“Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”
by John Updike
And another regrettable thing about death is the ceasing of your own brand of magic, which took a whole life to develop and market- the quips, the witticisms, the slant adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears, their tears confused with their diamond earrings, their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat, their response and your performance twinned. The jokes over the phone. The memories packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act. Who will do it again? That’s it: no one; imitators and descendants aren’t the same.
Poem Without Ends
by Alastair Reid
One cannot take the beginning out of the air saying ‘It is the time: the hour is here’. The process is continuous as wind, the bird observed, not rising, but in flight, unrealised, in motion of the mind.
The end of everything is similar, never actually happening, but always over. The agony, the bent head, only tell that already in the heart the innocent evening is thick with the ferment of farewell.
Nothing is so beautiful as spring– When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning In Eden garden.–Have, get, before it cloy, Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning, Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy, Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Spring has sprung in Minnesota and with it the smells and sounds and sights of green and growing things. We had a gentle rain this week and grass overnight turned emerald green. On most lakes the ice is out and our world is turning phases, from solid to liquid. I am eager to get some dirt under my finger nails, rake up the detritus of winter and allow the recent rains to soak in and get the spring flowers growing.
There have been many poets who have used the sonnet form as a spiritual medium, to let their minds wander into the sublime, beyond the boundaries of human love and into the infinite. Both Donne and Hopkins used their poetry as testaments to God, but in doing so reaffirmed their very human relationship with nature and in their eyes its manifestation God’s love in nurturing all life on earth. In this way, Christianity and Buddhism share some common themes, in that we are all manifestations of God’s (Buddha’s) consciousness and yet, as Donne reminds us, it is in the forgetting, at least in the forgetting of the worst of ourselves, that we are best remembered.
I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.
by Sara Teasdale
The roofs are shining from the rain. The sparrows tritter as they fly, And with a windy April grace The little clouds go by.
Yet the back-yards are bare and brown With only one unchanging tree– I could not be so sure of Spring Save that it sings in me.
Sara Teasdale was born in St. Louis into a wealthy family. As a young woman she spent time in Chicago’s literary circles, including a friendship with Harriet Monroe through whom she met and dated the poet Vachel Lindsay. Teasdale rejected Lindsay’s marriage proposals, an itinerant poet whom may have lacked the income to be a suitable partner in her eyes, but may have been a better match intellectually. Instead she married Ernst Filsinger in 1914 and moved to New York City. Teasdale published several collections of classical poetry and edited several other anthologies. Though her work is often overlooked today, she was popular with both critics and readers in her day. Following her divorce in 1929, her health declined rapidly. Teasdale became an invalid and died following a bout with pneumonia by an overdose of barbiturates.
There is a sadness that runs through much of Teasdale’s poetry, as if life just didn’t quite measure up to her hopes and dreams. Its hard to know if it was maniac depression or something darker that had blotted out her joy, but Teasdale seemed to run out of steam as the economic depression of the 1930’s took hold and the life of privilege and wealth that she had enjoyed started to feel out of reach. In her bob hair cut, and beautiful smile, it would be interesting to know the back story to the last two lines of the sonnet below, but from my perspective the beauty in her words will never be dull.
by Sara Teasdale
I saw a ship sail forth at evening time; Her prow was gilded by the western fire, And all her rigging one vast golden lyre, For winds to play on to the ocean’s rhyme Of wave on wave forever singing low. She floated on a web of burnished gold, And in such light as praying men behold Cling round a vision, were her sails aglow. I saw her come again when dawn was grey, Her wonder faded and her splendor dead — ‘ She whom I loved once had upon her way A light most like the sunset. Now ’tis sped. And this is saddest — what seemed wondrous fair Are now but straight pale lips, and dull gold hair.
Desert heat, high clouds, and sky the color of lapis. On this journey, anything seems possible, so we stop by an ancient cottonwood to kiss. The beauty trembles, doesn’t say a word, just watches me, so open. Small birds fly by, flock in the shady tree above us. What settles in her heart? What congeals? Hope? Despair? Far off, the river churns in its sandy banks, swallows veer, turn in fiery air. Will these kisses seal her to me? I her lover, she my wife? Is all of this a dream, my whole life?
For the wanderers among us, the self restraint of not traveling during the past year has been difficult. Two years ago I embarked on a mad journey with my partner, packing enough activities for 3 vacations into 11 days, driving more miles than is therapeutic, hiking, skiing, rock hounding while car camping across Colorado and Utah the first week of April. As slightly crazy as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat with only one change; add another week onto the trip to slow the pace down of the miles covered. The incredible beauty of Utah and the diverse nature of its National Parks and public lands make it truly one of the great wonders and wanders of the United States.
I am fearful that post pandemic vacations will become even more difficult, not less. I had not taken a full week off prior to 2018 in over 10 years. The reason: I return to a mountain of work that it makes it a worry while away. The pre-pandemic work pace was bad enough that long weekends – leave on a Friday return on Tuesday – felt doable, because I was never gone for an entire week. But that was before Teams or Zoom calls filled up every minute of every day. This idea that we have created a mobile work force that can work from anywhere is a fallacy. We have given permission to now think everyone is available on-demand at anytime and it is ruining workplace quality of life and undermining human interactions. It is exhausting to be on remote calls hour after hour, day after day. It sucks the life right out of me. I find that things we used to solve over lunch or an impromptu 5 minute discussion in someone’s office now turn into 30 or 60 minute calls. We have become less efficient to the god of technology, not more efficient. The problem is I seem to be in the minority of hating the state of this virtual insanity. So the slow decent into digital existence continues unabated. I fear, it is Dante’s new rings of hell. It’s why we need to clear our lungs once in a while and get out and see the world. Gould’s sonnets are a splash of Utah sunshine on the high desert vista. Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. Beautiful words to fit the beauty of the West.
Zion National Park April 2018.
Six Sonnets: Crossing the West
by Janice Gould
4 Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. (Speak in a whisper.) We slip into this space half cognizant. The land is very large indeed: bones of the earth worn down, though she is a living thing. See how she exposes her grace? Antelopes graze on the far plain—their high, white tails—the red soil throbs its slow heartbeat, and the blue sky clears so smartly, perfectly, like radiance. Are the ancestors near? What can we know? We decide to wander around this prairie, mistaken for Utes, buy commodities in little towns.
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms, Which I gaze on so fondly to-day, Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms, Live fairy-gifts fading away, Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art, Let thy loveliness fade as it will, And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart Would entwine itself verdantly still.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own, And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear, That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known, To which time will but make thee more dear! No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets, But as truly loves on to the close, As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets The same look which she turned when he rose!
by Paul Muldoon (1951 – )
They’re kindly here, to let us linger so late, Long after the shutters are up. A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate Of stew, or some thick soup,
And settles himself at the next table but one. We know, you and I, that it’s over, That something or other has come between Us, whatever we are, or were.
The waiter swabs his plate with bread And drains what’s left of his wine, Then rearranges, one by one, The knife, the fork, the spoon, the napkin, The table itself, the chair he’s simply borrowed, And smiles, and bows to his own absence.
I was falling helpless in a shower of waste, reaching my arms out toward the others falling in disorder everywhere around me.
At the last instant, approaching the surface, the fall slowed suddenly,
and we were all unconcerned, regarding one another in approval.
The Force of Eloquence
by Thomas Kinsella
The brink of living is inhabited.
Unbrooding as an ox, he thrusts a bald Muscular head out smiling. Though his tongue Chains are fastened, radii of gold. Gently hauled by these, his swayed captives Yield their wrists in lithe angles of peace – A charmed plight, halted in faint relief Against a line of hills full of quaint promise.
A token of bronze, long out currency, Vivifies an impossible worn world, Of speech constricted into other terms: An equilibrium of gift and threat Moulded in external breathless appearance.
“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.”
by Matthew Arnold
Foil’d by our fellow-men, depress’d, outworn,
We leave the brutal world to take its way,
And, Patience! in another life, we say
The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn
The world’s poor, routed leavings? or will they,
Who fail’d under the heat of this life’s day,
Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?
No, no! the energy of life may be
Kept on after the grave, but not begun;
And he who flagg’d not in the earthly strife,
From strength to strength advancing—only he,
His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
It can be a bit of a head spinner to jump from the language of the mid 19th Century to the 21st Century from one day to the next and then back again, but that’s one of things I find fascinating about the sonnet form. It is a framework that has remained relatively unchanged and relevant for hundreds of years. Although the language has changed, many of the themes Arnold is exploring are universal. Matthew Arnold is not a poet I would ever come across if not for this project and my radar always being up and listening for sonnets. Arnold is not a poet who has remained popular. His language sounds a bit stilted to my ears. Yet if I push through the language and listen to his themes that he is wrestling, it sounds familiar. In the middle of a pandemic, where all of our patience has been tested, his opening to Immortality is dead on to thoughts I have been having. Where should I place my energies? Work doesn’t have the same feeling as it used to, working remotely has lessened the humanness and the fulfillment of working alongside other people so that I question a bit, what am I really doing and does it really matter as much as it once did? I like his language if I let it transport me and embrace its foreign qualities. It raises questions in my mind; what energies of my life will live past me? What will give strength to my children to others? What battles are worth winning other than the one we all can win, enjoying our lives.
by Matthew Arnold
Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill, Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,
Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea, Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place, Spares but the cloudy border of his base To the foil’d searching of mortality;
And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know, Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure, Didst tread on earth unguess’d at. – Better so!
All pains the immortal spirit must endure, All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow, Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.
All that will remain after an apocalypse is glitter. – British Vogue
You have a daughter now. it’s everywhere, And often in the company of glue. You can’t get rid of it. It’s in her hair: A wink of pink, a glint of silver-blue. It’s catching, like the chicken pox, or lice. Its travels, like a planetary scar. Sometimes its on your face, or you look twice And glimpse, there on your arm, a single star. You know it by a hand’s brushing your neck – You blush – It’s not desire, not anymore – Just someone’s urge to flick away the fleck Of borrowed glamour from your collarbone – The broken mirror Time will not restore, The way your daughter marks you as her own.
The Pull Toy
by A. E. Stallings
You squeezed its leash in your fist, It followed where you led: Tick, tock, tick, tock, Nodding its wooden head.
Wagging a tail on a spring, Its wheels gearing lackety-clack, Dogging your heels the length of the house, Though you seldom glanced back.
It didn’t mind being dragged When it toppled on its side Scraping its coat of primary colors: Love has no pride.
But now that you run and climb And leap, it has no hope Of keeping up, so it sits, hunched At the end of its short rope
And dreams of a rummage sale Where it’s snapped up for a song, And of somebody—somebody just like you— Stringing it along
If I were loved, as I desire to be, What is there in the great sphere of the earth, And range of evil between death and birth, That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee? All the inner, all the outer world of pain Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine As I have heard that, somewhere in the main, Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.
‘T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee, To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills, Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge Of some new deluge from a thousand hills Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge Below us, as far on as eye could see.
The Charge of The Light Brigade
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
I Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
II “Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
III Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.
IV Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke; Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.
V Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.
VI When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
Participation relegated to sleeping near the open window. My great failure
has always been not imagining the future but in managing myself. Your thumbprint, please,
before we launch the new rhetoric. I know when I grovel I am plain. I’ve actually had a dream
about this building, and it feels soon enough to me now. For all the reasons we are short of breath, approximate.
Passion clusters as though circumstance. A terrible child, I grow apart. According to the original
rules, burn everything. Who could have anticipated what we are becoming—in constraint, in circumspection.
I’ll think of some experiment to move us, focusing on the lenses learned.
So Torn by My Tides
by Stefania Heim
So torn by my tides, I do not I can read them.
Hour book, our book. “H” in Italian is a tool, not a sound. My mother slips the “h” in only where it doesn’t belong. Our book, our book. How events just accumulate in time. Who will we lose in the duration of this writing. The promise of future children names for our beloved dead. Whispered at caskets. An hour dead. How many hours.
In our village the streets empty at appointed times. If life were a time-lapse video, lingering would be more visible than slipping away. Invisible motions the more pronounced. Once I stood akimbo, 8PM mid-street, waiting for everyone to go. I am astonished, in memory, by the boldness of it. Did everyone go?