A Life Reprehensibly Perfect

Waving Goodbye

How lucky I am to have something that saying good-bye is so hard.

A. A. Milne

Waving Good-Bye

by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.


Departures and arrivals, leaving and returning home, this is the way of summer vacations and more metaphysical deliberations on the meaning of “home.” I have wished loved ones off this past week and depart myself on multiple journeys over the course of the next few. But it is a much more interesting and ominous departure I am contemplating of late, a departure from “things.”  It is cliche to talk about how the things we possess come in time to possess us, but why else do we pay such elaborate mortgages and taxes to afford houses or condos large enough to store all the things a middle aged person accumulates? I have had a rule for the past year; for everything that is brought in something has to depart.  It works to a point but inevitably the scale tips towards more and never toward less.  It takes something radical to actually move the needle in the direction of fewer things.

 My possessions consist mostly of clothing, books, music and art these days. None of it expensive or elaborate.  None of the categories are large enough to be called a collection, and yet it is much to large to be easily relocated. So who owns whom?  I spend little time in the condo in which they are housed, and yet I pay the bills each month so that my pictures can hang on the wall, and my clothes can hang in the closet in relative prosperity.  Its a bit absurd if I think about it clearly, and yet it is comforting in an odd way to know where things are.   So who or what owns what or whom?   I’ll continue to pretend I am the one in control, at least I know I am the one paying the bills, but I would like to see my art be a little more grateful for its wall space, lest I decide to take the plunge and box it all up for storage and stop paying their “gallery” rent unless they are going to contribute more to my sense of home, and less to my sense of obligation.


 

Poetry of Departures

Philip Larkin

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I’d go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo’c’sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren’t so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

The World’s True Lover

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

“Some things are too great to come at directly. Just as we may weave back and forth as we climb a hill, and appear to be going round in circles, yet all the while are coming closer to the summit, so in our religious and spiritual life things may seem circuitous; we may think we have come back to the same spot, but always, if we press on, it is a little higher, a little closer to the truth.”

Malcolm Guite

The Anointing At Bethany

by Malcolm Guite

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

 

A friend asked me recently, “Do any of us really see what is going on in another person’s life?” It was in reference to an unimaginable tragedy, the death of a beloved spouse. My answer was yes we do.  Its what death brings, a spotlight into the reality of our friends and families lives.  There’s no hiding in death for the grieving. Grief is a public, communal act.  An act of giving to each other the gift of remembrance, support, and sharing of sadness.  But that spotlight doesn’t last very long before the community moves on, because it must move on, beyond the place of just love and loss, and back to the place of love and life, to see beyond the cross.

Malcolm Guite is one of those big minds whose energy comes through his poetry, his oratory, his intention.   He is a fellow lover of sonnets.   The video below is an example of his clever wisdom and a good reminder on the power of words.

The Fatal Flash Catastrophe of Being

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

The Indications (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman

The words of the true poems give you more than poems,
They give you to form for yourself, poems, religions, politics, war, peace, behavior, histories, essays, romances, and everything else,
The balance ranks, colors, races, creeds, and the sexes,
They do not seek beauty-they are sought,
Forever touching them, or close upon them, follows beauty, longing, fain, love-sick.

They prepare for death-yet are they not the finish, but rather the outset,
They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full;
Whom they take, they take into space, to behold the birth of stars, to learn one of the meanings,
To launch off with absolute faith-to sweep through the ceaseless rings, and never be quiet again.


Poet

by Oscar Williams

He sees the world, a trek of values, ply
Its trade of waysides to a common view;
The sun and moon are blinkers to his eye;
That head on wisdom’s shoulders is askew
From watching dread dimensions crossroads lock,
Collision of directions so intense
The hands and face slip from the circled clock,
The atoms statue melts the niche of sense.

Aye, root and flower swordplay in his rhyme
And judgments parry their high blades of light –
The lightning from the bush of thunder fleeing
Kindles a home of symbols with the height –
And in his song is etched the blanch of time,
The fatal flash catastrophe of being.

 

 

The Scandal Never Died

Manalang-Gloria
Angela Manalang-Gloria

Revolt From Hymen
Angela Manalang-Gloria

O to be free at last, to sleep at last
As infants sleep within the womb of rest!

To stir and stirring find no blackness vast
With passion weighted down upon the breast,

To turn the face this way and that and feel
No kisses festering on it like sores,

To be alone at last, broken the seal
That marks the flesh no better than a whore’s!

Soledad

by Angela Manalang Gloria

It was a sacrilege, the neighbors cried,
The way she shattered every mullioned pane
To let a firebrand in. They tried in vain
To understand how one so carved from pride
And glassed in dream could have so flung aside
Her graven days, or why she dared profane
The bread and wine of life for some insane
Moment with him. The scandal never died.
But no one guessed that loveliness would claim
Her soul’s cathedral burned by his desires
Or that he left her aureoled in flame…
And seeing nothing but her blackened spires,
The town condemned this girl who loved too well
and found her heaven in the depths of hell.


I rather like it when women poets run circles around their male peers.  Feminist poetry precedes the term feminism.  It doesn’t mean that Manalang-Gloria was any less controversial in her day for shedding light on uncomfortable truths of unmerited male power.  No poet has voiced the anger of martial rape so purposefully as Manalang-Gloria.

It does not appear that either of these poem were based on her own experience, but are rather the voice of women of her generation.    She wrote lovingly about her own husband, who was killed by Japanese soldiers, leaving her to raise their three children alone.  It’s no surprise she was a successful businesswoman, but her poetry found little acceptance in the male dominated publishing world.

Contrast Manalang-Gloria unvarnished poetry on the subject of sex with Maramag? Maramag was the more commercially successful Phillipino poet but Manalang-Gloria’s words stand the test of time in my opinion with a fresher voice of honesty.  Which poem do you think will still being read in 100 years?  In 200 years?   Let’s hope both but I would put my money on Manalang-Gloria.


The Rural Maid

By Fernando M. Maramag

Thy glance, sweet maid, when first we met,
Had left a heart that aches for thee,
I feel the pain of fond regret—
Thy heart, perchance, is not for me.

We parted: though we met no more,
My dreams are dreams of thee, fair maid;
I think of thee, my thoughts implore
The hours my lips on thine are laid.

Forgive these words that love impart,
And pleading, bare the poet’s breast;
And if a rose with thorns thou art,
Yet on my breast that rose may rest.

I know not what to name thy charms,
Thou art half human, half divine;
And if I could hold thee in my arms,
I know both heaven and earth were mine

My Living Laughing Love

Carol Ann Duffy.jpg
Carol Ann Duffy

Anne Hathaway

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed…’ – Shakespeare’s Will

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

 

Thy Speech Pleaseth Me

Guido_Cavalcanti
Guido Cavalcanti

Sonnet IV

by Guido Cavalcanti (1250 – 1300)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s translation

To a Friend who does not pity his Love

IF I entreat this lady that all grace
Seem not unto her heart an enemy,
Foolish and evil thou declarest me,
And desperate in idle stubbornness.
Whence is such cruel judgement thine, whose face,
To him that looks thereon, professeth thee
Faithful, and wise, and of all courtesy,
And made after the way of gentleness?
Alas! my soul within my heart doth find
Sighs, and its grief by weeping doth enhance,
That, drowned in bitter tears, those sighs depart:
And then there seems a presence in the mind,
As of a lady’s thoughtful countenance
Come to behold the death of the poor heart.


Sonnet XXIII

To Dante, rebuking him for his way of life after the death of Beatrice.

I DAILY come to thee uncounting times
And find thee ever thinking over vilely;
Much doth it grieve me that thy noble mind
And virtue’s plenitude are stripped from thee;
Thou wast so careless in thy fine offending,
Who from the rabble alway held apart,
And spoke of me so straightly from the heart
That I gave welcome to thine every rime.
And now I care not, sith thy life is baseness
To give the sign that thy speech pleaseth me,
Nor come I to thee in guise visible,
Yet if thou’It read this Sonnet many a time,
That malign spirit which so hunteth thee
Will sound forloyn* and spare thy affrighted soul.

*The recall of the hounds.

 

All of Creation Is Asleep

Ole Sarvig
Ole Sarvig (1921 – 1981)

Christ In The Corn

by Ole Sarvig

I saw the corn last night,
the dreaming corn,
the corn and ears of all mankind ever
in these fields.

I saw it this morning around five o’clock,
when Christ came,
that pallid hour, when children are born
and fires break out.

It was so beautiful. They slept so silently.
And Christ passed like a moon through the corn.


Americans like to be unique, even when it comes to naming conventions common to the rest of the world. The word corn, particularly in a religious context means grain or wheat.   America is the only place where the word corn refers to maize.  So if you read the word corn in a poem and are American, translate it in your mind into wheat and you’ll gain greater insight into its meaning, even when its a metaphor as in this case.

Ole Sarvig is a Danish poet who suffered a fate not uncommon to poets, he took his own life. Sarvig is not well known outside Europe.  I do not know why poets are prone to tragedy? Is there a desperateness that poets connect from their life to their writing that makes them more susceptible to extreme acts of self destruction?

I am watching Herren’s Veje on Netflix.   There is a powerful use of Sarvig’s poem Christ in The Corn in Season One, but unless you know that Sarvig ended his own life by jumping from a building the complete connection to the episode will not have as much emotional impact.  Taking one’s own life is a an act that can not ever be completely understood in my opinion by anyone else and leaves a lasting question and a unique form of grief for their loved ones. It is a wound unique unto itself among the living, it is a wound of doubt as to what could have been done differently for a different outcome.


The Rain Gauge

by Ole Sarvig

The rain gauge
with its shallow basin
stands in the June night’s gentle rain
on its column
letting itself be filled with water,
while dark poplars sigh
and move their branches.

The night can be heard far and wide.
The rain finds its echo in the world.
It is empty. It is still.
All of creation is asleep.

The poplars sigh.

Tonight the garden is awake
and full of fragrance.

Quite still
like a shallow basin
in June rain
I will fill to the brim
with will
tonight.