Learning To Love

Chana Bloch (1940 – 2017)

We Look With Uncertainty….

Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comess…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

 


Day-Blind

by Chana Bloch

One clap of day and the dream
rushes back
where it came from.  For a moment
the ground is still moist with it.
Then day settles.  You step onto dry land.

Morning picks out the four
corners, coffeepot, shawl of dust
on a cupboard.  Stunned
by brightness, that dream –
where did it go?

All day you grope in a web
of invisible stars.  The day sky soaks them up
like dreams.  If you could see
in the light, you’d see what fires
keep spinning, spinning their mesh of threads

around you. They’re closer
than you think, pulsing
into the blue.  You press your forehead
to the cool glass.
They must be out there in all that dazzle.

Too Far Out

Stevie Smith (1902 – 1971)

Not Waving But Drowning

by Stevie Smith
 
Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.
 
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.
 
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.
 

I  recently traveled to Colorado in March where the sun shone every day for 9 days in a row, only to return to the coldest, cloudiest, dreariest April I can remember in Minnesota.  It has made the wait for spring intolerable.  Its not my imagination.  Hostas’ that had been given some encouragement by several 60 plus degree days in March have re-entered hibernation, shivering at the surface of the ground, waiting for May to venture forth further.  We shall all have to be patient; robins, flowers and people, snow flakes falling for the third day in a row outside my window, out of what feels like spite by Mother Nature this late in April. 

I think many of us have felt like we are drowning at times this past year,  while pretending to our family and friends that we were waving.  The problem with this image of drowning is its a myth, its not based on reality.  Its the way people who can swim picture that those that can’t must look like when they are in trouble.   Most drowning victims go down like a stone, silently, the first mouthful of water a liquid muzzle that stifles any call for help.  No hands waving above the surface, their hands below the water line wildly trying to swim ineffectively, with only a couple of ripples remaining after they disappear.   It is with such ease that many people drown that onlookers are shocked when they realize what has happened. 

Several April’s ago, I was reading the Sunday paper and there was a headline on a three inch column in the Star Tribune that caught my attention; Man drowns in Bob Lake.  The short article was more public safety than news column, a reminder on the need for life jackets while boating, particularly in the spring when water temperatures are cold and the risk of drowning increases.  The authorities had been called several days before when a dog, cold but alive, was recovered floating aimlessly in a canoe on Bob Lake. Steven Tickle’s body was recovered a short time later.  Mr. Tickle had been a long time resident of Edina and loved by his family.   It was ruled accidental. 

Sipping my coffee that morning, this poem took shape.  I was drawn to the idea of a stranger writing a requiem for a man he never met, a fellow canoeist.  For anyone that has ever canoed and attempted to exit a canoe in the middle of the lake without tipping it, the circumstances brings questions to one’s mind.  After a bit of thought the poem became a discussion between a man and his death.  I decided it was something I hope someone might do for me someday.   

Thinking about it made me ponder; what kind of death would be appealing to me?   A private, quick one, while I am still active and enjoying my life, sounds like it would be at the top of my list, about 25 years from now, or let’s make it 30.  Cold water is anesthetizing.   In some ways there are things appealing in the mystery of Tickle’s death; the solitude of the lake, the peacefulness of a canoe, the suddenness of it.  My mind was drawn to acceptance of a man and his undoing.   


Love I Leave Behind

by T. A. Fry

Bob Lake swallowed Tickle,
Took Tickle fast with ease.
Nary laugh or giggle,
As Tickle coughed and wheezed.

Bob Lake said to Tickle;
“Below this surface rest.
Hope may spring eternal.
But Death’s at my behest.”

Tickle swallowed Bob Lake,
Knew it was his end.
For it was, too late to take,
Caution as his friend.

Tickle said to Bob Lake;
“Tell love I leave behind.
Life’s been grand for goodness sake,
And your waters kind.”

You Already Know This

Amanda Auchter

The Moment

by Amanda Auchter

If I was asked how I felt when I watched
            you in death, I would explain the stone
pit in my throat, the hard swallow

in the air of your not breathing. When I found you,

I gathered the sheet from the closet
            to cover your body —how still
you looked, how asleep—but it was not enough.  

                      You already know this, I imagine,
how little I could manage—the flowered sheet, 

and after, how I sat on the porch in the August dark

as our father placed the sheet beside the back door.
            How he passed through

           grief in a way that I could not, my own
body vanishing into the field of the night. 


Decorating the Tombs: All Saints’ Day

by Amanda Auchter

After the wood engraving by John Durkin, November 1885

We bring our bread and fall flowers,

a table spread with rust linen,
forks and plates. We bring paper crowns,

a sheaf of wheat, press each against white-
washed tombs, offer our prayers, our baskets
of harvest: yellow chrysanthemums,

red coxcombs, wreaths of black glass
beads. Keepsakes in the glow

of our children’s hands, fields
of candlelight, lamp oil, the distant

burst of lightning. Each stone
a vessel we bring our mouths to, touch
and whisper, wipe clear of lichen, soot.

Around us, the city blurs in dusk: low blue

between the coliseum of houses, men
with their carts of ice, tomatoes. We lift

our spoons of pudding and don’t speak
of the rising river, fevers, how soon the damp
earth will shutter our eyes, dredge the backs

of our throats. How soon, too, the night
will come, the rats for our crumbs,

the water, the ruin, for our tender bones.

Catch Me If You Can

Springtime Robin

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.


Little Robin Redbreast

By Anonymous
 
Little Robin Redbreast
    Sat upon a tree;
Up went Pussy-cat,
    Down went he.
 
Down came Pussy-cat,
    And away Robin ran;
Says little Robin Redbreast
    “Catch me if you can.”
 
Little Robin Redbreast
    Hopped upon a wall;
Pussy-cat jumped after him,
    And almost got a fall.
 
Little Robin chirped and sang,
    And what did Pussy say?
Pussy-cat said “Mew,”
    and Robin flew away.
 
 

 

Read Me My Rights

Harryette Mullen teaches poetry and African-American literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I’ll be emotionally disturbed for as long as it takes.”

Harryette Mullen

If You Should Go

by Countee Cullen

Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the nght,
When it has slipped away.

So many hopes have fled,
Have left me but the name
of what they were. When love is dead,
Go thou, beloved, the same.

Go quietly; a dream
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.


[it’s rank it cranks you up]

by Harryette Mullen

it’s rank it cranks you up
crash you’re fracked you suck
shucks you’re wack you be
all you cracked up to be

dead on arrival   
overdosed on whatever
excess of hate and love
I sleep alone

if you were there
then please come in   
tell me what’s good
think up something

psychic sidekick
gimme a pigfoot
show me my lifeline
read me my rights

One Stubborn Remnant of Your Cares

Mark Jarman

“Love make us poets, and the approach of death should make us philosophers.”

George Santayana

Unholy Sonnet

by  Mark Jarman

After the praying, after the hymn-singing,
After the sermon’s trenchant commentary
On the world’s ills, which make ours secondary,
After communion, after the hand wringing,
And after peace descends upon us, bringing
Our eyes up to regard the sanctuary
And how the light swords through it, and how, scary
In their sheer numbers, motes of dust ride, clinging—
There is, as doctors say about some pain,
Discomfort knowing that despite your prayers,
Your listening and rejoicing, your small part
In this communal stab at coming clean,
There is one stubborn remnant of your cares
Intact. There is still murder in your heart.


Sweet Are The Days

by George Santayana

Sweet are the days we wander with no hope
Along life’s labyrinthine trodden way,
With no impatience at the steep’s delay,
Nor sorrow at the swift-descended slope.
Why this inane curiosity to grope
In the dim dust for gems’ unmeaning ray?
Why this proud piety, that dares to pray
For a world wider than the heaven’s cope?

Farewell, my burden! No more will I bear
The foolish load of my fond faith’s despair,
But trip the idle race with careless feet.
The crown of olive let another wear;
It is my crown to mock the runner’s heat
With gentle wonder and with laughter sweet.

I Want My Freedom

Honoring George Floyd during the murder trial of ex MPD officer Derek Chauvin accused in his death.

April Rain Song

By Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.


I have been asked several times in the past three weeks how does it feel in Minneapolis during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd?  It has felt tense, the community on edge with the expectation that Chauvin will be found guilty and sent to prison.  The case against him seems straight forward, with overwhelming testimony that his actions constituted murder.  But we have seen what appeared to be straightforward trials have unexpected outcomes before and there is palpable  worry that what seems obvious in terms of justice will somehow get mangled in our judicial system, despite overwhelming testimony by government and police officials against Chauvin. 

All of that changed a week ago for the worse with the tragic death of Daunte Wright, another unarmed black man killed by police in the Twin Cities, this time in what appears an accidental shooting but no less tragic and devastating for his family.   Now, there is an additional profound sense of sadness that is like a smog that hangs over this city.  

Yesterday I had an errand in the proximity of the most destructive area of the protests last May/June on Lake Street.   A year later it still looks like a war zone, the majority of the business storefronts covered over in plywood, rubble from buildings gutted by fire evident behind temporary chain link fences that are no longer temporary, groups of heavily armed National Guardsman in helmets, flak jackets, carrying rifles a noticeable presence every mile or so next to armored personnel carriers; a scene that looks like what I used to think was only existed in the Middle East, but is now apart of the daily presence in my city for the next couple of months.   It doesn’t look or feel like my home.  It is disturbing.   

The most troubling aspect is I have doubts that the businesses and theaters that I frequented before all this will survive the double whammy of the economic disruption of COVID and the economic devastation of the damage done in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.  Businesses are a reflection of people – both the livelihood of the owners and employees and the economics of their customers.  They are the places where we spend our money and enjoy our lives.   I fear the people that supported those restaurants, bars, night clubs, record stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, book stores, bike shops, etc, are being hollowed out.  Its not white flight it is blight flight. Its not just white people leaving these neighborhoods, its the entire middle class.  There is lots of expensive new housing being built along that corridor, projects begun prior to all this, now surrounded by urban decay. The question is can anyone afford to live in them and will they want to?    

I don’t feel as safe in the neighborhoods I have lived and shopped for decades.  When the neighborhood grocery store, paint store and hardware store my mother used to shop at are boarded up again and again and again to prevent vandals from breaking windows and stealing things, the sense of violence becomes part of our architecture, we become numb to it. It takes its toll in how you think of your community.   As I drove along Lake Street for several miles,  the spray painted graffiti on boarded up buildings became a blur.   The city-scape a physical manifestation of  anger and economic dysfunction, with little sign of spring.  

I am leaving this city this summer.  I was on the path to move before all this happened the past 12 months, but it feels different now, it has a touch of defeat, a whiff of failure.  Every house I have owned in Minneapolis, I have left in better condition than when I purchased it, I have tried to make my neighborhoods better.  Is that gentrification or being a responsible home owner?  I am in the process of selling my property and moving on.  I won’t be a part of the economic revival that Minneapolis is counting on.  I won’t pay taxes anymore and I will be spending very little money within its confines.  I don’t recognize the city I used to love.  Instead I’ll leave it to the next generation, like me and my friends did 40 years ago, to try and fix things up. When I moved to Minneapolis in 1981, the crime rate was higher than today, urban blight was everywhere.  It took decades for things to get better.  And it did get better, until it didn’t.  I wish the next generation well, hoping the new owners success in creating community once again.   


Freedom

By Langston Hughes
 
Freedom will not come
Today, this year
            Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.
 
I have as much right
As the other fellow has
            To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.
 
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
            Freedom
            Is a strong seed
            Planted
            In a great need.
            I live here, too.
            I want my freedom
            Just as you.   

Who Will Do It Again?

John Updike (1932 – 2009)

“Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”

Alistair Reid

Perfection Wasted

by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market-
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.


Poem Without Ends

by Alastair Reid

One cannot take the beginning out of the air
saying ‘It is the time: the hour is here’.
The process is continuous as wind,
the bird observed, not rising, but in flight,
unrealised, in motion of the mind.

The end of everything is similar, never
actually happening, but always over.
The agony, the bent head, only tell
that already in the heart the innocent evening
is thick with the ferment of farewell.

She’s Making A Mistake

Judith Viorst

Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog

by Judith Viorst

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they smell,
And never sit when you say sit,
Or even when you yell.
And when you come home late at night
And there is ice and snow,
You have to go back out because
The dumb dog has to go.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they shed,
And always let the strangers in
And bark at friends instead,
And do disgraceful things on rugs,
And track mud on the floor,
And flop upon your bed at night
And snore their doggy snore.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
She’s making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake.


One of the delights of having small children in your life is the opportunity to sit down and read to them every day.  It’s a way of unplugging from the adult world and entering the world and ideas of children’s books.  One of my favorite books when my children were little was Viorst’s; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I read it so many times, I think I remember the opening lines by heart – “I went to bed with gum in my mouth and woke up with gum in my hair. Its going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  Viorst continues on to illustrate in a funny way, that things happen and we all have to deal with it.

It feels like we have been a streak of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days lately, more than our fair share.  And unlike Alexander, where a scissors and a bit of snipping can set things right on the first disaster, there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves and our children from the onslaught of no good that is all around us.  The senseless tragedy in Minneapolis this week in the death of Dante Wright is beyond comprehension and I am not going to even attempt to comment  other than to acknowledge the tremendous sadness myself and others in my immediate community are feeling.   No words feel like they address the scope of the frustration and sadness of the ongoing police violence in the Twin Cities.        

For today, I am going to retreat into the simplicity of children’s verse and blot out this terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.   And offer a silent prayer for my city, that some level of healing happens and change is not just rhetoric but real, real soon.   


Magic

by Shel Silverstein

Sandra’s seen a leprechuan
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins’ gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing.
Susy spied an elf.,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.

I Mean You To Know

Louise Gluck

You saved me, you should remember me.

Louise Gluck

April

by Louise Gluck

No one’s despair is like my despair–

You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.

Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.


Spring

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.