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 your 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.

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.

When Was I Less By Dying?

This Fall’s Arched Cathedral

I Died As A Mineral

by Rumi

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and became animal,
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God perishes.
Only when I have given up my angel-soul,
Shall I become what no mind has ever conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, To God we shall return.

If you google this quote from Rumi you will find many different English translations but rarely the entire passage from which it comes. This has been a favorite of mine from Rumi for many years. I discovered it during a focused time of spiritual re-awakening that coincided with a period of some of my most productive creative writing.

I wrote Noble Light in the fall of 2014 and it was one of two poems that unknowingly at the time, formed my jumping off point into what has become my obsession with sonnets. You could say Noble Light was my gate way drug. Obviously it is not a sonnet, but this poem was one of the most difficult I have ever written. I had dozens of drafts that I worked on for over a month that eventually I came to the realize, was actually two poems, not one. Once I dissected the lines and phrases and ideas into their respective corners, each poem on its own came together rather quickly. The other poem, also a poem of forgiveness, vaguely resembles a sonnet and Noble Light typical of my free verse, has just a tinge of rhyme to help the flow.

Back in those days, I would often share a finished draft of a new poem with my Mother via email as part of our daily correspondence. She often had interesting insights or suggestions for edits that made my writing better. It was fun to share with her the thrill of creativity and our mutual love of poetry. At that time I was writing so prodigiously I rarely went back to reread what I had written earlier, I filed poems away in the cloud of my little google Chromebook and moved on to the next poem and the next and the next. And so it surprised me a year later on one of our poetry nights, where each of us brought 4 to 5 poems to read, always from other poets not our original work, that she surprised me by selecting Noble Light to read back to me as one of her current favorites. I was honored and after she read it she shared her perspective of why this poem resonated with her. During that conversation, I made the mental connection between what was at the heart of my poem and some of the ideas in Rumi’s poem above, connections that were not obvious to me at the time I wrote it but were suddenly clear.

The next spring my Mother suffered a severe heart attack and wound up in two weeks of rehab following 10 days in the ICU and hospital. It was a long slow recovery. I visited her as often as possible and usually brought poetry. It became a regular ritual for her to ask at some point during our conversation and visit, “please read Nobel Light.” I am not sure how she in that moment connected to the whole of the poem, but the line; But next spring, buds shall swell with longing to be green again, resonated with what she was clinging to in that moment of recovery – hope, a hope that could carry her to wellness and be green again. It was humbling to have a line of my poetry mean that much to my Mother and I was pleased that she never tired of hearing me read it to her. I don’t revisit this poem very often since her death, but every fall, when I am on a walk and encounter popular leaves rattling their sacred song high in the canopy of the forest’s arched cathedral, I think of her and this poem. Happy Birthday Mom.


Noble Light

by T. A. Fry

In October, when infinite shades
of red, orange, green and yellow burn
bright against a brilliant sky;
Bathing everything in noble light
Do you pause in wonder?

Do you close your eyes
And listen to leathery poplar leaves
high in the canopy
rattle a sacred song?

In that moment
if you are drawn to forgiveness,
what do you put asunder?

When the wounded deer
bounded across our path
as we walked in the forest’s
arched cathedral; I could not
hear absolution in the crow’s
caw to the wolves.

But next spring, buds shall swell
With longing to be green again.
The winter’s snow will melt and sanctify
All remains obscured in these woods.

And the warmth of spring renewal
Will release countless bleached bones
From their sepulcher of snow.
To emerge cleansed to bask
Swaddled in hallowed leaves.

I’m Grateful We’ve Got Each Other

 

anatomy-charts-human-body

If my heart could do my thinking And my head begin to feel would I look upon the world anew, And know what’s truly real.

Van Morrison

Corpus

by T. A. Fry

Brain speaking;

“Dear friends, if in the hour of my gleaning,
while in pain, I should forget. let me praise
muscle, bone and gristle, who gave meaning
to ‘faithful vessel’ in moving me always.
I’ve come to ken the fullness of delays
in the blub, dub of heart’s beat.  Finding joy
in spine’s bearing, I wanted to relay
my love of skin that covers our favorite toy.
I defend my reckless caring as a feeble ploy
to test our limits through a hoary pest.
That measured steadfast mettle to alloy
acts of arrogance with a modest rest.”

Heart said to guts:  “Don’t let this go to head.
But, I’m grateful we have each other
         And not another brain instead.”


This past few months, with the specter of COVID hanging over us, it is hard to not fall into a bit of melancholy thinking about what will happen if and when you contract the disease. Based on what I think I know about this specific corona virus it is likely that true immunity from a vaccine is unlikely, at least the first treatments available are likely to act more like the current flu vaccines which can strengthen my immune system and help diminish the effects of getting the flu that year, but not eliminate my chance of getting it. And like the flu vaccine it will require yearly additional vaccinations after a preliminary round of two to four boosters to continue to impart any kind of enhanced immune response.

As I contemplate what that means for my long term prospects of living into my 80’s its hard to not ignore that being diabetic puts me at much higher risk of complications if not in the near term but in 13 short years from now when I am in the official high risk age group of over 70 somethings. What I find a bit humorous is that I am relatively unconcerned about these potentially dire outcomes. I am either in denial about this new revised actuarial tables for my morbidity or I feel too damned lucky over the past 57 years to bear a grudge against my body now. I have been extremely fortunate to have gotten a very reliable model in terms of my physical corpus. Yes, a little rust is forming on the chassis and some minor knocking and pinging in the engine but it still is a daily driver with few aches and pains.

My only real experience with discomfort is the three separate episodes of kidney stones (the hoary pest in the poem above) spaced out over 20 years and those were short lived experiences over and done in less than 24 hours. Hardly worth mentioning really. However after my most recent kidney stone, that certainly got my attention for a day, I wrote the above sonnet as a thank you to my body, or I should say the sonnet wrote itself. It was one of those poems, that I came up with the first line and from there it flowed.

Andrew Marvel’s inner dialogue has far more spiritual intention than the playful nature of my sonnet. Do you have a poem that you wrote or someone else that fits your head’s feeling about your body?


A Dialogue Between The Soul and The Body

by Andrew Marvel

SOUL
O who shall, from this dungeon, raise
A soul enslav’d so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fetter’d stands
In feet, and manacled in hands;
Here blinded with an eye, and there
Deaf with the drumming of an ear;
A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins;
Tortur’d, besides each other part,
In a vain head, and double heart.

BODY
O who shall me deliver whole
From bonds of this tyrannic soul?
Which, stretch’d upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go;
And warms and moves this needless frame,
(A fever could but do the same)
And, wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die.
A body that could never rest,
Since this ill spirit it possest.

SOUL
What magic could me thus confine
Within another’s grief to pine?
Where whatsoever it complain,
I feel, that cannot feel, the pain;
And all my care itself employs;
That to preserve which me destroys;
Constrain’d not only to endure
Diseases, but, what’s worse, the cure;
And ready oft the port to gain,
Am shipwreck’d into health again.

BODY
But physic yet could never reach
The maladies thou me dost teach;
Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
And then the palsy shakes of fear;
The pestilence of love does heat,
Or hatred’s hidden ulcer eat;
Joy’s cheerful madness does perplex,
Or sorrow’s other madness vex;
Which knowledge forces me to know,
And memory will not forego.
What but a soul could have the wit
To build me up for sin so fit?
So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.

In Need of Forgiveness

Minneapolis-riot
Minneapolis riots in the aftermath of George Floyd’s Murder by Minneapolis Police

 

In Need of Forgiveness

By T. A. Fry

Needle-fall in May, beneath the white pine
In the yard, golden in the sun, some die
As this year’s new growth begins. A sign
Something’s renewed this spring, as I try
To make sense of a senseless killing;
George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police,
Uncaring, racist, not one of them willing
To help a man begging for them to cease
Smothering him to death. Minneapolis cops
Deputized by our collective white privilege
Have scarred us all because we failed to stop
The apathy that formed this dreadful wedge.
Let me be first in need of forgiveness.
Committed to change,  God as my witness.

Spring Is Fresh And Fearless

Lilacs
May Lilacs

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

— Margaret Atwood

May Night

by Sara Teasdale

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing–
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.


After several cold weeks, and taunting frosts, spring is finally busting out. Just when we thought we would never turn off our furnaces, the forecast has a high that starts with an 8 in it next week. Lilacs are scenting Minnesota air and a seemingly infinite variation of green abound everywhere I look.

Lilacs are magic. They are for Minnesota gardeners what might constitute as an aphrodisiac, inspiring more than a few to take a bath, scrub the dirt out from underneath their fingernails and get a hair cut.  Lilacs and crab apple blossoms lead directly to lily’s of the valley, and from there it feels like almost anything’s still possible this summer.  Almost anything, even baseball. 

Here’s a little ditty I wrote this week, reminding myself not to take Spring so seriously this year….  Lighten up.  It’s Spring!


Maianthemum

by T. A. Fry

Lily of the valley’s dainty bells,
Faintly ring – Spring cast its spell,
Peonies and iris are on their way.
It’s worth the wait, to wait for May.

Go on, outside, look about!
Rains in May make mushrooms sprout.
Try peering at the forest floor,
Trillium and elves are more than lore.

Look down, then up, take a step,
Drink in the scent the lilacs wept.
And if good fortune brings morels,
Leave some for our friends – the elves.

The Mother Of God


Virgin Mary

The Mother of God

By William Butler Yeats

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

 


 

I had never given much thought to the Virgin Mary, at least Catholicism’s take on the Virgin Mary, until my recent Jesuit retreat. Participants were told to bring a Rosary if they had one and I honestly wasn’t sure what a Rosary was or what “saying” the Rosary involved.  Taking it seriously, my pre-retreat instructions, I decided to find out.  A Rosary is a chain or cord with 59 beads and generally a small crucifix attached, one bead for each prayer in the Rosary.  Several weeks before, I got down from a shelf a box of crafting supplies and beads that had accumulated over the years from various jewelry projects and proceeded to make my own Rosary. As you would guess, being a Protestant, a protester, I didn’t follow the traditional design. Mine is symmetrical on each side and does not follow the typical pattern, each bead a remnant of something gifted. I found a rock in Norway that contains a natural crucifix that goes all the way through the granite as white quartz. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I intend to attach it to the Rosary as a fitting place to remind me where it is and make it complete.

IMG_7962

Once having constructed my Rosary, now I needed to investigate about saying the Rosary.  Fortunately, there is lots of good information on line, the Jesuits quite helpful in providing detailed information in this regard. The website I found most interesting was from Xavier University.

https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/catholic-prayers

The Rosary is a Scripture-based prayer. It begins with the Apostles’ Creed, which summarizes the great mysteries of the Catholic faith. Then an Our Father (Protestants call it the Lord’s Prayer),  introduces each mystery, followed by many, many recitations of Hail Mary in each section. There are four sets of Mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and––added by Saint John Paul II in 2002––the Luminous.  Which version of the Rosary is recited is based on the day of the week and also on the calendar, and on the different Catholic traditions, the Jesuits versions a bit different than the other’s I have read on-line. All of them have the same goal; by using repetition within the Rosary, and by reciting the Rosary daily, the words are meant to lead the individual into restful and contemplative prayer related to each Mystery and a deeper faith. The idea is the repetition of the words helps us to enter into the silence of our hearts. The Rosary can be said privately or with a group or it can be done as a read and respond as a group chant, as was done at this retreat. It took close to 30 minutes at the retreat to recite each day, despite saying each part fairly rapidly, some in the group almost turning into a competition on how fast and loud they could respond, the result exhilarating but not the hypnotic chant to lure us into silent contemplation as it is intended.

I did not strangely, feel like a hypocrite, joining in on this daily ritual, despite my serious objections to many Catholic traditions and political positions. If you are going to be a protester, I figured I best understand more fully what is that I am protesting. The objective of why I was there was experience and inner reconciliation, not agreement or faith. We said the Rosary each day as a group walk, with one man leading it and respondents joining in each prayer after it was introduced, in a slow procession outside in two long single file lines.  The walks ended in front of a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, which I am sure in the summer time is ringed with flowers and on these cold February days was surrounded by snow.  It all felt somewhat familiar, most of the words and prayers used by Presbyterians in some modified form, right up until the end.  And that’s when things took a different and unexpected tangent in terms of my response.

Catholicism embraces the ideas of mystery and love and suffering and spectacle. I included Joyelle McSweeney’s poetry in one of the blogs proceeding this one because she is by her own words a Catholic poet, a Catholic artist, and it is from those roots of mystery and divine that her art arises.  Look back at the poem Cool Whip and see that in a different light given that perspective.

The Rosary we said each day ended with The Litany of Mary, a slightly different version than the one printed below, but essentially the same, the version we said even a bit more self flagellating and extreme in the wording.  It was the only time during the entire retreat my senses felt assaulted, I couldn’t say some of the words.  I was stunned.

The Litany of Mary

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

God our Father ln Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother of chaste love, pray for us.
Mother and virgin, pray for us.
Sinless Mother, pray for us.
Dearest of Mothers, pray for us.
Model of motherhood, pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.

Virgin most wise, pray for us.
Virgin rightly praised, pray for us.
Virgin rightly renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin gentle in mercy, pray for us.
Faithful Virgin, pray for us.

Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Throne of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.

Shrine of the Spirit, pray for us.
Glory of Israel, pray for us.
Vessel of selfless devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comfort of the troubled, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.

Queen of angels, pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs and prophets, pray for us.
Queen of apostles and martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of confessors and virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all saints, pray for us.
Queen conceived without sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed in to heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the rosary, pray for us.
Queen of families, pray for us.
Queen of peace, pray for us.

Blessed be the name of the Virgin Mary now and forever.

Whew. That is a lot take in, particularly if you have not grown up in the Catholic tradition. Its a bit of a shock to the system to hear it for the first time. There is much of it that is extremely beautiful. And it was moving, the entire experience of saying the Rosary, saying it aloud with 70 other men, and enjoyable except for that last bit.  It was also a bit frightening. Is this really what all these men believe?  Or is The Litany of Mary just words, that no one gives much thought in saying, a ritual that Catholics consider as being part of being a good Catholic because its tradition? Over half of the men had every word memorized. I know the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and I memorized Hail Mary prior to the retreat, so I had memorized probably 75% of the content of the Rosary prior to attending. I have been to quite a number of Catholic services and Catholic funerals in my lifetime and I had never, ever heard The Litany of Mary.

If you visit the link above you will find some of the best crafted, most carefully thought out poetry in the form of prayers, that have ever been written. The same can be said of the Psalms. The idea of poetry and religion are inextricably bound together. You can’t divide one from the other. And yet the Catholic obsession with the idea that Mary, as Jesus’s mother, has to be pure, a virgin, who gave birth only because of immaculate conception, unspoiled by the act of love of a human man, the physical love that is procreation, is not a healthy concept in my mind in unifying our own spiritual selves with our equally divine and sexual natures.  It strikes me that this false idea is at the core of the misogyny that runs through all of Christianity and in particular Catholicism. The repetition over and over, requesting that the Virgin Mary, pray for us, pray for us sinners, because only she is pure, rings completely false in my heart. In my Canticle, we should ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, not because she is pure, but because she is one of us and knows by her own experience, we are in need of prayer.  But then, in my Canticle, I don’t believe in Heaven, so from my perspective all of it is poetry.

There is a long, long story on how the poem that I wrote below, called Mother of God came to be.  Looking back, I am no longer sure if my version of events is true, or the version of a friend who also was present is true.  I know what I thought I heard, but hearing and memory and understanding are not a very accurate thing in my experience. Two people can hear the same words and understand them completely differently.  I am not going to relate the events that shaped me writing the poem.  When I wrote it over the course of a week last July, I never once gave a thought to Yeats and his classic poem that I have included above.  Of course, I was aware of Yeats poem when I wrote it, having read it many times prior, so it could be my subconscious at work which often happens when I write. It wasn’t until I finished mine that I put the two side by side and read each of them.

I find it fascinating that fear is the thread that runs through both like water flowing in the same and opposite directions at the same time, like eddy’s in a river.  Yeats takes the reader into the mind of the Virgin Mary and what she must have felt, as a young woman, raising such a son, raising the son of God, given the portent billions of people now place on his life and death. Yeats projecting onto Mary emotions I have experienced as a parent, as most parents do, that our children are larger than ourselves, beyond ourselves, have more godliness than ourselves. My poem is an attempt at stepping into the wisdom of an extraordinary human woman. A flesh and blood woman saying goodbye to me, shortly before her death and wishing me well on my journey, knowing that fear will be omnipresent as part of the human condition, while in the act of saying goodbye, she was also saying goodbye to her fears.


The Mother of God

by T. A. Fry

The Mother of God said; “I want for you
Fearfulness – fear of unheralded brilliance.
How else will you know a life’s full value? 
This planet’s? Or a Mother’s resilience?
Thine’s Kingdom is not built on righteousness,
Nor borne of sanctity. It arises from
The wonder in another’s selflessness.
It is through such gifts Thy will is done.”

I asked, “Why must I be fearful?” “Balance,”
She replied. “Themis weighs more than justice.
What portion peacefulness and its absence,
Tips the scales toward a life of substance.
Even in shameless life death is nursed,
So thankfulness might be our undying curse.”

I asked again, “Mother, why must I fear?”
“I want for you fearfulness so you’ll grow.
Have courage to find new seeds to sow.
Push beyond your comfort level. Never,
Ever, ever settle. And if your bravery
Becomes austere, know my Love shall never disappear.”

Who Started This Nonsense Anyways?

national-cherry-blossom-festival-top
Cherry Blossoms in Washington D. C.

 

Crucified

By T. A. Fry

We came by way of insanity and politely left out the back via denial.
Didn’t there used to be more razzle-dazzle in the conviction of a gross
misdemeanor? Who said crime doesn’t pay?

Freely available criminal records on the internet might break
a lesser man.  My parole officer says I am incorrigible.  I told her
it’s sweet of her to say so, but in reality there’s no hope. I’’ll show up
eventually on time and with matching socks.

The truth is I’m broke, my pension fund raided by the company’s top lawyer.
The shyster had been embezzling for years in search of redemption
on account of all the dead bees.  It pains me to read to him
in prison from Leviticus.

Don’t ask me to apologize for my muddled opacity.   I won’t proffer
even a hint as to what any of it means as a way to suggest
I  had a grand plan. Accept confusion as a merit badge
of being an American male.

Did you know there is a computer algorithm that will censor your
Craigslist ad in search of true love if you include a reference
to Nostradamus?  But you can brag about your cock all day long.

Who started this nonsense anyways? So called democratic elections for
Presidents via the electoral college are only for the damn fools
among us who still believe that it makes a difference
on the direction of the Supreme Court.

We’re all condemned.  Look to the horizon. Our crosses await….
No greater satisfaction than he who has the strength
to nail one of his own wrists to his crucifix.


 

I wrote this so long ago, it doesn’t even feel like my writing anymore when I read it. I wrote it before my sonnet obsession had blossomed. I couldn’t write in that style again, even if I tried.  I wrote this in early 2015,  just as the election cycle was starting and a Trump presidency seemed so far fetched that smug so called “intellectual” liberals like myself thought it was an impossibility.  What a fool I was.  I look at this poem today and realize my subconscious knew exactly what was going to happen. Not that Minnesotans could have done anything differently, we voted our conscience for Clinton and it didn’t matter.  My mental health requires I ignore everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth these days.

If Easter is a time of rebirth and forgiveness, then let us forgive.  Forgive ourselves for letting the blindness of good intentions  get in the way of good leadership.  The problem with partisan politics is both sides believe they are right.  Both sides believe they are on the moral high ground.  But if Easter is about a God of forgiveness, then let us forgive everyone and find common interests to serve the needs of the many and check the power of the few until we put health and prosperity back as a basic fundamental right in its proper place.  Or start wrestling with the very real prospect that this was always a false narrative we told ourselves to feel good about our own prosperity.   Maybe its time to deal with the underlying discrimination that has created the inequality we now find ourselves living, in our cities, in our nation and on this planet.

Happy Easter

Broken Things Are Powerful

Eugene_McCarthy
Eugene McCarthy (1916 – 2005)

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Isaac Asimov

Courage After Sixty

by Eugene McCarthy

Now it is certain.
There is no magic stone.
No secret to be found.
One must go
With the mind’s winnowed learning.
No more than the child’s handhold
On the willows bending over the lake,
On the sumac roots at the cliff edge.
Ignorance is checked,
Betrayals scratched.
The coat has been hung on the peg,
The cigar laid on the table edge,
The cue chosen and chalked,
The balls set for the final break.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.

A book for one thought.
A poem for one line.
A line for one word.

“Broken things are powerful.”
Things about to break are stronger still.
The last shot from the brittle bow is truest.


There’s an old Sven and Ole joke that goes like this:

Sven and Ole are out snowmobiling on a January Saturday afternoon and stopping along the way to have a few drinks at some taverns on the outskirts of small towns in Northern Minnesota.  And as men are want to do, they are not the most responsible of drinkers and have a few too many.  Heading back home in the dark, driving too fast, beyond their headlights, feeling no pain, snow starting to come down heavy, they approach a set of train tracks riding side by side and just as they are crossing are hit by a train and die. Now the devil likes to greet the new souls he is welcoming to an eternity of deprivation and agony and so he stops by to see how Sven and Ole are getting along with eternal damnation the next day.   The devil is quite surprised to see them sitting around in their down vests, smiling and laughing and seemingly enjoying themselves.  The Devil asks, “How’s it going?”  Sven says, “It’s going fine, you know, winter’s are long in Minnesota, we are kinda enjoying this early spring weather you got down here in Hell.”  Well this made the devil quite upset and so he left the two nitwits and decided to turn the heat up in Hell and see how that suits them.  The next day he returns with the rest of the miserable souls howling in agony and there’s Sven and Ollie stretched out on folding chaise lounge chairs in swim suits with reflectors under their chins having a relaxing afternoon nap.  The Devil is shocked, ” isn’t it hot enough for ya”, he growls?  Ole replies, “Well you know Mr. Lucifer, Sven and I never had much money and we never made it to Florida, so this here is like our first real spring break!  We are thinking about playing some volleyball, want to join us?” The Devil storms off, furious at his failed attempts to torture these two and he thinks to himself, well, I’ll fix ’em.  So the Devil turns down the thermostat in Hell to minus 60 degrees F.   He stops back the next day to check on them, and there are Sven and Ole, dressed in their snowmobile boots, mittens and fur parkas dancing around, arm and arm, whooping and hollering, happy as can be. The Devil loses his temper, and bellows with the force of a hurricane, ‘What is the matter with you two idiots?” Sven says, “Are you blind?  Hell’s frozen over, it means the Vikings have von da super bowl!”

The Minnesota Vikings have the ignominious mantle, along with the Buffalo Bills, of being the only NFL teams to have played in four super bowls and lost them all. Minnesotan’s proudest sons have not fared well in Presidential politics either.  Hubert Humphrey, the greatest statesman and civil rights leader this state has ever produced and the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1968, entered the race too late to participate in any primaries.  Despite this, he won the nomination but couldn’t stop Richard Nixon’s sweeping conservatism into his troubled Presidency.   Eugene McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota, followed Humphrey in 1972 and had even less success as the Democratic candidate. Despite being on the ultimately victorious moral side of opposing the Vietnam war and warning against the increasing subordination of our federal economy to the industrial war complex, he never had any real momentum on his side.  And to complete the trifecta of love-able losers, Walter Mondale was tapped to fall on the sword for the Democratic Party in 1984 and oppose Ronald Reagan in his second term, a losing battle from the start, taking just one state in a sea of red in the electoral college, with only Minnesota affirming him with their votes as most worthy to be President.

Politics in the short term is a tale told by the winners, but righteous losers have a way of cementing their greatness as time passes.  McCarthy was too liberal for his time and in the end became disliked by the very liberals who had placed their hope in him for a new approach than military intervention to communism. McCarthy’s post-war liberalism isolated him within the Democratic party, and his failure to win in 1968 created a lingering animosity that rapidly turned to apathy.

But McCarthy had the soul of a poet.  He understood that in the end a man has to live with himself for the choices he has made before he goes to bed each night.  McCarthy slept well, living to the ripe old age of 99, writing books, writing poetry, able to recite not only his own poems but large chunks of Yeats right up until the end. McCarthy was confident in his leadership, both his successes and failures.  He was on the right side of his moral conscience and probably better represented this country’s majority views on how we as a society look back on that point in history, even if the vote tally was not on his side in 1972.

We are at a time when leadership is essential to the success of the long term path we are heading down.  We are in need of leadership that does not squander resources or let ego get in the way of collaboration and good decision making.  We are in need of selfless leadership that is invested in the good of the many, regardless of their economic status or political power. In short, we are in need of exactly what we don’t have, competent effective candidates, on both sides of the isle.  Let us hope, that out of this troubled times, new leaders arise that can restore hope, prosperity, peace and well being as well as a functioning, bi-partisan balanced moderate government. A leadership that can help humanity deal with the larger more complicated issues facing us in restoring the health of this planet and it’s inhabitants and deliver health care that is within the reach of all.

With the surreal nature of our current days, it is hard for my brain to function.  I have written next to nothing in terms of poetry this year, 2020 starting out as a barren desert in terms of my creativity.  I have never understood where most of my poetry originates, but this sonnet came about very slowly over the past two months, with far too many revisions to feel like it has any real purpose.  I still read it and think its jiggly goobly-dee-gook. At present, I am mostly annoyed with it, having spent far too much time indoors with it as my only companion and tired of its nagging persistence to continue on fussing with it, thinking something interesting might yet emerge. I am sharing this working draft, only as an admission that even writing is a poor companion when cooped up indoors alone, in need of human contact.  My fellow bloggers and poets, may all of you fare better.  At the same time, I see a little spark lurking somewhere in it.  I hope this sonnet is my self conscious, goading me on, with age 60 still a few years away, to stay optimistic in these surreal days and weeks, and keep dancing.


To Dance The Jig At 60

By T. A. Fry

Rounding to the final quarter lap,
Most ready, eccentric with intention;
No hero’s welcome in my tattered maps,
Semi-precious stones and pretense of direction.

Abundant, a  love surrounds me,
A threnody? To dance the jig at sixty.
Unwind old creaks and pangs and zings,
It’s frisky, if not quite wholly steady.

Wearied, more or less, pedestrian these pains,
The stuff of age and overuse, retread
Or lose the stage, for much is left to gain!

I can hear sweet nothings; revisiting your words,
Humming old refrains.  Hoping murmurs aural,
Are love’s echoes, the ones my soul sustains.