We had our first real taste of spring this weekend. Minneapolis hit a high of 80 degrees on Saturday and everyone and everything stuck their head outside and smelled the warm air. After a long cold winter, the gift of spring is an awareness of change; with the change in light one of the most compelling. Spring light has a different intensity than just a few weeks ago, it has a different slant, a different tint, a different warmth. It is a gift to northerners who appreciate the sun maybe just a little bit more on these final days of April than our southern counterparts who are already cursing the 100 degree afternoons in Florida. No such cursing in Minneapolis, only gratitude that in the following week the swelling buds on trees will turn green and the only grumbles will be from the person who has to clean up the muddy footprints of children and dogs, who trail their playfulness from the muddy front and back yards of their houses into the kitchen to see what is for dinner, all of them wagging their tails.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
It’s Valentine’s Day, a day hopeless romantics unite to eat prix fix expensive dinners with cheap champagne with someone who makes them smile. I hope you’re one of ’em. Dating in your mid 50’s requires a bit of a thick skin and a sense of humor. If you are one of my fellow 50 something daters, love is in the air if not chalk candy hearts in your dish. If you haven’t heard, the company that makes those went bankrupt. This is not a cosmic karmic sign that love is dead. In fact it is a love success story as a new round of investors has bought the company and plan to have inventory in place for next year so your chalky lite-pink BE MINE candy can wind up in your squeezes tummy.
I do find it just a tiny bit odd, that all of us who are mid 50’s, at this incredible junction in our lives, for most of us helping our elderly parents or parent, watching our 20 something children launch their adult lives and/or ushering in grand children, while still dealing with late stage careers and trying to navigate the last stretch without getting side swiped or down sized, while reeling from watching friends be stricken by cancer, despite dealing with all that stuff on our plates, (not to mention male and female menopause), we then set this preposterously high bench mark to simply go out on a date. You would think with all those stressors we would make it easier to eat Tai food over a glass of wine with a member of the opposite sex who responds in much more human sounding responses than our pets or dead silence in our downsized apartments. I do laugh at the bios people post on online dating apps and the criteria they have for agreeing to see someone for the first time. When did we get that choosy? Answering 438 questions on-line to filter out dates? Yikes. It didn’t work that way in high school or college.
Sadly, many of us in our mid 50’s suffer from PTSD – Post traumatic stress divorce syndrome. Or even worse yet, the traumatic loss of a spouse because of death. In both cases we are coping and adapting to the loss of a partner. If it is because of divorce, we have come through the grindstone of a once successful marriage that deteriorated into something that was no longer successful and have enough bruises and scars accumulated that we’re still recuperating and wondering if we have what it takes to take a run at one last great love affair, preferably one that take us all the way to end of our lives. It can be even harder emotionally to move on for those still dealing with the processing of grief. Dating is daunting, but the alternative of not dating is daunting as well. How do you find that person that can meet you at your level for companionship? On-line multiple choice quizzes? I don’t think so. Probably have to roll up our courage, take a shower and get out there on a date and find out.
Fortunately, I have good role models in my life that you can find love at every stage. My 87-year-old father is dating an older women for the first time and the two of them bring happiness and fun into each others lives on a daily basis while steadfastly maintaining their independence. My friend Liz, who is 91 and in an assisted living facility, just moved again so that she could be only a couple of doors down the hall from her friend Jerry. Both are confined to wheel chairs these days, but eat 3 meals a day together and always have something interesting to talk about and a kind word for the other. For both of these couples there is no screen time intervening, they are 100 percent present in each other’s company and have the most optimistic of spirits.
I wrote Generous Eye – the sonnet below, on a Sunday afternoon, after having gone to church with my Mom, we were sitting next to Liz, her wheel chair parked right next to our pew. The pastor’s sermon made reference to generous eyes and I wrote it down in my bulletin as a writing prompt and this sonnet eventually emerged. At the time I was dating a french speaking woman and the only thing holding our relationship together was passion and it was obvious that wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship going forward. My writing, I think like most writers, is not autobiographical, it is an attempt to create a reality I hope one day might exist.
Romance is this odd magical trance, where it can’t begin generally without some attraction but as the relationship matures into something lasting, it needs to soften and be flexible, just like our bodies as we age, into a greater focus on companionship, while wanting a partner whose ear is still tuned to hear the ancient lutes and lyres playing the song that stirs our bones and keeps us going. I am envious of those couples, like in the song below referencing Johnny and June Cash, whose love lasted through the best and worst of their lives. We all aren’t so fortunate. But we should all keep trying, your Liz or Jerry might still be out there waiting for you. Happy Valentines Day!
by T.A. Fry
As salient desires spark like steel on flint, with generous eye and gentle ear you scold my broken ways, without the faintest hint your loyalty sways, nor spite has taken hold. What’s after passion? Mon amour, je t’aime! Will lust be lost amidst our dwindling fuel, as ancient bonfires cool? I’ll not condemn this reckless plight where human hungers rule,. For sexual desire knows no bounds of youth. All hear its song from deep within their flesh. It sings; “Caress me dear….with the naked truth. Heal from gentle touch as two hearts enmesh. Savor carnal knowledge, as a worthy goal, And love me as I am; body, mind and soul.”
This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level. Look at it talking to you. You look out a window Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it. You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.
Excerpt from Paradoxes and Oxymorons by John Ashbery
a total stranger one black day
by e. e. cummings
a total stranger one black day
knocked living the hell out of me–
who found forgiveness hard because
my(as it happened)self he was
-but now that fiend and i are such
immortal friends the other’s each
This blog entry comes with a warning. It’s going to be a little long and seem fragmented. Forgive me. Forgiveness is the theme of today’s post. I get to the point eventually.
I have been screwing up the courage to write this post for 11 months. I needed some time to gain perspective. As a person who has always felt under the protection of the sisterhood, in the sense that my closest relationships for my entire life have always been with women, it is hard for me to admit that one year into the #metoo movement, I have really complicated feelings around whether we are caught in the normal backwater churn of positive change or whether I am just collateral damage in a really good wave of progress.
It started with this sense of shame coming out of the New Year around our state of politics in this country,. A shame of association in being a white man. It doesn’t matter that my politics and beliefs are in complete conflict with the Republican party, there is a stain that feels like it spreads across the divide for simply being a member of the club – white, for being middle class, educated and privileged, even if I acknowledge the privilege.
I at first applauded the successes that #me too movement was creating in bringing down one icon after another for bad behavior in their personal and professional lives. I was hopeful this powerful movement would bring about change. But as time went along and for the most part, other than the entertainment industry and a few industry icons losing their positions of power and status, the two sides seemed to settle into a stale mate of hate, the feminists telling all testicle-carrying members of the male sex that we’re fucked up, or at least it felt that way in what I internalized, and Fox news and the weirdness that is white men in America counteracted each other with their shallow misinformed perspectives. As time went along, I started feeling more and more like I was somehow guilty too, even though I honestly can’t recall a single event in my life that would fall under the guise of the #metoo movement. At some point though, rather than feeling like I was moving across the divide with women to a better future, I simply felt beaten down by it all from both sides.
Why roll this confession out now? Every year for the past 15 years I have made a CD mix of my favorite new music from the past 12 months. The process of making the compilation is a true enjoyment for me, which is why I do it. This isn’t really a gift for others, it’s a gift to myself, with about 12 other people getting a copy to have some insight into what made me tick this past year. I start Thanksgiving weekend by digging out all the CD’s and vinyl I bought over the course of the year that is spread out over my car and my condo. I then listen to it all one more time. Sometimes I know exactly what songs are my favorites. Other times this process brings new insights into my personal soundtrack of the past year and it brings new songs to the top. The songs also have to flow. Sometimes initial picks that I love don’t make the final cut because they clash with the rest.
I also sit down and do a little research of all the best of lists in the media and online. I see if there are gems I missed. I always try to start things off with a bang on each CD with a great new rock and roll song or dance song. This year’s glum rock movement made that hard. I don’t really relate to most rap and it felt like it was only the rappers like Cardi B that were having fun in 2018. So what can this possibly have to do with the #metoo movement?
In searching through 2018 and a song with a sense of humor or that certain vibe I came across Lil Dickey’s Freaky Friday. The song itself did not make the mix as without the benefit of the visuals of the video, it’s not nearly as funny, but the video is brilliant. After watching the video 8 to 10 times, I realized the humor of it all made me think differently about Chris Brown. Granted the video is a home run for Brown! Who wouldn’t want to collaborate on a project where someone wants to be you for a day, but the positive energy he brings to it and the sheer joy of it, made me realize that Chris Brown is more complex a person than I have given him credit. I had allowed myself to dehumanize him and had broad brushed my thoughts about him based on bad press. I had to admit I really don’t know anything about Chris Brown and maybe I needed to give him another look.
It made me wonder, does the #metoo movement offer offenders a second chance? When is the movement going to shift from finger wagging, nagging screaming and shouting to forgiveness? When are men going to step up and internalize that bad behavior is not acceptable and earn a second chance? Does the #metoo movement have room for second chances, even for the worst offenders?
The best concert I went to last year was my birthday gift to my daughter in January. We went and saw First Aid Kit, one of both of our favorite bands, at the newly renovated Palace Theater in St. Paul. Their new album, which did make my best of, is outstanding and their concert was a blast. Their new album is called Ruins. It’s all about falling out of love and being sick and tired of men and the music business. Half way through the concert the lead singer, Klara Söderberg, shouted out to the crowd between songs something to the effect, “this next song goes out to all my sisters in the audience because we just aren’t going to take it anymore. We are tired of being scared of men and its time we take back what’s ours.” The audience went nuts. But not all the audience. Only the women in the audience. In the mosh pit of standing in close proximity to one another that only a rock concert can create, the men in the audience quickly became silent, in part from the dirty looks from the female strangers standing next to us if we had joined the applause, whistles and shouts, the male voices quickly fading. This song wasn’t going out to us. We (men) weren’t welcome in the club. We were the problem that needed silencing. And they did, silence us.
There is nothing wrong with what she said or the reaction of the women in the crowd. I even agree with it, I am tired of being scared of men too. What was shocking was how for the first time, I felt like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t welcome with the sisterhood who had tolerated me in Blue Birds, because my Mom had to take me along with my sisters, who had shared with me the secrets of some of the finer arts of cooking, sewing and nurturing, who had welcomed me into their inner confessional circle in the past. I have always known that I circle the periphery of the clan of men. I do enough to get by and be accepted, but I have never been completely comfortable. It was an odd feeling to stand there alone, realizing I was no longer a castaway on girl island and was swimming in a new current, one in which there was no life boat that was going to come to the rescue.
What happens next? If a man like me who considered himself on the side of the liberal feminists is retreating not in his beliefs but in his willingness to engage, what does that say about the movement? When will #metoo transform to also include the #forgivenesstoo movement? Great questions to contemplate for 2019.
To even the most superficial of readers of sonnets there emerges a clanging gong of subject matter that shows up over and over again; Love – Love in all its forms. And I mean Love with a capital L. This isn’t some sleazy video rental of poetry through the ages. We are talking the timeless questions that come to every person during their lifetime:
What is Love?
Is Love eternal?
Is God Love?
Is Love God?
Is sex Love? or better stated,
Why is only some sex Love? (No judgement as to types of sexual acts intended, I am referring to emotional connections or lack there of during the sexual act. We all have felt the difference, even with those we love, and the difference is everything.)
Is true Love unconditional?
Am I capable of unconditional Love?
Is there any such thing as true Love or is there just Love?
I find it fascinating that the sonnet has evolved into the structure by which thousands of writers have taken up the challenge to put to paper their personal philosophy around their own place in relation to their God, or to their fellow-humans and or to woo the epitome of their flesh and blood desire, whether real or imagined. Why create so formal a structure and add unnecessary obstacles to the writing process in what is already a difficult subject matter? Or is that the magic of sonnets that beguile writers and readers alike? In a sonnet, both share the writer’s struggles, the varying skill with which a sonnet’s structure is lyrically mastered becomes a lasting banner of the battle we all face internally, in raising our own sword to conquer what we believe in our hearts. In a sonnet the writer and reader touch swords before the clash begins to measure the distance between each other.
I don’t know how many sonnets a writer must write to be considered a sonneteer? How many more they must write and publish to be of sufficient stature to be mentioned as a minor footnote alongside the Pantheon of Dante, Shakespeare, Sidney or Petrarch? I bet someone at Harvard or Oxford has done a mathematical analysis on the subject and I am guessing it must be a sufficient volume of sonnets that you remind yourself about roman numerals well over a hundered. If that’s the case at this point I would consider myself more a mousekeeter.
I smile when I write the word sonneteer. It evokes an image of a swashbuckling writer, dueling with their nemisis, by sitting down with his or her sheet of velum, quill pen and candle to ink fourteen lines of bravery to win the day. The sonneteer’s act of writing every bit as daring as the swordsman, upheld as a romantic figure, chivalrous in defending the honor of those he has sworn protection. I find it ironic that it is the great sonneteers who have touched the honor of millions over time and not the hired muscle.
I am of the mindset that it is not the quantity but quality that defines the legacy of any writer. Why do we look down on one hit wonders, particularly if their one hit sealed the deal on romance? We should respect their efficiency. Maybe the best sonneteers of all time have been lost from history as they kept their poetic legacy away from prying eyes, never sharing their sonnet with a reading public that may have been all too happy to reject it for publication. There is a power in privacy. It protects the sanctity of the unpublished poem or sonnet’s ability to cement together two beating hearts. The sonnet squirreled away as a carefully folded sheet of paper at the bottom of a jewelry box or corner of a dresser, faded and yellow, seemingly forgotten only because it was memorized by the recipient decades before. I am of the opinion that it only takes one great sonnet which wins the love of your life, your Laura, Beatrice or Stella, to be a sonneteer.
I name dropped e.e. cummings in a recent blog as a more accessible poet with devious intent. I certainly did not mean to associate the word accessible in readers minds with the idea that I was damning with faint praise. I meant it as a compliment. I think Cummings is brilliant. I like his poetry because it is entertaining, challenging, and crafted from writing that is both untraditional but easily understood. Cummings is known for his highly stylized poetry that emphasizes his unique approach to language and representation on the page. I am in awe of Cumming’s skill in combining the playfulness of words into inspiring ideas. To those readers that know him by only his unique poetry style, it might surprise you that nearly one-quarter of all the poems collected in his complete anthology in 1962 are sonnets (over 200). It might further surprise you that he wrote sonnets over the course of his entire career, including at least one in every volume of poetry he published.
At first glance his sonnets may not seem to follow the rules of sonneteering and some critics of his day rolled their eyes at the irregularities, but no one ignored the genius of his writing.
Here are two of my favorites. “I carry your heart with me” is widely known, but how many readers, read it without any awareness that it is a sonnet? As you read it, what added complexity does the poem have based on its structure that ties it to a history and legacy far beyond Cummings?
Share your thoughts and ideas. Comments are welcomed!
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
. i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
how many moments must (amazing each
by e.e. cummings
how many moments must( amazing each
how many centuries )these more than eyes
restroll and stroll some never deepening beach
locked in foreverish time’s tide at poise
love alone understands: only for whom
i’ll keep my tryst until that tide shall turn;
and from all selfsubtracting hugely doom
treasures of reeking innocence are born.
Then, with not credible the anywhere
eclipsing of a spirit’s ignorance
by every wisdom knowledge fears to dare,
how the( myself ‘s own self who’s)child will dance!
and when he’s plucked such mysteries as men
do not conceive-let ocean grow again.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
October in Minneapolis is a sacred month. It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky. Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees. Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come. Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.
October is sacred for another reason for me personally. It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.
The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother. Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on. My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again. That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure. Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota, allowed me and my sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.
Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night. It started out informally but grew to have regular rules. We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months. The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through). We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time, then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next. We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence. Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.
Love is a Place
e. e. cummings
love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
(skillfully curled) all worlds
My mother was a good poet and had great taste in poetry. She liked serious poetry, but also appreciated silly rhymes, and was a masterful limerick writer. She often wrote us a poem for our birthdays, an affirmation of her love. In a future blog post I will share more of her poetry. Here is a poem my mother wrote in August of 2014 following heavy June rains that caused minor flooding on Lake of Isles, which is only a couple of blocks from where she lived. It illustrates her powers of observation, wisdom and sense of humor.
In the middle of the summer downpour
The lake rose up out of its bed,
Ambled across the beach,
Crept over the grassy verge,
And settled on the walking path.
Little fish followed;
Swimming along, their shadows gliding beneath them,
On the path that said ….’No Bikes’.
My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace. She allowed each of us to swim our own paths, even in high water.
It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother. Words never measure up. I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process. It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light. The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.
Happy Birthday Mom.
My True Verse
T. A. Fry
Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.