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.
Take off  shoes at the door,
Don’t track across 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.

Never In Any Joy Of Suffering

file-48.jpeg
Self Portrait

Self Portrait at 44

by Linda Pastan

How friendly
my failures have become,
how understanding.
Scraping chairs across the room
they sit down next to me
like family almost,
and indeed we have grown
to look alike.
One of them always puts
a log on the fire
and though its wet
and fouls the room
I am warm for awhile,
and drunk with yawning
I sometimes fall asleep
sitting up.


Rilke was Austrian by birth, but traveled extensively in Europe and eventually settled in Switzerland. During his travels he met novelists (Tolstoy, Pasternak) sculptors (Rodin) and painters, often working for some of them or using the artists he met for creative inspiration for his writing.  He died young from Leukemia.  Rilke moved in artistic and intellectual circles for his times.  His writing is deeply mystical and has inspired numerous poets I admire, Pastan, Bly and Lowell are but a short list top of mind.

I recently picked up a book of Rilke’s sonnets translated by Stephen Mitchell.  I recommend it.  Mitchell is a talented translator having tackled projects in addition to poetry on religion and spirituality in Chinese, German and Hebrew.  I am intrigued by Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (1993), Tao Te Ching (1992) and The Book of Job (1992).  I have at least five different translations of the Tao Te Ching, I would be curious to see Mitchell’s version.

I am always fascinated by self portraits.  Someday I would like to think I will have time to create another self portrait, maybe even one with paint.  To date, the stained glass, lead creation above is the only one I have ever done.  However, the idea of creating a self-portrait in words as a poem is intriguing.  Am I capable of depicting a faithful rendering of myself in words or paint? Interesting to consider.  Have you crafted a self portrait or more than one?   Where does it hang, in your house or someone else’s?


Self-Portrait

by Rainer Maria Rilke

The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows’ heavy arches. In the mild
blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child
and here and there humility — not a fool’s
but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight
composed yet not willing to speak out
when necessary. The forehead still naive
most comfortable in shadows looking down.

This as a whole just hazily foreseen —
never in any joy of suffering
collected for a firm accomplishment;
and yet as though from far off with scattered things
a serious true work was being planned.

True Singing Is A Different Breath

rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

“Poetry is something in-between the dream and its interpretation.”

Lou Andreas-Salome

Muse

by Linda Pastan
after reading Rilke

No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.

Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment

a small voice comes through,
chastening. Music
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.


The Sonnets To Orpheus
III

by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can enter through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split.  And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved,
song is reality.  Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real?  When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us?  Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your voice – learn

to forget that passionate music.  It will end,
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing.  A gust inside the god.  A wind.

Trapped Forever In Its Net Of Ice

LindaPastan
Linda Pastan b. 1932

“I made a list of things I have to remember and a list of things I need to forget and then I see they are the same list.”

Linda Pastan

A New Poet

By Linda Pastan

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don’t see
its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way
its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled
red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day – the odor of truth
and of lying.
And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only
in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.


I have been reading Linda Pastan’s book The Five Stages of Grief.  There are some remarkable poems in it and last week I spent some time reading more of her work on-line.   She is one of those poets that the more I read the more I wonder why I haven’t run into her before this year.  Every year I put together a little book of my favorite poems from the year and I think this year half of them could be Pastan.

Pastan was born the same year as my Mother, so it could be my affinity for her writing is in part because she speaks of things in ways that ring true to my inner ears, her words expressive in ways that are not unlike things my Mother said.  Each generation wrestles with its own unique challenges and opportunities.  My parents and Pastan grew up during the great depression.  They learned to make do with what you had and that ability carried over into their inner life as well, not expecting or wanting too much of themselves or others. Pastan’s writing is private, she reveals just enough to draw the reader into her prose, but doesn’t get carried away in personal details that would be too revealing for either. She knows how to maintain a line of modesty in her poetry that serves to keep the reader thinking without veering into lurid thoughts all on their own.

Do you have poets that remind you of your parents?  If yes, what emotions does that create for you when you read them?


Poetry

by Don Paterson

In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps
one spark of the planet’s early fires
trapped forever in its net of ice,
it’s not love’s later heat that poetry holds,
but the atom of the love that drew it forth
from the silence: so if the bright coal of his love
begins to smoulder, the poet hears his voice
suddenly forced, like a bar-room singer’s — boastful
with his own huge feeling, or drowned by violins;
but if it yields a steadier light, he knows
the pure verse, when it finally comes, will sound
like a mountain spring, anonymous and serene.
Beneath the blue oblivious sky, the water
sings of nothing, not your name, not mine.

More Onerous Than The Rites of Beauty

linda-pastan
Linda Paston b. 1932

“It is all around us, free, this wonderful life: clear jingle of tire chains, the laughter of ice that breaks under our boots. Each hour’s a gift to those who take it up.” 

― Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book

The Obligation To Be Happy

by Linda Paston

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.


I have the annoying habit of being in a good mood in the morning when I get up, annoying at least to those that enjoy a bit of melancholy and gloom with their first cup of coffee. I realize that there is little difference between the two breakfast visages, each its own armor to the start of the day and separated in humor by less than the width of smile.

The harder acceptance for me is the realization that for some people happiness is a burden they would prefer to not carry around with them. Happiness is something uncomfortable to them, an infrequent, temporary visitor that stays only awkwardly for a quick spot of tea and then makes a tepid excuse for why it needs to hurry off again. Linda Paston’s poem provides genuine insight into something foreign to my nature, not quite full blown depression but melancholy.

I heard this week a perky scientist explaining on NPR they have isolated a hormonal response in mice which prevents them from going into depression under stress. It sounds like a such a wonderful idea, particularly to people like myself that struggle to understand the true nature of depression having never experienced it.  But what do we lose as a species if we fail to feel the full range of emotions?  Depression that results in suicide is a mental state to be avoided and can be medically addressed, but grief, the blues, sadness and meloncholy are not fatal conditions and a normal spectrum of the human condition.  Next time someone is sad in your midst, hesitate before you tell them to “cheer up.”  Linda Paston’s poem a potent reminder that we all experience life differently and one person’s blues maybe another person’s way to live fully in their skin.


After Years

by Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.