The seasons revolve and the years change
With no assistance or supervision.
The moon, without taking thought,
Moves in its cycle, full, crescent, and full.
The white moon enters the heart of the river;
The air is drugged with azalea blossoms;
Deep in the night a pine cone falls;
Our campfire dies out in the empty mountains.
The sharp stars flicker in the tremulous branches;
The lake is black, bottomless in the crystalline night;
High in the sky the Norther Crown
Is cut in half by the dim summit of a snow peak.
O heart, heart, so singularly
Intransigent and corruptible,
Here we lie entranced by the starlit water,
And moments that should each last forever
Slide unconsciously by like water.
There are days we are more attuned to the relentless march of time than others. Sitting through another endless business meeting yesterday, trying to stay interested, I felt like the protagonist of Gary Snyder’s poem below. White collar, blue collar and everything in between, any one of us who works a job long enough starts to wonder where time went.
It’s why Rexroth’s gorgeous poem about connecting with nature and the timeless quality such experiences can create in our life speaks to me. I had my first camp fire of the summer last weekend. Sitting beneath the stars with the embers twinkling I was connected to my past, present and future self in that simplicity of silence. We all feel like there will be another spring, even if we are appreciating the one we have. Nina Simone voiced it honestly. Living in the moment is easier said then done sometimes, but worth the effort. Do you have plans for a campfire this summer? Who will you enjoy its fiery presence with?
Hay For The Horses
by Gary Snyder
He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.
“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth
by Marjorie Maddox
Dreams brimming over,
childhood stretched out in legs,
this is the moment replayed on winter days
when frost covers the field,
when age steals away wishes.
Glorious sleep that seeps back there
to the glory of our baseball days.
All is right with the world, the opening of the baseball season has begun. I had the good fortune to watch the Minnesota Twins on opening day on Thursday with one of my best friends, the Twins kicking off the season with a tidy win in 2 hours 18 minutes, Jose Berrios pitching like an ace and Marwin Gonzalez knocked in the only two runs the Twins would need. After the long winter in Minnesota, the green grass of Target Field was a pleasure to behold.
There is a long history of writing and baseball but it is dominated by the prose of sports writers and not poetry. Poetry and baseball feels like it should be a good fit, but somehow the two aren’t a natural double play. I had to look a while to find two poems that I think have the right feel about a game I continue to love.
It’s hard to explain why I like baseball, there is much about the game that is excruciatingly slow, but that is part of its charm. A baseball game is an invitation to a 3 hour conversation with a friend with spurts of drama thrown in around a hot dog and a beer. It doesn’t require 100 percent of your concentration, it allows for a connection with the person(s) you came with and your fellow fans sitting near. A season is not made or lost on the outcome of one game, no matter how well or poorly your team plays. Baseball is a game of sustained excellence, mediocrity and poor play all on the same team in the same year. It’s hard to predict how a team will be coming out of spring training, but I’m optimistic that the Twins are poised to have a better year in 2019 than 2018.
Regardless if you’re a Yankee’s fan, a Dodger fan, a Cubs fan, a Brewer’s fan, a Twin’s fan or any other team’s fan, I hope you find yourself in the seats on a sunny day of your favorite team, take a friend and enjoy the start of a new season.
A Late Elegy For A Baseball Player
By Felix N. Stefanile
He was all back,
his stance was clumsy,
ran like a horse,
smiled with a dimple,
but Time cut him,
as easy as that,
bowled him right over,
muscle and all, for
a crick in his honest back-
the well wrought stallion,
cleats on his shoes,
and a hometown shoulder,
full of country bumps.
We read about Herakles,
and the hairy Samson,
and fake Olympic games;
the whole world boos;
but here’s Big Lou
whom Death bowled over
as the sun rose,
a lazy foul ball,
and a whole generation
of the running boys
pull up, cry loud,
At what Death caught.
We have a little sister and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister when suitors besiege her?
If she is a wall, we will build a silver turret upon her. If she is a door, we will bolt her with beams of cedarwood.
I am a wall and my breasts are towers. But for my lover I am a city of peace.
It is Sunday morning, we lose a precious hour today, in this foolishness of changing clocks, but not time. We should never move clocks forward. We should only move them back an hour, always giving us one more hour on a Sunday until we wake in the dead of night and then we would stop pretending time is something we can manipulate and give this idiocy up.
I write this post knowing my words won’t do it fairness, the beauty of the real life discovery far beyond what I can share in words. But here goes.
I think everyone should indulge themselves with the serendipity that used book stores provide. About a month ago, the evening before the weather forecast said we were going to get a foot of snow, I stopped by my local used book store and figured I needed a book or two if I was going to be snowed in the next day. As I usually do, I went to the poetry section and just looked at authors and titles. To my surprise, I discovered a volume that was on my long-term shopping list, an author who just recently came into my consciousness, Chana Bloch, who published back in 1995 a new translation of the Song of Songs or as it more widely known if you have a bible at hand, The Song of Solomon or by a less familiar name, The Canticle of Canticles.
The translation itself is short, taking me less than 30 minutes to read through the first time, the bulk of the book is made up of a lengthy academic forward and then an exhaustive line by line justification, (word by word in some cases), for the translation based on the Bloch’s selection of words, in their attempt to stay true to the ancient text, but setting it free as poetry not scripture.
What makes this poem remarkable is what it does not say. It is the only book in the Bible that does not contain the word “God”, not once. It is the only book in the Bible that I am aware, in which the narrator is in first person as a young female; an empowered, strong, sensual female, for whom sexuality is not something to be avoided or ashamed, but is a thing that is sacred, a sanctity to be shared with her lover and her God.
“I am dark, daughters of Jerusalem, and I am beautiful! Dark as the tents of Kedar, lavish as Solomon’s tapestries.”
Song of Songs 1:5:6 Translation by Ariel and Chana Bloch
I cannot do an analysis of the poem justice, so I will not even try. This is a poem that in the last month I have probably read 15 times. I am simply absorbing it at this point, its’ insights unwrapping itself in my consciousness at its own pace. But what I will tell you is that for me, it has restored a little wonder in my soul. I recommend you find a copy for yourself and see what it could do for you.
The real story today is what happened several days after the snow day. I had read the poem through probably 3 times by that point and my curiosity got the better of me on how the Bloch translation compared to my Mother’s Bible. So I got out of bed and went and retrieved her Bible and slid into bed under the glow of my reading lamp. I am not familiar enough with the Bible to know exactly where The Song of Solomon lies so I went to the table of contents in the front, found the page number and made an attempt to open it up close to its beginning. As I did a sheet of paper fell out along with several very old pressed rose petals, pressed so thin with time between the Bible’s pages that they fell out on my naked belly in a flutter motion startling me. I carefully picked up the rose petals, trying not to damage them and set them on my bedside table and then picked up the piece of paper. This is what it said;
The prayer, (poem), is one written by Mother’s and my good friend Liz Heller. The next time I visited Liz, I told her the story, read a little of the Blochs’ translation and read to her, her own words. She smiled deep in thought and we sat for a bit and she said to her friend Jerry who was seated by her having lunch “You didn’t know I was a poet, did you Jerry?” And he said, “There are lots of things I know about you Liz.”
Where ever this post finds you today, give some thought to being a city of peace, for yourself and those you love.
Flour and Ash
by Chana Bloch
“Make flour into dough,” she answers,
“and fire will turn it into food.
Ash is the final abstraction of matter.
You can just brush it away.”
She tacks a sheet of paper to the wall,
dips her hand in a palette of flour and ash,
applies the fine soft powders with a fingertip,
highlighting in chalk and graphite,
blending, blurring with her thumb.
Today she is working in seven shades of gray.
Outside the door, day lilies
in the high flush of summer-
about-to-be-fall. Her garden burns
red and yellow in the dry August air
and is not consumed.
Inside, on the studio wall, a heavy
thickens and rises. Footsteps grime the snow.
The about-to-be-dead line up on the ramp
with their boxy suitcases,
When I get too close she yanks me back.
She hovers over her creation
though she too has a mind
to brush against that world
and wipe it out.
The poetry that sustains me is when I feel that, for a minute, the clouds have parted and I’ve seen ecstasy or something.
by Rita Dove
One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.
No one! She had strayed from the herd.
(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don’t answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.
There are several well-reasoned analysis of this poem which say that it is about parenting and cautioning children about the dangers of strangers, with Hades in his carriage from the underworld a pretty grandiose stranger. But that is not what this poem speaks to me. I find in her words an artist’s admission to the lure of poetry and writing. The splendid terribleness of having to let go and fall and fall into your own pit of your imagination. And then find in that falling the beautiful truth of whatever it is that you are going to write about and the courage to share.
The goddess Persephone is a crazy metaphor to begin with in shaping this sonnet. She is the goddess of the plant kingdom and prosperity of the harvest. Yet she is kidnapped by Hades into the underworld to be his wife, bringing famine to the world as nothing can grow where no light reaches. There is not a true poet alive who feels they have any choice but to write even if they starve in some ways for it. Their purpose in life has been kidnapped in search of the right words, to write words, to impart the intangible in a way that they themselves and possibly their readers can grasp ecstasy for a moment.
Artists, teachers, clergy and everyone else who peddles in matters of the soul eventually have to give themselves wholly over to the pursuit of their vocation, even if it means entrapment in a place that does not always serve their best interest. It is not a choice that can be made halfway. You either commit and succeed or are reticent and fail. Hades’ Pitch, the sonnet below, I think is a continuation of this admission, that in finding her artistic voice, she had to accept the lure of fire and darkness that comes with commitment, passion and desire. A poet experiences unpleasantness, the process of writing comes easy to some, but for most is hard work and not everything they are going to write is going to be about subjects that want to visit or revisit. Great art sometimes is about scars or leaves them in its creation. Fisherman have callouses on their hands. Writers have callouses on their reputations, for half the critics will evaluate you for your best work and the other half judge you only by your worst.
I love the quote from Audre Lorde below and believe it to be true of all great artists like Rita Dove as well; “that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.” What are you teaching or creating today to continue being?
I am Black, Woman, and Poet—fact, and outside the realm of choice. I can choose only to be or not be, and in various combinations of myself. And as my breath is a part of my breathing, my eyes of my seeing, all that I am is of who I am, is of what I do. The shortest statement of philosophy I have is my living, or the word ‘I.’
Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker, for already my children betray me in television, in plastic, in misplaced angers.
Last spring, under a National Endowment to the Arts Grand, I spent some time as Poet in Residence at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where I became convinced, anti-academic though I am, that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.
At the City University of New York, I teach young people.
by Rita Dove
If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there
on the inside, above the bone—leans closer,
breath of lime and pepper—I know I could
make love to you. She considers
this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite
sure what he meant. He was good
with words, words that went straight to the liver.
Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom—
cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone
gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire?
Her ankle burns where he described it. She sighs
just as her mother above ground stumbles, is caught
by the fetlock—bereft in an instant—
while the Great Man drives home his desire.
“I am so tired of waiting, Aren’t you For the world to become good And beautiful and kind?
~ Langston Hughes
by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Dreams were a constant theme in Langston Hughes writing from his first published poem, Weary Blues, to one of his most famous, Harlem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load
Or does it explode?
When Elmer Rice, a playwright, sent out a questionnaire to others on the black list from Senator McCarthy’s investigation into “Anti-American” activities, Langston Hughes, who was at the top of the list replied in a 1952 letter:
Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:
The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.
He goes on to give a more thorough scorching of the racism and lack of opportunity he has faced in career, because of racism. I am always drawn to Hughes for his honesty. There is a righteous anger that runs through the back bone of his verse, even in his poems of joy, that gives it validity and strength. I have shared other Hughes poems in earlier posts, including his poem Let America Be America Again a much more compelling vision for change than our president’s red MAGA hat – which represents to me when I see it, a buffoon puffing his chest to “Make Assholes Great Again.”
Hughes’ poem below, As I Grow Older, brings the imagery of walls into focus. It is a powerful reminder that walls have symbolism far beyond their physical presence. Walls can serve a purpose in making peace between neighbors and providing physical security. But walls that are meant only to keep people corralled in ways that prevent them from seeing their hope for the future serve no one’s best interest and will eventually be torn down with time.
Let’s spend our money wisely. Let’s support the arts with federal tax dollars with equal zeal with which we invest in the military and border security and see which one in the end moves us further forward in meeting the ideals of what America can be, with a just, strong and safe, civil society.
As I Grew Older
by Langston Hughes
It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
And then the wall rose,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
The Song of The Ungirt Runners
by Charles Hamilton Sorley
We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.