Ugly Things Will Get Less Ugly

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My Favorite New Music of 2019 CD

“The story of each stone leads back to a mountain.”

W. S. Merwin

American Sonnet for the New Year

by Terrance Hayes

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

 

Published in the print edition of The New Yorker,  January 14, 2019,


This is the last Fourteenlines for 2019, the last of the decade.  Fitting to end it with music. I continued my tradition of assembling a mix of my favorite new songs that were released in 2019 and giving it away as gifts.  This years mix was a two cd set with 34 songs.  I include one song from each artist.  There is a certain sound and rhythm that runs through it but the genres run the gamut from rock to blues, to jazz, to soul to pop to singer songwriter.   The best new artist is J. S. Ondara who has local ties to Minneapolis currently.   He is a talent to watch.  Best comeback goes to P. P. Arnold.  First new album in many years and she has made a great one.

I have shared links for my five favorite songs of the year.  Enjoy and Happy New Years.  May 2020 bring you peace, health and prosperity.

 

 

 

Bring Your Love To Me Undarned

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This Year’s Tom’s Favorite Poem Book, from gift to part of the mix on the kitchen table.

Port-O-Pot

by T. A. Fry

Someone carelessly forgot,
To secure their lime-green Port-A-Pot.
Splattering its’ stinking, filthy load,
Nasty obstacles in my road.
If you’re hauling ’round aging shit;
Check ties twice, then dispose of it.


This year is the sixth edition of Tom’s Favorite Poems.   I hand made and gave away as gifts a new personal best, with 15 copies distributed.  Unlike past years, where many of the favorites came from the poem log I keep, this year all of my creative energy regarding poetry was poured into Fourteenlines. So when it came time to pull together my best of it largely consisted  of rereading this year’s posts and taking my favorites that lent themselves to a little book of poetry.  There are 33 poems contained within, three of my own and 30 of others writing.  Not surprisingly, there are ten sonnets included. There is a poem by both W. S. Merwin and Mary Oliver, who passed away this year.  Over all it is a very pleasing little anthology.  If you asked me what are my top five poems from 2019, my answer would vary depending on my mood that day, but if I am forced to pick five this morning, here they are:

  1.  Janus – By John M. Ford
  2. Walking Away by Cecil Day-Lewis
  3. Now by Robert Browning
  4. It’s The Dream by Olav Hauge
  5. Bring Your Love To Me Undarned by T. A. Fry

I know its a rigged jury system to include one of my own poems in my top five for the year, but I never said this was an impartial list.  I always look back at my writing productivity over the course of the year and give myself a grade.  This year I give myself a B.  I spent my writing time in different ways this year, most of it focused on this blog. The second area of focus was on editing two chap books that I have been working on for the better part of six years, and I spent the least amount of time on writing new poems. If I total up the year’s new compositions there are 7 or 8 good sonnets, another 6 or 7 reasonable rhyming poems and 2 or 3 free verse poems for the year. My total output is better than one a month but a far cry from recent years.  But if I can write one great poem a year, I am happy.

Of the three poems of my own included in this year’s anthology, each represents a different method of creativity in my writing process. The poem Port-O-Pot wrote itself on the way to work last February, when waiting at a stop light merging on to a highway, a truck with a trailer loaded with six Port-o-Pots, situated about five vehicles in front of me, went around a bend in the round while accelerating from the stop light and hit a bump, ejecting one off the side in the back. It broke into a few pieces and then was demolished by a utility truck that couldn’t get out of the way in time.  There was a small delay and then those of us that needed to get to work, wound our way carefully through the carnage of plastic and filth, hoping that the car wash was going to be open when we got off work.  The poem was all done in my head by the time I got to my office 10 minutes later.

The sonnet Easter, I included on Fourteenlines and it is on the last page of this year’s little book. It is an example of writing with intention and letting the hard work of writing become a time capsule for a memory that will forever transport me back to that day.  It took me several days to have a good draft.  Then after probably 25 to 30 more revisions, reading and rereading and revising, it came to be the finished sonnet. The poem is an eternal connection to all the dear people I shared the experience of communion with that day.

The third and final poem of my own that I included I have not shared until this post on Fourteenlines. It is far and away the best poem I wrote this year. It is an example of grinding, writing down ideas, letting them sit and and then revising, rewriting and editing. It is an example of not giving up. Sometimes writing is not inspiration, it is hard work. The title and opening line I wrote as part of a longer poem back in January and I kept coming back to it and rewriting it.  Finally after many drafts and failed attempts that I was unsatisfied with, I decided to start over and took the line, Bring your love to me undarned, from out of the body of the poem and made it the opening line, deleting the rest and started over.  A fresh start after 9 months freed up my subconscious and then the poem came together over the course of a week of new writing.  It is one of the few poems I have ever written that the finished poem is almost perfect iambic pentameter, so when you read it, follow my rule for poetry and read it out loud and let your brain, mouth, vocal cords and tongue all experience the poem. You will know it differently read aloud then reading it silently.  We have a different spoken voice that we hear then we do our silent voice inside our heads.

If you wrote a poem in 2019, that fits the style and length of this blog, rhymed or unrhymed, that you would like to share on Fourteenlines, please contact me at Fourteenlines10@gmail.com and I would be thrilled to work with you to guest blog an entry in 2020.


Bring Your Love To Me Undarned

by T. A. Fry

For Carmen

Bring your love to me undarned,
Moth holes and worn heels
Ragged in its country charm
Where your love has kneeled.

Kneeled before the grace of God
Kneeled to wash their feet –
All the creatures you have loved
And some you’ve yet to meet.

I’ll darn it with a silken string
And mend it with some yarn,
And knit back all you bring
To me, in your loving arms.

 

That This Was All Folly

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December

by Rebecca Hey

As human life begins and ends with woe,
So doth the year with darkness and with storm.
Mute is each sound, and vanish’d each fair form
That wont to cheer us; yet a sacred glow—
A moral beauty,—to which Autumn’s show,
Or Spring’s sweet blandishments, or Summer’s bloom,
Are but vain pageants,—mitigate the gloom,
What time December’s angry tempests blow.
‘Twas when the “Earth had doff’d her gaudy trim,
As if in awe,” that she received her Lord;
And angels jubilant attuned the hymn
Which the church echoes still in sweet accord,
And ever shall, while Time his course doth fill,
‘Glory to God on high! on earth, peace and good will!’


This Christmas was different, it wasn’t nostalgic to the same degree as years past, it was, for me a more visceral sense of loss.  I felt the pull of loved ones who have passed more strongly this year. Is Christmas a story of hope and birth or is it a story of loss and death?  I think that question is at the central core of why Christmas is unique for many of us, regardless of our spirituality or religion. Christmas is the backdrop to which so many of our memories are set, the props, the setting for joy and sadness that accumulate across our years. I went to church on Christmas Eve and tears kept welling in my eyes, memories of my Mother and I sitting together, listening to Silent Night, by candle light, her hand finding my hand, as a little boy and the last Christmas we shared, exactly the same.

Christmas is the story of love and love bridges both life and death.   We can’t have endings without beginnings and we can’t have beginnings without endings. The Vietnamese writer and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

There is an intimate connection between birth and death.  Without the one, we cannot have the other. As it says in the gospel, unless the seed dies, it could never bear fruit.

We have a tendency to think of death as something very negative, dark, and painful. But it’s not like that.  Death is essential to making life possib.e  Death is transformation. Death is continuation. When we die, something else is born, even if it takes time to reveal itself or for us to be able to recognize it.  There may be some pain at the moment of dying, just as there is pain at the moment of birth, or when the first bud bursts through the bark of a tree in spring.  But once we know that death is not possible without the birth of something else, we are able to bear the pain.  We need to look deeply to recognize the new that manifests when something else dies.

Thich Nhat Hanh

So is Christmas a birth story, a life story, a death story?  For me, it’s all of them.  The service ended and my friends and I wandered a bit about the church, looking at the collection of Christmas art and creche scenes from all over the world, when beautiful bells began ringing a Christmas tune in tinkly wonder.  It was the creche pictured above, cleverly wired so that the bells suspended in the outlines of the stable rafters had little actuated hammers tuned to play based on some brilliant computer setup hidden away with wiring that was invisible to the initial glance.  It was a like magic. It was a pronouncement that look at the world again, more closely, there is still wonder to behold and beauty to witness, beauty in birth, beauty in death, honor to all our loved ones that aren’t present to hear it with us, listen even more closely and remember.


Journey of the Magi

by T. S. Eliot

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”

Less For The Gifts Than The Love You Send

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Thank You

by Henry Timrod

I thank you, kind and best belov’ed friend,
With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,
When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,
Less for the gifts than for the love you send,
Less for the flowers than what the flowers convey,
If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,
And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,
Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?
And am I flattered by my own affection?
But in your beauteous gift, methought I traced
Something above a short-lived predilection,
And which, for that I know no dearer name,
I designate as love, without love’s flame.


It’s Christmas Eve day, always a busy one, cleaning, wrapping, cooking and hosting the family celebration.  There is an art to gift giving and an even greater art in gift receiving. It’s rare that one person has both qualities refined.  My Mother was one such person. Every year I always have one gift, I can’t wait to give and when my Mother was alive, it more often than not, was the gift to her. From the first time I can remember Christmas, the ritual of making gifts and giving them was connected to my sense of Christmas. They started out small, a craft or ornament made at church, or nursery school or cub scouts or with my Dad or with my Mom. Many times those things overlapped.   It never mattered how crude or odd the creation, my Mother genuinely treasured it.  Her delight was never faked, and she used whatever myself or my sisters had made for years to come. As I got older, and my skills expanded, I strove to make as many gifts as I could each year. During my years as a glass blower, I gave away vases. When I was making stain glass windows I gave away windows and glass ornaments. When I was knitting, I gave away hats, scarves, sweaters, mittens. As a broke students my wife and I made pickles, cookies, and hand made cook books. I have continued that tradition and now I give the gift of words, poetry.

I am a better gift giver than receiver.  I never lack for ideas on gifts. Mostly because I buy things when I see them throughout the year that I think someone would like and squirrel them away in my top dresser drawer. More than once I have gotten to Christmas and completely forgotten things I had bought many months earlier and realized I have too many items and something has to wait for a birthday instead.

The art of gift giving has several principles that I learned from my Mother.

Give the unexpected gift, even to the point of extravagance once in a while.  Give the gift that will truly inspire and delight.  Beauty lasts.  Art lasts.  Practicality can be well received, but rarely has lasting power. What appliance, tool or gadget do you still own 20 years later?  What piece of jewelry,  piece of art or memento do you own that has been passed down generations because it has been treasured, taken care of and now put into your care? What have you bought and given recently that will become an heirloom? Or even better, what heirloom have you gifted on to the next generation that was given to you one Christmas long ago?  Before my Mother died she carefully began gifting away her treasured jewelry and family items, selecting who to give them to and telling the story behind it.   Too often people pass, making the mistake of holding on to all their precious objects, only for them to become a source of squabbles after their death. Take things off your shelves, out of your jewelry box and off your walls and give them away once in a while. The things you treasure that you think enough to give to the next person, will mean more when you are alive than when you are dead.

Be playful.  No one is ever too old for toys, games and puzzles. Toys don”t have to become more expensive as we get older.  My Mother told the story of the year she was informed by her parents she was too old to get a doll for Christmas.  Her Aunt had the wisdom to defy that proclamation and delivered on Christmas day a doll that became more beloved than all the rest for its precious lesson.

Buy yourself the gift you really want.  Don’t stew that no one knows your heart’s desire. Your loved ones aren’t supposed to be mind readers. Save a little of your resources for yourself and buy it.  This year I framed a piece of art I bought in 2018, always putting off the expense of framing it. In November I took it to the frame shop and it hangs on my wall today.

Give with grace. Don’t worry about the recipients response or thankfulness. Sometimes gifts are not gifts for many years until after they are received.  I have made and given gifts that I thought had disappointed or the other person outright disliked, only to find out years or even decades later, the person not only still had it, but has enjoyed it all those years. I also know I have given gifts that were shortly discarded. Both are appropriate responses.  Its a gift.  Once the giver gives, it is the other person who gets to decide what they bring into their life and what they don’t. None of us bat .1000 in the art of gift giving.

Receive with the same delight with which you give.   Be genuine in your thanks and praise.  Any gift, no matter what it is, is a vessel for the other person’s well wishes and good thoughts for you. There is no such thing as a thoughtless gift.  The thoughtless gift is never given, because you never entered their thoughts.

I’ll finish with a John Berryman poem or prayer I came across in the forward to Henry’s Fate, a short book of his poems published posthumously. I read it at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner this year and it got the appropriate response at the end.

Merry Christmas….


 

A Morning Prayer

by John Berryman

According to Thy Will. Thank you for everything that was good in me yesterday, and forgive everything that was not. Thank you for the great rescues of my life & for the marvellous good luck that has mostly attended me.  Enlighten me as to the nature of Christ. Strengthen my gratitude & awe into confident reliance & love of Thee. Increase my humility & patience. Reconcile me to my sufferings. Make tranquil my nerves. Bring Kate & me to a fuller understanding & a deeper love.  Keep me active today, & grant me accuracy & insight in my work. Preserve me today from the desire for a drink & if it comes enable me to lay it aside unsatisfied.  Enlighten me on the problem of personal immortality.  Bless everybody in the world, especially some of them, Thou knowest whom.  Amen.

It Seemed Like The Next Thing To Do

 

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Photograph by Rikki Patton. 2019

To live as gently as I can;
To be, no matter where, a man;
To take what comes of good or ill
And cling to faith and honor still;
To do my best, and let that stand
The record of my brain and hand;
And then, should failure come to me,
Still work and hope for victory.

Edgar Guest

 

Eating The Cookies

by Jane Kenyon

The cousin from Maine, knowing
about her diverticulitis, let out the nuts,
so the cookies weren’t entirely to my taste,
but they were good enough; yes, good enough.

Each time I emptied a drawer or shelf
I permitted myself to eat one.
I cleared the closet of silk caftans
that slipped easily from clattering hangers,
and from the bureau I took her nightgowns
and sweaters, financial documents
neatly cinctured in long gray envelopes,
and the hairnets and peppermints she’d tucked among
Lucite frames abounding with great-grandchildren,
solemn in their Christmas finery.

Finally the drawers were empty,
the bags full, and the largest cookie,
which I had saved for last, lay
solitary in the tin with a nimbus
of crumbs around it. There would be no more
parcels from Portland. I took it up
and sniffed it, and before eating it,
pressed it against my forehead, because
it seemed like the next thing to do.


Edgar Guest was never a candidate for serious literary awards, but his popularity during his lifetime is largely forgotten, though quotes from his more than 11,000 published poems still make their way into our cultural milieu. Guest began his career as a copy boy at the Detroit Free Press and went on to be a reporter and regular columnist. At his height of popularity he was published weekly in more than 300 papers nationwide and in the 1940’s had his own radio show, sponsored by Land O’ Lakes creamery.  Guest’s poems are frequently inspirational, rhyming, optimistic and steeped in a light religious sauce. There isn’t much heavy lifting required to understand Guest’s poetry. In our 24/7 news cycle, I think it would it be refreshing to see newspapers publish poetry again. The New Yorker magazine continues to include poetry in every issue, I would love it if more publications followed suit.

This time of year I generally dig out the box that has some of my favorite holiday children’s books and reread a few from my children’s childhood or my own.  Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree remains one of my favorites as a fun rhymed children’s book about the magic of Christmas.  Do you have holiday children’s books that you re-read every year?  I would love to hear from you, please share your favorites.


At Christmas (Excerpt)

By Edgar Guest

Man is ever in a struggle
and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him
is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him
and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished
and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it,
but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost
what God sent him here to be.

As Tree By Enterprise and Expedition

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Burl Ives – Silver and Gold

To A Young Wretch

by Robert Frost

As gay for you to take your father’s ax
As take his gun – rod – to go hunting – fishing.
You nick my spruce until its fiber cracks,
It gives up standing straight and goes down swishing.
You link arm in its arm and you lean
Across the light snow homeward smelling green.

I could have bought you just as good a tree
To frizzle resin in a candle flame,
And what a saving it would have meant to me.
But tree by charity is not the same
As tree by enterprise and expedition.
I must not spoil your Christmas with contrition.

It is your Christmases against my woods.
But even where, thus, opposing interests kill,
They are to be thought of as opposing goods
Oftener than as conflicting good and evil;
Which makes the war god seem no special dunce
For always fighting on both sides at once.

And though in tinsel chain and popcorn rope
My tree, a captive in your window bay,
Has lost its footing on my mountain slope
And lost the stars of heaven, may, oh, may
The symbol star it lifts against your ceiling
Help me accept its fate with Christmas feeling.


I was recently informed that only men over the age of 50 still watch Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. I often watch it more than once during the holidays, so I fit the type casting. I have such positive memories around the gentle humor of Rudolph. It is a love story of misfits and many of us feel a bit like a misfit at Christmas.

I am well along in my holiday preparations. My Tom’s best of music CD for 2019 is complete in figuring out the two CD set and the CD’s nearly completely burned, I have to finish printing covers and put them together.  My Tom’s best of poetry for 2019 is figured out, the poems selected and the pages nearly completely printed. I need to finish making covers and then bind them together.  It all feels doable by Christmas. One more night of watching Rudolph while working on gifts and I will have it all done.  I hope you indulge yourself in holiday traditions and sentimental journeys and a bit of gift making. Happy Holidays.

 

Love Came Down At Christmas

By Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

God Forbid I Look Behind

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The Only Ghost I Ever Saw

by Emily Dickinson

The only ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in mechlin, –so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird,
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

Hi conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient, —
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind
Since that appalling day!

 


I attended a performance of Amal and the Night Visitors this weekend with James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis.   A simple tale, an operetta set to motion as a ballet, that reminds us that our lives change for the better when we open the door to the stranger and welcome them inside.  I agree with Delmore Schwartz.  Let Angels be the judge of dogs and children.  Some people believe babies are born with all the knowledge of the world, childhood is unlearning what they already know. Dogs are born with similar knowledge.  They are born trusting.  And in companionship they learn to magnify that trust or it diminishes, depending on the person in their charge.  To howl and dance out our souls sounds like a good plan for dogs, children and adults.

 


Dogs Are Shakespearean, Children are Strangers

by Delmore Schwartz

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,
Know more and less than you: they know full well
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,
This which we live behind our unseen faces,
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,
For we are incomplete and know no future,
And we are howling or dancing out our souls
In beating syllables before the curtain:
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.