My True Verse

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Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis MN

The following is a re-posting from October of 2017 of a portion of one of the first blog entries on Fourteenlines in honor of my Mother’s birthday.  If you would like to read the entire post use the calendar side bar to revisit it.

__________________________

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

October in Minneapolis is a sacred month.   It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky.  Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees.  Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come.  Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.

October is sacred for another reason for me personally.  It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.

The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother.   Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on.   My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again.   That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure.  Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota,  allowed me and my oldest sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.

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Mary Fry

Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night.  It started out informally but grew to have regular rules.   We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months.  The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through).   We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time,  then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next.  We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence.  Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.

Love is a Place

by e. e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)  all worlds

My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace.

It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother.   Words never measure up.   I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process.  It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light.  The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.  I read it before the small group of family and friends that had gathered to remember and celebrate her life.

Happy Birthday Mom.

My True Verse

by T. A. Fry

Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.

I’ve Never Worried About This Country, Until Now

Sal Salasin collage, October 1969 Protests, University of Chicago

“I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.”

Edward R. Murrow

Held Without Bail on Probable Cause

By. T. A. Fry

This…is America. 

My Mother said, “I just had a heart attack, don’t tell me anything bad.Personally, I think most Americans are pro-choice; we choose to be difficult. In the immortal words of Sal Salasin; “there are endless benefits to bad poetry.”

“We are not descended from fearful men.”  Thank you for your submission but your work does not fit the style of what we are looking for at this time.  The customer is always right, unless it decreases shareholder value. A satellite has no conscience.”

We help the world grow the food it needs. “Our major obligation is to not mistake slogans for solutions.” Business has only one social responsibility; use its resources to increase profits.

Mitochondrial DNA suggests all humans are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or God started his career working as an intern for Monsanto.  “Speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.” What is the price of profit?

“The obscure we see eventually, the completely obvious takes a little longer.” Capitalism and Freedom are fundamentally subversive doctrines. I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold.” Guns don’t kill people. Your next door neighbor’s son with an AR-15 assault rifle kills people. The decision to eliminate your position was in no way influenced by your performance.

“American traditions and ethics require us to be truthful…because truth is the best propaganda and lies the worst.” We invaded Iraq to protect America from weapons of mass destruction. Everyone at pay grade 15 and above has a mandatory teleconference on Monday at 10 am.

“If we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox.…we undermine the faith of those that believe in America.” …… Everywhere I go, people come up to me, and they say,… I’ve never worried about this country, up to now.  Make America….. Again!

“Do not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” We will treat every employee with respect during this difficult time and assist them with outplacement services. What’s the difference between  a penis, a prick and a big swinging dick?  About 2 inches.

“We’re all clowns and freaks in the big show.”
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
“Good night… And good luck.”

 


Hey Kids!

by Sal Salasin

Hey Kids!
Let’s create a system
that impoverishes at the same time
it creates wealth!
Bless the birds and
bless the bees and
bless the corpses
in the trees.
Welcome to the
Wonderful World of Whipping Boys,
boys. 

Oh, she’s just
recovering from a
postmodernist noseflap,
Cap.
How about some excedrine-and-
corned-beef hashish?
From lust to dust it’s the
meticulous to the slime.
My meaning is that I’m here.
What’s yours?
Who was the thirty-second president of
the United States?
What’s the capitol of El Salvador?
Just stick in your head
and turn on the gas jets, sweetheart.
It’s like when the
nurse comes in, she
always says “And
how are we today?”

Lothario Goes To Seed

St. Paul Jazz Festival – June 24 – 25, 2022

Don Juan Canto 11 (An Excerpt)

By Lord Byron

XXXIII

Some rumour also of some strange adventures
.       . Had gone before him, and his wars and loves;
And as romantic heads are pretty painters,
.       . And, above all, an Englishwoman’s roves
Into the excursive, breaking the indentures
.      . Of sober reason, wheresoe’er it moves,
He found himself extremely in the fashion,
Which serves our thinking people for a passion.



XXXIV

I don’t mean that they are passionless, but quite
.      . The contrary; but then ’tis in the head;
Yet as the consequences are as bright
.       . As if they acted with the heart instead,
What after all can signify the site
Of ladies’ lucubrations? So they lead
.      . In safety to the place for which you start,
What matters if the road be head or heart?

 


Lothario Swings at Jazz Fest

by T. A. Fry

A night in June unwavering
Clear soulful music rise!
Consorts slowly savoring
The softness of tan thighs

An encore for an instant
Beer scents a shameless sigh
The night is slowly distant
As the sax’s hunger cries

The shimmering summer solstice
Casts spells in lover’s eyes
Placing trust on notice
Where reticence resides

Lust glides on twilight’s kisses
Quivering quietly with folly’s need
Loneliness swings and misses
As Lothario goes to seed

Now We Are Six – ty

Happy Birthday

“Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!

Ingrid Bergman

Now We Are Six

by A. A. Milne

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now
for ever and ever.

Now We Are Six-ty
(for Carmen)

by T. A. Fry

When I was ten,
I was afraid of men.
When I was twenty,
I had doubts a plenty.
When I was thirty,
A powerful thirst.
When I was forty,
I was terribly sporty.
When I was fifty,
I was carefree and thrifty.
But now that I’m sixty
I’m true to my form,
Decidedly sexy,
And deliciously warm.

Cold And Getting Colder

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

George Elliot

Cold and Getting Colder

by T. A. Fry

Why listen to conventions drab advice?
The crowd that quietly eats their porridge
without cream, their modest life should suffice
but cloisters dreams in dusty storage. 

It’s much more interesting to wade
into the fray, to fight and dance away
the night, mine to lose, mine to choose
what and who’s to be obeyed.

Take my hand, together, if we can,
we’ll climb solo or on belay,
hearts directing what to say,
finding where and when to plan.

Shall I kneel before the altar
to pray for sins, lucid or not,
lose or win, the past forgot,
a future, mine to steal or redesign, should I falter.

Why listen to conventions drab advice?
Eyes closed I clearly see brilliant colors
floating ageless above the others
love emanating from a rosy grace.

Gingerly I wade into deeper waters.
It’s cold and getting colder.
There’s no way around it
I’m getting bolder.


Death Is A Deadline

by T. A. Fry

Where were you born?  What have you farrowed
Before the world turned towards misshapen things?
What will you plant, fertilize and harrow,
A farm to be proud,  fit for wise kings?
Sow ancient love in concentric rings,
Hoe blood bound soil, beneath pregnant clouds.
Cultivate laughter, while Gaia’s soul sings,
Black dirt on tan girls, their spirit’s endowed
By a jubilant song, defiantly loud,
All dancing beneath a bright harvest moon,
Wind calling their names from a nearby wood.
Rise to your journey and go there soon!
Bask in the sunshine, drink finest wine.
If death is a deadline, live this lifetime.

 

The Inevitable Colt of Disarray

Don Share

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

in the valley of its making where executives

would never want to tamper, flows on south

from ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives

A way of happening, a mouth….”

W. B. Yeats

For Laura

by Don Share

While we were swimming, a butterfly
dipped past the pool.

Sunshine forced the ripples
to glow like bent halos,

and the black marker lines shivered
like brain waves in their final cogitations.

What were your thoughts as the butterfly
drifted to feed in the weeds?

Why did the one and only sea breeze
tip the treetops with false stars?

I only know that as my hands passed over
and around you, time endstopped,

and that we leaned back from our last kiss
the way one tree bends away from another for light.


There are poems that I have written that exist in the ether of the cloud that is my google chrome book that I rarely read,  I have nearly forgotten about them.  The Armor of You is one such poem.  I wrote this poem back in 2017 and I hadn’t read it in years, until I came across it the other day unexpectedly. It”s almost like reading someone else’s words.   I have been fighting multiple battles lately; without – within, and  I identified with this poem immediately. It’s funny how poetry connects with me differently over time, as Yeats describes; “different towns that we believe and die in.”  Do you have a poem that recently has taken on different emphasis or meaning?  Which one?  Why?


The Armor of You

by T. A. Fry

The rebel yell of this swirling blaze
Is a decibel below the loudest loud.
The hungry silence of my lover’s gaze
Lifts rabble above the madding crowd.
Withdraw from battles; without – within.
Find a meadow where the sweet grass dries.
Summer’s gold-green smoldering on feathered winds;
Smudging primeval cord blood of its cries.

Gird the armor of you across my best.
Cinch your Love around my breast.
Paint faithful Magic on my chest.
Loss subsumes the ebullience of it’s guests;
Chiding complainers who overstay
The inevitable colt of disarray.

Too Far Out

Stevie Smith (1902 – 1971)

Not Waving But Drowning

by Stevie Smith
 
Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.
 
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.
 
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.
 

I  recently traveled to Colorado in March where the sun shone every day for 9 days in a row, only to return to the coldest, cloudiest, dreariest April I can remember in Minnesota.  It has made the wait for spring intolerable.  Its not my imagination.  Hostas’ that had been given some encouragement by several 60 plus degree days in March have re-entered hibernation, shivering at the surface of the ground, waiting for May to venture forth further.  We shall all have to be patient; robins, flowers and people, snow flakes falling for the third day in a row outside my window, out of what feels like spite by Mother Nature this late in April. 

I think many of us have felt like we are drowning at times this past year,  while pretending to our family and friends that we were waving.  The problem with this image of drowning is its a myth, its not based on reality.  Its the way people who can swim picture that those that can’t must look like when they are in trouble.   Most drowning victims go down like a stone, silently, the first mouthful of water a liquid muzzle that stifles any call for help.  No hands waving above the surface, their hands below the water line wildly trying to swim ineffectively, with only a couple of ripples remaining after they disappear.   It is with such ease that many people drown that onlookers are shocked when they realize what has happened. 

 

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.
Remove your shoes, at the door,
Never track across a fresh scrubbed floor!

And though it’s maybe 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.

History Has To Live

lowell&caroline_crop

Robert Lowell and Lady Caroline Blackwood

“I was overcome with a pathological bout of enthusiasm.”

Robert Lowell

History

by Robert Lowell

History has to live with what was here,
clutching and close to fumbling all we had—
it is so dull and gruesome how we die,
unlike writing, life never finishes.
Abel was finished; death is not remote,
a flash-in-the-pan electrifies the skeptic,
his cows crowding like skulls against high-voltage wire,
his baby crying all night like a new machine.
As in our Bibles, white-faced, predatory,
the beautiful, mist-drunken hunter’s moon ascends—
a child could give it a face: two holes, two holes,
my eyes, my mouth, between them a skull’s no-nose—
O there’s a terrifying innocence in my face
drenched with the silver salvage of the mornfrost.


What have I learned this month?   My appreciation for Lowell has grown, along with my empathy.   The quote above is what endears maniac depressives to those around them.   The lows are a cross to bear for all, but the highs, when in moderation, can power the world with their energy.  I am envious of Lowell’s friendships among his vast circle of friends, and the talent in that remarkable group that helped each other become better writers, still recognizing the negative self destructive tendencies that these men and women had in their own lives and others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have grown to like Lowell the man, but I have grown to appreciate more of Lowell the artist and accept his humanness.  

Robert Lowell was the product of two generations of men of letters in this country and the patience and emotional intelligence of  multiple women.  His poetry evolved to fit the style that the New Critics applauded and rewarded; Merrill, Tate, Ransom, Warren, Jarrell, Taylor, Frost, Schwartz and Berryman literally molded Lowell out of clay.  His passion and the depth in his poetry was influenced by Stafford, Hardwick, Blackwood and Bishop.  Did Lowell win those two Pulitzers, or do all of them deserve some of the credit as well?   Does it take a village to raise a poet? In Lowell’s case, I think the answer is yes.   

Obviously, Lowell brought something to the table.  I wonder though, if he had been born poor,  with the same talents, and written the same words, would a single thing he ever wrote have seen the light of day from a publisher?  Would he have had the financial ability and time to write? Even with the generous  support and royalties he received from publishers,  it was not enough to support him and his family without his father’s money to fill in the gaps.  Talent publicly recognized is almost always influenced by luck as well. Lowell exists in American Lit history in part because of the opportunities his families wealth, connections and the power his birthright afforded him, if not for the access to publishing, then for the glimpse into the halls of power in this country and its moral authority and failings which he used for some of his poetic inspiration.  Lowell may have been a confessional poet, but the history he shared was not just his own, it served as a sketchbook illustrating our broader society, his words a mirror for the American tendency towards narcissism that was reflected in his best work.

Lowell and Berryman always preferred criticism of their work by other writers.  They were writing during a unique time in history, existing within a relatively small literary bubble, where the best critics, were also some of their best friends.  There are tentacles in literature that extend from one generation to the next and influence poetry in ways that we may not even be aware. We owe a debt of gratitude to these men and women, who pushed poetry forward, in a legacy that would forever change how poetry is written and read today.   Even if it some of that work led to dead ends, it forced open doors of change, either positively or negatively, because of their commitment to their writing.  Sometimes things have to become broken to be put back together in a new more innovative way.

This past year in 2020, when several hundred poets of color demanded changes in the way the Poetry Foundation wields the power of its financial assets, and who sits as the gate keepers of that financial wealth, I applauded, even though it probably was painful to the multiple old white men who were forced to resign from the board of directors.  We have to remind ourselves that giving birth is painful.  It’s never easy and not to be taken for granted.  All parties don’t always survive the process.  Things don’t die and are buried because they did something wrong.  Things die, because things need to die, so that the next generation has room to breathe and grow and thrive.

After a month of reading Lowell, if I compare him to Berryman, there is no question which book of collected poems will continue to sit on my reading table; its Berryman’s.  For sheer enjoyment of the written word and intellectual fun of the poetry and creativity, Berryman’s poetry wins in my world hands down.  But it would have been easy for me to show case Berryman this year and stay in a familiar rut of sharing things I enjoy on Fourteenlines.  The beginning of 2021 is a time of reckoning.  This month has been a time for me to reassess white power and privilege that has shaped the past, my own included, and confront the underlying rot of white supremacy that is all around us, even in the creative arts and poetry.   It’s easy for me to write about things I like.  It’s much harder to write about things I don’t.  And though I have learned a lot by writing about Lowell this month, I will be glad to move on.

I wrote the poem below a week after the violence at the Capitol building in the midst of my month long journey with Lowell.  I readily admit it is a troubling poem.  I don’t like all the aspects of these characters.   And yet it begs the question, if we dislike the artist, should we dislike the art?  The risk of cancel culture is we cancel the very reminders of what not to be?   How many of us learned our most important lessons in life not from a role model of the epitome of our ideals but from the fuck-ups in our midst that we wanted to not emulate?   Spending a month in Lowell’s company and his cronies messes with you.   Lowell leaned conservative right in his ideology in some of his writing, but did he believe it or use it as a mirror to society?  Impossible to know. I don’t know why this poem shaped itself in my mind.   If you were to count it out, it is roughly a sonnet, 14 lines.   Was it inspiration for what could be a broader script for a play someday wrestling with the death of the sonnet and the ideas these men wrote about over a lifetime?  There’s probably 90 minutes of pretty interesting dialogue waiting to be crafted if I tried to insert myself into the minds of these four men playing cards.   What is it trying to tell me? What about the perspective their month of company has imparted, formed n my mind in both good ways and bad, that brought out this poem?  I may delete this poem and post in a year because it isn’t relevant and reads like trite nonsense or I may find in it something I don’t see now?  I honestly don’t like the men behind the art of all the writers I read. It doesn’t mean I find that disagreeable taste in my mouth any less worthwhile than the bitter coffee I sometimes choose to drink.  


Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and John Berryman Play Euchre in Heaven

By T. A. Fry

(This poem is intended to be read by screen play rules – words in parenthesis and gray italics should not be read out loud, rather help inform the reader on characters and plot. Lines in black are Robert Lowell’s. Lowell is partnered with Pound and Berryman is partnered with Jarrell.)

.       . “Jezzus Chrst Mr. Bones, would you stop dropping
 ashes on the table.  Lets do clubs – Pounder. “  ( Lowell winks)

.       . “Cal…. your move.* What’s with the winking?” (Berryman, staring at Lowell)
.       .
It’s a tick, he’s not tabl-talking the bower.” (Pound)

“Henry…. pass me a pretzel with cheese on it. ” 
(Lowell leads the Jack of clubs)

.        . “Yes he is,  see —- exerting his power….
(Berryman passing the pretzel with a napkin, then picks up his cigarette, takes a long drag, exhaling a cloud Lowell’s way, muttering;)
It’s a damn shame, the state of the sonnet….”

(Lowell takes the trick and leads the Queen of clubs)

.       . “What’d you guys think, the attack in D. C.?
Ezra – yu’old fascist, what’s your report?” (Jarrell) 

“… Relieved… bar’s been raised for traitorous crazy.”
(Smiling as he lays the Jack of spades over top Lowell’s Queen and Berryman’s Ace and Jarrell’s sloughed off suit, taking the trick for the team.)

.      . “So am I!  It’s great to see such support
For mental illness among the masses.
It’s amazing, I tell you, aammaazzzing,
What these people pull out of their asses.”


* When Berryman jumped to his death in 1972, the only identification on his body recovered from the river was a pair of sunglasses with his name on it and a blank check.  Hamilton, in Lowell’s biography, claims Auden started a cruel rumor among the literati in New York City shortly thereafter that Berryman had in fact left a note, which read; “Cal, it’s your move.

My Grateful Christmas Spirit’s Still Alive

Childhood Creche purchased at the Ben Franklin store on main street in North St. Paul in the early 1960s.

 

Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree

by George Starbuck

*
O
fury-
bedecked!
O glitter-torn!
Let the wild wind erect
bonbonbonanzas; junipers affect
frostyfreeze turbans; iciclestuff adorn
all cuckolded creation in a madcap crown of horn!
It’s a new day; no scapegrace of a sect
tidying up the ashtrays playing Daughter-in-Law Elect;
bells! bibelots! popsicle cigars! shatter the glassware! a son born
now
now
while ox and ass and infant lie
together as poor creatures will
and tears of her exertion still
cling in the spent girl’s eye
and a great firework in the sky
drifts to the western hill.


Heading into the final days before Christmas I am trying to be upbeat.   I have much to be grateful for this year.  And yet, even a vastly toned down version of my normal Christmas cheer feels a bit overdone.   2020 is going to take some time to process.  How are you processing all that has happened in 2020?   Has your creativity been fueled or stunted by the dislocation of the pandemic?   For me it has been a year of getting up everyday and trying to move forward with little energy for creativity.   I am grateful for whatever small bit survived along the way. 

I wrote A Christmas Sonnet over Thanksgiving weekend.   It is not a great poem, but it feels genuine.  I think there are good things that have come out of 2020’s toughest moments.   It feels like we took a tiny faltering step forward as a nation of recognizing systemic racism for what it is, despite the failure of  our leadership in our federal government. It feels like change is coming as an organic outgrowth of individuals and organizations searching their conscience and trying to do not necessarily “the” right thing but something better than silence or ignorance.  The fact that multiple sports teams changed their names from something blatantly disrespectful and racist is a tangible example, even if they haven’t figured out what the new name is going to be.   The fact that monuments to a racist, slave owning past are being taken down and towns are acknowledging their part in that history in ways that do not glorify it, because there never had been glory in those institutions that warranted memorializing it in bronze, is a start to a conversation around actual reparations.   The fact that state flags are being changed to forge a new symbol away from the cultural identity of hate is a good thing.   Change is hard.   It’s painful.  Not everyone is going to peacefully join in.  But the herd has moved in a direction away from status quo and there is no stopping it now, no matter how much white privilege objects. These birth pangs of moving towards a more equitable future is worth it even if its still in its infancy and screaming its head off because its hungry.   

I do not believe poetry has one interpretation.  Poems have as many different meanings as people who read them,  which is why I find literary criticism an inherently suspect enterprise.  I believe poetry by its very nature is a personal language of an individual  that by its public sharing creates a thread of common humanity regardless of what other readers take from it.  

I chose the words of A Christmas Sonnet carefully.  They represent as best as words can how I feel right now.  I generally enjoy Christmas.  But I have been wresting with how I reconcile the pleasant traditions and memories of my past with the reality of the things that are completely broken in our society today and have been for hundreds of years?   How do I allow those two things to live peacefully in my mind side by side?  I haven’t figured that out yet.  For now I have decided the best I can do is to not create an emotional moat around the memorabilia of Christmas past and pretend it is above the pain of Christmas present.   Instead I will welcome that pain and confusion into the emotional mix and stir it up in the holiday pot and let the two co-exist, hoping that it brings a clearer ownership on my part in moving forward in the right direction next year.   And if nothing else, it feels authentic to seek redemption from things that represent the good of what was in the past, even when in some ways it represents the white blindness of my suburban childhood experience.


A Christmas Sonnet

By T. A. Fry

I would like to think I am not too old
For magic. This year’s endless tragedies,
Hunger, Fire, Floods, Injustice, Death, Disease,
Ran rough-shod o’er my nostalgic soul.
Will New Year’s bells ring as clear? Will hanging
Stockings, trimming trees, blot out blatant lies?
Fascists mocking humility, raging
At democracy in their bright red ties.

My grateful Christmas spirit’s still alive.
Despite the horrors; George Floyd’s death,
A pandemic stalking loved one’s breath,
Our compact frayed, but for now, survives.
I’ll honor the flesh of “I Can’t Breathe,”
Redeeming childhood crèche and Christmas wreath.