
That clothes the nakedness from which we learn.

There lay crumbled before me what had been

An electric grey kitten who filled my days
With boundless play and purry naps, but in
A dash, his companionship was torn away.
Death’s design is a bloody valentine.
Is it childish to wish to turn back time?

 

Is it childish to wish to turn back time?
Life’s an endless game between gain and loss.
Death picks breath’s pocket. Yet there’s no crime.
For pure gold is smelt alongside the dross.
Are words fit crucibles for our stores?
No matter what preciousness is poured.
The past sounds hollow, when its essence roared.
Or cold metallic, when by warmth adorned.

My first real kiss from a neighbor girl.
Her lips wet and sweet, like an apple core.
Shining sun bronzed hair, not a hint of curl,
With gentle fondness, it was a thrill.
Is it any wonder I ponder still?
Soft fingers alighting on emerging will.

 

Soft fingers alighting on emerging will.
Awakened chords to songs I’d yet to sing.
Her hazel eyes afire with new found skills.
Planted bouquets of flowers I’d yet to bring.
My garden grew more bold and lush.  By what
Bewitching alchemy does love distill?
Young men from boys and with it cut
The last apron string that holds them still.

In the midden of my mind is always lit,

A candle kindled by my Mother’s grace.
It’s held in a stanchion, a sturdy kit,
Iron my father forged along its base.
By loving hands honor is embraced.
In trusting arms confidence is encased.

 

In trusting arms confidence is encased
Despite the clumsy sack-race of boys to men.
Bumbling, stumbling – ignorance is erased.
Only at the tape to hear it’s jeers again.
I drank the cold brew from which poise streams. 
And ate the fruit that falls from laughter’s tree.
I ventured far beyond green childish dreams,
With ungainly strength to go forth and be.

I unearthed proud mystery in this world.

In dominion o’er my body and my mind. 
I watched sun and moon around me swirl
And mulled how tempest winds unwind.
I made few inroads into golden plains.
But not all my wandering was in vain.

 

 

Not all my wandering was in vain.
I said “I do” before those hazel eyes,
Declared “I do” twice more as children came.
In praise of Gods that be with grateful cries.
As victory and failure filled my sail.
And first kisses gave way to wayward sighs.
Through it all I heard love’s warbling wail.
Though time forgets all the whats and whys.

As epitaphs replaced old love songs sung.

Despite all that’s happened love prevailed.
White hair the vanguard of immortal young
Who listen politely to our wistful tale.
For as I look back with old thankful eyes,
There, in the midden of my mind it lies.

And Now My Heart Is Sore

trumpeter_swans
Trumpeter Swans

Wild Swans Near Gladstone

by James P. Lenfestey

A pair of swans lingers in the bay
opposite the freeway in upper Michigan in summer.
“Mated for life,” I point out to my wife,
“Mute swans,” she says, not looking,
“no need to talk.” I note the graceful mute life,
she driving her quiet Prius, me a quiet guest.
When her eyes, weary, reluctantly offer me
the wheel, it is like relinquishing a broken
sword into tall grass after a day of battle.
Now my turn to drive, and my mind wanders
over the pair of elegant swans seen every time
we pass the curve of the bay together, or alone.


I don’t think the titles of these two poems are a coincidence.  So how does that connection add greater complexity to Lefenstey’s poem? And does it equally impart a different layer of meaning to Yeats’ poem?  In my opinion, time is not linear in literature, time is only relevant to the reader.  Does Homer change with time, with every new novel and poem written does Odysseus become a new man?  Or are we the only ones who become renewed and the love of wild swans remains eternal?


Wild Swans at Coole

by W. B. Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

For Perfection’s Endowment

Richie-Hofmann_
Richie Hofmann

Bright Walls

by Richie Hofmann

It was not penitence I sought, standing outside
the bedroom in the old apartment

where you had spent the night alone.
To bend, to kneel before some greater force–

that was no longer what I wished.
Clouds blew in from the coast, and I felt

the sun abandoning the window behind me,
making the bright walls suddenly colorless,

obscuring everything, for a moment,
that I wanted. When I finally entered,

I saw you still asleep–a wet strand
of hair tucked behind your ear, the husk

of your body–and lingered there for a minute,
before walking upstairs to shut the windows.


Now

by Robert Browning

Out of your whole life give but one moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, – so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present, – condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense –
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me –
Me – sure that despite of time future, time past, –
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet –
The moment eternal – just that and no more –
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
When cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!

You Shall Above All Things Be Glad And Young

joy_harjo
Joy Harjo

you shall above all things be glad and young

by e. e. cummings

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you’re young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man’s
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation’s dead undoom.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


There are certain poems that jump out and bite me, latch on and won’t let go.  Both of these poems reached out and bit me several weeks back and I have come back to read them over and over.  I can’t even articulate the power they have over me, other than I smile when I read them. I like a poet who has the talent to make me smile, make me happy that they took the time to share the glory of their inner thoughts.

I wish our federal government had a kitchen table that each morning our leaders were required to not only make breakfast with each other but sit down and eat it together with a civil tongue.   I recently wrote a blessing to remind me of how blessed I am.

Thank you for this food.  I give thanks because I’m able.
Thank you for each person dining at this table

Focus on what’s good, let my breath be praise.
Let’s enjoy the rest of this ordinary day.

And when my wrongs need right, grant me strength to see.
Then find in this brief silence, forgiveness and revelry.


Perhaps the World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

Their Lutes Did Silent Grow

Elizabeth-Barrett-Brownin-010
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Grief

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

Sonnets From The Portuguese
26

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I lived with visions for my company,
Instead of men and women, years ago,
And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.
But soon their trailing purple was not free
Of this world’s dust, — their lutes did silent grow,
And I myself grew faint and blind below
Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst come … to be,
Belovèd, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,
Their songs, their splendours, (better, yet the same,
As river-water hallowed into fonts)
Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
My soul with satisfaction of all wants —
Because God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.

You Cannot Make A Show Of It

Brinded-Cow
A Pied Beauty

Sonnet As Soft Form

by Jane Huffman

You cannot make a show of it:
sadness as gazing ball (i.e., garden
globe, lawn orb.)

I had sadness by the short hairs,
loved the proverbial much-older
man, in image and idea.

The image: the tin roof, the heat.
The idea: the cat.

In other words, there’s the cowboy,
there’s the sadness of the land,

and then there’s the cow—  


The current fad of endless TV shows, Netlfix series and movies that present a vision of a dystopian future where the environment, economy and society have devolved into chaos may feel somewhat new, but that fad cycles every couple of decades.  When I was a kid, Charleston Heston took a couple of star turns in the Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes where the future looked pretty bleak. hop Soylent Green in particular made quite an impression on me, the idea of food scarcity being hidden beneath a vast government conspiracy to cover up where the latest juicy vittles to feed a starving mankind truly originated gave me the eebie-jeebies rather than a good scare.

It’s why I am very skeptical about the prospects for success for companies developing “cultured” meat and fish.   What is “cultured” meat?   Its not plant based substitutes which I think is a great idea, but are companies that are figuring out ways to reproduce beef, pork and fish cells in a cell culture to produce meat without an animal.  The pitch is going to be these are safer – no e-coli to contend with, better for the environment, no cows giving off methane gas and less pressure on limited fishing reserves in the ocean, and more humane, no actual animals being killed and processed for human consumption.  But something doesn’t feel right about it.   Its a little too close to science fiction for my taste.  Besides, without the cow, what are  cowgirls and cowboys going to do?


Pied Beauty

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
  .  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
   .         For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
.     Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
    .            And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   ,    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
 .           With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
.                              Praise him.

 

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

 

AALogo.jpg

The Mourners

by William H. Ogilvie

When all the light and life are sped
Of flowing tails and manes
And flashing stars, and forelocks spread,
and foam-flecks on the reins.

I like to think from every land
And far beyond the wave
A crowd of ghosts will come and stand
In grief around the grave.


 

A friend of mine died Friday morning.  He had been in the hospice program through Methodist Hospital for the past 11 months.   He died with his daughter holding his hand, telling him it was okay to let go.  I was assigned to Jim  as a hospice volunteer but I can honestly say we became friends in the past year.  Jim had lived a big life.  He had a family.  He had been a successful venture capitalist, a entrepreneur, involved in starting up a number of new businesses, saving failing ones and generally having a good time putting deals together.  He had worked and travled in Mexico and the Phillipines and was well traveled.  He had all the trappings of what successful business men have, a big house on Lake Minnetonka, boats, a cabin up north, nice cars, plenty of money to spend.   And he was an alcoholic.

Jim was very up front about his disease.  He had been sober for seventeen years when I met him and it was besides his children and grand children the thing he was most proud that he had accomplished in his life, though he was not boastful about it.  Jim taught me a lot about what it takes to make a commitment to sobriety.  The most profound thing he shared was;

“the biggest mistake that people make who want to stop drinking is they think they will be happier if they quit.  And so they come to A. A. for a while and they discover they are just as miserable as before.   If you really want to stop drinking you have to address the underlying issues that drove the drinking in the first place.  You have to find your serenity.   If you can do that, you can quit drinking for good.”

What made Jim an amazing person was his positive attitude and his focus on connection to others.  When I met Jim he was on oxygen 24/7.   He couldn’t drive anymore and yet he found a way to get to his local A. A. meeting over the noon hour every day.  He sponsored countless men and women over the years and was constantly patiently encouraging others.   Jim had loyal friends because he was such a loyal friend.

Jim and I mostly talked when I visited and usually we laughed a lot.  Jim shared the foibles that happen in life and the good stuff too.  Jim had a interest in horse racing and would bet races all over the world from his living room connected through his lap top.  Some weeks he was up, some weeks he was down, but he always had fun.

Jim is a success story of how our communities are supposed to work.  The hospice program gave Jim dignity.  It allowed him to remain in his apartment and receive outstanding care tailored to his needs that actually improved his health and quality of life for his remaining year.   Jim got stronger while in hospice and up until the last month lived with minimal pain and with good support from his nurse and social services.  Jim would tell me, “I can’t believe all the things I have access too, life is good.”

Jim served in the Marine corps, but he never spoke about his military service.  We didn’t talk politics, I am not even sure how old hew was.  We didn’t talk about his illness and we didn’t talk about death.   Jim and I just talked about our lives, funny things that happened and played cribbage.   And from those conversations I watched a man who truly was at peace with all that happened in his life and learned the secret to that happiness – find your serenity.   And if you haven’t found it yet, figure out what you need to change, and change it.

I shall miss our conversations.  I will miss your laugh and your smile.  Thanks for the lessons on humility and serenity.  God Bless you Jim.


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.