The Tendered Civility

books

Lending Out Books

by Hal Sirowitz

You’re always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take.  Whenever
you meet a woman, the first thing you do
is lend her your books.  You think she’ll
have to see you again in order to return them.
But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time
to read them, & she’s afraid if she sees you again
you’ll expect her to talk about them, & will
want to lend her even more.  So she
cancels the date.  You end up losing
a lot of books.  You should borrow hers.


Sonnet

by Robert Hass

A man talking to his ex-wife on the phone.
He has loved her voice and listens with attention
to every modulation of its tone. Knowing
it intimately. Not knowing what he wants
from the sound of it, from the tendered civility.
He studies, out the window, the seed shapes
of the broken pods of ornamental trees.
The kind that grow in everyone’s garden, that no one
but horticulturists can name. Four arched chambers
of pale green, tiny vegetal proscenium arches,
a pair of black tapering seeds bedded in each chamber.
A wish geometry, miniature, Indian or Persian,
lovers or gods in their apartments. Outside, white,
patient animals, and tangled vines, and rain.

 

Remembering Again That I Shall Die

rain

Rain, rain go away, come again another day, little Tommy wants to play, rain, rain go away!

Nursery Rhyme

Rain

by Edward Thomas

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.


Sunshine has been in short supply the past few weeks and there is only one day forecast in the next ten in which it will grace us with its presence in Minneapolis. It looks more like April 1 outside my window than May 2, with nary a tulip in sight. The Governor is going to need to declare a state wide “sunshine” mental health day the first day it hits 80 degrees F to counter balance the umpteen “snow” days this past winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were so blinded by the sun on a glorious spring day that we all had to not go into work and instead dig in our gardens and get our finger nails dirty in the sunshine?

Edward Thomas fans have also been in short supply the past week. I haven’t been inundated with recommendations from readers of his top poems. So I took it upon myself to take a deeper look and find several Thomas’ poems that at least struck my fancy.  I sincerely enjoy his 18 line poem Rain. Like nearly everything else Thomas wrote, it’s melancholy feel makes the wading through it a little thick, but it creates in me, an interesting thought of rain, washing away everything but the love of death.

It is a bit of an odd thought, to love death and to not do so in a macabre or unhealthy way, rather an idea that if we love life that someday we may have to equally embrace our death with that same passion to find release.  I am not one of these people who want to know my genetic tendencies for various ailments, so I’ll pass on the fad of genetic testing.  I can look at my parents and grandparents and get a pretty good idea of what my risk factors are; diabetes and heart disease. I find the whole mindset of believing you can somehow “cure” death insulting.  I don’t believe if I were to simply exercise more, eat a diet free of sugar and fat, save the earth by bringing cloth shopping bags to Trader Joes and eat more fiber that I change much the trajectory of my own life.  I am quite content in my knowledge that my yearly physical shows that I am aging well in some regards and in others I am progressing on a fairly predictable timeline towards what is inevitable. I refuse to cooperate with my health insurance provider who dangles a monthly discount if I prove to them I am doing what I am already doing. Its none of their damn business in my opinion and since the clinical evidence based on my blood pressure, lipids and A1C would all suggest otherwise anyways, I figure I better prepay my fair share of the costs of my eventual modern heart interventions. I feel I lead a pretty darn healthy life, but the insurance industry actuary tables have me pegged for going toes up sometime around 2043.   Lots of time left to sip coffee, eat my oatmeal and enjoy rainy May Thursday mornings like today.

 


Now That You Too…

By Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
Which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
Have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
And in their numbers will not come again:
I must not strain the moments of our meeting
Striving each look, each accent, not to miss,
Or question of our parting and our greeting –
Is this the last of all? is this- or this?
Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
Last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
Even serving love, are our mortalities,
And cling to what they own in mortal fears:-
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
By immortal love, which has no first or last.

 

The Bond In Stillness

challah-bread
A beautiful loaf of challah served as yesterday’s communion bread.

Easter

By T. A. Fry

One cold Easter, the lilies glass-house grown,
We met as friends to share the Eucharist.
Not a one of us needing to atone
For witnessing the other’s interests.
And oh what witness it has been!  Our care
For the others, a fondness borne of less,
The brazenness that shines of goodness shared,
Then acceptance of each other’s humanness.
These friendships minister to our need,
Of want of connection across divides,
Of age, of gender and of even creed.
Each of us in turn, the other’s guide.
For what mattered most as we broke the bread.
Was the bond in stillness, not what was said.


 

My own writing serves sometimes as a painting or postcard for a memory, that allows me to viscerally reconnect with events in the past, whether good or bad.  Yesterday was one of those perfectly normal Saturdays, that needed to be preserved. It began with a quiet morning of writing outside and throwing the ball for the dog, despite it being in the 40’s and crisp. Then fellowship and communion with longtime friends, spiritually tending to each other’s gardens at noon.  And from there came a detour to my favorite book store in Minneapolis, Birch Bark Books, in honor of independent book sellers day. Birch Bark Books is owned by the incredibly gifted novelist Louise Erdrich, so of course we had to buy some books. We then went to a gallery next door where Prudence Johnson, whom I have had a crush on since around 1985, was singing covers of Buffy St. Marie tunes. Then after a quick dinner of salmon and corn on the cob, we were off to a night of viewing short films from the Banff film festival,  rounding off the day with a night cap of wild dancing at a friends annual gumbo house party until nearly 1 am, the music DJ’d by my best friend from high school. It could not have been a more satisfying day, right down to my sister being re-united with her beloved lost dog in the morning, who had been separated from her for one terrible night the evening before.

It is so easy to take for granted the pleasure of normalcy in middle age.  Those days when no one is ill, there is no crisis at work, no child, even grown children, are temporarily undone by the stresses of the world.  A day in which the companionship of your partner is complete, from waking up together, to helping each other with chores, to making meals and dining together, to playing, really playing with each other in the simplest of ways, like dancing. I realize that unfortunately the pleasure of normalcy is that it isn’t always normal, so yesterday, I treasured every second.  And then set one piece of it in a sonnet postcard, for me to look back on and remember the goodness of yesterday.

I hope if you are reading this, you have the most wonderful of normal Sundays.

When The World is Mud-luscious

muddy dog
April is a Muddy Dog

(in-Just)

by e. e. cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

 


We had our first real taste of spring this weekend.  Minneapolis hit a high of 80 degrees on Saturday and everyone and everything stuck their head outside and smelled the warm air.  After a long cold winter, the gift of spring is an awareness of change; with the change in light one of the most compelling.  Spring light has a different intensity than just a few weeks ago, it has a different slant, a different tint, a different warmth. It is a gift to northerners who appreciate the sun maybe just a little bit more on these final days of April than our southern counterparts who are already cursing the 100 degree afternoons in Florida. No such cursing in Minneapolis, only gratitude that in the following week the swelling buds on trees will turn green and the only grumbles will be from the person who has to clean up the muddy footprints of children and dogs, who trail their playfulness from the muddy front and back yards of their houses into the kitchen to see what is for dinner, all of them wagging their tails.


Sonnet 98

William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Forever in Felicity

good-friday-austria

 

Most Glorious Lord of Life

By Edmund Spenser

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin,
And having harrowed hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
May live forever in felicity:
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again;
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
May love with one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.


 

Holy Sonnets: Death Be Not Proud

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Of Darkness and Of Hurtling Sound

notre Dame
Notre Dame cathedral, Paris France

The Staircase of Notre Dame, Paris

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
Which, being at a distance off, appears
Quite close to him because of the pent air:
So with this France. She stumbles file and square
Darkling and without space for breath: each one
Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
This may be; and it may be that the storm
Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
Till she,—having climbed always through the swarm
Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
Shall step forth on the light in a still sky.


Paris In Spring

by Sara Teasdale

The city’s all a-shining
Beneath a fickle sun,
A gay young wind’s a-blowing,
The little shower is done.
But the rain-drops still are clinging
And falling one by one —
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time has begun.

I know the Bois is twinkling
In a sort of hazy sheen,
And down the Champs the gray old arch
Stands cold and still between.
But the walk is flecked with sunlight
Where the great acacias lean,
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And the leaves are growing green.

The sun’s gone in, the sparkle’s dead,
There falls a dash of rain,
But who would care when such an air
Comes blowing up the Seine?
And still Ninette sits sewing
Beside her window-pane,
When it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time’s come again.

Of Life’s Great Cup of Wonder

Elizabeth Barret Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!

Robert Browning

Sonnets From The Portuguese
XX

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice … but, link by link,
Went counting all my chains, as if that so
They never could fall off at any blow
Struck by thy possible hand … why, thus I drink
Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,
Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most famous sonnets, a poem written in secret to her husband before their elopement and marriage. Their love story an iconic example of the power of love and poetry to transform lives. It is also a powerful of example of a writer writing for herself and the enjoyment it brought to her life.

Although during her lifetime and well into the 20th Century her husband’s work overshadowed Elizabeth’s in literary circles, if you were to ask someone to quote a Robert Browning poem from memory all but the most astute literary minds would likely come up blank.  However, I would fancy a modest bet that almost everyone can complete the first line of one of Elizabeth’s Sonnet’s From The Portuguese, if they hear the title; “How Do I Love Thee.”  Elizabeth and Robert met on the basis of her courage to write and publish despite the lack of acceptance of such pursuits by her controlling father. Elizabeth wrote a poem in which she praised work of Robert’s. He returned the favor, sending her a fan letter, telling of his admiration for her work in both poetry and her unique translation of Prometheus Bound.  The two proceeded to fall in love through correspondence of a combined more than 500 letters over 2 years, in which Robert slowly helped Elizabeth overcome her reluctance to wed, stemming from her emotional devastation caused by her brother’s tragic death from drowning during a period of Elizabeth’s convalescence seaside to help alleviate the symptoms of lung disease which effected her throughout her life.  She blamed herself for her brother’s death through what she felt was her own selfish need for him to be by her side while she was away recuperating and worried what giving her heart to Robert might bring in terms of sorrows as well as joys.   Fortunately for both, love prevailed and their marriage proved successful in all facets of their partnership.

As both Elizabeth’s and Robert’s body of work grew and their stature in the literary  world became established, she steadfastly maintained her independence. Elizabeth wrote:  “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband”.  Good advice for all writers. Write what pleases you, regardless of whether it is met with ignorance, admonishment or acclaim. Sometimes the best work is written for an audience of one.


 

Epilogue

by Robert Browning

At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned—
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
—Pity me?

Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
What had I on earth to do
With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
—Being—who?

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

No, at noonday in the bustle of man’s work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
“Strive and thrive!” cry “Speed,—fight on, fare ever
There as here!”