True Singing Is A Different Breath

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

“Poetry is something in-between the dream and its interpretation.”

Lou Andreas-Salome


by Linda Pastan
after reading Rilke

No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.

Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment

a small voice comes through,
chastening. Music
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.

The Sonnets To Orpheus

by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can enter through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split.  And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved,
song is reality.  Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real?  When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us?  Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your voice – learn

to forget that passionate music.  It will end,
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing.  A gust inside the god.  A wind.

Trapped Forever In Its Net Of Ice

Linda Pastan b. 1932

“I made a list of things I have to remember and a list of things I need to forget and then I see they are the same list.”

Linda Pastan

A New Poet

By Linda Pastan

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don’t see
its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way
its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled
red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day – the odor of truth
and of lying.
And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only
in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

I have been reading Linda Pastan’s book The Five Stages of Grief.  There are some remarkable poems in it and last week I spent some time reading more of her work on-line.   She is one of those poets that the more I read the more I wonder why I haven’t run into her before this year.  Every year I put together a little book of my favorite poems from the year and I think this year half of them could be Pastan.

Pastan was born the same year as my Mother, so it could be my affinity for her writing is in part because she speaks of things in ways that ring true to my inner ears, her words expressive in ways that are not unlike things my Mother said.  Each generation wrestles with its own unique challenges and opportunities.  My parents and Pastan grew up during the great depression.  They learned to make do with what you had and that ability carried over into their inner life as well, not expecting or wanting too much of themselves or others. Pastan’s writing is private, she reveals just enough to draw the reader into her prose, but doesn’t get carried away in personal details that would be too revealing for either. She knows how to maintain a line of modesty in her poetry that serves to keep the reader thinking without veering into lurid thoughts all on their own.

Do you have poets that remind you of your parents?  If yes, what emotions does that create for you when you read them?


by Don Paterson

In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps
one spark of the planet’s early fires
trapped forever in its net of ice,
it’s not love’s later heat that poetry holds,
but the atom of the love that drew it forth
from the silence: so if the bright coal of his love
begins to smoulder, the poet hears his voice
suddenly forced, like a bar-room singer’s — boastful
with his own huge feeling, or drowned by violins;
but if it yields a steadier light, he knows
the pure verse, when it finally comes, will sound
like a mountain spring, anonymous and serene.
Beneath the blue oblivious sky, the water
sings of nothing, not your name, not mine.

Love Should Be A Baffled Thing

Frances Anne Kemble

If There Were Any Power In Human Love

by Frances Anne Kemble (1809 – 1893)

If there were any power in human love,
Or in th’ intensest longing of the heart,
Then should the oceans and the lands that part
Ye from my sight all unprevailing prove,
Then should the yearning of my bosom bring
Ye here, through space and distance infinite;
And life ‘gainst love should be a baffled thing,
And circumstance ‘gainst will lose all its might.
Shall not a childless mother’s misery
Conjure the earth with such a potent spell—
A charm so desperate—as to compel
Nature to yield to her great agony?
Can I not think of ye till ye arise,
Alive, alive, before my very eyes?



By Jo Walton

In midst of life is death, and life goes on
And that’s the hardest thing, for those who stay
For love and spring and work get in the way
Are consolation, balm, but still you’re gone.
We live life day by day, and days accrete
To bury you in stratigraphic time
Remembered in a place, a new-found rhyme,
Caught in the finished past, enclosed, complete.
We rage in helplessness at time and death
But onwards is the one direction left
The hope of future joy, although bereft,
For we must dare to live, while we have breath.
(On Easter morning, roll away the stone
Behold the empty tomb: but still alone.


What Have I Shaped Into

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010)

won’t you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

The idea of celebrating, a celebration of our lives every day is a hard thing to achieve.  There are too many things that rub at us, over due bills, nagging coughs, unpleasant tasks required of us at work or home, down right unpleasantness like having surgery or a tooth removed, not to mention deaths of loved ones and deaths of relationships, sap our energy for celebrations.  Loss and grief encroach on our sense of well being and the idea of celebration, of thinking of this very day as special fades into the background of grumbles, aches and pains and we forget that life is good.

Poetry as a meditative practice to reset my brain with positive images and thoughts is something I try to do daily as a way to remember to celebrate. I admit that part of my penchant for seeking out short poems, is I tire easily from longer poems if they fail to grab my interest early, in the first 10 lines. There is something pleasing about short poems, they feel contained, readable, a message waiting just for me, whereas long poems, short stories and novels feel much more impersonal.

Clifton asks an interesting question?  Do any of us have a model or is the challenges she faced unique? Certainly I benefited by being white and male in looking about at the world in seeing options of what I could be and can be, but in the end the path I took was very much individual. I appreciate the challenges she articulates even if I can never completely understand them.  I am not a woman, nor a person of color.  I never faced institutionalized racism.  Her path was much more challenging and filled with more barriers.  It’s why her poems are inspirational.  I think I can take something from her poetry and remember to celebrate and celebrate with her.  Celebrate what I have shaped into some kind of life.  How do you remember to celebrate?

a song of mary

by Lucille Clifton

somewhere it being yesterday.
i a maiden in my mother’s house.

the animals silent outside.
is morning.
princes sitting on thrones in the east
studying the incomprehensible heavens.
joseph carving a table somewhere
in another place.
i watching my mother.
i smiling an ordinary smile.

from Two-Headed Woman (1980)

And San Francisco Fell

Allen Ginsburg (1926 – 1997)

“The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a lifebelt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet be fully alive.”

Allen Ginsburg

Further Notice

by Philip Whalen

I can’t live in this world
And I refuse to kill myself
Or let you kill me

The dill plant lives, the airplane
My alarm clock, this ink
I won’t go away

I shall be myself—
Free, a genius, an embarrassment
Like the Indian, the buffalo

Like Yellowstone National Park


Midway through Dave Chappelle’s new Netfllix special he says, “I can’t live in this world.”  I don’t think he was quoting Philip Whalen.  I feel that way sometimes.  What world have we created in the past 50 years?  We have brought more people out of poverty than at any time in history, we have created medical technology and an agricultural system undreamed of 80 years ago. We have created technology that mirrors fiction on Star Trek in the 1960s. By all measures of prosperity we have wildly succeeded globally, yet in measures of happiness, contentment, reducing anxiety, we have not moved the needle, in fact we have eroded it.  Longer life, more food and more technology does not translate into happiness.

Allen Ginsburg is not a poet who made his name with sonnets.  Howl is his signature poem,  Woe Unto Thee Manhattan being the only example of a sonnet I have been able to find.  Yet, this sonnet, written early in his career is eerily prophetic, or do we assign the tragedies of the future to words of the past simply because tragedy is always waiting in the future?

I don’t feel that way about my home – Minneapolis.   I don’t relate or think my hometown will be victim to the woe that Ginsburg projects. But the good people of Odessa, Texas felt that way before gunfire shattered their peaceful co-existence.  And the fine citizens of the Bahamas probably felt that way a week ago before they ever heard of hurricane Dorian.  Ginsburg doesn’t declare whether the woe he predicts is from natural causes or the product of the human condition.  Cities are the life blood of our society, its generally where new ideas incubate, new technology arises, the arts and diversity flourish.  They are also becoming a place of division, a divide between the haves and have nots.   New York is vibrant.  So is every other city he names.  And yet, maybe we may all be in need of repentance soon enough as we ask, who or what has made this world where mass shootings have become daily news?  Where we have all become numb to this new reality and guns are so freely available we have normalized a world where the gun counter at my local Fleet Farm is literally the largest department in the store.  A customer can select a hand gun, rifle or shot gun and ammo to match at any price point, caliber and purpose.  And why do we need so many choices and such freedom?  Woe unto thee, woe to thee, those framers of the constitution, that never could have imagined this future that we have created.

Woe Unto Thee, Manhattan

by Allen Ginsburg

Woe unto thee, Manhattan, woe to thee,
Woe unto all the cities of the world.
Repent, Chicagos, O repent; ah, me!
Los Angeles, now thou art gone so wild,
I think thou art still mighty, yet shall be,
As the earth shook, and San Francisco fell,
An angel in an agony of flame.
City of horrors, New York so much like Hell,
How soon thou shalt be a city-without-name,
A tomb of souls, and a poor broken knell.
Fire and fire on London, Moscow shall die,
And Paris her livid atomies be rolled
Together into the Woe of the blazing bell–
All cities then shall toll for their great fame.

Sticks and Stones


Comedy is an art form that when done by master talent makes us think as well as laugh.  And to pull that off, it means the comic is going to push boundaries beyond what is socially acceptable, because what’s usually funny is making fun of our own hypocrisy.  Nothing is funnier than talking about the white elephant in the room, particularly if you are part of the white elephant or are related to one or work with one or live with one. And in today’s society, white men are the whitest of the white elephants. Rich white men, poor white men and everything in between, we are clomping around with our heads up our collective asses not realizing that things would get better if we just started laughing at ourselves a little bit.

It’s why I think Dave Chappelle is brilliant and a genuine artist.  Dave Chappelle is one of the few people in today’s world beyond Donald Trump, who says what he wants to say regardless of the political consequences. The difference between Dave Chappelle and Donald Trump in my mind, is at the core of Chappelle’s monologues and jokes is empathy and humanity and at the core of Donald’s Twitter feed is willful ignorance and anger.  Chappelle is one of the few people who walked away, no darn near ran away from what other people deemed success and had the courage to walk his own path, write his own jokes, say what he wanted to say, knowing somebody was gong to take offense, no matter what he did.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, some people were going to be outraged.  That’s what the internet and social media has done.  It has democratized outrage. Anyone can find a way to be outraged about anything and if you look hard enough you will find a meme that expresses your outrage perfectly.

I like Dave Chappelle. I enjoy his art. I think he is funnier than shit. I hope he keeps on writing jokes that make us uncomfortable.  Let’s laugh at this mess we find ourselves and hope that laughter lets something go deep inside our collective ignorance or shame and move on. Let’s laugh at ourselves, each other and the silliness that is the human experience. Chappelle is so talented that it is inevitable that a hoard of people are going to be pissed off by something he says because most people can’t take the stick out of their ass long enough to realize not everything Dave says is what he believes.  Its a joke.  And people write jokes, just like people write poetry to push boundaries, to experience aspects of the human condition in their imagination that might not be their full reality. That’s what’s fun about imaginations, if we use them, we get to try different ideas and play around.

There are many controversies that surround comedy these days because apparently now in society we are only allowed to laugh at clean, politically correct jokes that are family PG friendly. Like the Peanuts cartoon.  Which is why I hate and have always hated the Peanuts cartoon because I never found it funny. The Peanuts cartoon violates my first principle of art – I find it boring. I do not find Dave Chappelle boring.  I find him captivating, funny and genuinely complicated. The controversies that surround David Chappelle illustrate that if you take words out of context and drill in deep, you can scapegoat anyone. Then again, if we are honest with ourselves, each and every one of us says something stupid once in a while that taken in context and if you drill in deep we deserve to be scapegoated.  Its just that most of us are not famous enough for anyone to give a shit about the stupid stuff we say. None of us are perfect.

I have a little secret to reveal about people that write sonnets.  Writing sonnets is not the serious business that people that don’t write sonnets think it is. Humor abounds in Shakespeare if you stop reading it with your nose in the air.  I have a feeling Shakespeare was like most other poets, (I am being gender inclusive here), that if they are brutally honest, will admit, they wrote most of that shit hoping to get laid. Oh and bare their beautiful soul to the world too.  Phoey.  I think most people who write sonnets do it because its fun, its how we entertain ourselves. We write because we want to.  We write because we hope to get laid. It’s all the same thing.

Lest you think that I only write serious things in church, I thought I would share my first and only limerick sonnet.  I wrote this right before church and shared it with my Mom after the service.  This is one of those times where the words wrote themselves.  It just flowed. What’s funny about this sonnet is it doesn’t read like a sonnet, even though the rhyming scheme and the syllable count is mostly correct, it flows if you read it out loud more like a silly poem.  And I want everyone to know, that just like Dave Chappelle, everything in this sonnet is a joke and not to be taken seriously because what is in this sonnet is not how I truly feel.  But the reason my Mom laughed is because hiding in plain sight in the joke was a modicum of truth.   And for those of you that would like to use this as your opportunity to scapegoat me in my very own #metoo moment for being politically incorrect and insensitive, I would like you to know,  I am still married.


By T. A. Fry

Starving in a wasteland of affection,
I have come to forgiveness bye and bye.
For celibacy is not an affliction,
It is a condition made lonelier by,
the contract between husband and wife.
It’s not easy to leave your child’s mother,
after 32 long years of life.
I found love in the arms of another,
and with her passion’s no longer a stranger.
I would never approach divorce lightly,
It has emotional turmoil and danger,
But when sex is this fabulous nightly,
Saying “Go fuck yourself,” is a no brainer.
I’ll gladly put up both lawyers retainers.