A Yesterday I Find Almost Impossible To Lift

stanley-plumly.
Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)

“And now each day seems,
Like my own soul, farther and farther off,
Lost in its light as in a dream in which I meant to ask you something.”

Stanley Plumly

Five Flights Up

by Elizabeth Bishop

Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
Perhaps in his sleep, too, the bird inquires
once or twice, quavering.
Questions—if that is what they are—
answered directly, simply,
by day itself.

Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins . . .
The bird still sits there. Now he seems to yawn.

The little black dog runs in his yard.
His owner’s voice arises, stern,
“You ought to be ashamed!”
What has he done?
He bounces cheerfully up and down;
he rushes in circles in the fallen leaves.

Obviously, he has no sense of shame.
He and the bird know everything is answered,
all taken care of,
no need to ask again.
—Yesterday brought to today so lightly,
(A yesterday I find almost impossible to lift).


I enjoy the connections that poets make as inspiration in their work.  I like to try and connect those dots between poems.  A test of a poet’s prowess among the academic community is often the unique quality of their voice in their work, this idea that poetry has to be constantly evolving.   I am not sure that’s possible or even always interesting. Everything is built on the foundation of something, influenced by something.  Poetry written with no influences is likely not poetry in my mind, the poet disingenuous in giving credit where credit is due.  We all have to start with something, start somewhere. We travel to what we think are unique destinations of the mind, only to find the cairns of past adventurers, awaiting us in literature and art.

Freud is quoted as saying,  “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.”  

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these poems. The fact they are connect by one line, “-Yesterday brought to today so lightly,” gives them an interesting push/pull when read back to back. For the time being, my yesterday’s are not as impossible to lift as the uncertainty of my tomorrows. I’ll get more used to this  new uncharted territory of worry for our loved ones and the unthinking way we took for granted our good health in the past, but it will take a while. If there is blessing of this pandemic is to make our today’s more mindful and not a thing we take for granted.  Be well.


Variations on a line from Elizabeth Bishop’s “Five Flights Up”

by Stanley Plumly

Sometimes it’s the shoes, the tying and untying,
the bending of the heart to put them on,
take them off, the rush of blood
between the head and feet, my face,
sometimes, if I could see it, astonished.
Other times the stairs, three, four stages
at the most, “flights” we call them,
in honor of the wings we’ll never have,
the fifth floor the one that kills the breath,
where the bird in the building flies to first.
Love, too, a leveler, a dying all its own,
the parts left behind not to be replaced,
a loss ongoing, and every day increased,
like rising in the night, at 3:00 am,
to watch the snow or the dead leaf fall,
the rings around the streetlight in the rain,
and then the rain, the red fist in the heart
opening and closing almost without me.
“ — Yesterday brought to today so lightly!”
The morning, more and more, like evening.
When I bend to tie my shoes and the blood
fills the cup, it’s as if I see into the hidden earth,
see the sunburned path on which I pass
in shoes that look like sandals
and arrive at a house where my feet
are washed and wiped with my mother’s hair
and anointed with the autumn oils of wildflowers.

The Art Of Losing Isn’t Hard To Master

Bishop Nova Scotia Landscapejpg
Elizabeth Bishop Nova Scotia Landscape

“The armored cars of dreams, contrived to let us do so many a dangerous thing.”

Elizabeth Bishop

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


One Art is a villanelle.   Villanelle’s are kissing cousins to sonnets.  Like sonnets they are highly structured poems with precise rhyming schemes and line arrangements, but with less emphasis on syllable count per line while always being 19 lines.  Villanelle’s have been around since the 1600’s but the most famous villanelles are from the 20th century, including;  Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl Love Story, W. H. Auden’s If I Could Tell You and Edwin Arlington Robinson’s The House On The Hill.  I have written a couple of villanelle’s in all their goofy complexity.  They are kind of fun because they take on a life of their own about half way through the writing process.  If you have never tried writing one, give it a go and let the rhyme and structure guide the process and see what your subconscious has been hiding from you. If you have written a villanelle and would like to share it, send it to Fourteenlines10@gmail.com and I’ll post it along with one of my own.

Elizabeth Bishop had the luxury of wealth throughout her lifetime and it afforded her the opportunity to go to Vassar, then travel the world, write poetry and paint. An independent woman of means, she often painted and wrote about subjects that were more aligned with the working class. Bishop understood strife and loss, both of her parents having died when she was very young.  She invested her time well in pursuit of her art, her poetry critically acclaimed, winning the Pulitzer in 1956.

We are adaptable as a species, if at a different rate and to a different extent as individuals. Change and loss is something that is integral to the human experience.  I was watching the movie A Little Chaos, and Kate Winslet’s pivotal moment in the film is when she addresses the King with  a metaphor, the wise rose, as a way of reminding the King about the beauty of his aging lovers. She give’s the King a rose and tells him the rose is oblivious to all the stages of its life, wilting, dropping its petals and forming a seed head to foster the next generation. She shifts the King’s perspective by saying it is only the gardener who tends the rose that morns its fading beauty.  Many of us are mourning the things we are losing or have lost.   Its good to remember loss is part of our nature too, and even faded  or remembered beauty is beautiful, as well.

 


Breakfast Song

by Elizabeth Bishop

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I’ve grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it’s true.
It’s just the common case;
there’s nothing one can do.
My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.

In The Arms of Rhythm

cabin
Port hole in a cabin by Elizabeth Bishop

Sonnet

by Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979)

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.