This is the Moment Replayed on Winter Days

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“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth

Grand Slam

by Marjorie Maddox

Dreams brimming over,
childhood stretched out in legs,
this is the moment replayed on winter days
when frost covers the field,
when age steals away wishes.
Glorious sleep that seeps back there
to the glory of our baseball days.


All is right with the world, the opening of the baseball season has begun.  I had the good fortune to watch the Minnesota Twins on opening day on Thursday with one of my best friends, the Twins kicking off the season with a tidy win in 2 hours 18 minutes, Jose Berrios pitching like an ace and Marwin Gonzalez knocked in the only two runs the Twins would need. After the long winter in Minnesota, the green grass of Target Field was a pleasure to behold.

There is a long history of writing and baseball but it is dominated by the prose of sports writers and not poetry. Poetry and baseball feels like it should be a good fit, but somehow the two aren’t a natural double play.  I had to look a while to find two poems that I think have the right feel about a game I continue to love.

It’s hard to explain why I like baseball, there is much about the game that is excruciatingly slow, but that is part of its charm. A baseball game is an invitation to a 3 hour conversation with a friend with spurts of drama thrown in around a hot dog and a beer. It doesn’t require 100 percent of your concentration, it allows for a connection with the person(s) you came with and your fellow fans sitting near.  A season is not made or lost on the outcome of one game, no matter how well or poorly your team plays. Baseball is a game of sustained excellence, mediocrity and poor play all on the same team in the same year.  It’s hard to predict how a team will be coming out of spring training, but I’m optimistic that the Twins are poised to have a better year in 2019 than 2018.

Regardless if you’re a Yankee’s fan, a Dodger fan, a Cubs fan, a Brewer’s fan, a Twin’s fan or any other team’s fan, I hope you find yourself in the seats on a sunny day of your favorite team, take a friend and enjoy the start of a new season.


A Late Elegy For A Baseball Player

By Felix  N. Stefanile

He was all back,
his stance was clumsy,
ran like a horse,
smiled with a dimple,
but Time cut him,
as easy as that,

bowled him right over,
muscle and all, for
a crick in his honest back-
the well wrought stallion,
cleats on his shoes,
and a hometown shoulder,

full of country bumps.
We read about Herakles,
and the hairy Samson,
and fake Olympic games;
the whole world boos;
but here’s Big Lou

whom Death bowled over
as the sun rose,
a lazy foul ball,
and a whole generation
of the running boys
pull up, cry loud,
At what Death caught.

 

Vastness I Should Steal Away

 

robert-frost
Robert Frost

“In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life, it goes on.”

Robert Frost

Into my Own

By Robert Frost

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew–
Only more sure of all I thought was true.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Last Fires Will Wave To Me

robert-browning
Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)

“No, when the fight begins within himself, a man is worth something.”

Robert Browning

For The Anniversary of my Death

by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


In as much as spring is a season of renewal, it can be equally a season of death.  Whether you are a Christian or not, the Lenten season brings reminders of loss in sudden and subtle ways. I was reminded of this the past couple weeks watching a friend process again for the millionth time her connection to the landscape of her childhood home that is wrapped in more than memories. It is land that is spiritual and sacred in all seasons, particularly spring as returning swans and sand hill cranes bring with them connections to springs past. It is a place where both the life and death of loved ones still reside and in that sense of place that is home, they remain very much with her.

Lent has many different meanings to different people, but ultimately each of us are wise to find some measure of hope in reckoning our losses. A retired Catholic priest recently gave good advice to a different friend of mine who tragically lost a loved one much, much to prematurely.  He said after months of sadness, “Be careful you don’t fall in love with your grief.”  Everyone deals with grief in a different way and there is no right or wrong way or length of time, everyone has to work through it at their own speed.

In processing the death of my Mother’s sudden passing, I came to recognize that for myself, releasing grief was not an act of releasing the very physical presence of my Mother who still resides in my heart.  For me it was a process of making sure my grief doesn’t cast a long shadow on the living who still bask in my light that shines among them and in that way, honor my Mother who lit that candle in my soul.

If you are grieving  the loss of a loved one this spring, I hope you can find a suitable resting spot that is part of the place you call home to bury a slice of the intensity of that grief, so that you’ll always know where it is, and so that you can safely move on in ways that give you grace and bring renewal.


A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

V
Among the wondrous ways of men and time
       He went as one that ever found and sought
       And bore in hand the lamp-like spirit of thought
To illume with instance of its fire sublime
The dusk of many a cloudlike age and clime.
       No spirit in shape of light and darkness wrought,
       No faith, no fear, no dream, no rapture, nought
That blooms in wisdom, nought that burns in crime,
No virtue girt and armed and helmed with light,
No love more lovely than the snows are white,
       No serpent sleeping in some dead soul’s tomb,
No song-bird singing from some live soul’s height,
       But he might hear, interpret, or illume
       With sense invasive as the dawn of doom.

If These Delights Thy Mind May Move

Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

“Money can’t buy you love, but it improves your bargaining position.”

Christopher Marlowe

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

By Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.


Christopher Marlowe was the foremost playwright of his day, who preceded Shakespeare’s success, having both been born in the same year.   Marlowe died young, a death shrouded in mystery and intrigue, with rumors of him being a spy, an atheist and a homosexual, in short all the worst things that British society could think to call someone in the narrow halls of the gossipy elite. The truth of his death may be a case of just good old stupidity, but everyone much prefers to think of death as a grand conspiracy rather than drunken tomfoolery. Marlowe’s premature mysterious death left a void in London theater, which Shakespeare immediately filled.  Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Marlowe’s style and intelligence and wit and gave several shout out’s to his compatriot’s finest work, including in As You Like It, where he quotes a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander – “Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, ‘Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?” Marlowe’s iambic pentameter is a thing of marvel, that rolls off an English speaker’s lips like sweet wine. Marlowe’s poem above a thing to savor when reading aloud.

Spring is slowly finding its way to Minneapolis, with the birds returning, singing and flitting about in courtship. The cardinals making their presence known with daily recitals from the tops of trees, calling to potential mates: “come live with me and be my love…”


 

The Face That Launch’D a Thousand Ships

By Christopher Marlowe

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack’d;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter

When he appear’d to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

What We See Is Never What We Touch

Merwin.
W. S. Merwin

“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.”

W. S. Merwin

The Wings of Daylight

by W. S. Merwin

Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
at first daybreak they open their long wings


William Stanley Merwin lived in solitude in Hawaii, living a life of poetry since 1971, reportedly steadfastly refusing to answer the telephone.  God bless him for rejecting technology as an unnecessary interference. His poetry spoke with a clarity of a connection to nature and the whim that nature imparts between beauty and tragedy. Merwin’s style can be a bit opaque at times, but I like my poetry on the side of the mystics. I don’t believe that poets should be forced to spell out all their secrets or scribble them down in proper grammar and punctuation, we’ll leave that to novelists and journalists.

A sense of astonishment runs through much of Merwin’s work. It feels genuine and not forced.  Astonishment in the force of nature’s beauty, astonishment in love, astonishment in the good fortune that was his life.  It is infecticious if you let it.

I have been in a state of astonishment lately.  Astonished at the ability of life to change in an instant for the good. Astonishment in the beginnings of a new relationship. Astonishment in the sudden undaunted optimism for the future.  I hope to surf that astonishment as a wave as I grow younger by the day, by the year, by the decade….


One of the Lives

by W. S. Merwin

If I had not met the red-haired boy whose father
.                          .  had broken a leg parachuting into Provence
to join the resistance in the final stage of the war
.                           .  and so had been killed there as the Germans were moving north
out of  Italy and if the friend who was with him
.                           . as he was dying had not had an elder brother
who also died young quite differently in peacetime
.                            . leaving two children one of them with bad health
who had been kept out of school for a whole year by an illness
.                             . and if I had written anything else at the top
of the examination form where it said college
.                             . of your choice or if the questions that day had been
put differently and if a young woman in Kittanning
.                             . had not taught my father to drive at the age of twenty
so that he got the job with the pastor of the big church
.                             . in Pittsburgh where my mother was working and if
I would not have found myself on an iron cot
.                             . with my head by the fireplace of a stone farmhouse
that had stood empty since some time before I was born
.                            . I would not have travelled so far to lie shivering
with fever though I was wrapped in everything in the house
.                            . nor have watched the unctuous doctor hold up his needle
at the window in the rain light of October
.                            . I would not have seen through the cracked pane the darkening
valley with its river sliding past the amber mountains
.                            . nor have wakened hearing plums fall in the small hour
thinking I knew where I was as I heard them fall.

 

The Sole Performance Of A Life

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W. S. Merwin

Sonnet

by W. S. Merwin (1927 – 2019)

Where it begins will remain a question
for the time being at least which is to
say for this lifetime and there is no
other life that can be this one again
and where it goes after that only one
at a time is ever about to know
though we have it by heart as one and though
we remind each other on occasion

How often may the clarinet rehearse
alone the one solo before the one
time that is heard after all the others
telling the one thing that they all tell of
it is the sole performance of a life
come back I say to it over the waters


William Stanley Merwin died four days ago on March 15.   Merwin was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize twice, separated by 38 years, the first in 1971 and the second in 2009, putting him in rarefied air among poets with everyone looking up at Robert Frost who received four, a bit hoggish I think, having the inability to write crap for an extended period in his career so someone else could bring home some bling.

Merwin and MacLeish helped balance the scales in the poetry world by showing it is possible to be a poet and live to a ripe old age and not smoke and drink yourself to death prematurely with an anxiety ridden existance as the source of your muse or worse yet, stick your head in an oven like a few other Pulitzer prize winners. Fortunately, the Pulitzer committee does not take into account the theatrical nature of the poet’s self-destruction as a criteria for receiving the award. They only look at the body of work and in both MacLeish’s and Merwin’s cases the body of work is long and substantial. Each lived big lives and expanded the world of poetry through their contributions. MacLeish also a recipient of the Pulitzer in 1933.

The poem below snuck up on me.  Preparing for this blog post, I read a number of MacLeish’s better known poems and kept coming back to this poem. I can’t explain why, other than it feels like a poem that is a private conversation between the poet and the reader in the quiet of the moment, a whisper in your ear, a confidence between a favorite uncle and his much younger protege, saying “pay attention, your life is happening, right now.”  So pay attention and enjoy, both your life and this poem.


The Rock In The Sea

By Archibald MacLeish (1892 – 1982)

Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
And turning, we had half discerned
Before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
The bird aloft there, did not mean?—
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
Tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
Thundering in the water cave—
Thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
And climbed the coral of that iron cliff
And found what only in our hearts we’d heard—
The silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
That opened, red as blood, to shriek
And clamor in that world of stone,
No voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
Found in the bird its metaphor?

 

Not To Sink Under

 

Frostpicture
Robert Frost

The Investment

by Robert Frost

Over back where they speak of life as staying
(‘You couldn’t call it living, for it ain’t’),
There was an old, old house renewed with paint,
And in it a piano loudly playing.

Out in the plowed ground in the cold a digger,
Among unearthed potatoes standing still,
Was counting winter dinners, one a hill,
With half an ear to the piano’s vigor.

All that piano and new paint back there,
Was it some money suddenly come into?
Or some extravagance young love had been to?
Or old love on an impulse not to care–

Not to sink under being man and wife,
But get some color and music out of life?


It would not be grandiose of me to say that poetry has transformed my life. Poetry has been a journey, a trial, an unveiling and an unraveling the past 5 years. That it is 5 years since my mind suddenly took a left turn and found poetry soothing an ache that lost love had left behind, gives me pause on how fast the years recede and how important it is to make a few investments along the way, to get some color and music out of life.

I find myself suddenly in love again, which is not something that has happened very often in my lifetime, only three times prior. To have been in love with four women, each distinctly unique, is a gift that I do not take lightly, each having brought something completely different in terms of insights their love of me opened. I hope they would say the same of my love, at least the best of my love.

I know that a defense of anyone accused of misdeeds raises the specter that you are wrong, for we never really know what another human being is capable in the privacy of their life.  Yet, if writing is a window into our souls, and a writer who lives to write is constantly exposing some versions of their truths, then can we not deduce something of a person’s character by how they speak, by what they leave behind in words? The answer, is both yes and no. I have spent the past 5 years writing my beliefs as centering prayers, sonnets, and have completed a draft of a chap book titled The Canticle of Divine Doubt. I am in the process of sharing it, socializing it among friends and family, welcoming their feedback, positive or negative. But what will they take from those words, my poems? What can they deduce of my character from them? I wrote them not because I believe I have attained the attributes that the work describes, but because I hope by writing them and then reading them over and over, they will change me, and I will become more like the thoughts conveyed. Writing, for me, is not about arrival, it is about setting a course for my journey and correcting course as needed along the way.

If I were to judge Garrison Keillor solely based on his words,  the volumes of his writing shared on public radio as The Writer’s Almanac, what could I deduce? That he is a person emboldened by sharp intellect, that he has a tremendous taste in poetry and that he is able to share his love of writing and literature with an audience through his voice in ways that far exceed the gifts of but a very few.  That he is also human and potentially has committed acts that would neither honor the best of himself or those he might have assailed is the conundrum that makes the mystery of what compromises each life such a fascinating contradiction.  In offering a defense solely based on his public contributions, I do not deny the very real suffering that occurred by his accuser, for the courage to come forward and make an allegation is a weighty thing. And regardless of what happened between them, I hope that she has the support she needs to move on in her life and find healing, forgiveness and a return to what is good and best for her. Something happened that drove her to come forward and in no way, does my seeing some measure of redemption in the man she accused negate the harm he may have caused her and others along the way.  We are not one things as human.  No one is purely good or purely bad.  If we are lucky we find someone who is willing to love us fully, in spite of the entirety of our contradictions.

If you are not familiar with the Writer’s Almanac then there is a storehouse of podcasts just waiting for you. Here is a selection from March 16, 2017 along with a link so that you can explore on your own.  Enjoy them for what they are and in Keillor’s signature sign-off;

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

https://www.writersalmanac.org/index.html%3Fp=9654.html


For Frances

by Ogden Nash

Geniuses of countless nations
Have told their love for generations
Till all their memorable phrases
Are common as goldenrod or daisies.
Their girls have glimmered like the moon,
Or shimmered like a summer noon,
Stood like lily, fled like fawn,
Now like sunset, now like dawn,
Here the princess in the tower,
There the sweet forbidden flower.
Darling, when I think of you
Every aged phrase is new,
And there are moments when it seems
I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams.