Whatever We Are, Or Were

Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

Horse Latitudes (Excerpt)

by Paul Muldoon
 
Burma
 
Her grandfather’s job was to cut
the vocal cords of each pack mule
with a single, swift excision,
a helper standing by to wrench
the mule’s head fiercely to one side and drench
it with hooch he’d kept since Prohibition.
“Why,” Carlotta wondered, “that fearsome tool?
Was it for fear the mules might bray
and give their position away?”
At which I see him thumb the shade
as if he were once more testing a blade
and hear the two-fold snapping shut
of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter’s rule:
“And give away their position.”
 


Holy Thursday

by Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

They’re kindly here, to let us linger so late,
Long after the shutters are up.
A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate
Of stew, or some thick soup,

And settles himself at the next table but one.
We know, you and I, that it’s over,
That something or other has come between
Us, whatever we are, or were.

The waiter swabs his plate with bread
And drains what’s left of his wine,
Then rearranges, one by one,
The knife, the fork, the spoon, the napkin,
The table itself, the chair he’s simply borrowed,
And smiles, and bows to his own absence.

We Were All Unconcerned

Thomas Kinsella (b. 1928 –

Free Fall

by Thomas Kinsella

I was falling helpless in a shower of waste,
reaching my arms out toward the others
falling in disorder everywhere around me.

At the last instant,
approaching the surface,
the fall slowed suddenly,

and we were all
unconcerned,
regarding one another in approval.


The Force of Eloquence

by Thomas Kinsella

The brink of living is inhabited.

Unbrooding as an ox, he thrusts a bald
Muscular head out smiling.  Though his tongue
Chains are fastened, radii of gold.
Gently hauled by these, his swayed captives
Yield their wrists in  lithe angles of peace
– A charmed plight, halted in faint relief
Against a line of hills full of quaint promise.

A token of bronze, long out currency, 
Vivifies an impossible worn world,
Of speech constricted into other terms:
An equilibrium of gift and threat
Moulded in external breathless appearance.

Enter, and inhale the living bronze. 


March Is A Muddy Dog

Golden Retriever

March Is A Muddy Dog

by T. A. Fry

March is a muddy dog
Muddy boots, a muddy slog
Muddy kitchen, muddy jeans
In March we march in mud it seems.

With arms outstretched, shouting stop
Barring all with broom and mop
Parents tire of the constant chore,
Cleaning foot prints from the floor. 

If muddy March is your downfall, 
Show you’re not a neanderthal.
Remove your shoes, at the door,
Never track a nice clean floor!

And though in March it’s a bother,
Grab the dog by the collar.
Prevent paw prints on the carpet.
Wash their feet before they’re on it.


Mud does not limit itself to farms, but there is an extra helping of mud if you have livestock and daily chores.  Years ago I lived on a small acreage and had a few furry beasts, more pets than livestock.  At the time we lived in an old two story farm house with good bones.  One of its best features was a mud room, an entry area where you could disrobe out of work attire and take off your shoes or boots before entering the kitchen.  It served as a containment area for the dog and cast as well so that you could wipe off their paws before allowing entry into the kitchen.  The kitchen was enormous, bigger than the dining room with a large wood stove towards the center that made everything cozy. 

This was a well built farm house from the early 1920’s, with traditional features like hard wood floors and leaded glass windows on the first floor.  In the 1980’s the wood kitchen flooring had been covered over with indoor/outdoor carpeting with a rather ornate pattern, in browns and golds and dark greens.  It wasn’t attractive or unattractive, it was practical because it was easy to clean and disguised whatever dirt remained when you inevitably tracked some inside. We were young and broke and so it was not on the top of the list to replace when we moved in but was on the bucket list to do someday.  

Our son was only a little over two that first spring in the house and with a newly arrived puppy and cat that had moved from barn to house when it got cold we had our hands full. One Saturday morning in March we came down and had coffee, made breakfast and were chatting for awhile, catching up on the week and generally enjoying the warmth of the kitchen, when in near simultaneous movement we both looked down at our son who was sitting on the floor smiling up at us. In slow motion we watched as he raised his right hand up to his mouth realizing he was about to suck on the head of dead mouse like a pacifier.  My wife let out a shriek that peeled paint off the ceiling and my son dropped it and started crying.  A prodigious scrubbing occurred in the sink of his hands and face as my wife shuddered not wanting to know if the head of the mouse was wet. She looked at me uttering one of the classic lines that occur in marriages; “from now on, I want flooring in our kitchen I can see the dead mice.”  I silently agreed as I winked at the cat and disposed of the offender.  

Like Pastan’s sentiments below, I find that pets remind me that I am not as much in control of my life as I would like to believe.  Pets introduce a level of  unpredictablity that is both hilarious and heart breaking.  Pets are a reminder of how fast life speeds by and to enjoy it like “anything can happen.”


The New Dog

by Linda Pastan

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities-

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.

From Strength to Strength Advancing

Matthew Arnold 1822- 1888

“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.”

Matthew Arnold

Immortality

by Matthew Arnold

Foil’d by our fellow-men, depress’d, outworn,
We leave the brutal world to take its way,
And, Patience! in another life, we say
The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
 
And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn
The world’s poor, routed leavings? or will they,
Who fail’d under the heat of this life’s day,
Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?
 
No, no! the energy of life may be
Kept on after the grave, but not begun;
And he who flagg’d not in the earthly strife,
 
From strength to strength advancing—only he,
His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
 
 

It can be a bit of a head spinner to jump from the language of the mid 19th Century to the 21st Century from one day to the next and then back again, but that’s one of things I find fascinating about the sonnet form.   It is a framework that has remained relatively unchanged and relevant for hundreds of years.  Although the language has changed, many of the themes Arnold is exploring are universal.   Matthew Arnold is not a poet I would ever come across  if not for this project and my radar always being up and listening for sonnets.   Arnold is not a poet who has remained popular.  His language sounds a bit stilted to my ears.  Yet if I push through the language and listen to his themes that he is wrestling, it sounds familiar.   In the middle of a pandemic, where all of our patience has been tested, his opening to Immortality is  dead on to thoughts I have been having.  Where should I place my energies?   Work doesn’t have the same feeling as it used to, working remotely has lessened the humanness and the fulfillment of working alongside other people so that I question a bit, what am I really doing and does it really matter as much as it once did?  I like his language if I let it transport me and embrace its foreign qualities.  It raises questions in my mind; what energies of my life will live past me? What will give strength to my children to others?  What battles are worth winning other than the one we all can win, enjoying our lives.


Shakespeare

 
by Matthew Arnold
 

Shakespeare

Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,
Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,

Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil’d searching of mortality;

And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure,
Didst tread on earth unguess’d at. – Better so!

All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,
Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.

 

You Can’t Get Rid Of It

A. E. Stallings

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks.

A. E. Stallings

Glitter

by A. E. Stallings

All that will remain after an apocalypse is glitter.   – British Vogue

You have a daughter now.  it’s everywhere,
And often in the company of glue.
You can’t get rid of it.  It’s in her hair:
A wink of pink, a glint of silver-blue.
It’s catching, like the chicken pox, or lice.
Its travels, like a planetary scar.
Sometimes its on your face, or you look twice
And glimpse, there on your arm, a single star.
You know it by a hand’s brushing your neck –
You blush – It’s not desire, not anymore –
Just someone’s urge to flick away the fleck
Of borrowed glamour from your collarbone –
The broken mirror Time will not restore,
The way your daughter marks you as her own.


The Pull Toy

by A. E. Stallings

You squeezed its leash in your fist,
It followed where you led:
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
Nodding its wooden head.

Wagging a tail on a spring,
Its wheels gearing lackety-clack,
Dogging your heels the length of the house,
Though you seldom glanced back.

It didn’t mind being dragged
When it toppled on its side
Scraping its coat of primary colors:
Love has no pride.

But now that you run and climb
And leap, it has no hope
Of keeping up, so it sits, hunched
At the end of its short rope

And dreams of a rummage sale
Where it’s snapped up for a song,
And of somebody—somebody just like you—
Stringing it along

We Look For Communion

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

The Argument

by A. E. Stallings

After the argument, all things were strange.
They stood divided by their eloquence
Which had surprised them after so much silence.
Now there were real things to rearrange.
Words betokened deeds, but they were both
Lightened briefly, and they were inclined
To be kind as sometime strangers can be kind.
It was as if, out of the undergrowth,
They stepped into a clearing and a sun,
Machetes still in hand. Something was done,
But how they did not fully realize.
Something was beginning.  Something would stem
And branch from this one moment.  Something made
Them both look up into each other’s eyes
Because they both were suddenly afraid
And there was no one now to comfort them.


Both Levertov and Stallings draw inspiration from their families, each with a personal voice and poetic vision, but in very different forms.  Stallings has the ability to craft highly structured poems that read smoothly, the rhyme and structure doesn’t feel forced or artificial.   This is extremely hard to do and I find the craft of Stallings work remarable.   No less skilled though is Levertov’s ability to create emotion through simplicity.  Levertov picks her words with care and places them with a deft touch.   Each of these poems come at the reality of partnership/marriage that is at once both uncomfortable as it is beautiful.   A reminder that love moves along all the spectrums of emotion and not just in one direction. 


The Ache Of Marriage

by Denise Levertov

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it

As I Desire To Be

This is the 600th post on Fourteenlines

If I Were Loved

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee?
All the inner, all the outer world of pain
Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine
As I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.

‘T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee,
To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.


The Charge of The Light Brigade

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

I
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

II
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.

V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.

VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

Though Art Wealthier

Justinus_Kerner
Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)

The Richest Prince

By Andreas Justinus Kerner
Translated by H. W. Dulcken

All their wealth and vast possessions
Vaunting high in choicest terms,
Sat the German princes feasting
In the knightly hall of Worms.

“Might,” cried the Saxon ruler,
“Are the wealth and power I wield:
In my country’s mountain gorges
Sparkling silver lies concealed.”

“See my land with plenty glowing,”
Quoth the Palsgrave of the Rhine;
“Beauteous harvest in the valleys,
On the mountains noble wine.”

“Spacious towns and wealthy convents,”
Lewis spake, Bavaria’s lord,
“Make my land to yield me treasures
Great as those your fields afford.”

Würtemberg’s beloved monarch
Eberhard the Bearded, cried:
“See my land hath little cities,
‘Mong my hills not metals bide;

“Yet one treasure it hath borne me, –
Sleeping in the woodland free,
I may lay my head in safety
On my lowliest vassal’s knee.”

Then, as with a single utterance,
Cried aloud those princes three:
“Bearded count, thy land hath jewels!
Thou art wealthier far than we!


Der Wanderer in der Sägmühle

by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)

Dort unten in der Mühle
Saß ich in süßer Ruh’
Und sah dem Räderspiele
Und sah den Wassern zu.

Sah zu der blanken Säge,
Es war mir wie ein Traum,
Die bahnte lange Wege
In einen Tannenbaum.

Die Tanne war wie lebend,
In Trauermelodie
Durch alle Fasern bebend
Sang diese Worte sie:

Du kehrst zur rechten Stunde,
O Wanderer, hier ein,
Du bist’s, für den die Wunde
Mir dringt ins Herz hinein!

Du bist’s, für den wird werden,
Wenn kurz gewandert du,
Dies Holz im Schoß der Erden
Ein Schrein zur langen Ruh’.

Vier Bretter sah ich fallen,
Mir ward’s ums Herze schwer,
Ein Wörtlein wollt’ ich lallen,
Da ging das Rad nicht mehr.

Inspired by Kerner’s book,  two Americans, Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine, turned his idea into a game and released it in 1896. Like Kerner who saw something mystical in the inkblot process, Stuart and Paine embraced the art form as an act of chaos and imagination or a gobolink; a “ goblin of the ink-bottle.”  Like Kerner, they penned short poems to accompany some of their fanciful creations, but unlike him they did not tend to further decorate the inkblots to accentuate certain features.  I commend both for the playfulness, encouraging young and old to be creative.  I can’t wait to get out the ink bottle and try making a few myself.  Will you create a gobolink and see what comes slinking forth from your subconscious? 

For the inquisitive who are wondering about the reference to Yeddo in the poem below, there are two references that may apply; Yeddo in Japan, which is the mangled English version of Edo and Yeddo, Indiana, an unincorporated rural town.  Your imagination will have to decide which was their inspiration.  Jack London wrote a short story set in Yeddo, Japan but it would have been published after Gobolinks came out.  It would be curious to know if Jack London had a Gobolinks as a child? 

https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/in-yeddo-bay


Gobolink Symmetry – Denise Gaskins' Let's Play Math

Gobolinks by Ruth McEnery and Albert Paine, 1896.

The Butterfly

by Ruth McEnery and Albert Paine

How gaily flits the Butterfly
. . Across the seas of clover.
How blue the arching summer sky
. . That hangs the country over.

On wings of purple, brown, and gold
. . He drifts across the meadow.
His harmless flight you may behold
. . From Yucatan to Yeddo.

A Devilish Question

Justinus Kerner Inkblot Poem

 

The Wanderer in the Sawmill

by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)
translated by William Cullen Bryant

In yonder mill I rested,
And sat me down to look
Upon the wheel’s quick glimmer.
And on the flowing brook.

As in a dream, before me,
The saw, with restless play,
Was cleaving through a fir-tree
Its long and steady way.

The tree through all its fibres
With living motion stirred,
And, in a dirge-like murmur,
These solemn words I heard—

Oh, thou, who wanderest hither,
A timely guest thou art!
For thee this cruel engine
Is passing through my heart.

When soon, in earth’s still bosom,
Thy hours of rest begin,
This wood shall form the chamber
Whose walls shall close thee in.

Four planks—I saw and shuddered—
Dropped in that busy mill;
Then, as I tried to answer,
At once the wheel was still.

 


Justinus Kerner was a complex man, a poet, a physician, a mystic, he was fascinated by the manifestations of the natural world and the supernatural.  He took an interest in exorcism as well as the scientific study of disease, while being an accomplished writer, poet and artist. His methods and breadth of talents were not considered eccentric for his time as an interest in spirits and the occult were common place in Europe and the United States during the latter stages of his career.

Kerner moved in wide circles with friendships of other renown scientists, nobility and poets, often attracting other eccentric and bold personalities among his circle of friends.  Kerner built a large home that served as sanctuary for some of his patients as well as family and friends and was supported in part through the largess of friends in high places within German aristocracy.

Although Kerner published several volumes of poetry late in his life including, Die letzte Blütenstrauss (The Last Flowers to Blossom, 1852) and Winterblüten (Winter Blossoms, 1859), he is best known for his klecksographs, Kerner’s term for ink blots. Die Klecksographien.  This charming combination of inkblots and short poems were first published after his death in 1890 by his son Theobald Kerner.  Theobald published in the introduction of this book his father’s words on how his process of creating his art began:

 “The worsening of my partial blindness was the reason for my resuming this youthful play since drops of ink very often fell on the paper as I wrote. Sometimes I didn’t notice them and folded the paper without allowing it to dry. When I separated them again I saw the blots, especially if they had landed near a fold of the paper and formed symmetrical drawings, namely arabesques, animal and human shapes, and so on This also gave me the idea of developing this phenomenon to a somewhat greater level through practice.” This “practice”  included the addition of small embellishments by Kerner himself that turn the inkblots into a kind of folk art and the black and white sinister quality of them lend itself to his favorite subjects; death, spirits, ghosts and the macabre. “

Kerner Inkblots

The idea of play as adults, with art and words is something to be admired.  As a child there was in our kitchen a small book case, that had an unending supply of paper, brushes and water color paint, that could be used at any time, as long as we put some newspaper down over the kitchen table.  I remember on rainy afternoons, getting out the paint and being as fascinated by the turning shades of colors in the small bowls of water used to clean the brushes as what happened on the paper.  The magic of ink blots and water colors, where the pigments flow in unexpected patterns with the grain of the paper help enrich the mind’s eye in taking us on a journey. 

I am in awe of poets that can combine visual art with words.  Kerner is an inspiration that creativity is more than an ability to control the outcome of an image, it is the ability to embrace the unexpected and let it flow into new creations.  Kerner investigated ideas as a physician that would go on to be known as hypnosis and psychotherapy but in his time was called mesmerism.  I think of mesmerism as a concept of being overcome by beauty.  In the swirling kinetics of Kerner’s inkblots, it is easy to be mesmerized, even in their darker qualities. When was the last time you played with ink blots or water colors?   Do you have a water color set sitting in a drawer somewhere waiting for you to remember how fun it is to paint on a rainy afternoon?

 


A Poet’s Solace

By Justinus Kerner

Translation unknown

When I am dead, no eye of love
May drop a tear upon my grave;
Yet weeping flowers shall bloom above,
And sighing branches o’er me wave.

Though near the place where I shall lie
The passing traveler linger not,
Yet shall the quiet moon on high
Look, mighty down up on the spot.

In these green meadows, where I rove,
By man I may forgotten be;
Yet the blue sky and silent grove
Forever shall remember me.

 

How Many Ours

Stefania Heim

A Large Mirror Unloaded From a Truck in the Sun

by Stefania Heim

Participation relegated to sleeping near
the open window. My great failure

has always been not imagining the future
but in managing myself. Your thumbprint, please,

before we launch the new rhetoric. I know
when I grovel I am plain. I’ve actually had a dream

about this building, and it feels soon enough to me now.
For all the reasons we are short of breath, approximate.

Passion clusters as though circumstance. A terrible
child, I grow apart. According to the original

rules, burn everything. Who could have anticipated
what we are becoming—in constraint, in circumspection.

I’ll think of some experiment to move us,
focusing on the lenses learned.


So Torn by My Tides

by Stefania Heim

So torn by my tides, I do not I can read them.

Hour book, our book. “H” in Italian is a tool, not a sound. My mother slips the “h” in only where it doesn’t belong. Our book, our book. How events just accumulate in time. Who will we lose in the duration of this writing. The promise of future children names for our beloved dead. Whispered at caskets. An hour dead. How many hours.

In our village the streets empty at appointed times. If life were a time-lapse video, lingering would be more visible than slipping away. Invisible motions the more pronounced. Once I stood akimbo, 8PM mid-street, waiting for everyone to go. I am astonished, in memory, by the boldness of it. Did everyone go?

                      How many ours.