“It’s all right if you grow your wings on the way down.”
by Tomas Transtromer Translated by Robert Bly
After a black day, I play Haydn, and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall. The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is: “We do not surrender. But want peace.”
Anlatamiyorum (I Can’t Explain)
by Orhan Veli Kanik
If I cried, could you hear My voice in my poems, Could you touch my tears With your hands? Before I fell prey to this grief, I never knew songs were so enchanting And words so mild. I know there’s a place Where you can talk about everything; I feel I’m close to that place, Yet I can’t explain.
This is the slyness of art: If you tell enough lies, you’re bound to say something true.
by William Meredith
Touching your goodness, I am like a man Who turns a letter over in his hand And you might think this was because the hand Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man Has never had a letter from anyone; And now he is both afraid of what it means And ashamed because he has no other means To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him, Or his parents died before he sent them word, Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved. Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him. What would you call his feeling for the words That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved
William Meredith, poet, academic, translator, editor and one toughbird, wrote formal poetry at a time when formal poetry was revered. His talent was recognized young by Archibald MacLeish following his service in World War II. His writing received many awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the National Book Award and the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the International Vaptsarov Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in Poetry, two Rockefeller Foundation grants just to name a few. Meredith’s remarkable success for an extended period of time feels a bit foreign now given how out of fashion his writing is today. It shows how challenging it is to remain relevant in poetry and how fast reader’s tastes and times change.
In 1983, Meredith had a stroke and began experiencing aphasia, limiting his speech, forcing retirement from teaching. Meredith recovered some speech after years of rehab but it forever altered his experience of communication. In part because of it, Meredith received the National Book Award for Poetry for Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (1997). Meredith died in 2007 at the age of 88, having been lovingly nursed through his long illness by his partner, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis. Harties, himself a talented poet and author, is still alive and published a recent book of poetry; Plague Poems: 2020 Vision. Here’s a Youtube video of Harteis reading poetry this past New Year’s Eve. Meredith is quoted as saying; “Life is some kind of loathsome hag who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.” It feels to me that Meredith experienced ultimate beauty; love.
Words After Midnight, Forbidding Remorse
by William Meredith
Do not say to the gay game nay now lover Under cover of love enough; does puritan twinge Predict, against respite from passion, real change? No, we shall want again later and greatly all over. If the angular sky was not fashioned to conform To these warm doings, then the stars there err, For this our way always; therefore have care That no third sleeper come to our bed bringing harm: Forbid Fear, whether his face be righteous as this is And his talk scriptual of ultimate places, Or whether he wear rather War’s unfeatured face Who sleeps out nightly now and seduces Many men and innocent women in their beds; Say always to strangers that I am all your needs.
“All loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I.
by Austin MacRae
She devours Steel, and he L’Amour. She leads him to the fiction, where they part for different shelves. He’s eager to explore the tough ol’ west, and she the tough ol’ heart. They meet me at the desk with separate piles. Unthinkingly, I mix the books together. I sense his wave of nervousness. She smiles and quickly sorts the titles out. ‘Nice weather today,’ she says. He slides his pile away, averts his eyes, and waits for her to pull out bags. ‘Let’s eat at Lou’s,’ I hear her say. She grabs his arm and leads him, tote bag full of cowboy stories swinging at his heel, his sidearm holstered by her whim of steel.
Louis L’Amour wrote fiction but his life was purely genuine. Born in Jamestown North Dakota as Louis LaMoore in 1908, he moved with his father in 1923 after family finances suffered from a series of bank failures and hard times in the farming business in North Dakota. They moved west and for the next 20 years, L’Amour lived the life that would infuse his stories as a writer. Ranch hand, professional boxer, dock worker, itinerant laborer and merchant seaman, he traveled the west and the world before serving in WWII in the Army.
L’Amour always had an interest in writing and had some success placing articles on boxing along with short stories about a sea captain during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was during this time he published poetry including a number of sonnets. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that L’Amour’s big break as a writer occurred when a short story of his was published in Collier’s with a western theme. John Wayne and the producer Robert Fellows read it and Fellows offered L’Amour $4,000 for the rights to the screen play. L’Amour wisely kept the rights to the novel, rewrote the short story as a full length novel that mostly followed the plot of the movie, changed the title of the novel to Hondo, same as the movie, with a quote on the cover from John Wayne saying; “this is the finest Western I have ever read.” L’Amour’s success was cemented from there. L’Amour wrote pulp fiction in a style that was popular and was prolific in his output. Many of his books might not pass the sniff test for political correctness of today, but as a writer, he was unflagging in his focus on entertaining with the novels he created. I have probably read 10 to 15 Louis L’Amour books over the years, although none in the last 35 years. Although none of them are on my book shelves today, I look back and enjoy them all the more, knowing he also was a writer of sonnets.
An Ember In The Dark
by Louis L’Amour
Faintly, along the shadowed shores of night I saw a wilderness of stars that flamed And fluttered as they climbed or sank, and shamed The crouching dark with shyly twinkling light; I saw them there, odd fragments quaintly bright, And wondered at their presence there unclaimed, Then thought, perhaps, that they were dreams unnamed, That faded slow, like hope’s arrested flight.
Or vanished suddenly, like futile fears- And some were old and worn like precious things That youth preserves against encroaching years- Some disappeared like songs that no man sings, But one remained- an ember in the dark- I crouched alone, and blew upon the spark.
“Why speak of the use of poetry? Poetry is what uses us.
By Hayden Carruth
You rose from our embrace and the small light spread
like an aureole around you. The long parabola
of neck and shoulder, flank and thigh I saw
permute itself through unfolding and unlimited
minuteness in the movement of your tall tread,
the spine-root swaying, the Picasso-like éclat
of scissoring slender legs. I knew some law
of Being was at work. At one time I had said
that love bestows such values, and so it does,
but the old man in his canto was right and wise:
ubi amor ibi ocullus est.
Always I wanted to give and in wanting was
the poet. A man now, aging, I know the best
of love is not to bestow, but to recognize.
Let’s start with ubi amor ibi ocullus est, which means; where love is, there is insight. I have read several translations of The Divine Comedy over the years, and although I know they skillfully portrayed Dante’s words in English, the true wit and intelligence of Dante can only be understood in Italian. Maybe when I retire I’ll take on learning enough Italian to be able to read it in its original verse. The Divine Comedy takes place on the eve of Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300. Dante descends into hell with the Roman poet Virgil at his side, continues on with him into Purgatory before meeting up with his longtime platonic lover Beatrice, who guides him through Heaven. Dante wisely avoided controversy by not drawing heavily upon the bible in constructing his afterlife, allowing the theater of his literature to inform the critiques and humor that are contained within. It is only at the very end that he meets God, for whom he describes as being beyond words in the manifestation of the love of creation that surrounds us. In many ways The Divine Comedy is about love, how love heals, corrupts, tempts, tortures and purifies. Beatrice is Dante’s guide to help him rid himself of human frailties and absorb more fully a natural love that comes from all of creation’s higher power.
Hayden Carruth was a poet, critic, essayist and faithful anthologist, who spent his life connecting poetry to matters of the mind that matter. I particularly like his first line of the poem below; The shells that men secrete are made of words. A question I’ll pose is whether the use of the word “men” is limiting in that sentence? Is it sexist, symbolic, or inclusive for his time? Or as man who writes from a man’s perspective is it just his opinion, among other men and women of letters, that men’s secretions can be different than women’s in what they leave behind? Secretions being a thing that connects these two poems and obviously something that captured his imagination.
Hayden Carruth is well respected by the scholarly, but he is not a name that you come across frequently. His poetry is far superior to his current reputation. I need to look no further than the list of volumes of work he left behind to understand that he was as devoted to the craft of poetry as any writer of his era.
I keep coming back to Dante and Carruth; Where love is, there is insight. I worry that in our current environment of binary polarizing debate, we fail to find insight into “the others” point of view, because we fail to love those with which we disagree. I think Dante and Carruth have it right. If you want to understand, recognize each other through eyes of love and insights will open before our eyes.
Three Sonnets On The Necessity of Narrowly Escaping Death
by Hayden Carruth
The shells that men secrete are made of words, And even those undignified by print Are hard and multiple. Through cracks, asquint We twist for primed glimpses of the birds The flash and wheel and cry, the hundred herds Whose thundering hooves roar over the earth in sprint. We ache for motion, now and then by dint Of impulse move a nerve and think in surds.
Motion is meaning, meaning knowledge. Locked In shells of words, the mollusks know that things, Nor even selves, the crimped and cramped, unblocked, Unwatched and unexpressed. The radio sings, We think with archness of the Pleistocene, And fuel our flaccid hearts with gasoline.
Laughter and depraved. Chromatic his constant state. At
Ten, childhood took off like a scorched dog. Turned
His head to see my hand wave from a window, and I too saw
The hand untouching, distant from. What fathering-
Fear slaked the impulse to embrace him? Duration!
An indefinite continuation of life. I whirled out wings. Going
Toward. And Lord Child claimed now, climbing loose.
The fireflies have been incredible the past 4 weeks. Now, their time is waning and the frequency of their flashes dwindling as darkness sets in. There will be late emerging cousins who will continue to blink in our yard for weeks to come but the firefly light show is more subdued than compared to July 1. That’s the way with summer, things come and go quickly, its why I have to seize the moment and enjoy transient pleasures that lie at my feet, like strawberries and fireflies.
Forrest Gander was born in California and tends to return to live there after adventures elsewhere, in places like Mexico and the Midwest. He has degrees in both geology and English, suggesting an expansive curiosity that infuses his poetry. He is an accomplished translator as well as author. Gander won a Pulitzer Prize for his collection Be With in 2019. He co-authored with John Kinsella the book Redstart: An Ecological Poetics, that merges his passions. He is the editor of a bilingual anthology of contemporary Mexican poets, and has published many translations including of Neruda and Bracho below.
Translation is a complicated tango between authors. Bracho, an accomplished author and poet from Mexico City, and Gander do that dance well. I would prefer to read and understand Bracho in Spanish. Yet, I am grateful that Gander’s intelligence and wit were brought to bear to give me the opportunity to enjoy it in English.
Firefly Under the Tongue
By Coral Bracho (1951 –
Translated by Forrest Gander
I love you from the sharp tang of the fermentation;
in the blissful pulp. Newborn insects, blue.
In the unsullied juice, glazed and ductile.
Cry that distills the light:
through the fissures in fruit trees;
under mossy water clinging to the shadows. The
papillae, the grottos.
In herbaceous dyes, instilled. From the flustered touch.
oozing, bittersweet: of feracious pleasures,
of play splayed in pulses.
(Wrapped in the night’s aura, in violaceous clamor,
refined, the boy, with the softened root of his tongue
with that smooth, unsustainable, lubricity—sensitive lily
folding into the rocks
if it senses the stigma, the ardor of light—the substance, the arris
fine and vibrant—in its ecstatic petal, distended—[jewel
Phillis, how much the times are changed, Since in a hack the town you ranged, …..
Not all your carpets, and your plate, Not all your proud parade of state, Those goblets which so brightly shine, Graved by Germain with art divine; Those closets nobly furnished, where Martin’s exceeds the China ware, Your vases of Japan, and all The brittle wonders of your hall; Your diamond pendants which appear With such bright lustre at each ear; Your solitaires so dazzling bright, Your pomp which strikes the gazer’s sight, Are worth one quarter of that bliss, Which once you imparted by a kiss.
Francois-Marie Arouet – known today by his pen name Voltaire – was a distinguished member of the Enlightenment movement in France during the 18th century. As if often the case with history, our view is in stark contrast to those that lived it. The modern view of the Enlightenment era is positive; a critical transformative evolution in ideas and personal liberties. But for some early proponents, there were severe consequences. Voltaire’s work criticized French authorities, both church and state, and his writings landed him in prison at the Bastille twice for short stints. Voltaire would not be dissuaded and on the precipice of being sentenced to a longer third term, Voltaire choose exile and fled to England. Interestingly, it is in part the result of his exile why Voltaire’s influence spread globally and the reason he learned English. Voltaire’s writing was translated in many languages and Voltaire is one of the first modern global writers of influence during his life time.
Voltaire’s best known work is Candide, but like many writers, his first published work was poetry. Prolific beyond comprehension, he is said to have written more than 20,000 letters, and more than 2,000 other published works, from books, to plays, to pamphlets. For a man who died at age 63 it would mean that from age 16 on he had to write and send more than one letter a day. Voltaire’s poetry is playful, filled with inside jokes between him and friends and obviously a well deserved break from the more serious politically infused satire for which he is better known.
From Love To Friendship
If you would have me love once more, The blissful age of love restore;
Life’s loss may easily be borne, Of love bereft man is forlorn. ‘Twas thus those pleasures I lamented, Which I so oft in youth repented; My soul replete with soft desire, Vainly regretted youthful fire. But friendship then, celestial maid, From heaven descended to my aid; Less lively than the amorous flame, Although her tenderness the same. The charms of friendship I admired, My soul was with new beauty fired; I then made one in friendship’s train, But destitute of love, complain.
I heard the sweet voice of a robin,
High up in the maple tree,
Joyously, singing his happy song
To his feathered mate, in glee!…
If we could be like this tiny bird,
Just living from day to day,
Holding no bitterness in our hearts
For those we meet on our way…
Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings.
The artist’s earliest effort wrought with care,
The bard’s first ballad, written in his tears,
Set by his later toil seems poor and tame.
And into nothing dwindles at the test.
So with the passions of maturer years
Let those who will demand the first fond flame,
Give me the heart’s last love, for that is best.
The fears of what may come to pass, I cast them all away, Among the clover scented grass, Among the new-mown hay
Louise Imogen Guiney
BY ROBERT FROST
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
It was a busy week at the farm. The alpaca got sheared, the hay field was cut and baled and the 160 new square bales stacked in the shed. You can tell by Captain Crunch’s grin that he’s pleased about it too. Our barn yard has a pleasant smell. We have a small Case IH utility tractor, 1956 55 HP with a loader that makes quick work of cleaning up the horse stall and the alpaca pen. Alpaca have this interesting trait in that they defecate and urinate in the same place, outside their stall in the barn yard. It makes it very easy to clean things up every other week or so.
There is something immensely satisfying in cutting your own hay field. This is a hay field that is in need of some agronomic attention next year, a bit scant on clover, but nothing a little fertilizer and over seeding can’t cure. It is the kind of hay field that doesn’t lend itself to much else, too rolling in some areas, too wet in others, it fits its purpose as pasture for the horse and hay cut once a year. The hay field is surrounded by huge preserve and wetlands, which makes for great habitat for birds and insects and wildlife. It is the kind of hayfield that is disappearing in my county, sadly to development and new houses. We are hoping to hold on to this little slice during our lifetimes.
When you see pictures of Robert Frost, it’s clear he was a farmer at heart. The poetry of his that I am most attracted to are his postcards in words of his life and observations of nature on the farm. Frost is at his best in my mind when he is simplest in his words. I hope to follow in his foot steps and grow old tending to fruit trees, a chicken or two, some bees and a garden that requires daily attention. It is not surprising that there are many references to pastures in poetry. Seek out a pasture and lay down in it. Watch the clouds go by for a bit quietly, hiding in the grass. And then slowly peek above the grass, look about and see what comes to visit you. Is it any surprise that pastures are an inspiration to writers throughout history?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul;
When I was a child my Mother hung the stars and strips flag outside our front door each fourth of July. She did it on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as well. It was a gesture to honor her Father, who served in both World War I and World War II. She was genuinely patriotic. It was a high quality flag, with a good wooden pole and gold knob at the end. It was stored in our front coat closet and sometimes when we played hide and seek when I was little I would hide in that closet in the dark corner and unfurl a bit of the flag and cloak myself behind it. It was a winning strategy.
Hiding behind the flag has been a winning strategy for politicians forever. An inflated sense of patriotism seems to be a requirement to become a politician. It feels harder to for me to be patriotic these days. Yesterday NPR read the entire Declaration of Independence. The opening is beautiful and poetic. It gets tougher to listen to as it rolls into the myriad of grievances it spells out and the pomposity of white men declaring everything their sovereign right to ownership, ignoring the in inalienable rights of women, Native Americans and slaves. I am surprised there has not been a larger movement to redress the language of the Declaration of Independence to eliminate the blatant racism that exists within the document. NPR did a good job of both reading it as written and unpacking the parts that should be questioned and condemned, specifically clause 27;
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
To all who believe racism is not structurally still present in our systems of government, we need look no further than our most important documents. Why do we continue to allow language to exist that is offensive, simply because its historical? This is not just a federal issue, the same problems exist at the state level. As late as February 2020, Minnesota’s state constitution still had a reference to slavery. Although slavery was illegal from Minnesota’s founding in 1857, it contained a clause that slavery was a justifiable form of punishment for crimes unspecified, leaving plenty of room for interpretation; “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
Apparently slavery is illegal, unless you deserve it, according to my state’s constitution. Of course that’s ridiculous, but if it’s so ridiculous, why is that language remain, unquestioned for so long? Removing racist, idiotic, hurtful language, in my mind is not being politically correct, it’s about being politically aligned with how we define our democracy today. When we allow vestiges of our racist history to remain in our most important government institutions, we give racism a foot hold for justification, a Trojan horse of hate, that continues to wreak havoc on our ability to unify as a nation, with respect for all people. Let’s read beyond the pretty parts of our government documents, the parts that make our hearts swell with patriotic pride and dig a little deeper. And then let’s task our politicians with living our collective values and striking down through legislation the racist sentiments that linger still in our government institutions.
by William Oandasan
around the house stood an orchard of plum, apple and pear a blackwalnut tree, one white pine, groves of white oak and willow clumps the home of Jessie was largely redwood
blood, flesh and bone sprouted inside her womb of redwood for five generations the trees now stand unpruned and wild
after relocating so many years before the War the seeds of Jessie have returned
afternoon sunlight on the field breezes moving grass and leaves memories with family names wait within the earth, the mountains, the valley, the field, the trees
“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
A Calendar of Sonnets: July
by Helen Hunt Jackson
Some flowers are withered and some joys have died; The garden reeks with an East Indian scent From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent; The white heat pales the skies from side to side; But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content, Like starry blooms on a new firmament, White lilies float and regally abide. In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed; The lily does not feel their brazen glare. In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread. Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head; She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.
Having traveled rural Minnesota, North and South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin roads for all of my career, I can tell you orange day lilies (Hermerocallis fulva) are ubiquitous along roadsides and at the end of driveways of farms and rural properties. Mistakenly called Tiger lilies sometimes, because of the orange coloring, this day lily is an introduced species that has gone rogue and grows wild. I am rather fond of this perennial, invasive or not, as it reminds me of roads traveled as a child. I am rather pleased there is a nice clump thriving at the end of our driveway, no surprise as its close to a wetland/seasonal creek and is the perfect setting for this plant. Obviously day lilies came west with settlers early on, a tuber tucked away to brighten up a vegetable garden. To the orange day lilies credit, it is hearty enough to take care of itself and naturalize into areas in which it was never cultivated. I find Jackson’s reference to the lily in her poem a reminder of how gardeners observations don’t change much over time.
I am far enough along in the Fourteenlines project, that I have an archive of drafts I have set aside waiting for the right time to possibly use them. I was surprised as I reviewed potential July drafts there were a number of Robert Frost poems waiting for me that I have found over the past year or so. Frost’s talent sneaks up on me. I tend to not think of him when people ask me who are my favorite poets, and yet I find myself more and more attracted to his poetry.
The poem below maybe hard to interpret unless you have some experience with an old fashioned well. A well-curb is a masonry, stone or brick structure around the above ground portion of a well that protects anyone from falling in it and also to keep things out from contaminating the water. If you have never lived on a property with a well, modern or old, you may not have an understanding of the frequent ways you interact with your water source. To relate to this poem, you have to become a little boy or a curious adult, who is fascinated by the cool water that comes out of the well and likely the hand made structure from stone and mortar or concrete or brick that protects this vital asset of your home and farm. Wells were hand dug in the 19th century, generally maintained by the family and a source of clear, sweet drinking water was something to be prized. Frost’s poem below is an opportunity to transport yourself back in time, when water didn’t come out of the tap, and see the wonder that lays just beyond our reach.
For Once, Then, Something
Robert Frost – (1874-1963)
Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs Always wrong to the light, so never seeing Deeper down in the well than where the water Gives me back in a shining surface picture Me myself in the summer heaven godlike Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs. Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb, I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture, Through the picture, a something white, uncertain, Something more of the depths—and then I lost it. Water came to rebuke the too clear water. One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom, Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness? Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.