I heard the sweet voice of a robin,
High up in the maple tree,
Joyously, singing his happy song
To his feathered mate, in glee!…
If we could be like this tiny bird,
Just living from day to day,
Holding no bitterness in our hearts
For those we meet on our way…
Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings.
The artist’s earliest effort wrought with care,
The bard’s first ballad, written in his tears,
Set by his later toil seems poor and tame.
And into nothing dwindles at the test.
So with the passions of maturer years
Let those who will demand the first fond flame,
Give me the heart’s last love, for that is best.
The fears of what may come to pass, I cast them all away, Among the clover scented grass, Among the new-mown hay
Louise Imogen Guiney
BY ROBERT FROST
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
It was a busy week at the farm. The alpaca got sheared, the hay field was cut and baled and the 160 new square bales stacked in the shed. You can tell by Captain Crunch’s grin that he’s pleased about it too. Our barn yard has a pleasant smell. We have a small Case IH utility tractor, 1956 55 HP with a loader that makes quick work of cleaning up the horse stall and the alpaca pen. Alpaca have this interesting trait in that they defecate and urinate in the same place, outside their stall in the barn yard. It makes it very easy to clean things up every other week or so.
There is something immensely satisfying in cutting your own hay field. This is a hay field that is in need of some agronomic attention next year, a bit scant on clover, but nothing a little fertilizer and over seeding can’t cure. It is the kind of hay field that doesn’t lend itself to much else, too rolling in some areas, too wet in others, it fits its purpose as pasture for the horse and hay cut once a year. The hay field is surrounded by huge preserve and wetlands, which makes for great habitat for birds and insects and wildlife. It is the kind of hayfield that is disappearing in my county, sadly to development and new houses. We are hoping to hold on to this little slice during our lifetimes.
When you see pictures of Robert Frost, it’s clear he was a farmer at heart. The poetry of his that I am most attracted to are his postcards in words of his life and observations of nature on the farm. Frost is at his best in my mind when he is simplest in his words. I hope to follow in his foot steps and grow old tending to fruit trees, a chicken or two, some bees and a garden that requires daily attention. It is not surprising that there are many references to pastures in poetry. Seek out a pasture and lay down in it. Watch the clouds go by for a bit quietly, hiding in the grass. And then slowly peek above the grass, look about and see what comes to visit you. Is it any surprise that pastures are an inspiration to writers throughout history?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul;
When I was a child my Mother hung the stars and strips flag outside our front door each fourth of July. She did it on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as well. It was a gesture to honor her Father, who served in both World War I and World War II. She was genuinely patriotic. It was a high quality flag, with a good wooden pole and gold knob at the end. It was stored in our front coat closet and sometimes when we played hide and seek when I was little I would hide in that closet in the dark corner and unfurl a bit of the flag and cloak myself behind it. It was a winning strategy.
Hiding behind the flag has been a winning strategy for politicians forever. An inflated sense of patriotism seems to be a requirement to become a politician. It feels harder to for me to be patriotic these days. Yesterday NPR read the entire Declaration of Independence. The opening is beautiful and poetic. It gets tougher to listen to as it rolls into the myriad of grievances it spells out and the pomposity of white men declaring everything their sovereign right to ownership, ignoring the in inalienable rights of women, Native Americans and slaves. I am surprised there has not been a larger movement to redress the language of the Declaration of Independence to eliminate the blatant racism that exists within the document. NPR did a good job of both reading it as written and unpacking the parts that should be questioned and condemned, specifically clause 27;
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
To all who believe racism is not structurally still present in our systems of government, we need look no further than our most important documents. Why do we continue to allow language to exist that is offensive, simply because its historical? This is not just a federal issue, the same problems exist at the state level. As late as February 2020, Minnesota’s state constitution still had a reference to slavery. Although slavery was illegal from Minnesota’s founding in 1857, it contained a clause that slavery was a justifiable form of punishment for crimes unspecified, leaving plenty of room for interpretation; “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
Apparently slavery is illegal, unless you deserve it, according to my state’s constitution. Of course that’s ridiculous, but if it’s so ridiculous, why is that language remain, unquestioned for so long? Removing racist, idiotic, hurtful language, in my mind is not being politically correct, it’s about being politically aligned with how we define our democracy today. When we allow vestiges of our racist history to remain in our most important government institutions, we give racism a foot hold for justification, a Trojan horse of hate, that continues to wreak havoc on our ability to unify as a nation, with respect for all people. Let’s read beyond the pretty parts of our government documents, the parts that make our hearts swell with patriotic pride and dig a little deeper. And then let’s task our politicians with living our collective values and striking down through legislation the racist sentiments that linger still in our government institutions.
by William Oandasan
around the house stood an orchard of plum, apple and pear a blackwalnut tree, one white pine, groves of white oak and willow clumps the home of Jessie was largely redwood
blood, flesh and bone sprouted inside her womb of redwood for five generations the trees now stand unpruned and wild
after relocating so many years before the War the seeds of Jessie have returned
afternoon sunlight on the field breezes moving grass and leaves memories with family names wait within the earth, the mountains, the valley, the field, the trees
“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
A Calendar of Sonnets: July
by Helen Hunt Jackson
Some flowers are withered and some joys have died; The garden reeks with an East Indian scent From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent; The white heat pales the skies from side to side; But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content, Like starry blooms on a new firmament, White lilies float and regally abide. In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed; The lily does not feel their brazen glare. In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread. Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head; She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.
Having traveled rural Minnesota, North and South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin roads for all of my career, I can tell you orange day lilies (Hermerocallis fulva) are ubiquitous along roadsides and at the end of driveways of farms and rural properties. Mistakenly called Tiger lilies sometimes, because of the orange coloring, this day lily is an introduced species that has gone rogue and grows wild. I am rather fond of this perennial, invasive or not, as it reminds me of roads traveled as a child. I am rather pleased there is a nice clump thriving at the end of our driveway, no surprise as its close to a wetland/seasonal creek and is the perfect setting for this plant. Obviously day lilies came west with settlers early on, a tuber tucked away to brighten up a vegetable garden. To the orange day lilies credit, it is hearty enough to take care of itself and naturalize into areas in which it was never cultivated. I find Jackson’s reference to the lily in her poem a reminder of how gardeners observations don’t change much over time.
I am far enough along in the Fourteenlines project, that I have an archive of drafts I have set aside waiting for the right time to possibly use them. I was surprised as I reviewed potential July drafts there were a number of Robert Frost poems waiting for me that I have found over the past year or so. Frost’s talent sneaks up on me. I tend to not think of him when people ask me who are my favorite poets, and yet I find myself more and more attracted to his poetry.
The poem below maybe hard to interpret unless you have some experience with an old fashioned well. A well-curb is a masonry, stone or brick structure around the above ground portion of a well that protects anyone from falling in it and also to keep things out from contaminating the water. If you have never lived on a property with a well, modern or old, you may not have an understanding of the frequent ways you interact with your water source. To relate to this poem, you have to become a little boy or a curious adult, who is fascinated by the cool water that comes out of the well and likely the hand made structure from stone and mortar or concrete or brick that protects this vital asset of your home and farm. Wells were hand dug in the 19th century, generally maintained by the family and a source of clear, sweet drinking water was something to be prized. Frost’s poem below is an opportunity to transport yourself back in time, when water didn’t come out of the tap, and see the wonder that lays just beyond our reach.
For Once, Then, Something
Robert Frost – (1874-1963)
Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs Always wrong to the light, so never seeing Deeper down in the well than where the water Gives me back in a shining surface picture Me myself in the summer heaven godlike Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs. Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb, I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture, Through the picture, a something white, uncertain, Something more of the depths—and then I lost it. Water came to rebuke the too clear water. One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom, Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness? Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
‘I Am The Door Of The Sheepfold’
by Malcolm Guite
Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung, Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place, Not like the well-oiled openings that swung So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace, Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face From house to house in brimming Bethlehem, Not like the one that no man may assail, The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil That waits your breaking in Jerusalem. Not one you made but one you have become: Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach Of your high pasture. Calling us by name, You lay your body down across the breach, Yourself the door that opens into home.
I have been installing salvaged doors into the farm house we are moving into. As is usually the case with houses over a hundred years old, particularly houses that have had several renovations and additions over the years it has its own unique personality, (translate as challenges) when it comes to floors and walls not being perfectly straight. Things have sagged a bit here and there requiring some ingenuity if you are going to hang new doors.
The original structure was a small home, two story roughly 20 X 30 on each floor. In the late 1970s early 1980s two roughly identical 14 foot additions were added off the front and back of the house facing east and west that now give the first floor the perfect amount of space for two people. There are two front rooms that serve as offices and TV space, then the original living room and kitchen (which were reversed in location somewhere along the way), and then a new bath, new master bedroom and new laundry room off the back all on the main floor. It is a good house to grow old in, everything you need is on one floor. There are guest accomodations and a sewing/adult time out room are on the second floor with a second bath. It has everything two people would ever need and is small enough that its easy to take care of. It will require sensible decision making on how we combine our possessions from multiple households, while adding a few new things, all into one space. We have cheated by moving most of our furniture and boxes of stuff into a temporary storage unit. Once we finish renovations, we can start purging “things” that don’t fit and paring down our possessions, something our children will appreciate when they carry us out in a box someday.
In my experience, the process of moving offers a narrow window for renovations, before possessions are unpacked and dust a tremendous bother. I know that every project deferred into the realm of “I’ll get to it someday”, is likely to turn ten years from now, “I meant to fix that years ago,” so I am doing my best to get as much done as possible up front. Its amazing how quickly we accept our new surroundings as status quo. It’s why every time I have ever moved into an old house, which this is fifth time in my life, there is a frantic dash to get as much plaster fixed, walls painted, wiring fixed or replaced, new carpeting laid, plumbing repaired as one can afford and has time to do. I am both blessed and cursed with the tendency to be both fearless and handy when it comes to fixing things, which can add up in terms of projects that I am attempting to tackle. This time round its mostly simple plaster repairs and paint, along with new light fixtures that were needed. However, my partner and I wanted a way to keep pets from going into the basement and second floor. Neither set of stairs had a door on them and so searching around on Craigslist I found a guy selling salvage doors in the very town I was moving. It was perfect, we found two outstanding doors, with glass pains that match the style of the house. The one leading to the basement has frosted glass so that you can’t see through it and the light for the stairs back lights it as well throwing much needed light into a dark hallway on the first floor. The other is clear glass that is also back lit, thanks to a clever bit of wiring, (I uncovered an existing switch outlet with power hiding behind the sheet rock and was able through a careful bit of measuring from the basement hit it on the first try with a drill bit. From there running a new badly needed light on the stairs to the second floor was a cinch. My investigations from the basement did uncover the cause of the settling on the floors and its because somewhere along the way the bottom plate for half the wall was torn out and never replaced to accomodate new runs on heating ducts. Not exactly up to code, but next winter I’ll spend a day figuring out a way to shore that up and jack things a tiny bit with a screw post or at least prevent it from settling any further
Neither door was the dimensions for the opening, each requiring a bit of trimming on two or three sides. The bigger issue was what to do about the door jams that were anything but plumb. The door leading to the basement was level on top but desperately out of level on each side, off more than 3/4 of an inch from top to bottom in the 76 inches of the height of the door on the side I was going to hang the hinges. The only solution was to remove the molding, start ripping out the jam and rebuild it. The problem was the jam was firmly attached to the plaster and lath that was near a lovely plaster arch. I realized how much trust my partner had in my abilities when at 11:00 pm on a Saturday night I am sawzalling through plaster and studs in her beloved farmhouse saying; “trust me dear, I will have it back together in no time.” True to my word a week later, I did. Both doors required my 40 years of experience in working on old houses. Both turned out great, but the key to each one’s success was I didn’t try and make them look perfect, didn’t try and make them look like new construction. Both door openings were crooked to start with and are a little crooked when finished. I made the hinge side perfectly level and dealt with the rest by shimming and acceptance of a certain amount of tilt that will add to the character of the house.
I enjoy taking something someone else didn’t want and through a little hard work, ingenuity and acceptance turn it into something that transforms the space. I have bought a third door that will be the next project once all the painting is done. Its a massive solid walnut exterior door that is unfinished. Our plan is to replace the old painted hollow core door going into the first floor bedroom with this incredible piece of architectural wood. There are oak hardwood floors throughout the first floor stained dark and the door will add a bit of additional wood accent on the first floor as all the molding is painted white. The door to the bedroom happens to be the same size as an exterior door, so it matches the opening. I have to sand it down and put several coats of marine varnish on it and it will create a statement piece that you will see as you walk in the front door looking through two plaster arches down a long hallway from the front door. Can’t wait to get started on it.
by Malcom Guite
Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off, Another scrap of paper for the bin. So, should I struggle on or turn the light off?
My muse, maybe, has booked another night off Without her help I can’t even begin. Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off.
And yet I can’t forget what I caught sight of; A grace I mustn’t lose, but cannot win, So, shall I struggle on, or turn the light off?
I’m weighted by the love I most make light of, I cast aside what’s not yet counted in. Could I presume to recognise a write-off?
It is despair itself that I must fight off When giving up feels just like giving in So, do I struggle on, or turn the light off?
There’s something here to salvage, something right off Life’s radar, or else underneath her skin. Since I’m redeemed, (and I was once a write-off) I’ll struggle on until they turn the light off.
While we were swimming, a butterfly dipped past the pool.
Sunshine forced the ripples to glow like bent halos,
and the black marker lines shivered like brain waves in their final cogitations.
What were your thoughts as the butterfly drifted to feed in the weeds?
Why did the one and only sea breeze tip the treetops with false stars?
I only know that as my hands passed over and around you, time endstopped,
and that we leaned back from our last kiss the way one tree bends away from another for light.
There are poems that I have written that exist in the ether of the cloud that is my google chrome book that I rarely read, I have nearly forgotten about them. The Armor of You is one such poem. I wrote this poem back in 2017 and I hadn’t read it in years, until I came across it the other day unexpectedly. It”s almost like reading someone else’s words. I have been fighting multiple battles lately; without – within, and I identified with this poem immediately. It’s funny how poetry connects with me differently over time, as Yeats describes; “different towns that we believe and die in.” Do you have a poem that recently has taken on different emphasis or meaning? Which one? Why?
The Armor of You
by T. A. Fry
The rebel yell of a swirling blaze Is a decibel below the loudest loud. The hungry silence of my lover’s gaze Lifts rabble from the madding crowd. Withdraw from battle; without – within. Find meadows where the sweet grass dries. Summer’s gold-green smoldering on feathered winds; Smudges primeval cord blood of its cries.
Gird the armor of you across my best. Cinch your Love around my breast. Paint faithful magic on my chest. While loss subsumes the ebullience of it’s guests; Chiding complainers who overstay The inevitable colt of disarray.
“Whether we hear giji-giji-gaane-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen. Our world is shaped by the sounds around us and the filter we use to turn thoughts into words.”
Margaret Noodin, What the Chick-a-Dee Knows.
Six Sonnets : 2
By Janice Gould
She is just this side of wonderful,
and suddenly the glamorous world
fills itself with shining and we laugh
at highway monuments that explain
how hard the trek had been for Franciscans
in the Indian wilderness, poor fellows—
conversion is the devil’s own
work! Then the stones of her dream
turn up under her feet, the back
of a huge land turtle. I know
we must be circling Paradise
because the ants enter the fleshy petals
of the roadside flowers with evident
joy and purpose (oh, my dark, pretty one).
Margaret Noodin brings up an interesting idea; what we hear is heavily influenced on how we have been taught to listen. I think that issue pertains not just to the natural world but to poetry as well. How do we hear words? Each of us can listen to the same thing and hear something completely different, poetry more so than most other forms of written communication. Poetry invites personal interpretation by defying convention and completeness. What we hear is heavily biased by our lens in ways that reinterpret a poem into our own personal art form. I often realize that my bias so tilts me in favor or against specific poems that what I read is obviously different than what was in the writer’s mind when they created it. In some ways the act of writing and publishing allows both writer and reader to create their own separate discourse, and rather than that being a limitation of poetry, it is one of its blessings. Poems are not directions on how to assemble an Ikea bookcase in which there is only one way to read it for one correct outcome.
I wonder if some writers would take offense to the idea of a reader creating something unique by the act of reading, as it’s much harder to write something than it is to read it, but it sometimes takes courage on both sides of that ledger. It happens to me all the time. What I think I have said or written is so completely altered in the interpretation by someone else that it becomes its own thing by the act of sharing it between the two individuals. Communication and specifically sharing poetry, opens the mystical gates of creativity that are perpetually a pandora’s box, with unending possibilities. Once released by the writer it goes out on an unpredictable destination.
June is strawberry month in Minnesota. The once bearing and ever bearing strawberries (which in Minnesota means 3 months, June, July and August) are both at their peak. If you grow strawberries it means you are picking and eating strawberries nearly every day this time of year. You can only eat so many fresh strawberries, which is why strawberry jam is so much fun to make and store, so that as you spread it on your PB&J sandwich next January, you can picture that gorgeous June day when you picked the fruit and canned it.
Noodin and Gould learned to listen differently in part because they grew up hearing a language uniquely American. Noodin’s creative process is to write in Anishinaabemowin and then translate it into English. I can’t read the lines in her native tongue as I have no basis for understanding pronunciation, so her poetry violates one of my cardinal rules, READ POETRY OUT LOUD, but it is delightful to see the beauty of the language on the page, thick with vowels and soft consonants. Her poem makes me want to make strawberry jam this weekend.
“….I sometimes rationalize, the ecstasy of sexual love is not so different from the near religious fervor of creating, or rather assembling language into poetry.”
by Henri Cole
First I saw the round bill, like a bud; then the sooty crested head, with avernal eyes flickering, distressed, then the peculiar long neck wrapping and unwrapping itself, like pity or love, when I removed the stovepipe cover of the bedroom chimney to free what was there and a duck crashed into the room (I am here in this fallen state), hitting her face, bending her throat back (my love, my inborn turbid wanting, at large all night), backing away, gnawing at her own wing linings (the poison of my life, the beast, the wolf), leaping out the window, which I held open (now clear, sane, serene), before climbing back naked into bed with you.
Henri Cole was born in post war Japan. His family moved to Virginia, where he was raised in an culturally diverse family. Cole grew up speaking English, French and Armenian. Cole has received numerous awards for his more than 10 volumes of poetry. Cole has had a long and successful academic career, teaching at Ohio State University, Harvard University, and Yale University and served as artist in residence at many others. He currently lives in Boston and teaches at Claremont McKenna College.
I was attracted to Cole’s poems as a continuation of pride week. An openly gay poet and scholar, Cole brings a quality of discordance into his poems, a tension in the balance between being completely open, while maintaining a level of restraint that provides both privacy and room for the reader to find their own threads in the narrative.
I picked these two poems, because they both speak about the need for human companionship and caring, even with the creatures we share our daily space in our community. I would be curious to know if the sonnet has influenced Cole and his writing? Each of these poems are 14 lines. Although Cole does not use rhyme, there is a clever meter in each poem that keeps each of these poems flowing, with more often than not the lines having 10 syllables.
One thing I find interesting is a poet’s decisions on line spacing. I am genuinely curious why in one he choose normal spacing and the other double spacing, each line in clear separation from the other, providing it more white space to hang out on its own, like the independent cat Yang that Cole is having a poetic conversation. I have never been a big fan of poets that start and stop lines all over the page, as for me it usually becomes a distraction, I have a harder time embedding myself in the poem. But I admit once in a while that technique works for me and I see greater clarity from the chaos. I do find that spacing and indentation can make reading some poems easier, particularly long form classical poetry, where often every other line or some sequence of lines is indented slightly.
As a reader, look at both these poems visually. Which do you prefer just as you gaze on them and not read them? Do you find that you are naturally more or less attracted to some poems based solely on how the poet and editor presented the poem on the page? If yes, why do you think that is and how did that propensity for affinity arise? And if you are a poet, how do you decide in the creative process word placement on the page as well as word selection? How important is presentation to you in the final work and how much time do you spend on editing on that aspect of your poetry?
Myself with Cats
By Henri Cole
Hanging out the wash, I visit the cats.
“I don’t belong to nobody,” Yang insists vulgarly.
This is the voice of high midsummer’s heat. The rasping vibrant clamour soars and shrills O’er all the meadowy range of shadeless hills, As if a host of giant cicadae beat The cymbals of their wings with tireless feet, Or brazen grasshoppers with triumphing note From the long swath proclaimed the fate that smote The clover and timothy-tops and meadowsweet.
The crying knives glide on; the green swath lies. And all noon long the sun, with chemic ray, Seals up each cordial essence in its cell, That in the dusky stalls, some winter’s day, The spirit of June, here prisoned by his spell, May cheer the herds with pasture memories.
The Cow Pasture
by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts
I see the harsh, wind-ridden, eastward hill, By the red cattle pastured, blanched with dew; The small, mossed hillocks where the clay gets through; The grey webs woven on milkweed tops at will. The sparse, pale grasses flicker, and are still. The empty flats yearn seaward. All the view Is naked to the horizon’s utmost blue; And the bleak spaces stir me with strange thrill.
Not in perfection dwells the subtler power To pierce our mean content, but rather works Through incompletion, and the need that irks, — Not in the flower, but effort toward the flower. When the want stirs, when the soul’s cravings urge, The strong earth strengthens, and the clean heavens purge.