Traveling – It leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a story teller.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The railroad track is miles away, . . And the day is loud with voices speaking, Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day . . But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by, . . Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, But I see its ciders red on the sky, . . And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the fiends I make, . . And better friends I’ll not be knowing; Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, . . No matter where its going.
by Janice Gould
BEYOND the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea, And East and West the wander-thirst that will not let me be; It works in me like madness, dear, to bid me say good-bye; For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! the call of the sky!
I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are; But a man can have the sun for a friend, and for his guide a star; And there’s no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard, For the rivers call, and the roads call, and oh! the call of the bird!
Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away; And come I may, but go I must, and, if men ask you why, You may put the blame on the stars and the sun and the white road and the sky.
“Whether we hear giji-giji-gaane-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen. Our world is shaped by the sounds around us and the filter we use to turn thoughts into words.”
Margaret Noodin, What the Chick-a-Dee Knows.
Six Sonnets : 2
By Janice Gould
She is just this side of wonderful,
and suddenly the glamorous world
fills itself with shining and we laugh
at highway monuments that explain
how hard the trek had been for Franciscans
in the Indian wilderness, poor fellows—
conversion is the devil’s own
work! Then the stones of her dream
turn up under her feet, the back
of a huge land turtle. I know
we must be circling Paradise
because the ants enter the fleshy petals
of the roadside flowers with evident
joy and purpose (oh, my dark, pretty one).
Margaret Noodin brings up an interesting idea; what we hear is heavily influenced on how we have been taught to listen. I think that issue pertains not just to the natural world but to poetry as well. How do we hear words? Each of us can listen to the same thing and hear something completely different, poetry more so than most other forms of written communication. Poetry invites personal interpretation by defying convention and completeness. What we hear is heavily biased by our lens in ways that reinterpret a poem into our own personal art form. I often realize that my bias so tilts me in favor or against specific poems that what I read is obviously different than what was in the writer’s mind when they created it. In some ways the act of writing and publishing allows both writer and reader to create their own separate discourse, and rather than that being a limitation of poetry, it is one of its blessings. Poems are not directions on how to assemble an Ikea bookcase in which there is only one way to read it for one correct outcome.
I wonder if some writers would take offense to the idea of a reader creating something unique by the act of reading, as it’s much harder to write something than it is to read it, but it sometimes takes courage on both sides of that ledger. It happens to me all the time. What I think I have said or written is so completely altered in the interpretation by someone else that it becomes its own thing by the act of sharing it between the two individuals. Communication and specifically sharing poetry, opens the mystical gates of creativity that are perpetually a pandora’s box, with unending possibilities. Once released by the writer it goes out on an unpredictable destination.
June is strawberry month in Minnesota. The once bearing and ever bearing strawberries (which in Minnesota means 3 months, June, July and August) are both at their peak. If you grow strawberries it means you are picking and eating strawberries nearly every day this time of year. You can only eat so many fresh strawberries, which is why strawberry jam is so much fun to make and store, so that as you spread it on your PB&J sandwich next January, you can picture that gorgeous June day when you picked the fruit and canned it.
Noodin and Gould learned to listen differently in part because they grew up hearing a language uniquely American. Noodin’s creative process is to write in Anishinaabemowin and then translate it into English. I can’t read the lines in her native tongue as I have no basis for understanding pronunciation, so her poetry violates one of my cardinal rules, READ POETRY OUT LOUD, but it is delightful to see the beauty of the language on the page, thick with vowels and soft consonants. Her poem makes me want to make strawberry jam this weekend.
Desert heat, high clouds, and sky the color of lapis. On this journey, anything seems possible, so we stop by an ancient cottonwood to kiss. The beauty trembles, doesn’t say a word, just watches me, so open. Small birds fly by, flock in the shady tree above us. What settles in her heart? What congeals? Hope? Despair? Far off, the river churns in its sandy banks, swallows veer, turn in fiery air. Will these kisses seal her to me? I her lover, she my wife? Is all of this a dream, my whole life?
For the wanderers among us, the self restraint of not traveling during the past year has been difficult. Two years ago I embarked on a mad journey with my partner, packing enough activities for 3 vacations into 11 days, driving more miles than is therapeutic, hiking, skiing, rock hounding while car camping across Colorado and Utah the first week of April. As slightly crazy as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat with only one change; add another week onto the trip to slow the pace down of the miles covered. The incredible beauty of Utah and the diverse nature of its National Parks and public lands make it truly one of the great wonders and wanders of the United States.
I am fearful that post pandemic vacations will become even more difficult, not less. I had not taken a full week off prior to 2018 in over 10 years. The reason: I return to a mountain of work that it makes it a worry while away. The pre-pandemic work pace was bad enough that long weekends – leave on a Friday return on Tuesday – felt doable, because I was never gone for an entire week. But that was before Teams or Zoom calls filled up every minute of every day. This idea that we have created a mobile work force that can work from anywhere is a fallacy. We have given permission to now think everyone is available on-demand at anytime and it is ruining workplace quality of life and undermining human interactions. It is exhausting to be on remote calls hour after hour, day after day. It sucks the life right out of me. I find that things we used to solve over lunch or an impromptu 5 minute discussion in someone’s office now turn into 30 or 60 minute calls. We have become less efficient to the god of technology, not more efficient. The problem is I seem to be in the minority of hating the state of this virtual insanity. So the slow decent into digital existence continues unabated. I fear, it is Dante’s new rings of hell. It’s why we need to clear our lungs once in a while and get out and see the world. Gould’s sonnets are a splash of Utah sunshine on the high desert vista. Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. Beautiful words to fit the beauty of the West.
Zion National Park April 2018.
Six Sonnets: Crossing the West
by Janice Gould
4 Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. (Speak in a whisper.) We slip into this space half cognizant. The land is very large indeed: bones of the earth worn down, though she is a living thing. See how she exposes her grace? Antelopes graze on the far plain—their high, white tails—the red soil throbs its slow heartbeat, and the blue sky clears so smartly, perfectly, like radiance. Are the ancestors near? What can we know? We decide to wander around this prairie, mistaken for Utes, buy commodities in little towns.