Stunned, Tantalized And Famished

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The starveling world around you burns.

 

I was dreaming in my dreaming
God knows a purer view
As I surrender to my sleeping
I commit my dream to you
The power to dream to rule
To wrestle the world from fools…

Fred Smith/Patti Smith

First Dream of You

by T. A. Fry

First dream of you, since your sudden passing,
I spied you walking briskly in a throng,
Signature bobbed hair brown, youthful, classy,
Talking to a friend, moving merrily along.
I tried weaving through the teeming crowd
To greet you. Such joy welling in my throat.
I can see you laughing, but it’s too loud
The city noise drowning out those pleasing notes
The surrounding clamor another shroud.

I shouted, waved increasingly concerned
This chance meeting, so vivid, might soon be gone.
While the starveling world around you burned
In your brightness, as it had always done.
You turned, looked into my eyes, then vanished
I awoke stunned, tantalized and famished.


 

I enjoy how a single word can set my writing in motion.  Its been over three years since my Mother died.  But it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I had my first dream of her after her death. I woke up completely aware of that fact and it made the experience even more vivid.  I thought about the dream that week and over the course of a couple of days this sonnet emerged.  The first couple of lines came quickly and it stalled.  Then I came across the word “starveling” in a book and the rest came together.  It is not an error that this is 15 lines.   I wrote multiple drafts in which I kept it to the standard 14 lines, but in the end I preferred the pacing of this one.   It is not the only 15 line sonnet I have written.  Sometimes you have to let the words decide.

There are many pictures of my Mother where light seems to be radiating from her.  She had that way of bringing energy into a room with her presence.  Her birthday is today. She would have been 87.  Fourteenlines.blog is 2 years old this week as well.  Thank you to all who visit and share my love of poetry.

 

In The Midden Of My Mind

Climbing-Trees

“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories.  And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.”

Stevie Wonder

Motown Cross

(Excerpt – Sonnet #3 in the crown of sonnets)

by Patricia Smith

Silk where his throat should be, and growling grace,
Little Stevie made us wonder why
we even needed sight. His rhythm eye
could see us click our hips and swerve in place
whenever he cut loose. Ooh, we’d unlace
our Converse All-Stars. Yeah, we wondered why
we couldn’t get down without our shoes, we’d try
and dance and keep up with his funky pace
of hiss and howl and hum, and then he’d slow
to twist our hearts until he heard them crack,
ignoring what was leaking from the seams.
The rockin’ blind boy couldn’t help but show
us light. We bellowed every soulful track
from open window, ’neath the door—pipe dreams.

If you want to check out Smith’s entire crown of sonnets Motown Cross published in Rattle in 2010, check out the link or video below.

 


The best known crown of sonnets is John Donne’s La Corona that begins, “Deign at my hands the crown of prayer and praise.”   It sets the standard by which all others are measured.  If you are not familiar with a crown of sonnets or sonnet sequence, it is a poem containing anywhere from seven, eleven or thirteen sonnets, written around a theme.  Modern sonnet sequences are not always in rhyme and do not necessarily follow the supposed “rules” of a crown of sonnet, but I am impressed that Patricia Smith went old school in her poem Motown Cross and followed the structure of Donne, in which the first line of the first sonnet is the last line of the last sonnet, the last line of the first sonnet is the first line of the second sonnet, and so forth with successive sonnets until the end.  The challenge in this structure is figuring out a rhyming sequence that you can continue from the end of one sonnet to the next and not have repetition and still carry the narrative forward. It provides a bigger canvas in which to work in the sonnet structure but that larger size carries with it it’s own unique set of challenges.

Like Smith, when I sat down and wrote a crown of sonnets, I looked sentimentally to the past.  She focused on music that shaped her, I focused on memories of growing up.   The entire sonnet sequence, In the Midden of My Mind, started with the word midden.  I came across it and it’s association with storage cupboards and sailing ships immediately conjured thoughts about climbing trees as a child, a place of mystery and serenity that still exists in my memory. I grew up in the 1960’s in a suburban landscape on a dead end street with a forest of mature trees at my door step  to explore and climb.  I had my favorites that I knew the route that I could climb to the very top and peer out over the entire world and hide from my sisters and my mom if I chose. I spent many happy summer and fall afternoons climbing trees. The act of climbing a combination of strategy, knowledge of trees,  athleticism, experience, upper arm strength and some courage.   I never fell. I have visceral memories of being at the top of swaying trees and seeing a perspective of the world that looked completely different than being on the ground.

Stevie Wonder’s album, Songs in the Key of Life was one of the very first albums I ever purchased.  It came out when I was thirteen and I listened to it over and over as a teenager.  Patricia Smith, a black woman from inner city Detroit and me a white man who grew up in suburbs of St. Paul, couldn’t in some ways be more different in our experiences, but we both danced to Stevie Wonder in our converse All Stars and we both somehow gravitated to writing a crown of sonnets to capture the mood and rhythms of our past. It took me more than six months to write In the Midden of My Mind. There were many starts and stops along the way, trying to maintain a consistent voice throughout and articulate something genuine.  In the end, I let the rhyme and sentiment both have the upper hand and though it is not one of the best things I have ever written, it has held up over the test of time in that I don’t cringe when I read it.   It still says what I want it to say. Nostalgia does not always translate well to others, our own sentimental journeys best kept as personal, but it is a way to share our common experience that connects us in ways that remind us that the human condition has more similarities that bind us together than differences that divide.


In The Midden of My Mind

By T. A. Fry

In the midden of my mind, it lies
Unbidden: the flagship of my boyhood home.
A relic hidden under bluest skies.
Where childhood’s ghosts are free to roam.
Danger beckoned me to its lofty realm
Bound by vistas from the tallest tree.
High in oaks and elm, I was at the helm
Of  tall ships sailing effortlessly.

Oh, to climb into youth’s panoply,

The dappled greens of windy murmur.
The swaying solitude of the canopy,
Above the scrambling of terra firma.
Though nostalgia’s pastel does not grow dreary,
The past’s colors blend until I’m leery.

 

The past’s colors blend until I’m leery.
It bends, then fades to form a rosy veil.
What once was real becomes more a theory,
In retelling tales that time assails.
Those days when marbles were like Midas gold,
Jewels handed down to daughters and sons.
When aggies, clears, cat-eyes and shooters rolled
To clack, smack and crack, nothing less was fun.

In long grass we played, our days unbroken.

While wildflowers buzzed with a winged milieu.
A place where kindness, if it went unspoken,
Was felt in the warmth to see us through.
A timeless landscape that shall never lapse.
When all the marbles were within my grasp.

 


When all the marbles were within my grasp.
Some gained, some lost, but all in fair play.
Until one day I turned to find the hasp
of my chest broken and all in disarray.
Death’s screech hailed me beneath a tire
Revealing the flash by which souls burn.
Chance disrobed the vagary of death’s attire
That clothes the nakedness from which we learn.

There lay crumbled before me what had been

An electric grey kitten who filled my days
With boundless play and purry naps, but in
A dash, his companionship was torn away.
Death’s design is a bloody valentine.
Is it childish to wish to turn back time?

 

Is it childish to wish to turn back time?
Life’s an endless game between gain and loss.
Death picks breath’s pocket. Yet there’s no crime.
For pure gold is smelt alongside the dross.
Are words fit crucibles for our stores?
No matter what preciousness is poured.
The past sounds hollow, when its essence roared.
Or cold metallic, when by warmth adorned.

My first real kiss from a neighbor girl.
Her lips wet and sweet, like an apple core.
Shining sun bronzed hair, not a hint of curl,
With gentle fondness, it was a thrill.
Is it any wonder I ponder still?
Soft fingers alighting on emerging will.

 

Soft fingers alighting on emerging will.
Awakened chords to songs I’d yet to sing.
Her hazel eyes afire with new found skills.
Planted bouquets of flowers I’d yet to bring.
My garden grew more bold and lush.  By what
Bewitching alchemy does love distill?
Young men from boys and with it cut
The last apron string that holds them still.

In the midden of my mind is always lit,

A candle kindled by my Mother’s grace.
It’s held in a stanchion, a sturdy kit,
Iron my father forged along its base.
By loving hands honor is embraced.
In trusting arms confidence is encased.

 

In trusting arms confidence is encased
Despite the clumsy sack-race of boys to men.
Bumbling, stumbling – ignorance is erased.
Only at the tape to hear it’s jeers again.
I drank the cold brew from which poise streams. 
And ate the fruit that falls from laughter’s tree.
I ventured far beyond green childish dreams,
With ungainly strength to go forth and be.

I unearthed proud mystery in this world.

In dominion o’er my body and my mind. 
I watched sun and moon around me swirl
And mulled how tempest winds unwind.
I made few inroads into golden plains.
But not all my wandering was in vain.

 

 

Not all my wandering was in vain.
I said “I do” before those hazel eyes,
Declared “I do” twice more as children came.
In praise of Gods that be with grateful cries.
As victory and failure filled my sail.
And first kisses gave way to wayward sighs.
Through it all I heard love’s warbling wail.
Though time forgets all the whats and whys.

As epitaphs replaced old love songs sung.

Despite all that’s happened love prevailed.
White hair the vanguard of immortal young
Who listen politely to our wistful tale.
For as I look back with old thankful eyes,
There, in the midden of my mind it lies.

Sticks and Stones


DC

Comedy is an art form that when done by master talent makes us think as well as laugh.  And to pull that off, it means the comic is going to push boundaries beyond what is socially acceptable, because what’s usually funny is making fun of our own hypocrisy.  Nothing is funnier than talking about the white elephant in the room, particularly if you are part of the white elephant or are related to one or work with one or live with one. And in today’s society, white men are the whitest of the white elephants. Rich white men, poor white men and everything in between, we are clomping around with our heads up our collective asses not realizing that things would get better if we just started laughing at ourselves a little bit.

It’s why I think Dave Chappelle is brilliant and a genuine artist.  Dave Chappelle is one of the few people in today’s world beyond Donald Trump, who says what he wants to say regardless of the political consequences. The difference between Dave Chappelle and Donald Trump in my mind, is at the core of Chappelle’s monologues and jokes is empathy and humanity and at the core of Donald’s Twitter feed is willful ignorance and anger.  Chappelle is one of the few people who walked away, no darn near ran away from what other people deemed success and had the courage to walk his own path, write his own jokes, say what he wanted to say, knowing somebody was gong to take offense, no matter what he did.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, some people were going to be outraged.  That’s what the internet and social media has done.  It has democratized outrage. Anyone can find a way to be outraged about anything and if you look hard enough you will find a meme that expresses your outrage perfectly.

I like Dave Chappelle. I enjoy his art. I think he is funnier than shit. I hope he keeps on writing jokes that make us uncomfortable.  Let’s laugh at this mess we find ourselves and hope that laughter lets something go deep inside our collective ignorance or shame and move on. Let’s laugh at ourselves, each other and the silliness that is the human experience. Chappelle is so talented that it is inevitable that a hoard of people are going to be pissed off by something he says because most people can’t take the stick out of their ass long enough to realize not everything Dave says is what he believes.  Its a joke.  And people write jokes, just like people write poetry to push boundaries, to experience aspects of the human condition in their imagination that might not be their full reality. That’s what’s fun about imaginations, if we use them, we get to try different ideas and play around.

There are many controversies that surround comedy these days because apparently now in society we are only allowed to laugh at clean, politically correct jokes that are family PG friendly. Like the Peanuts cartoon.  Which is why I hate and have always hated the Peanuts cartoon because I never found it funny. The Peanuts cartoon violates my first principle of art – I find it boring. I do not find Dave Chappelle boring.  I find him captivating, funny and genuinely complicated. The controversies that surround David Chappelle illustrate that if you take words out of context and drill in deep, you can scapegoat anyone. Then again, if we are honest with ourselves, each and every one of us says something stupid once in a while that taken in context and if you drill in deep we deserve to be scapegoated.  Its just that most of us are not famous enough for anyone to give a shit about the stupid stuff we say. None of us are perfect.

I have a little secret to reveal about people that write sonnets.  Writing sonnets is not the serious business that people that don’t write sonnets think it is. Humor abounds in Shakespeare if you stop reading it with your nose in the air.  I have a feeling Shakespeare was like most other poets, (I am being gender inclusive here), that if they are brutally honest, will admit, they wrote most of that shit hoping to get laid. Oh and bare their beautiful soul to the world too.  Phoey.  I think most people who write sonnets do it because its fun, its how we entertain ourselves. We write because we want to.  We write because we hope to get laid. It’s all the same thing.

Lest you think that I only write serious things in church, I thought I would share my first and only limerick sonnet.  I wrote this right before church and shared it with my Mom after the service.  This is one of those times where the words wrote themselves.  It just flowed. What’s funny about this sonnet is it doesn’t read like a sonnet, even though the rhyming scheme and the syllable count is mostly correct, it flows if you read it out loud more like a silly poem.  And I want everyone to know, that just like Dave Chappelle, everything in this sonnet is a joke and not to be taken seriously because what is in this sonnet is not how I truly feel.  But the reason my Mom laughed is because hiding in plain sight in the joke was a modicum of truth.   And for those of you that would like to use this as your opportunity to scapegoat me in my very own #metoo moment for being politically incorrect and insensitive, I would like you to know,  I am still married.

Summons

By T. A. Fry

Starving in a wasteland of affection,
I have come to forgiveness bye and bye.
For celibacy is not an affliction,
It is a condition made lonelier by,
the contract between husband and wife.
It’s not easy to leave your child’s mother,
after 32 long years of life.
I found love in the arms of another,
and with her passion’s no longer a stranger.
I would never approach divorce lightly,
It has emotional turmoil and danger,
But when sex is this fabulous nightly,
Saying “Go fuck yourself,” is a no brainer.
I’ll gladly put up both lawyers retainers.

Bless You and Amen

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The view of the dome of Westminster Church Minneapolis from where my Mom and I always sat together

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Martin Luther

Grandeur

by T. A. Fry 

Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster,
While bathed in the blue light of Christ the King.
There awaits a hoard of regal treasure
For my beloved when the choir sings.
It’s not the crown jewels set within the Rose
or music’s grandeur from the massive organ.
Nor found in prayers the clergy propose
Should you attend on a Sunday morn’in.
I’ve magically endowed a gold home-fort
to dwell in the hearts of those I love.
For when you need a touch of comfort,
“Ere I’m silent in the loft above.
Shushhhh…. listen, to all this morning’s hymns.
They’re singing; “I love you. Bless you and amen.”

November 2015


I wrote recently about my muse, but I should distinguish between when the muse visits and a writing prompt.   One of the reasons I attend church at Westminster is that often I come away from the service with a writing prompt; something said during the service gives me an idea for a poem.  Sometimes it is a singular word that will set the creative process in motion, sometimes it is an entire line of poetry, and I’ll jot it down in the margin of my bulletin.

I’m not sure who said it first, but one of my favorite sayings about the experience of attending Westminster is “bring your brain to church.” For me that means being fully present and open to ideas.  When my muse visits, the ideas are fully formed and my fingers are propelled as if by an unseen force writing the poem for me.  Oh Darkest Night was written by my Muse.  Grandeur was written by me based on one line that formed in my head during a service, “Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster.” Then it was a matter of sitting down and figuring out the rest.

The Sunday I wrote Grandeur, in the fall before my Mother passed, Liz gave me a history lesson on the gorgeous windows called Christ the King and the Tiffany styled window called the Rose.   The Rose stylistically does not fit with the rest of the windows in the main sanctuary and I had asked Liz about it.  She gave me a 15 minute history lesson about Westminster. The original church was built several blocks north, and was largely destroyed in a fire. The patrons of this church were several of the families from the mill district and the retail barons that the wealth of the milling district in Minneapolis fostered.  One of those families, who founded Daytons department stores, which went on to become Target Corporation, were generous in their contributions to the design and construction of the current building in 1898.  The Rose window was a gift from one of the families. and was built by a company separate from the rest of the windows in the sanctuary.

The design of the church was radical at the time it was built, with its oval shaped sanctuary and the choir and organ situated in the front behind the pulpit.  It moved away from the traditional long narrow design of most churches and made a statement about inclusiveness. The Westminster of today is a far more liberal, progressive congregation than its past. Liz had a hand in moving Westminster on its journey of inclusion and equality and equity. Liz paved a path in the broader Presbyterian church to break down barriers of gender inequality, some overt, some subtle, some just bald headed stupid tradition, that prevented woman from certain roles in the church. Liz and many other women through their intelligent example and wise patience and brave voices have readied Westminster to eventually break through the glass ceiling for its first female lead pastor in the near future.

Grandeur came about on that Sunday afternoon.   I went home that November day and it did not take long to come up with a first draft and within a couple of days the final version took shape.  It was a gift to my Mother and in a way Liz, and I read it to them the following Sunday after the service.  It is a postcard of those many Sundays that I wanted to hold on to, that feeling of togetherness, knowing I would be able to tap into those memories, those feelings when my Mother and Liz would no longer be by my side in our spot in the back of the church where there was a cut out that accommodated Liz’s wheel chair.

Westminster is a sacred place for me.  I can feel my Mother’s presence some Sundays seated in the pew.   I can feel her wisdom and kindness and generous spirit encouraging me onward, to be my better self, knowing that love she had/has for me continues onward, unabated.

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Westminster Church in Minneapolis with the south facing Christ The King window and the west facing towards the street Rose window visible in this picture.
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Christ the King
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The Rose
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The view of the front of the  sanctuary from our regular spot.

 

 

 

Cre_M_ation

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Mary Fry (1932 – 2016)

Cre_M_ation

By T. A. Fry

What purpose fastidious praise? I will not drink with the Puritans,
whose thin words wilt from prinked lips.   The well intentioned herd
who mouth in sanitized churches and mortuaries; “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I’ll belch and stink my grief while screaming celestial praises
with only gratitude for her life. Look beyond the breasts of the skin
that we are borrowing to find her braided love cross death’s divide.

She did not pawn her time on earth!  She owned the sacrifice
of the Tortoise tending its leafy gardens, the devotion
of the Sequoia sipping the clouds communion chalice.

Let me smell the rot of her death. Do not perfume and primp this carcass
with altruistic incense which scrubs dead air and gives no satisfaction.
True celebrants orient to suit their phrase through cajoles fraught with
Heaven’s dare and inhale the halitosis of her death’s joyful laugh.

Convene your priestly council if you must for the sake of propriety.
But offer me the seared flesh of the sweated beast who dances her jubilas. Bring me a goblet of its blood wine for her toasts.

I’ll stand with the pure diviners of harmony and sing.
Mourner’s who arise with passion fire to fuel her cremation.  
Are we sick to produce so hot a flame? No….  It’s just our love of her.

Her trunk was empty, unpacked, devoured of its essence
by the completeness of her life. In our love inferno 
her rind burned quickly, with little sputtering.


Today is the third anniversary of my Mother’s death.  She was 83 when she passed.  She experienced the kind of gentle and sudden death that I think we all dream of having. She and I had gone to church in the morning, she came home and gardened in the afternoon.  My sister was visiting from California and had brought a life-long friend that lives in my Mom’s neighborhood and the three of them were visiting before going out for a bite to eat.  They were getting ready to go and my Mom said, “wait, I have one more thing to tell you.” and then she started the next sentence, slurred a couple of words, slowly slid off her chair to the floor and died.

Grieving the death of the those closest to us is an ongoing and unfinished process.  It washes over in phases.  I woke up and wrote this poem five days after she died, on the day she was cremated. I have written other poems in that style, but none since her death.  This poem expresses an unexpected anger, sadness as well as joy, that arose from the repetition in the days following, having called all the family and her friends, and hearing over and over, “I’m sorry for your loss.”   At the time all I felt was gratitude for having been so fortunate to have been her son.  I still feel the same.

Thank you Mom for living an amazing life.  We miss you.

I Miss Your Voice, Your Elegance

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Quietus

By T. A. Fry

The sun rises with no less dazzling sway,
And yet, gardens sulk in muted eloquence.
Nature’s splendor is colder ever since
Quietus bore your gentle hand away.
It’s your silence which weighs upon my days.
Unexpected things will make me wince.
For I miss your voice, your elegance
All which hold me still amidst the fray.

You draped and shaped us with loving shears.
Thin striplings pruned and fed to reach the sun
You protected us from winter’s coldest years
To bloom again despite what’s done is done.
In mourning,  I’ll manage through these low tears
Ever blessed to be your beloved son.


 

Happy Memorial Day!

The Bond In Stillness

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A beautiful loaf of challah served as yesterday’s communion bread.

Easter

By T. A. Fry

One cold Easter, the lilies glass-house grown,
We met as friends to share the Eucharist.
Not a one of us needing to atone
For witnessing the other’s interests.
And oh what witness it has been!  Our care
For the others, a fondness borne of less,
The brazenness that shines of goodness shared,
Then acceptance of each other’s humanness.
These friendships minister to our need,
Of want of connection across divides,
Of age, of gender and of even creed.
Each of us in turn, the other’s guide.
For what mattered most as we broke the bread.
Was the bond in stillness, not what was said.


 

My own writing serves sometimes as a painting or postcard for a memory, that allows me to viscerally reconnect with events in the past, whether good or bad.  Yesterday was one of those perfectly normal Saturdays, that needed to be preserved. It began with a quiet morning of writing outside and throwing the ball for the dog, despite it being in the 40’s and crisp. Then fellowship and communion with longtime friends, spiritually tending to each other’s gardens at noon.  And from there came a detour to my favorite book store in Minneapolis, Birch Bark Books, in honor of independent book sellers day. Birch Bark Books is owned by the incredibly gifted novelist Louise Erdrich, so of course we had to buy some books. We then went to a gallery next door where Prudence Johnson, whom I have had a crush on since around 1985, was singing covers of Buffy St. Marie tunes. Then after a quick dinner of salmon and corn on the cob, we were off to a night of viewing short films from the Banff film festival,  rounding off the day with a night cap of wild dancing at a friends annual gumbo house party until nearly 1 am, the music DJ’d by my best friend from high school. It could not have been a more satisfying day, right down to my sister being re-united with her beloved lost dog in the morning, who had been separated from her for one terrible night the evening before.

It is so easy to take for granted the pleasure of normalcy in middle age.  Those days when no one is ill, there is no crisis at work, no child, even grown children, are temporarily undone by the stresses of the world.  A day in which the companionship of your partner is complete, from waking up together, to helping each other with chores, to making meals and dining together, to playing, really playing with each other in the simplest of ways, like dancing. I realize that unfortunately the pleasure of normalcy is that it isn’t always normal, so yesterday, I treasured every second.  And then set one piece of it in a sonnet postcard, for me to look back on and remember the goodness of yesterday.

I hope if you are reading this, you have the most wonderful of normal Sundays.