This Is Old Song, That Will Not Declare Itself

Wallace Stevens

The Man In The Dump

(Excerpt last stanza)
by Wallace Stevens

One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail.
One beats and beats for that which one believes.
That’s what one wants to get near. Could it after all
Be merely oneself, as superior as the ear
To a crow’s voice? Did the nightingale torture the ear,
Peck the heart and scratch the mind? And does the ear
Solace itself in peevish birds? Is it peace,
Is it a philosopher’s honeymoon, one finds
On the dump? Is it to sit among mattresses of the dead,
Bottles, pots, shoes and grass and murmur aptest eve:
Is it to hear the blatter of grackles and say
Invisible priest; is it to eject, to pull
The day to pieces and cry stanza my stone?
Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.

Wallace Stevens wrote wonderfully odd poetry, just think if he were alive today and trying to out do the oddity of real life? Would he have given up trying to write poetry and become a painter instead?  Or would he have just studied the actuarial tables for life insurance a little harder and drove his wife nuts even faster?  I love Wallace Stevens.  His creativity is astounding.  And although I don’t think he intended The Man In The Dump to be a commentary on the 2020 presidential election, he was brilliantly prescient.

“Where was it one first heard of the truth?” 
What ever your truth happens to be, or is truth now a metaphor, The the.?

Metaphors of a Magnifico

by Wallace Stevens

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village.

This is old song
That will not declare itself . . .

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a village.

That will not declare itself
Yet is certain as meaning . . .

The boots of the men clump
On the boards of the bridge.
The first white wall of the village
Rises through fruit-trees.
Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes.

The first white wall of the village . . .
The fruit-trees . . .

Let Love Be Brought To Ignorance Again

Lisel Mueller
Lisel Mueller

A Prayer For Rain

by Lisel Mueller

Let it come down: these thicknesses of air
have long enough walled love away from love;
stillness has hardened until words despair
of their high leaps and kisses shut themselves
back into wishing. Crippled lovers lie
against a weather which holds out on them,
waiting, awaiting some shrill sign, some cry,
some screaming cat that smells a sacrifice
and spells them thunder. Start the mumbling lips,
syllable by monotonous syllable,
that wash away the sullen griefs of love
and drown out knowledge of an ancient war—
o, ill-willed dark, give with the sound of rain,
let love be brought to ignorance again.


Rain is in the forecast this week here in Minneapolis. It will be a cold rain when it comes.  The kind of rain that will eat away at the snow piles that remain,  help wash away the salt and dirt of winter,  deteriorate the piles of dog poo that had congregated beneath the snow and now have resurfaced in back yards.  It won’t be until the second or third rain that spring truly arrives in Minnesota.  The kind of rain that changes the way the world smells, a smell of hope and growing things, the smell of soil coming back to life.

The sonnet above by Mueller is masterful.  It is a framework for emotion, memories and pictures, rendering in each reader a different message.  It says a lot but not too much.  It is just opaque enough to allow the reader to be pulled in whatever direction their mind is taking them at the time.  I like poetry that resembles a Rorschach test, it has a definite imprint you can see in black and white, but what it is exactly, is up to the individual to interpret.

This is not my idea, it is a concept rooted in history. The German mystic and poet Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862) wrote and drew a series of complex ink blots captioned with accompanying poems. His work preceded Rorschach. Kerner’s work was popular towards the end of the 19th century.   Kerner’s idea became the basis for children’s games such as “Gobolinks” and “Blottentots” in the United States, “Klecks,” in Germany, and “Blotto,” in the United Kingdom. In all of these games, the players made inkblot pictures and then wrote short poems, interpreting how the picture moved them. How wonderful to make art and poetry a game in which everyone can play, before we become reserved and shy with words.

Justinus Kerner Inkblots and Poem


by Lisel Mueller

“Don’t cry, its only music,”
someone’s voice is saying.
“No one you love is dying.”

It’s only music. And it was only spring,
the world’s unreasoning body
run amok, like a saint’s, with glory,
that overwhelmed a young girl
into unreasoning sadness.
“Crazy,” she told herself,
“I should be dancing with happiness.”

But it happened again. It happens
when we make bottomless love—
there follows a bottomless sadness
which is not despair
but its nameless opposite.
It has nothing to do with the passing of time.
It’s not about loss. It’s about
two seemingly parallel lines
suddenly coming together
inside us, in some place
that is still wilderness.
Joy, joy, the sopranos sing,
reaching for the shimmering notes
while our eyes fill with tears.

Something Secret Is Going On

L Mueller
Lisel Mueller (1924 – 2020)

“My husband says spring will be early.
He says this every year,
And every year I disagree.
He needs me, the dark side of the planetary equation.
Together we make the equinox.”

Lisel Mueller

Love, Like Salt

by Lisel Mueller

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

I read the obits of poets.   Google has learned this about me and I don’t have to search it out, the key words – death, poet and Pulitzer are so ingrained on my behind the scene profile that it automatically serves it up to me on daily briefings.   Lisel Mueller is not a name I was familiar prior to this week, but when she died at the glorious age of 96 this past month, I stumbled across her obit and then sought out her poetry.   I so enjoy finding a poet that I have never heard of before that within reading a few of their poems I instantly find a poem I can’t wait to share with a friend, so perfect are the words to their inner life.

Mueller was forced to flee the Nazi’s when she was fifteen and she lived out the rest of her life in the Midwest, mostly Illinois. She won the Pulitzer in 1976, a talented translator as well as poet, she richly deserved the recognition for her nuanced and sentimental poetry.   Mueller’s poetry dwells in quiet places we all exist.  It is what I most appreciate in a poet, the ability to illuminate the simple and make simple the complex.

Sometimes, When The Light

By Lisel Mueller

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angle
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

You know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

Dear March – Come In


Florida Sunshine – Photograph by Rikki Patton

A Light Exists In Spring

by Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

The adage; “In like a lion, out like a lamb, in like a lamb out like a lion,”  gives all Minnesotans and Northerners pause when we find ourselves in the high 40’s on March 2, wondering what Mother Nature has in store for us in 4 weeks.

I spent the final week of February in Florida on business with a little fun thrown in at the end. The quality of the light was fundamentally different than just weeks before in Minnesota. There is a sense of serenity that comes with the arrival of March. Bulbs blooming on the kitchen table will soon be bulbs blooming in the front yard.  And though there will be a few more cold days and likely a snow squall or two, the sun is winning the battle and winter is coming to an end.  I agree with Emily – Dear March, come in, come right in and make yourself at home.  We are glad to see you return. 

Dear March – Come In

by Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

It Won’t Always Be Like This

Franz Wright (1953 – 2015)


Some fish for words from shore while others, lacking in such contemplative tact, like to go wading in up to their chins through a torrent of bone-freezing diamond, knife raised, to freeze-frame incarnadine and then bid it as with hermetic wand flow on again, ferociously, transparently, name writ in river.

By Franz Wright

To Myself

by Franz Wright

You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,
the sole passenger

with an overhead light on.
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,

the little lights off in the distance
(in one of those rooms we are
living) and I am the rain

and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,

and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin

to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:
everything’s going to be fine

I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.

I have an affinity for James Wright’s poetry in part because of his connection to Minnesota and the landscapes and sentiments expressed of the Midwest.  James and Franz Wright are the only father and son to win a Pulitzer Prize in the same category.   It is hard for sons to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, particularly fathers that are celebrated for their achievements.

Poetry is a unique terror to impart as a hereditary legacy to one’s child, poetry rooted in desperation that connects the Wright’s poetic accomplishments. A criticism of their work is there’s a thread of self pity that runs through it, a contrition that lacks discipline.  I don’t see it that way.  I see their starkest poetry as the courage to write what they feel. The question is whether readers have the courage to feel those same things along side them.

James died of lung cancer from smoking.  Franz died of tongue cancer, also smoking related. Self destruction is an art form all of our own creation and as individual as the individual. Is poetry the instruction manual left behind for the puzzle keepers to reassemble the poet as flesh and blood, even if only for a second in our own minds?

In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned

by James Wright

I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main,
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.