Then It Was Over

 In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast; In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest. In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Wild Iris

by Louise Gluck

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out:
that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over:
that which you fear, being
a soul and unable

to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.


Iris have a way of waiting until the first week of June in Minnesota before they make a splash in our gardens.  The timing of their flowers coincide with peonies filling the air with their unique fragrance, while iris fill our eyes with unparalleled splendor.   There is nothing really like the blue/purple color of iris with their yellow beardish highlights.   Iris have six petals, not unusual in the flower world, but the way they present themselves is unique at least for Minnesota gardens, a visual treat we wait for anxiously each summer.  Sadly this year, we have been hit with an unprecedented early heat wave with temperatures in the high 90’s for 7 days in a row just as the iris started blooming.   The iris and peonies are both showing the stress effects of the high temperatures, dropping petals much too quickly.    There will be no slow languor of color this year in our iris beds, just a quick visit and then the promise of next year in their foliage the rest of the season. 

The origins of the English word iris – with meanings for both the flower and the colored portion of our eyes are the same; Greek for rainbow.   Apparently, flattery will get you everywhere, even in the ancient world, with a whispered compliment in your lover’s ear about the beauty of their eyes reminding you of flowers and rainbows the perfect way to set the mood. 

I was pleased to find multiple poems in which one form or the other of iris are used as inspiration to paint a verbal picture.  I was recently in California at a house with an incredible array of gardens and landscaping.  There was a very old pond that was in need of a bit of attention, but still had vestiges of a former gardener’s deft touch.  There was a wild iris overhanging its reflecting surface, long and gangly and brilliant green, with a single yellow flower that was utter perfection.  As I stared at it silently and took in the broader view of the entire pond, I realized there was a golden hued frog, with only its head and a bit of its back showing above the water line, directly below the embankment on which the iris stood prominently.  As I crouched down to get a better look at this fine froggy friend, it jumped and dove beneath the duck weed and lily pads and disappeared.  That encounter was a great reminder of how brief beauty can enter and exit our eye in a flash, and the need to let it live on in our memory and in our art to inspire us to keep looking for it to return when we least expect it. 


The Sadness Of The Moon

by Charles Baudelaire

THE Moon more indolently dreams to-night
Than a fair woman on her couch at rest,
Caressing, with a hand distraught and light,
Before she sleeps, the contour of her breast.

Upon her silken avalanche of down,
Dying she breathes a long and swooning sigh;
And watches the white visions past her flown,
Which rise like blossoms to the azure sky.

And when, at times, wrapped in her languor deep,
Earthward she lets a furtive tear-drop flow,
Some pious poet, enemy of sleep,

Takes in his hollow hand the tear of snow,
Whence gleams of iris and of opal start,
And hides it from the Sun, deep in his heart

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.

I Am Aware There Is Winter To Heed

Gwendolyn Brooks

A Sunset By The City

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.


Winter announced itself uninvited on October 20 this year, nearly a month before we were expecting it. Six inches of cold wet snow fell and unlike usual October snow falls, didn’t have the decency to melt the next day. Even hardy Minnesotans that rave about their enjoyment of winter activities look at this snow a bit eschew thinking “I really do enjoy your company but you could at least let me clean up the place before you arrived for Thanksgiving.” I was in denial that the winter snow warning was real, but finally had to admit it and went out and finished raking and bagging my back yard leaves just minutes before the flakes began to fall.

The start of winter this early, means the start of the heating season nearly a month sooner, so the furnace has come rumbling to life once again. Houses have their own heat signature irrespective of insulation and R values, quality of construction or size or type of furnace. It takes a while to understand how a new house reacts to your presence, your nosing about in its nooks and crannies, cooking and showering, leaving doors open or closed, frequent use off certain rooms, disdain for others.

What if my favorite room is the house’s least? What a let down I would be. I think houses sometimes don’t appreciate their new tenants for a while, sending cold drafts under the table to freeze my feet or baking me in the second floor in summer. Eventually things simmer down as each learns about the other’s habits. We are as much room mates with our rooms as we are with our mates.

I hope this new house is getting used to me. I am learning its creaks and sighs in the middle of the night, figuring out its preferences for which doors to leave open and which to close. The house is enthusiastically encouraging my frequent cooking, warming the entire downstairs when the stove is in use during fall and winter. It cringes at my criticisms of the repairs that are needed and blushes proudly when I admire its finer features. A house that is empty ages quickly into rack and ruin while houses that are lived in remain youthful and energetic. If you are cold, in your cold house, light a fire, in both of your hearts and invite someone to sit down and have a cup of tea and relax by your hearth.


The Night Migrations

by Louise Gluck

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures anymore;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

If You Don’t Answer, Someone Else Will

Louise Gluck
 
 

The advantage of poetry over life is that poetry, if it is sharp enough, may last.

Louis Gluck

October

Section I
 
by Louise Gluck
 

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is—

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested


When Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel prize a couple of weeks ago I went, who? It shows my amateur status in literary knowledge that I had never heard of her because they don’t hand out Nobel awards to hacks and rookies. Or do they? Does winning a major award cement your status as a Poet with a capitol P? Not in my opinion. There are no capitol P poets, only capitol P poems and lines of poems and fragments of lines of poems. Capital P’s don’t last very long, they are a sign of their times and tend to fade to lower case through the years.

My love of poetry has nothing to do with literary criticism or awards bestowed on authors, because as I look back on the Nobel award more than 60 years ago, the only people even up for consideration were white men. What is the legacy of awards and their significance when only a tiny minority of poets writing poetry were even considered not that long ago? If a Nobel prize means less 50 years ago, then is it more significant today because women and people of color are taken more seriously in the award’s process or even rise to the top to win?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the good thing about the announcement is that it prodded me to google Ms. Gluck and read some of her poetry. Enjoyable, hearty, thought provoking fair, I will seek out more of her voice and pay attention when I see her name. Congratulations!


Midnight

by Louise Gluck

Speak to me, aching heart: what
Ridiculous errand are you inventing for yourself
Weeping in the dark garage
With your sack of garbage: it is not your job
To take out the garbage, it is your job
To empty the dishwasher. You are showing off
Again,
Exactly as you did in childhood–where
Is your sporting side, your famous
Ironic detachment? A little moonlight hits
The broken window, a little summer moonlight,
Tender
Murmurs from the earth with its ready
Sweetnesses–
Is this the way you communicate
With your husband, not answering
When he calls, or is this the way the heart
Behaves when it grieves: it wants to be
Alone with the garbage? If I were you,
I’d think ahead. After fifteen years,
His voice could be getting tired; some night
If you don’t answer, someone else will answer.