Down the road someone is practicing scales,
The notes like little fishes vanish with a wink of tails,
Man’s heart expands to tinker with his car
For this is Sunday morning, Fate’s great bazaar;
Regard these means as ends, concentrate on this Now,
And you may grow to music or drive beyond Hindhead anyhow,
Take corners on two wheels until you go so fast
That you can clutch a fringe or two of the windy past,
That you can abstract this day and make it to the week of time
A small eternity, a sonnet self-contained in rhyme.
But listen, up the road, something gulps, the church spire
Opens its eight bells out, skulls’ mouths which will not tire
To tell how there is no music or movement which secures
Escape from the weekday time. Which deadens and endures.
Sunlight in the Garden
by Louis MacNiece
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
It is difficult to not be bitter the past few days. There has been no tranquility this week in Minneapolis, just collective grief and anger over the tragic death of George Floyd. I can not make sense of this violence. It is too senseless. Why did this happen? Why does it keep happening? What has to change for police offers in Minneapolis and else where around the country to stop killing unarmed black men? What has to change in the hearts of men to stop being afraid and start being brave enough to care about the humanity of each and every person in their community?
Interviews with George Floyd’s loved ones have shared that he was proud to call Minneapolis home. I have been proud to call Minneapolis and Minnesota my home, but I am not proud today. I am ashamed that this city and state are in the global headlines for the vilest of reasons – violence, racism, police brutality, police indifference, and injustice. I hope one day that we can restore that pride, by making genuine strides to address these issues to address the injustices of equality that plague our society.
Saying I am sorry is not enough. This community did not do what it should have done; value and protect Floyd’s life. We can hold the men responsible, we can act towards justice but it’s not enough. We need change. We need to demand fundamental change. I am appalled that the policemen sworn to protect and serve do not understand the concepts of – protect and serve. I am deeply saddened for the family and friends of George Floyd. I am sad for this community, sad that violence by white men in positions of power steal from all of us; a sense of safety, a sense of collective good will, a measure of our self respect.
Martin Luther King is quoted as saying:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Today I’m crawling, having been brought to my knees in sadness and shame. But I hope, somehow, we can keep moving forward as a community and as a country and as a global community. George Floyd deserved better. We can do better.
Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, and Future see;
Whose ears have heard
the Holy Word
That walked among the ancient trees,
Calling the lapsed Soul
And weeping in the evening dew
That might control
the starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!
“O earth, O earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
and [the morn] rises from the slumbering mass.
“Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
the watery shore,
Is given thee till break of day.”
To The Evening Star
by William Blake
THOU fair-hair’d angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves, and while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And then the lion glares thro’ the dun forest:
The fleeces of our flocks are cover’d with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.
Even washing is a task, in war and daily
life. The warm and pour, the fresh linen,
the hourglass of soap in its melt telling
us how our tired flesh gleams to fiction
renewal. Time is at war. We are meant to lose
that we may grasp what we know: the waste
of passioned effort. The soldier nearest to us
dunks his face in the bowl, a murky foretaste
of baptismal death. This halo we discover
from which he’ll surely rise, suspender cords
rhyming the sink. Next to him another
wrings the towel and turns his head toward
Bellona. Not incongruous. The patroness,
too, of the trench of days and the hearth’s duress.
There is a different feel to Memorial Day this year, a bit more melancholy, like there is a collective mourning that goes far beyond remembrances of veterans in our families and communities, but an appreciation and sorrow for the disconnect from the recent past to our current present. Grief is a part of life, loss is a part of life, and allowing ourselves to feel the full range of our emotions is an important part of mental health.
I picked the poem Soldiers Washing by Pau-Llosa because of how the act of washing has taken on a different meaning since the pandemic. A habit I have gotten into is washing my hands as I enter the house. The act of hand washing has started to take on a new ritual, a chance to pause, reflect and be grateful. It is an opportunity to be in the present.
The poem above makes more sense if you have a proper context for the word Bellona as the ancient Roman goddess of war. On this memorial day, are you reflecting? Where are your thoughts? What are you mourning? What are you celebrating? For what are you grateful?
by Edgar Albert Guest (1881 – 1959)
IF no one ever went ahead,
If we had seen no friend depart
And mourned him for a while as dead,
How great would be our fear to start.
If no one for us led the way,
No loved one, garbed in angel white
Stood there, a welcome word to say,
Then we should fear the Heavenly flight.
If we should never say ‘good bye,’
Should never shed the parting tear,
We’d face the journey to the sky
In horrible despair and fear.
It is because our friends have gone
And left us in this vale of breath,
Because of those who’ve journeyed on,
That we can bravely smile at death
Rest now, e Papatuanuku ( Mother Earth )
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.
I wish we could say
we were doing it for you
as much as ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway
It’s right. It’s time.
Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe
( Maori phrase meaning – “tears from the eyes of Ranginui drip down on you”)
Ranginui is our sky father,
it is common to refer to rain as
the tears of Rangi for his beloved,
from whom he was separated
at the beginning of time
in order that there could be light in the world).
This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho – a small offering which is a treasure
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home
and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.
We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
– and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt
cinched tight at your waist
And we will do the same.
Leadership and poetry. What a refreshing and remarkable achievement. Hat’s off to New Zealand and the wisdom of the electorate to make Jacinda Ardern their Prime Minister. I recently wrote about changing GDP to Good Devoted People. New Zealand is the one country on the planet that has attempted to replace solely monetary metrics as a measure of GDP with inclusion of five specific goals tied to well-being:
Improving mental health
Reducing child poverty
Supporting indigenous peoples
Moving to a low-carbon-emission economy
Flourishing in a digital age.
To measure progress towards these goals, the New Zealand government uses 61 indicators tracking everything from loneliness, to water quality to trust in the government. In May of 2019 New Zealand released its first ever “well-being budget”, stating that the purpose of government spending is to ensure citizens’ health and life satisfaction, not just wealth and economic growth. Imagine, collectively forming a government to strive towards happiness as a shared purpose?
Wait…Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….
Maybe its time to elect poets into positions of leadership again in America. Long before he was our first president, George Washington was a love-sick teenager, pining for his first crush – Frances Alexander. Several of his poems survived in his diary, including this one from 1749. It’s good to know that our first President was vulnerable enough to write poetry. Let’s hope our next President is as well.
From Your Bright Sparkling Eyes
by George Washington
From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you’ll Find
Ah! woe’s me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish’d, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was’t free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.
“Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”
Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855)
Sleep Brings No Joy To Me
by Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848)
Sleep brings no joy to me,
Remembrance never dies;
My soul is given to misery
And lives in sighs.
Sleep brings no rest to me;
The shadows of the dead
My waking eyes may never see
Surround my bed.
Sleep brings no hope to me;
In sounder sleep they come.
And with their doleful imagery
Deepen the gloom
Sleep brings no strength to me,
No power renewed to brave:
I only sail a wilder sea,
A darker wave.
Sleep brings no friend to me
To soothe and aid to bear;
They all gaze, oh, how scornfully,
And I despair.
Sleep brings no wish to knit
My harassed heart beneath:
My only wish is to forget
In the sleep of death.
by John Keats (1795 – 1821)
O PEACE! and dost thou with thy presence bless
The dwellings of this war-surrounded Isle;
Soothing with placid brow our late distress,
Making the triple kingdom brightly smile?
Joyful I hail thy presence; and I hail
The sweet companions that await on thee;
Complete my joy let not my first wish fail,
Let the sweet mountain nymph thy favourite be,
With England’s happiness proclaim Europa’s Liberty.
O Europe! let not sceptred tyrants see
That thou must shelter in thy former state;
Keep thy chains burst, and boldly say thou art free;
Give thy kings law leave not uncurbed the great ;
So with the horrors past thou’lt win thy happier fate!
I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.
by John Keats (1795 – 1821)
O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.
A Long, Long Sleep
by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
A long — long Sleep — A famous — Sleep —
That makes no show for Morn —
By Stretch of Limb — or stir of Lid —
An independent One —
Was ever idleness like This?
Upon a Bank of Stone
To bask the Centuries away —
Nor once look up — for Noon
“Suddenly I realize that if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom. ”
Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy’s Farm
by James Wright
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
One of the things I appreciate about James Wright, is the slight fog which permeates even his most sunny days. On a week that saw me turn a rather harmless late 50’s birthday, I have had that thought more than once in the past month, “I have wasted my life.” Hasn’t every late 50’s something man and woman thought that at least once? However, maybe not in the way you might think. When I read the last line of Wright’s poem, what I think he is saying to me is, “I wasted my life” not by doing nothing or not doing more, but by not doing nothing more often!
There is a symmetry to my late 50’s. My children are the ages that I was when I had them. My surviving parent is likely older than the age I will be when I die. It feels like I am at a juncture where I can see the past and the future and the question is what is yet to be done? It certainly isn’t climb the corporate ladder or build a bigger house or buy typical retirement toys, in other words do the things many people aspire to do as a measure of success at this stage in their lives. For me its strive to still write a few more good poems, nourish my irresponsible self and be the person sitting in a hammock on William Duffy’s farm and do absolutely nothing but think, read and look at the beauty around me. My greatest ambition the next 30 years is to do less more often and do it in peace.
Wright is an interesting character. He wrote more than one masterful sonnet, but metrical structured poetry was not his best legacy. Wright’s poetry fit the era in which it came forth: a celebration of fly over land, the unremarkable Midwest and a reconciliation of the beginning of when working class, middle class unexceptional white men began fading into obscurity, or so it has felt, maybe they were always in obscurity and Wright’s poetry was finally just stating the obvious. Reading Wright always feels to me like I am so grateful they hadn’t invented medications for depression yet, because a placated, medicated Wright would have been a boring writer I fear.
If you could waste your life more brilliantly, what would you do? What unremarkable thing do you still aspire to achieve? Where do you need to hang your hammock and let the clouds and bronze butterflies float by? During this time of working from home, ask yourself this question? How hard should you really be working right now? Is your 70% good enough at a time when productivity and all measures of it by an economist are not going to improve our national economy and GDP, unless we define GDP as Good Devoted People. Be good to yourself. Do good for others. Let that be our measure of GDP and if you take a few minutes to read or write some poetry today, look at it as the most productive thing you did all day.
by James Wright
When I went out to kill myself, I caught
a pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away
Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
— Margaret Atwood
by Sara Teasdale
The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.
Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing–
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.
After several cold weeks, and taunting frosts, spring is finally busting out. Just when we thought we would never turn off our furnaces, the forecast has a high that starts with an 8 in it next week. Lilacs are scenting Minnesota air and a seemingly infinite variation of green abound everywhere I look.
Lilacs are magic. They are for Minnesota gardeners what might constitute as an aphrodisiac, inspiring more than a few to take a bath, scrub the dirt out from underneath their fingernails and get a hair cut. Lilacs and crab apple blossoms lead directly to lily’s of the valley, and from there it feels like almost anything’s still possible this summer. Almost anything, even baseball.
Here’s a little ditty I wrote this week, reminding myself not to take Spring so seriously this year…. Lighten up. It’s Spring!
by T. A. Fry
Lily of the valley’s dainty bells,
Ring faintly Spring has cast it’s spell,
With peonies and iris on their way.
It’s worth the wait, to wait for May.
Looking close at the forest floor, Trillium and elves are more than lore. May rains make the mushrooms sprout, So when outside walking about,
Look down, then up, take a step,
Breath the scent Spring flowers wept. And when good fortune brings morels, Leave some for our friends – the elves.
You can cut all the flowers, but you can not keep Spring from coming.
In The Wave-Strike Over Unquiet Stones
by Pablo Neruda
In the wave-strike over unquiet stones
the brightness bursts and bears the rose
and the ring of water contracts to a cluster
to one drop of azure brine that falls.
O magnolia radiance breaking in spume,
magnetic voyager whose death flowers
and returns, eternal, to being and nothingness:
shattered brine, dazzling leap of the ocean.
Merged, you and I, my love, seal the silence
while the sea destroys its continual forms,
collapses its turrets of wildness and whiteness,
because in the weft of those unseen garments
of headlong water, and perpetual sand,
we bear the sole, relentless tenderness.
I am like Neruda at the start of his poem Poetry, I don’t where poetry arrived in search of me, but I do know when. I was just about to turn 50 and it came over me like a wave, quite suddenly my connection to poetry. And it wasn’t just one poet, it was a host of poets, calling to me, dropping little bombs into my life, most of them resonating because of one or two lines before the whole of it made more sense after many readings. And then it turned into a flood, a torrent, that carried me along of its own accord. I could have swum sideways to the current and reached shore and gotten out, but I decided to see where that river might carry me and it has carried me beyond where I ever anticipated.
As Neruda says; “it was at that age.” What age was it for you, when poetry arrived? How did it come into your life, slowly or with a host of trumpets, heralding its arrival? Where is poetry now on your journey? Where have you yet to let it take you? Where will you let it take you?
by Pablo Neruda
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.