I Have Not The Cloudy Winds To Keep

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Even bees, the little almsmen of spring bowers, know there is richest juice in poison flowers.

John Keats

On Seeing the Elgin Marbles

by John Keats

My spirit is too weak—mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ‘tis a gentle luxury to weep,
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep,
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an indescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old Time—with a billowy main—
A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.


 

The Human Seasons

By John Keats 
 
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
     There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
     Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
     Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
     Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
     He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
     Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
.     . Or else he would forego his mortal nature. 

 



I’ll Take It All

Ada Limon

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Instructions on Not Giving Up

by Ada Limon

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

 
 

Young Lambs

by John Clare

The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two–till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead–and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

I Listen For Wind

Janice Gould (1949 – 2019)
 

Six Sonnets of The West

 
by Janice Gould
 
6
Her hand on my thigh, my shoulder,
in my hair. She leans over to kiss my cheek.
We look at each other, smile. For miles
we travel this way, nearly silent, point
with eyes or chins at the circling hawk, the king-
fisher on the snag above the swollen
creek. One night I weep in her arms
as she cries, “Oh, oh, oh!” because I have touched
her scars lightly: throat, belly, breasts.
In that communion of lovers, thick sobs
break from me as I think of my love
back home, all that I have done
and cannot say. This is the first time
I have left her so completely, so alone.


Cante Jondo

by Janice Gould

Wind taps the window at night,
whistles through cracks and keyholes,
summoning.  Along the snowy ridge
she moans a black siguiriya.

I work as darkness encloses my house,
sleep dreamlessly in the afternoon.
When I awaken, burning and hungry,
I listen for wind.  She’ll come

scratching holes in sandy soil,
kicking up gravel, sobbing and singing,
the train of her dark skirt
swaggering magnificently

So I Say To Thee

John-Donne
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

“I am two fools, I know, For loving, and for saying so.”

John Donne

The World’s Last Night

by John Donne

What if this present were the worlds last night?
Marke in my heart, O Soule, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright,
Teares in his eyes quench the amasing light,
Blood fills his frownes, which from his pierc’d head fell.
And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell,
Which pray’d forgivenesse for his foes fierce spight?
No, no; but as in my idolatrie
I said to all my profane mistresses,
Beauty, of pitty, foulnesse onely is
A signe of rigour: so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign’d,
This beauteous forme assures a pitious minde.


Holy Sonnet: XII

by John Donne

WHY are wee by all creatures waited on?
Why doe the prodigall elements supply
Life and food to mee, being more pure than I,
Simple, and further from corruption?
Why brook’st thou, ignorant horse, subjection?
Why dost thou bull, and bore so seelily
Dissemble weaknesses and by’one mans stroke die,
Whose whole kinde, you might swallow and feed upon?
Weaker I am, woe is mee, and worse than you,
You have not sinn’d, nor need be timorous.
But wonder at a greater wonder, for to us
Created nature doth these things subdue,
But their Creator, whom sin, nor nature tyed,
For us, his Creatures, and his foes, hath dyed.

The Pearl Has Its Own Song

Mihaela Moscaliuc

The impulse to create is pure, self sufficient, its own reward or punishment.

Vernon Scannell, A Proper Gentleman.

Nettles

by Vernon Scannell (1922 – 2007)

My son aged three fell in the nettle bed.
‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears,
That regiment of spite behind the shed:
It was no place for rest. With sobs and tears
The boy came seeking comfort and I saw
White blisters beaded on his tender skin.
We soothed him till his pain was not so raw.
At last he offered us a watery grin,
And then I took my billhook, honed the blade
And went outside and slashed in fury with it
Till not a nettle in that fierce parade
Stood upright any more. And then I lit
A funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead,
But in two weeks the busy sun and rain
Had called up tall recruits behind the shed:
My son would often feel sharp wounds again.


Happy Easter.    It is a late spring after a cold winter in Minnesota.   In my part of the world, regardless the date Easter falls, the minute a farmer puts down his fork after eating ham on Easter Sunday, they think its time to start planting.   Patience will be required this year, as the soils are still too wet, the frost is still in the ground, and fields are not fit for spring planting activities to commence.   Fresh snow fell across much of the state in the past week.  A patient April reigns supreme.  

I am personally in need of a James Wright kind of spring; one where in a flourish I suddenly blossom, a spring where the world is in a hurry to become a kaleidoscope of color.  We don’t always get what we want.  We don’t even get what we need sometimes.   In the words of my Mother, a wise, long time kindergarten teacher, “you get what you get, so don’t get upset.”   It works for what’s left on the cookie plate and for dealing with mother nature.   

In contemplation of Easter’s story of sacrifice, I ponder if human kind is capable of evolving from a state of conflict to a process of resolution or is all peace a solitary and temporary detente?  I spent time reviewing religious sonnets with Easter themes and came away from all of them feeling grim. Not the kind of emotion I wanted to share today.  Instead I decided to think of Easter as a prayer for our collective sons.  What do we wish for our children?  Happiness, prosperity, a life well lived. When are we going to stop sending sons (and daughters) into contrived battles of our own making and set them free to live their own lives?  Conflict is a generational curse, passed down as an obligation, an inheritance, unless people have the courage to change course.  Who will change the course of the war in Ukraine?   If it left to the battle field, the conflict will only be seeded deeper in the fertile Ukrainian soil.  Easter can also be a story of transformation, rejuvenation, re-birth, the best of what Spring has to offer.  What re-birth awaits for you in the coming month?  What transformation do you summon the courage to awaken? 


Blessing

by Mihaela Moscaliuc

for my son, enwombed

May you harvest your language from the alphabet of butterflies, 
may their wings brushstroke your name on translucent scrolls, 
filter air for your breath, teach you flight the way I can’t.  

May you preserve the wisdom with which you arrive, 
the metaphors through which you’ll first parse the world,
the moon always a ripe banana, always within reach.  

May your fingers tease and probe all truths. 
It’s not the grain of sand, as we hold dear, but organisms 
wayward in their drift that, trapped, abrade the oyster’s flesh.  

Errant breather smothered into loveliness, 
the pearl has its own song. 
If you drag it ashore 

language loses meaning,
so bring your ear to the ocean floor.
There, neither fish nor son, eavesdrop. 

Neither fish nor son yet, 
call sister sister and lie awhile by the echo. 
While there, bless the echo and learn 

how to lie to me beautifully. 

Eccentric and Reckless

A spinning gyroscope.

Gyroscope

By Howard Nemerov
 
This admirable gadget, when it is
Wound on a string and spun with steady force,
Maintains its balance on most any smooth
Surface, pleasantly humming as it goes.
It is whirled not on a constant course, but still
Stands in unshivering integrity
For quite some time, meaning nothing perhaps
But being something agreeable to watch,
A silver nearly silence gleaning a still-
ness out of speed, composing unity
From spin, so that its hollow spaces seem
Solids of light, until it wobbles and
Begins to whine, and then with an odd lunge
Eccentric and reckless, it skids away
And drops dead into its own skeleton.
 
 

When I was a little boy, mine was the kind of toy box that contained a gyroscope, tops of various sorts, a microscope, magnifying glasses, bottles and bug collectors and other assortments of things that were not strictly toys, they were ways to investigate the world.  If I reflect on it, I spent the vast majority of my play time engaged in a study of physics.  Isn’t that what a frisbee is ultimately, a tool for the study of physics?  Also a hot wheel car set upon a track with no power other than the size of the height of the encyclopedias I would concoct, to get the best run and series of undulations, right down  to the last book, so that the car could make it to the end of the track that I had created through the living room and down the long hall way.  Climbing trees, is a study in physics, so is riding a bike, ping pong, baseball.   The problem with electronics is a video game is not a study in physics, it is a study in communication.  I preferred the world when it was dominated by the former.

I have had a hard time of late finding anything relevant to add to the poems I have been sharing.  It is hard to watch the world be ill, seriously ill.  I feel like we are watching our planet spin like a gyroscope, on its axis, like it always has and we have assumed it always will.  Suddenly it has begun to wobble and without our collective imaginations to get it spinning at the proper speed again, its at risk of falling over, motionless and emotionless.  Is emotion an extension of motion?  Does that mean it is an extension of physics, our physical selves?   

I spent some time this week in unbridled play, sheer silliness, like children chasing after a ball.   There was no point to the 2 hours other than to have fun.   There was nothing profound about it, yet the time was utterly transforming for the emotions of the group.   Everyone came away energized, excited, closer.   Why don’t we play with our friends more? The great tragedy of the COVID pandemic is not just the millions of lives lost, but also the life lost of the living.   We started seeing our friends as something to avoid, something we had to protect ourselves from, rather than the cure to what ails us all.  Netflix and books and social media can not replace playing with your friends.  Electronics can not replace physics.  Physics is what makes the world go round.  I think we have to re-imagine our futures, like Stevenson.  But this time, let’s imagine a future without toy soldiers, without any soldiers.  Let’s get the planet spinning again at its proper speed, sustainably, enthusiastically. 

FYI –  a counterpane is a quilt or bedspread. 


 

The Land of Counterpane

Robert Louis Stevenson – 1850-1894

When I was sick and lay a-bed,

I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

If You Can

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

Sonnet (On Being Rejected by One’s Horse)

by Rudyard Kipling

Give me my rein, my syce! Give me my rein!
I have a need of it, an absolute need,
To climb upon the bounding back again
And curb the bad, mad gambols of my steed.
‘Tis strange we are thus parted—by no lust
Of mine, but rather blind, unwearied force
That worked upon the sinews of my horse,
And drove me from him, howling in the dust.
Now he is neither gentle, kind nor quiet,
And he strives (though vainly) to outleap his girth,
While right and left the armed hooves are hurled.
Oh Destrier!  bethink thee that this riot
Shall, in the end, bring neither rest nor mirth….
Only the heaviest bit in all the world.

If

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son

Whether I Laugh or Weep

Léonie Adams

An envy of that one consummate part

Swept me, who mock.

Whether I laugh or weep,

Some inner silences are at my heart

Léonie Adams

Apostate

By Léonie Adams – 1899-1988

From weariness I looked out on the stars
And there beheld them, fixed in throbbing joy,
Nor racked by such mad dance of moods as mars
For us each moment’s grace with swift alloy.
And as they pierced the heavens’ serene deep
An envy of that one consummate part
Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep,
Some inner silences are at my heart.
Cold shame is mine for all the masks I wear,
Belying that in me which shines and sings
Before Him, to face down man’s alien stare—
A graceless puppet on unmeaning strings,
I that looked out, and saw, and was at rest,
Stars, and faint wings, rose-etched along the west.


Home-Coming

by Léonie Adams – 1899-1988

When I stepped homeward to my hill,
Dusk went before with quiet tread;
The bare laced branches of the trees
Were as a mist about its head.

Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks
Like great grey sheep lay silentwise,
Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms,
The faint stars trembled in the skies.

The white brook met me half-way up,
And laughed as one that knew me well,
To whose more clear than crystal voice
The frost had joined a crystal spell.

The skies lay like pale-watered deep,
Dusk ran before me to its strand
And cloudily leaned forth to touch
The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.

All My War Is Done

Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)

Where there is a monster, there is a miracle.

Ogden Nash

I Find No Peace

By Sir Thomas Wyatt
 
I find no peace, and all my war is done.
I fear and hope. I burn and freeze like ice.
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise;
And nought I have, and all the world I seize on.
That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison
And holdeth me not—yet can I scape no wise—
Nor letteth me live nor die at my device,
And yet of death it giveth me occasion.
Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain.
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health.
I love another, and thus I hate myself.
I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain;
Likewise displeaseth me both life and death,
And my delight is causer of this strife.
 
 

Some might find it an odd pairing, Ogden Nash and Sir Thomas Wyatt.  But the two could not be better mates in my opinion as poets, as each loved a bit of a riddle, mixed heavily with their rhyme. I find more humor when I look for it; in life and in poetry. Why must sonnets be stuck with the reputation as “serious” poetry?  What stodgy English department proclaimed that the sonnet has to be “classic” verse?  It’s only because we allow ourselves as readers to be buffaloed into believing such a thing, that we accept it to be true.  We the reader are the one placing lofty expectations on the fourteen line form because we have been misled into thinking that’s what we are required to do. Generations of high school and college literature classes have boxed the sonnet into a corner.  Maybe it’s time we unpacked the sonnet from it’s historical baggage, time to set the sonnet free. 
 
There is a solution for friends of the sonnet; read the sonnet above through a different lens, a lens that you are reading a comedy, it may be a tragic comedy, but a comedy.  Have you ever written a sonnet or tried to write a sonnet? If you have, you can speak from experience there is a moment during its creation where you recognize the silliness of it all – 10 syllables, 14 lines, rhymes all in their proper place.  How could it not go off the rails a bit from drama into comedy, if for no other reason than to break the tension?  Next time you are inspired to write a sonnet, trying doing it with your tongue set firmly to one side of your mouth as you write to remind yourself of the absurdity of it all and see if it yields a comedic gem along the way. 
 
Most great sonnets have at least one great one-liner contained within them.  The question is whether that one line is drama, action adventure, romance, horror, sci-fi, rom-com or stand up comedy?  It may be all of them depending on your whim as a reader.  But don’t limit your options.  Trying reading Shakespeare’s sonnets sometime with the eye of looking for the punch line and then go ahead and laugh at the silliness of it when you find it.  Don’t force Shakespeare to be so serious.  It’s lots more fun slogging through old English, looking to be inspired by its brilliant comedy, than trying to sleuth out something weighty and intellectual; Oh, where art thou? And like all good comedies, the audience laughs the hardest when it releases the tension of something more serious, something darker.  Just look at Ogden Nash. 
 
 
Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long. 
Ogden Nash

The Hippopotamus

by Ogden Nash
 
Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami

Above The Vanished Ground

Richard Wilbur

Writing poetry is talking to oneself; yet it is a mode of talking to oneself in which the self disappears; and the product’s something that, though it may not be for everybody, is about everybody.

Richard Wilbur

The Death of A Toad

by Richard Wilbur

A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,

Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia’s emperies.
Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
To watch, across the castrate lawn,
The haggard daylight steer.


In the spring of 2019, all the factors aligned for a small explosion of baby toads the end of May everywhere in Minneapolis. It had to be the right combination of moisture, temperature and soft moon light for toad pick up bars.  Regardless suddenly in every back yard, every front yard and in every school yard, where there was even a tiny bit of grass and shade there were baby toads in multitudes.  Fortunately the lawn that I was helping to keep cut, was tiny, with ample places for baby toads to hop off to safety.  The first mowing, with Wilbur’s poem firmly in my mind, I went slow, mowing around them mindfully, even leaving some grass uncut where there were too many toads to let pass in the pedestrian zone.  But the things that help baby toads prosper are the same things that nurture grass, and so with the lawn turning into the rough at the U. S. Open after a week and it being even harder to see them, I tearfully admit there was some carnage.  Okay, there was lots of carnage, the herd was thinned.  By mid June I was still trying as best I could to mow around the survivors, but I began to realize that sometimes when I purposefully went on the other side of a toad I spotted in my path, it would at the last minute jump into harms way, possibly suicidal over the loss of his pals from this evil contraption built to torment them from the week ago, or on a fools errand, sent by the toad general to make a mighty stand against the steel tank. It never ended well, no ceremonial burial beneath the rhubarb like Wilbur, no 21 gun salute. By August I stopped trying. I realized I actually killed less, and by now we were down to maybe .001% of the original population, if I just moved in a straight line at a reasonable speed and let them get out of the way.  The survivors had figured it out as long as I acted consistently, the tornado staying in tornado alley where it belongs.

Despite my first hand summer long reality TV experience with Richard Wilbur’s famous poem, you would think I had figured it out then.  In fact, Wilbur’s poem just made me more annoyed as the summer passed, I disliked it all the more.  It felt pointless, the poem and all the toad slaughter.  It wasn’t until the Ukraine war began, and men, women and children, unarmed, are being attacked by tanks, that I suddenly had a connection to Wilbur’s poem. I have no idea what Wilbur intended when he wrote it, but it feels to me like the poetic narration to the CNN clip of the family killed in a mortar attack crossing the street in Kyiv, their deaths replayed over and over again on YouTube, their heart blood seeping out on the pavement.  

The problem right now, for me,  is that its harder and harder to believe that good always defeats wrong, that light always overcomes darkness.  Does it?  Not for that family.  Not for George Floyd. And maybe the point of Wilbur’s poem is to remind us of this fact; sometimes you have to get lucky and hop at just the right moment in the right direction. 

Last night on the way home from work I stopped by my local Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things.  There was a car alarm on a late model Toyota going off a few cars away in the parking lot, blaring its sad song. I went in and shopped and came out and it was still at it. Just as I started pulling out of my parking spot, a man approached me, shivering, asking if I could roll down my window.   I stopped and we looked at each other for maybe two seconds.  We were the same age.  He was conspicuously under dressed for the current temperature and wind chill.  He had fear in his eyes and I realized I probably did too.  The spate of high profile car-jackings across the Twin Cities the past year running through my mind and he probably thinking the same, “is this guy crazy?”  I rolled down my window.  He said; “I am the biggest idiot in the world, but I think I locked my keys in my car, and I set off the alarm trying to get in, can you help me?”  A white person calls the police when you lock your keys in your car and they send out a nice young cop to unlock it for you, even free of charge in Elk River, or they dispatch a tow truck with a door jimmy.  In Minneapolis, black men do not call the police to help them open their cars. I said; “sure, hop in.”  He guided me to his house about 4 miles away, and he said as we pulled up, “I will be right back, I know where my extra key is, it will only take a minute.”  He looked me up and down briefly.  His eye’s downcast, imploring silently, unsaid; “are you going to take off the minute I get out?”   I didn’t.   He came back in about 3 minutes.  We drove back and chatted the whole way.   I asked him “where are you from?”  He said, “Queens”.   I asked, “Mets or Yankees?”  He laughed, “Yankees!”  I said “damn, those Yankees eat the Twins for breakfast.” He laughed again and said, “you have no idea how much I appreciate this.” As we approached his car, he hit the fob and the alarm stopped.   I fist bumped him as he climbed out, winked and said, “We were on a mission from God!”, doing my best Blues Brothers imitation.   He smiled and said, “I loved that movie. I still lived in New York when Belushi died.”   To which I thought, man, was that death pointless….


Chronic Condition

by Richard Wilbur

Berkeley did not forsee such misty weather,
Nor centuries of light
Intend so dim a day.  Swaddled together
In separateness, the trees
Persist or not beyond the gray-white
Palings of the air.  Gone
Are whatever wings bothered the lighted leaves
When leaves there were.  Are all
The sparrows fallen?  I can hardly hear
My memory of those bees
Who only lately mesmerized the lawn.
Now, something, blaze!  A fear
Swaddles me now that Hylas’ tree will fall
Where no eye lights and grieves,
Will fall to nothing and without a sound,
I sway and lean above the vanished ground.