Through Faith

William Bradford (1590 – 1657)

Hebrews 11

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it our elders obtained a good report.

Bible – King James Version.

Through Faith

by T. A. Fry

Through faith, we understand the worlds were framed
By God’s words; that things are not made solely
Of which they appear.  Without faith, it is
Impossible to please or be wholly pleased.
Faith is a reward unto itself.  And those
That state plainly; “we’re earthly strangers, pilgrims, 
Seeking a country from whence we came,”
May have the opportunity to return.

But what if we desire something better?
A heavenly country; where God is not
Ashamed to be called our God.  Is there more?
Our elders, having obtained a good report,
Through faith, received not the promise; 
God provided something better; 

They, without us,  should not be made perfect. 


The end of the American experiment, may well come in part, out of the fictional character from which it was partially fashioned; the idea of American independence and rugged individualism.  We have fashioned a cloak for ourselves and our politicians out of this idea of American exceptionalism.  The idea that as American’s we are innately superior by our very founders declaring independence and then fighting for our freedom.   These noble words and ideas may yet fashion the heroic myth that will be our undoing;  the idea that you can make it in this country by yourself, if you just apply yourself and work hard and don’t let the government or anyone else get in your way.  What that myth ignores, is that the reason that all of us have things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving is because of others’ contributions, small and large, to our successes and our failures.  The Plymouth plantation survived, the reason the revolution succeeded, when so many others prior to it did not, was because groups worked together, communally, with the belief that they could build something better together, build it through self sacrifice for the betterment of others, where alone, they would fail. 

It is ironic then,  the heroic myth of American exceptionalism and independence is partially responsible for bringing us to the brink of fracturing, has created a divide that is growing through a proclamation of self service, when the need to work cooperatively could not be more beneficial for all.   This failing should not be a surprise.  It is because we suffer as human’s from the same challenges of being human that William Bradford and his fellow colonists on the Mayflower did nearly 400 years ago, our egos get in the way of our better selves. 

Bradford penned a journal of his voyage and establishment of the Plymouth colony, that was published by his sons after his death.   A devout Christian, a man of faith and also realism, he believed that his faith in God, could help guide the providence of his community and his family if they worked together with the idea of a common good.   He observed: 

“The settlers, too, began to grow in prosperity, through the influx of many people to the country, especially to the Bay of Massachusetts. Thereby corn and cattle rose to a high price, and many were enriched, and commodities grew plentiful. But in other regards this benefit turned to their harm, and this accession of strength to weakness. For as their stocks increased and became more saleable, there was no longer any holding them together; they must of necessity obtain bigger holdings, otherwise they could not keep their cattle; and having oxen they must have land for ploughing. So in time no one thought he could live unless he had cattle and a great deal of land to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks.”

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Bradford was a poet as well.  Most of his poetry is religious in nature or what we would now call patriotic.  Bradford wanted for his sons and their families to have something better than what his opportunities had been in England.  I found humorous that Bradford wrote poetry complaining about various things he considered sinful, including – Ranters, proving not much has changed in 400 years, only the technology with which the Ranters rant. 


On The Various Heresies In Old And New England, With An Appeal To The Presbyterians (Excerpt)

By William Bradford


Nor need you fear sin to commit,
For Christ hath satisfied for it.
But these doctrines make men profane,
And bring dishonor to Christ’s name.
Now faith is made, hereby, to be
A dead body, as you may see;
And these are but a wretched race,
That they abuse God’s holy grace.

Ranters
Next unto these we may bring in
The filthy Ranters, near of kin.
Where had they first their rise or name?
I know not from the devil they came.
The Adamites they are most like,
But more against public shame do strike.
Cynic-like, as vile as dogs,
Carry themselves as filthy hogs,
Yea worse than brutes, they know no end;
But all their strength in lusts they spend.
They shame the nature of mankind,
And blot out reason in their mind.
Professed atheists some of them are,
Who openly revile God dare,
And horridly blaspheme His name,
And publicly avow the same,
Which makes my heart quake and tremble.
Nor may I herein dissemble;
Methinks such wretches should not live
In any land offense to give,
Of this high nature, against the most high,
And men it hear, and pass it by.
I might say more of their vileness,
How in contempt they will profess
Their fellow creatures to adore,
That God’s dishonor may be more.
But let them pass; they are too vile
My fingers for to defile.
I hope the Lord’s help will come in
To cleanse the land of such vermin.


I feel compelled to leave a footnote about the poem Through Faith. I thought carefully whether to attach my name to this poem, as it feels a bit like hubris to do so. I recognize that many people take scripture as literal, the literal word of God. I do not. I see it as a creation of many minds over time, written in languages other than my own and passed down. I see the connection between poetry and scripture and the poetry in scripture.

I found this text the first time I read it incredibly confusing. I could not wrap my head around it. If you read Hebrews 11 in it’s entirety it is a lengthy list of prophets in the Old Testament and their trials of faith. It feels impersonal and antiquated. But there was an element in it, that the more time that I spent with it felt relevant. And its relevance is in being a father and a son. The process of deconstructing and the constructing the text made it viable as something meaningful to me.

Wildpeace

Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000)

Yes, all of this is sorrow. But leave a little love burning always like the small bulb in the room of a sleeping baby that gives him a bit of security and quiet love though he doesn’t know what the light is or where it comes from.

Yehuda Amichai

Sonnet

by Yehuda Amichai

My father fought their war four years or so,
And did not hate or love his enemies.
Already he was forming me, I know,
Daily, out of his tranquilities;

Tranquilities, so few, which he had gleaned
Between the bombs and smoke, for his son’s sake,
And put into his ragged knapsack with
The leftovers of my mother’s hardening cake.

He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead,
The many dead for my sake unforsaken,
So that I should not die like them in dread,
But love them, seeing them as once he saw.
He filled his eyes with them; he was mistaken,
Like them, I must go out to meet my war. 


Wildpeace

by Yehuda Amichai

Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace

We Saw It In His Eyes

A Life of Austerity

By Peter Hartley

My grandfather was always old. The more
I think of him the more I call to mind
He seldom left his kitchen. We would find
Him sitting in an upright chair, the door
Pine-panelled, high ceiled, lino on the floor,
And he would sit there all day long behind
A newspaper. The place for me defined
Him like the horrors of the First World War.

You see it spoke of his austerity.
He dwelled, like all the old in reverie,
A lifetime in his prime. Sometimes he went
To sleep, his nightmares we could only guess.
Sometimes again we saw an immanent
Serenity, a twilight peacefulness.


One hundred years ago the returning soldiers from World War I helped spread the Spanish Flu epidemic, the last great pandemic, to all corners of the earth.  Peter Hartley’s memories of his grandfather in sonnet form are touching testimonials to the his grandfather’s humanity.  The difference between that virus pandemic and COVID-19, is the Spanish flu killed young adults equally as well as old. 

When reading about the Spanish flu pandemic in the past, I had a sense of isolation from it, an arms length detachment.  No matter how many health experts sounded the alarm that it could and likely would happen again, it felt like something that was in the past, despite SARS, Ebola, etc.  Our experience of relative safety because of public health strategy and modern vaccination technology for generations was ignorant bliss.  Despite the paranoid rantings of anti-vaxers we have lived the past 50 years in undreamed of respite from childhood diseases in human history, and unfortunately taken it for granted.  There is certainly reason for optimism heading into next year that things will get better,  but I also have a sense of realism in what 2021 will bring before this is brought under control with effective vaccines. 

How will this pandemic experience shape poet’s writing in the future?  I could retreat into my kitchen for a couple of years to write and read if I didn’t have a job I had to attend.  I would need a wood stove in my kitchen for winters and a kennel for the dog in another room on those occasions I want peace and quiet, all things for me to consider putting on my checklist of what to do if this continues beyond 2021.  What will our grandchildren write about us one day, sitting in our chairs reading, looking off into the distance?


A Biscuit Tin

by Peter Hartley

Put in a biscuit tin behind a door
Beside the hearth among old dog-eared snaps,
Of long-forgotten kith and kin perhaps,
His father on a bicycle we saw
Who died in nineteen ten, four years before
All hell broke loose. Amid the other scraps
We found inside their careless little wraps
Were all his letters home from the Great War

One hundred years ago, and all forlorn
His honourable discharge creased and torn.
Could he still hear the pounding of the guns
Resounding to a barrage from the Huns?
For if by chance upon the Somme one day
We saw it in his eyes he didn’t say.

Of Praise The Little Versemen

Ford Maddox Fordjpg

Ford Madox Ford (1873 – 1939)

“Yes, a war is inevitable. Firstly, there’s you fellows who can’t be trusted. And then there’s the multitude who mean to have bathrooms and white enamel. Millions of them; all over the world. Not merely here. And there aren’t enough bathrooms and white enamel in the world to go round.”

Ford Maddox Ford, Parade’s End

 To the Poet Before Battle

By Ivor Gurney

Now, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes;
Thy lovely things must all be laid away;
And thou, as others, must face the riven day
Unstirred by rattle of the rolling drums,
Or bugles’ strident cry. When mere noise numbs
The sense of being, the sick soul doth sway,
Remember thy great craft’s honour, that they may say
Nothing in shame of poets. Then the crumbs
Of praise the little versemen joyed to take
Shall be forgotten; then they must know we are,
For all our skill in words, equal in might
And strong of mettle as those we honoured; make
The name of poet terrible in just war,
And like a crown of honour upon the fight.


Is war inevitable?   Is it a terrible cancer of the human condition?  Is it inevitable that the outcome of viewing those as different than ourselves, the “other” who obstructs our path to obtaining our objectives eventually becomes our enemy?   I hope not.  I lean towards a pacifist mindset that we can do better as a species.  I find  the current predicament of glorification of military service as something that gets more attention than preventing conflict in the first place a contradiction of good leadership.   If we want to praise open communication, conflict resolution and peace keeping in our communities and schools, then why can’t we do the same across nations?

I find interesting Gurney’s idea of the role of “little verse men” in making sense of the aftermath of war.  Equal in might is pen to the sword is not a new concept, nor is the poet warrior.  Both concepts have been around for thousands of years.   But why isn’t there equally as strong a history in literature of poetry of peace, poetry of arbitration, the poetry of negotiation and truce? Poet peace makers rather than  poet soldiers.  Writing in muddy, blood stained notebooks may sound more noble than a peace keepers reasoned speech, but which takes more courage?


One Last Prayer

by Ford Madox Ford

Let me wait, my dear,
One more day,
Let me linger near,

Let me stay.
Do not bar the gate or draw the blind
Or lock the door that yields,
Dear, be kind!

I have only you beneath the skies
To rest my eyes
From the cruel green of the fields
And the cold, white seas
And the weary hills
And the naked trees.
I have known the hundred ills
Of the hated wars.
Do not close the bars,
Or draw the blind.
I have only you beneath the stars:
Dear, be kind!

It Is Not As You Knew It

Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937)

A sense of beauty is every hindrance to a soldier; yet there would be no soldiers – or none such soldier had not men dead and living cherished and handed on the sacred fire. 

Ivor Gurney

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust who England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives Somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

River-Severn-Wales

Severn River, Wales 

To His Love

by Ivor Gurney

He’s gone, and all our plans
are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers –
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

What Being In The Army Did

Iraq US Troops
A U.S. Army soldier from A Co. 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, passes a bullet-riddled wall during a patrol Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010 in Hawija, north of Baghdad, Iraq, on the last day of U.S. combat operations in the country.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

What Being In The Army Did

by Graham Barnhart

Things you’d expect.
Taught me a trigger’s weight—
its pull—depends on the gun
and doesn’t matter much
if you practice
proper follow through.
Follow through here means holding
the squeeze through the kick
like you won’t have to do it again,
like you’ll never have to do it again.
The army taught me torsos
and tailgates
are useful for gauging distance.
That swaying grass
or flags or scarves
can estimate windspeed,
and traveling from an artifact
to a fundamental constant
requires loss.
It takes me sixty steps
to walk one hundred meters.
Assuming my body weight
and leg lengths remain
roughly constant
and I’m using a compass,
which means I’m moving
in very straight lines, then sixty
ten times is a kilometer,
and sixty
one hundred times is ten.


       Incandescent War Poem Sonnet

By Bernadette Mayer

Even before I saw the chambered nautilus
I wanted to sail not in the us navy
Tonight I’m waiting for you, your letter
At the same time his letter, the view of you
By him and then by me in the park, no rhymes
I saw you, this is in prose, no it’s not
Sitting with the molluscs & anemones in an
Empty autumn enterprise baby you look pretty
With your long eventual hair, is love king?
What’s this? A sonnet? Love’s a babe we know that
I’m coming up, I’m coming, Shakespeare only stuck
To one subject but I’ll mention nobody said
You have to get young Americans some ice cream
In the artificial light in which she woke.

Pour Secrecy Upon The Dying Page

Gregory Corso (1930 – 2001)

I Held A Shelley Manuscript

by Gregory Corso

My hands did numb to beauty
as they reached into Death and tightened!

O sovereign was my touch
upon the tan-inks’s fragile page!

Quickly, my eyes moved quickly,
sought for smell for dust for lace
for dry hair!

I would have taken the page
breathing in the crime!
For no evidence have I wrung from dreams–
yet what triumph is there in private credence?

Often, in some steep ancestral book, when I find myself entangled with leopard-apples
and torched-skin mushrooms,
my cypressean skein outreaches the recorded age
and I, as though tipping a pitcher of milk,
pour secrecy upon the dying page.

 

America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity

By Gregory Corso

O this political air so heavy with the bells
and motors of a slow night, and no place to rest
but rain to walk—How it rings the Washington streets!   
The umbrella’d congressmen; the rapping tires   
of big black cars, the shoulders of lobbyists   
caught under canopies and in doorways,
and it rains, it will not let up,
and meanwhile lame futurists weep into Spengler’s   
prophecy, will the world be over before the races blend color?
All color must be one or let the world be done—
There’ll be a chance, we’ll all be orange!
I don’t want to be orange!
Nothing about God’s color to complain;
and there is a beauty in yellow, the old Lama   
in his robe the color of Cathay;
in black a strong & vital beauty,
Thelonious Monk in his robe of Norman charcoal—
And if Western Civilization comes to an end   
(though I doubt it, for the prophet has not   
executed his prophecy) surely the Eastern child   
will sit by a window, and wonder
the old statues, the ornamented doors;
the decorated banquet of the West—
Inflamed by futurists I too weep in rain at night   
at the midnight of Western Civilization;
Dante’s step into Hell will never be forgotten by Hell;
the Gods’ adoption of Homer will never be forgotten by the Gods;
the books of France are on God’s bookshelf;
no civil war will take place on the fields of God;   
and I don’t doubt the egg of the East its glory—
Yet it rains and the motors go
and continued when I slept by that wall in Washington   
which separated the motors in the death-parlor   
where Joe McCarthy lay, lean and stilled,   
ten blocks from the Capitol—
I could never understand Uncle Sam
his red & white striped pants his funny whiskers his starry hat:
how surreal Yankee Doodle Dandy, goof!   
American history has a way of making you feel   
George Washington is still around, that is
when I think of Washington I do not think of Death—
Of all Presidents I have been under
Hoover is the most unreal
and FDR is the most President-looking
and Truman the most Jewish-looking
and Eisenhower the miscast of Time into Space—
Hoover is another America, Mr. 1930
and what must he be thinking now?
FDR was my youth, and how strange to still see   
his wife around.
Truman is still in Presidential time.
I saw Eisenhower helicopter over Athens
and he looked at the Acropolis like only Zeus could.   
OF THE PEOPLE is fortunate and select.
FOR THE PEOPLE has never happened in America or elsewhere.
BY THE PEOPLE is the sadness of America.   
I am not politic.
I am not patriotic.
I am nationalistic!
I boast well the beauty of America to all the people in Europe.
In me they do not see their vision of America.
O whenever I pass an American Embassy I don’t know what to feel!
Sometimes I want to rush in and scream: “I’m American!”   
but instead go a few paces down to the American Bar   
get drunk and cry: “I’m no American!”
The men of politics I love are but youth’s fantasy:
The fine profile of Washington on coins stamps & tobacco wraps
The handsomeness and death-in-the-snow of Hamilton.   
The eyeglasses shoe-buckles kites & keys of Ben Franklin.   
The sweet melancholy of Lincoln.
The way I see Christ, as something romantic & unreal, is the way I see them.
An American is unique among peoples.
He looks and acts like a boyman.
He never looks cruel in uniform.
He is rednecked portly rich and jolly.
White-haired serious Harvard, kind and wry.
A convention man a family man a rotary man & practical joker.
He is moonfaced cunning well-meaning & righteously mean.   
He is Madison Avenue, handsome, in-the-know, and superstitious.
He is odd, happy, quicker than light, shameless, and heroic   
Great yawn of youth!
The young don’t seem interested in politics anymore.   
Politics has lost its romance!
The “bloody kitchen” has drowned!
And all that is left are those granite
façades of Pentagon, Justice, and Department—
Politicians do not know youth!
They depend on the old
and the old depend on them
and lo! this has given youth a chance
to think of heaven in their independence.
No need to give them liberty or freedom
where they’re at—
When Stevenson in 1956 came to San Francisco
he campaigned in what he thought was an Italian section!   
He spoke of Italy and Joe DiMaggio and spaghetti,   
but all who were there, all for him,
were young beatniks! and when his car drove off
Ginsberg & I ran up to him and yelled:
“When are you going to free the poets from their attics!”   
Great yawn of youth!
Mad beautiful oldyoung America has no candidate   
the craziest wildest greatest country of them all!   
and not one candidate—
Nixon arrives ever so temporal, self-made,
frontways sideways and backways,
could he be America’s against? Detour to vehicle?   
Mast to wind? Shore to sea? Death to life?
The last President?

An Altogether Different Language

anne-porter

Anne Porter

November Sunrise

by Anne Porter (1911 – 2011)

Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there’s a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.


Anne Porter is a role model for all of us that we can be artists our entire lives, published or unpublished.  Her first collection of poetry An Altogether Different Language was published in 1994 when she was 84.  Widowed in 1975, she focused less on supporting her husband’s and children’s artistic pursuits and more on her own, finding more time to write.   Anne Porter, not to be confused with the writer Katherine Anne Porter, writes in a style that I appreciate – not overly dramatic or complicated while connecting emotions and insights from her brilliant experience and view of the world.  It is a very personal style while being accessible.  Her poems are not confusing while also not confining.

I relate to her sense of awe watching waterfowl in a late Autumn sky.  Last Sunday as the sun began to set I was finishing up a project on the farm and Trumpeter Swans, some summer residents and others that had joined them on their travels, lifted off the lake adjacent to the farm and left in family groups in Vs sounding their enthusiasm for the journey to come.   The scale of the birds and the purity of their voices made us stand still and watch in wonder.


An Altogether Different Language

by Anne Porter

There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.

Embrace What Time Remains

Donald Hall

Donald Hall (1928 – 2018)

November

by Lorna Davis

The golden days of late October fade
As bleak November’s iron skies descend.
When tresses, like the leaden clouds, have greyed,
We see our fruitful time’s approaching end.
The sunshine that besieged us with its heat
Now leans against the south walls, cold and tired.
There is no empire time will not defeat;
Each Golden Age that flared has soon expired.
Byzantium lies silent under steel,
Persepolis has crumbled back to dust.
Despite the wistful longing we might feel,
All times of summer fade, as fade they must.
Embrace what time remains; it will not last.
Your autumn, too, will soon be ancient past.

One of the challenges of starting a new relationship in my 50’s is what to do with all the stuff each person has accumulated over the years?  This is a joint problem of considerable size and proportions.  The first problem is duplication, we both have many of the same things it takes to run a household, everything from towels to vacuum cleaners to kitchen utensils.  Sometimes its an upgrade. My girl friend’s set of tools is far superior to my own and so it didn’t take much for me to got rid of a bunch of mine that were old, subpar or worn out.  But sometimes what to keep and what to purge can turn into a bit of a tug of war, each partner not ready to let go of certain things and both a bit unsteady in what to support and when to throw the red objection flag on the other. 

The second problem is sheer amount of stuff and where does it all possibly go? I have decided that renting a storage unit to kick that can down the road is a sketchy idea at best, and neither is buying a shipping container or building a pole barn to increase capacity for storage a great solution.  There are too many things that go into storage never to reappear and if I am not diligent about getting rid of stuff, I will only create time bombs filled with dusty, rusty junk for my children to sort through after I am dead.  None the less I have delayed several tough decisions for one year by taking the cowards way out and getting a storage unit for a reduced but still sizable chunk of my possessions that I did not get rid of in my most recent move. I am consciously aware it is a $110/dollar a month guilt tax to insure I have a holding pen for stuff I didn’t need this year and probably won’t next, until I screw up the resolve to get finally rid of it. 

The third problem is each person has different attachments for different reasons to different things that are irreplaceable, sentimental or just stuff that you have grown attached to over the years simply because it is tied to pleasant moments in our lives.  What one sees as valuable treasure the other may mistakenly see as junk and before you know it feelings are hurt when someone questions why we have combined between  the two of us 10 aluminum water bottles in a drawer, when probably something like 4 or 5 would suffice.  

Most people have things of sentimental value, its  part of who what makes us human.  These objects are signposts of our journey.   It makes total sense to the person who has kept these nostalgic things, but at some point you have to fit two households into one and practicality has to influence sentiment and common sense has to kick in. 

I have found this process of decluttering is made even more complicated by being the gate keepers of our dying parents estates.  We are at that age and because over the years divorces have added to the incremental number of households that executors must settle it can add up.  In our situation, two empty nesters that are nearly 60 somethings are grappling with the contents of not just two households worth of stuff but  four or five. And, because we are related to interesting people and artists, there is lots and lots of cool stuff which is hard to part with or do it justice for the value it once represented in our loved one’s minds.  Four years after my mother’s death I was still sorting boxes a month ago that I had put off prior, unsure of what to do with their contents.  In the end, I threw almost all of it out, and what I didn’t throw out, I knew in the back of my mind, I was just repeating the cycle again, synthesizing eight boxes down to one, that I would eventually discard, I just wasn’t ready to do it on that day of sorting. 

All of this is a bit overwhelming, the actually physically dealing with it and the emotional side of it all. Particularly when the decision process between two partners is slightly different in how to approach the challenge of simplification.  Slash and burn, figuratively and in some cases literally, doesn’t work well because there are always a few bones smoldering in the embers that one of you will likely come to regret.  Taking an archivist approach and lovingly storing and restoring things I have found can be equally disappointing, except for the most quirky or exceptional of memorabilia and possessions.  I learned this lesson the hard way.   I took the time to re-record into digital mp3 files all of the children’s books that my mother had narrated onto cassette tapes over the years as gifts for my children, tapes that we had listened to over and over and over when my kids were growing up and even into adulthood. The Christmas after her death I thought everyone would enjoy having a copy and it would be a way to prevent them from deteriorating further. Yet when the long project was finally finished and everyone was given a memory stick with all the files included,  it felt oddly creepy and unsatisfying.  The stories weren’t the same now that my Mother was no longer alive, and to hear her voice widened the gap in death, it didn’t shorten it.  I know that I haven’t yet gotten enjoyment out of listening to them.  I hope someone else has.  Maybe someday I will feel differently and stumble across them again on my google cloud and listen to my mother’s read those wonderful stories and take pleasure in the sound of her voice, but for now, it is a cautionary tale on what I thought I would want in the future, may have turned out to be just fools gold weighing me down. 

 

The Things

by Donald Hall
 

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.


How Can A Body Withstand This?

KV_photo

Karen Volkman

The Thing Is

by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

 

Sonnet [Laughing below, the unimagined room]

by Karen Volkman
 

Laughing below, the unimagined room
in unimagined mouths, a turning mood
speaking itself the way a fulling should
overspilling into something’s dome,

some moment’s edging over into bloom.
What is a happening but conscious cloud
seeking its edge in a wound or word
pellucidity describing term

as boundary, body, violated bourne
no sounding center, circumscription turn.
Mother of mirrors, angel of the acts,

do all the sighing breathing clicking wilds
summon the same blue breadth the sense subtracts,
the star suborning in its ruptured fields.