I found the letter in a cardboard box,
Unfamous history. I read the words.
The ink was frail and brown, the paper dry
After so many years of being kept.
The letter was a soldier’s, from the front—
Conveyed his love and disappointed hope
Of getting leave. It’s cancelled now, he wrote.
My luck is at the bottom of the sea.
Outside the sun was hot; the world looked bright;
I heard a radio, and someone laughed.
I did not sing, or laugh, or love the sun,
Within the quiet room I thought of him,
My father killed, and all the other men,
Whose luck was at the bottom of the sea.
My Grandfather’s luck was better. He served in both World War I and World War II. But because he was a civil engineer, he was never assigned to combat duty, his skills in building bridges and roads more highly prized behind the front lines. He was also fortuitous in the timing of his enlistment in WWI, finishing boot camp and embarking for France only months before the end of the war. I am glad my Grandfather’s was not only unfamous history but also unremarkable, coming home physically and mentally intact with only a finer appreciation of european beer.
But luck and War have always been connected. Maybe it’s why I have an aversion to the omnipotent presence of technology in our lives. Technology that seems so benign in peace time will be the scourge of luck in war-time. The next world war will be fought with such inhuman precision that luck won’t stand a chance.
Let’s honor the brave and the fallen in World War I on this 100 year anniversary of the end of the war, but let’s not glorify it. The battle field poets certainly didn’t on both sides of the conflict. Let’s save some of our patriotic fervor to hold accountable our current leadership. Hold them accountable to value diplomacy and reasoned avoidance of conflict as just as critical to a strong national defense, as the bloated budget for the Department of Defense. Let us hope that the lessons of the past informs our leadership of tomorrow and that pride and ego do not plunge us into war that could have been avoided with a touch more humility and a lot less bombastic lunacy.
The Man He Killed
by Thomas Hardy
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”
The crowd rose to its feet for his final walk, In blue catcher’s gear, not worn in years. He strode to the plate, slowly crouched, then caught, One final pitch to end a great career. Joe then tipped his cap, left to acclaim. The win in the balance, three outs to get. No letting nostalgia disrespect the game, There’ll be time for laurels, we won’t forget.
But who’ll mark the next fifteen? My Mother – Gone, who loved this Joe. Baseball her last one Great love affair. Always rooting for our Hometown heroes; Hrbek, Morris, Mauer Molitor, Winfield and Puckett. All sons Who rose, beyond the hopes of their brothers.
Traditions don’t start out as traditions. It becomes a tradition when its been going on for so long you can’t remember when it started. I have been to the last home game of either the Minnesota Twins or Oakland A’s for over 20 years. I can’t tell you the first time but I can tell you the year it became a tradition; 2003. That’s because the previous year in 2002, the Twins had faced the Oakland A’s in the first round of the playoffs and won the series 3-2, going on to lose to the eventual world series champions the Anaheim Angels in the second round. The next year my Mother and I looked at the schedule in May and I bought tickets for whichever team was home for the last game of the year. It just so happened that they alternated for a series of years while she was living in the Bay area and a big A’s fan and Twin’s fan. From 2003 to 2015, the year before she died, we would go to the last game of the season together. And what made those games remarkable was the consistency with which either the Twins or the A’s made the playoffs during that 13 year period.
The decade of the 90’s saw the Twins make the playoffs in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010. A remarkable run fueled by great young players, but at the center of every one of those teams was Joe Mauer. Justin Mourneau won the AL MVP in 2006 and Joe Mauer won it in 2009, each having a remarkable year that wound never be equaled again in their careers.
Joe parlayed a run of greatness from 2006 to 2009, that saw him win three batting titles, the only catcher in major league history to do so, into the largest contract ever signed by a Minnesota Twin, an eight year 180 million dollar contract that made him one of the highest paid baseball players at the time. It has pained me during the past 8 years to see sports writer after sports writer criticize Joe for not equaling the greatness of 2006 to 2010 during the course of the past eight years. Yes, Joe never hit as many home runs again as 2009 or won another batting title; injuries, concussions and age finally catching up. But let’s make no mistake as we look back on Joe’s career – Joe Mauer earned every penny he made in this game.
Joe has been the greatest baseball player that each of us as Twins fans had the privilege to root for over the past 15 years. Joe accomplished things as a hitter during his career that put him in the mix with some of the greatest players of the past 80 years. Joe’s batting title in 2009 with a season long .365 average has only been bettered since 1941 by Ted Williams, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra and Ichiro Suzuki. The fact that Joe was a catcher, taking a beating daily behind the plate from foul tips all season long makes that 2009 season stand out as one of the best by any player in the past 100 years.
Joe never changed as a ball player. He certainly doesn’t fit the mold of today’s MVPs, with all the focus on home runs, launch angle and the hit for power cybermetrics that dominates baseball now. Joe’s sweet swing never changed from his first game to his last at bat. He could hit for power once in a while, but it was not his bread and butter. Joe was one of the best 2 strike hitters in baseball history. Joe seemed to more often than not work the count deep, waiting for his pitch to shoot the ball the other way into the gap or up the middle. He was not a pull hitter, he was a smart contact hitter and he wasn’t going to change.
My mother adored Joe Mauer. On a visit to the Metrodome back in the 2000’s she took home a give away Joe Mauer doll. To this day, that doll rides her trike that she grew up pedaling as a three-year old. That Joe Mauer doll was her good luck charm during the Twins playoff years, her silly companion watching every single game during the regular seasons and a fond reminder of her unabashed love of Joe as a baseball player.
What makes Joe Mauer a special ball player, is more than what he accomplished on the field. In all the years of Joe’s career he not only had to carry the expectations of on field success, he had to carry an entire regions hopes and dreams of being the hometown hero off the field as well. Although the elusive elixir of winning a World Series alluded the Twins during his tenure, Joe never once disrespected the game. He never once embarrassed the team or the state of Minnesota with an off field or on field issue. Joe played this game of baseball with as much finesse, class and skill as is humanly possible. I will always feel fortunate to have been present to watch him on his last moment in uniform, watch him collect his last hit, a classic hussle Joe Mauer double to the opposite field and take that final pitch and walk off the field. Thank you Joe for a great career!
In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We’re gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by the photographer’s backdrop —
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing, a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I’m offered.
We’re lining up now — Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say “race,” the photographer croons. I’m in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father’s white, I tell them, and rural.
You don’t hate the South? they ask. You don’t hate it?
by Natasha Trethewey
In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.
They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong-mis in Mississippi.
A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.
Faulkener’s Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.
My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
When I turned 33 my father said, It’s your Jesus year – you’re the same age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills greann in Mississippi
I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name –
though I’m not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,–
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. The insanity of World War I and the slaughter of young men on both sides of the war is hard to imagine today. Total casualties military and civilian is estimated at 40 million, 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded.
There is a large body of war poetry from WWI that is worth the time to seek out. The waste of brilliant lives makes these poems vibrant, tragic, sarcastic and human. Poets from different stripes and ages were just men desperately wanting nothing more than to go home. Owen denied that privilege and Blunden tortured for it.
Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau
by Edmund Blunden
‘And all her silken flanks with garlands drest’—
But we are coming to the sacrifice.
Must those flowers who are not yet gone West?
May those flowers who live with death and lice?
This must be the floweriest place
That earth allows; the queenly face
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.
Bold great daisies’ golden lights,
Bubbling roses’ pinks and whites—
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million;
Such damask! such vermilion!
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour
Is scarcely right; this red should have been duller.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
The Song of The Ungirt Runners
by Charles Hamilton Sorley
We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance asked why I didn’t have cable television as an explanation for why I was sitting in a bar watching a baseball game that was on TBS. When I said it’s because I prefer to spend my free time writing instead of watching TV, she said, “I’m an English major, what do you write?” I said I write a blog about poetry. She proceeded to feign interest and asked if she could read it. I should have said no, as baseball, beer, bars and poetry don’t really go together, but I pulled out my phone, pulled up that day’s entry and handed it to her. She borrowed my glasses, proceeded to read the days poem with complete lack of interest dripping off of every syllable and continued on with my commentary in the same vein and then handed both my phone and glasses back to me, saying as she did, “you do realize you are not the first person to utter these sentiments?” I said yes, I am aware that nothing I write is unique and proceeded to go back to watching the game, smiling as I did. At least she found something I said related to something she considers poetry.
Her comment underlines one of the great questions about my artistic endeavors that I wrestle with; is anything I create original or is everything a derivation or a poor imitation? This is one of the reasons I write sonnets, their strict structure conveys clearly I am not trying to claim I am inventing something new. Rather, I am infusing the poem with a historical backbone that can’t be ignored. Does this mean that because my writing is unoriginal in its form that it is less creative as well? Possibly. I choose to write mostly in rhyme because I find it more entertaining. If it is a poor imitation of more talented writers throughout history, then forgive my amateurish attempts as simply that; being an amateur. But it doesn’t mean my creative process doesn’t have value to me. My attempts to put to paper my own thoughts refine and sharpens my human experience. The process of writing brings a mindfulness to my daily routine that is worth the effort, even if the end product is mediocre.
I can always point to similarities to other poets in anything I write, the subconscious coloring inside and outside the lines based on what it currently finds interesting in whatever I am reading at the time. I find this to be true even when I have been involved in the creative brain storming process of writing called an Exquisite Corpse, invented by the Surrealists in France in the early 20th century. An Exquisite Corpse involves multiple people contributing to a drawing or a poem with only a small prompt to guide them on their portion, but no full understanding of the other’s contribution to the finished work. You would think that this collaborative spontaneous process would create the most unusual end products because of the inter-play between different people, but in hindsight there are always the footfalls of influence of others mixed in along the way.
The poem Eating Glass came about from a modified version of an Exquisite Corpse done online over email with a friend. I can point exactly to the words that are not mine, as I consider her contribution stronger. The start of the poem is based on an actual recurring dream I have frequently since I was a child of eating glass. The dream always starts out the same. These are pleasant dreams, not nightmares. I am usually outside, somewhere relatively rural and picturesque and I come across a broken window pane, a broken wine glass or a bottle, usually old and I am intrigued by the color and delicateness of it. It feels like the most natural thing at first, to feed my curiosity and take a little bite. I carefully select a shard and remove it from the cracked maze that is broken glass and hold it in my fingers. The first tentative bites are crisp and crunchy, like satisfying clear delicious glass Doritos. I take another bite, then another and suddenly I am conscious that I have a mouthful of glass and fear creeps in. The remainder of the dream until I awake is not panic, but the careful removal of every shard from my bleeding mouth.
I have not named my co-writer, unsure if she really would want transparent credit. The final stanza contains contributions from both of us but it is her words that another friend told me stops her dead every time she reads this poem; Can we manage this? We need not be alone they say….
This poem elicits stronger reactions than any other poem I have been involved in writing. People either like it or dislike it, there is no middle ground. What is at the heart of this poem is loneliness. Eating Glass is about the conflict between wanting to be in a relationship and the safety in the intention of being alone during middle age.
By T. A. Fry and J. M.
Tell me, does my Succubus owe you a favor? How else, would you come by your knowledge of my dreams of eating glass? Each of us wraiths, if not true to our dreams.
Pass over, let me slumber this night, content in chewing shards. Tomorrow shall bring another Exquisite Corpse, defiant in defiling my larder.
Why do we fear agony or tragedy as companions on this journey? We fight them, coddle them, while crooning in the darkness; “It’s unfair!”…Cry or don’t cry…. We fuck with furious fingers.
We have been here before. Liars, drunkards and whores, swapping omens, conjured from bloody entrails. Not one ending with: “……happily ever after.”
Can we manage this? We need not be alone they say…. But I am weary, contemplating another’s demons in my crib, next to my own, mewling to suckle at my tit.
When Bob Irsay, under cover of darkness, surreptitiously moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, holding a press conference the next day to announce his successful blackmailing the city of Indianapolis into building him the ugliest foot ball stadium behind the Metrodome in Minneapolis, on which the design was based, no one would have predicted that Art Modell would follow the same playbook in 1996 and move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and rename them the Baltimore Ravens, after Baltimore’s literary hometown hero – Edgar Allan Poe. If you don’t follow the intricacies of professional sports, the NFL team the Baltimore Ravens is the only professional sports team in North America named for a short story written by a 19th century poet.
How does that have anything to do with these poems? Absolutely nothing, other than I wonder how Edgar Allan Poe would feel about it? Would he have a box seat at the 50 yard line? Would he be on ESPN giving color commentary? Would he have a regular column in the Baltimore Sun?
It is a fun thing to consider, what if in each league, a sports team had to be renamed for a poet? Would the Golden State Warriors be renamed the Rainbow Warriors in honor of Allen Ginsburg? Would the Minnesota Twins be renamed the Minnesota Twains in honor of Mark Twain and Minnesota being the birth place of the Mississippi? Would the Boston Bruins in the NHL be renamed the Boston Frost after Robert Frost?
I applaud Modell for embracing literature in renaming his franchise. I think every league should require one team to be named for a writer. It might inspire more girls and boys, not just with brawn and athletic ability, but the power to influence through words.
by Edgar Allan Poe
There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave — under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hush’d — no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke — over the idle ground
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.