Spring Is Fresh And Fearless

Lilacs
May Lilacs

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

— Margaret Atwood

May Night

by Sara Teasdale

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing–
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.


After several cold weeks, and taunting frosts, spring is finally busting out. Just when we thought we would never turn off our furnaces, the forecast has a high that starts with an 8 in it next week. Lilacs are scenting Minnesota air and a seemingly infinite variation of green abound everywhere I look.

Lilacs are magic. They are for Minnesota gardeners what might constitute as an aphrodisiac, inspiring more than a few to take a bath, scrub the dirt out from underneath their fingernails and get a hair cut.  Lilacs and crab apple blossoms lead directly to lily’s of the valley, and from there it feels like almost anything’s still possible this summer.  Almost anything, even baseball. 

Here’s a little ditty I wrote this week, reminding myself not to take Spring so seriously this year….  Lighten up.  It’s Spring!


Maianthemum

by T. A. Fry

Lily of the valley’s dainty bells,
Ring faintly Spring has cast it’s spell,
With peonies and iris on their way.
It’s worth the wait, to wait for May.

Looking close at the forest floor,
Trillium and elves are more than lore.
May rains make the mushrooms sprout,
So when outside walking about,

Look down, then up, take a step,
Breath the scent Spring flowers wept.
And when good fortune brings morels,
Leave some for our friends – the elves.

Our Poor Eyes, Knowing Only

Death Sonnets I

by Gabriela Mistral (1889 – 1957)

From the icy niche where men placed you
I lower your body to the sunny, poor earth.
They didn’t know I too must sleep in it
and dream on the same pillow.

I place you in the sunny ground, with a
mother’s sweet care for her napping child,
and the earth will be a soft cradle
when it receives your hurt childlike body.

I scatter bits of earth and rose dust,
and in the moon’s airy and blue powder
what is left of you is a prisoner.

I leave singing my lovely revenge.
No hand will reach into the obscure depth
to argue with me over your handful of bones.

Los Sonetos de la Muerte

by Gabriela Mistral

I

Del nicho helado en que los hombres te pusieron,
te bajaré a la tierra humilde y soleada.
Que he de dormirme en ella los hombres no supieron,
y que hemos de soñar sobre la misma almohada.

Te acostaré en la tierra soleada, con una
dulcedumbre de madre para el hijo dormido,
y la tierra ha de hacerse suavidades de cuna
al recibir tu cuerpo de niño dolorido.

Luego iré espolvoreando tierra y polvo de rosas,
y en la azulada y leve polvareda de luna,
los despojos livianos irán quedando presos.

Me alejaré cantando mis venganzas hermosas
¡porque a ese hondor recóndito la mano de ninguna
bajará a disputarme tu puñado de huesos!


Gabriel Mistral was the pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, Mistral began writing poetry in her early twenties following the tragic death of her lover. Mistral was an educator by profession, teaching elementary, secondary school until her poetry made her famous. Her status in Latin America literature afforded her the opportunity to become an advocate for education in both Mexico and Chile. Mistral was active on cultural committees of the League of Nations, becoming the Chilean consul in Naples, Madrid and Lisbon. Mistral later taught Spanish literature in the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico.

Mistral’s Sonetos de la muerte (love poems in memory of the dead), made her known throughout Latin America, but her first heralded collection of poems, Desolación [Despair], was published in 1922. Mistral wrote poetry about many themes, but her volumes published in 1924 and 1938 dealt with childhood and maternity and tenderness. Mistral was recognized for her contributions to literature and won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

I share below two translations of her poem Alondras, one by Langston Hughes and one by Ursula K. Le Guin.  It’s interesting to see how each poet approached the poem and their different interpretations. I regret that my Spanish is not good enough to read it in the original and understand it more fully, but I am grateful that Mistral’s work inspired great minds to translate it into English.  Do you have a favorite Mistral poem?


Alondras

by Gabriela Mistral

Bajaron a mancha de trigo
y al acercarnos, voló la banda,
y la alamede sd quedó
del azoro como rasgada.

En matorrales parcecen fuego;
cuando suben, plata lanzada,
y passan antes de que passen,
y te rebanan la alabanza.

Saben no más los pobres ojos
que passó toda la bandada,
y gritando llaman “alondras!”
a lo que sube, se pierde y canta.

Y en este aire malherido
nos han dejado llenos de ansia,
con el asombro y el tremblor
a mitad del cuerpo y el alma….

Alondras, hijo, nos cruzamos
las alondras, por la llanda!

 

Larks

by Gabriela Mistral

translated by Langston Hughes

They came down in a patch of wheat,
and, as we drew near,
the flock flew away
and left the startled field quite empty.

In the thicket they look like fire;
when they rise, like silver darting.
And they go by even before they go,
cutting through your wonder.

Our poor eyes, knowing only
that the whole flock has gone,
cry “Larks!” to those who rise,
and are lost, and sing.

In the sorely wounded air
they leave us full of yearning,
with a wonder and a quiver
in body and in soul…

Larks, son! Above us sweep
the larks across the plain!

Larks

Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

They were in the scattered wheat.
As we came near, the whole flock
flew, and the poplars stood
as if struck by a hawk.

Sparks in stubble: when they rise,
silver thrown up in air.
They’re past before they pass,
too quick for praise.

Eyes are too slow to see
the whole flock’s taken wing,
and we shout, “Larks!”
at what’s up–lost–singing.

In the air they wounded
they’ve left us with a longing,
a tremor, a wonder
half of the body, half of the soul.

Larks, child–see,
larks rise from the wheat!

I Am Glad I Exist

Wendy Cope
Wendy Cope (b. 1947  – 

“My glass shall not persuade me I am old
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate”
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 22.

The Orange

By Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.


The poetry of simplicity is often the best. Nothing too complicated.  A good orange for instance.  I enjoyed Wendy Cope’s re-imagining of Shakespeare’s sonnet 22.  She is an accomplished poet and sonneteer.  I have been feeling the pull of time a bit more lately, this past year having slipped by so quickly.  And although I have accomplished much this past year in attending to my passions, I also feel like I only scratched the surface.   Industry and idleness need to be taken as medicine to feed our inventions.


My Glass Can’t Quite Persuade Me I Am Old

by Wendy Cope

My glass can’t quite persuade me I am old—
In that respect my ageing eyes are kind—
But when I see a photograph, I’m told
The dismal truth: I’ve left my youth behind.
And when I try to get up from a chair
My knees remind me they are past their best.
The burden they have carried everywhere
I heavier now. No wonder they protest.
Arthritic fingers, problematic neck,
Sometimes causing mild to moderate pain,
Could well persuade me I’m an ancient wreck
But here’s what helps me to feel young again.
My love, who fell for me so long ago,
Still loves me just as much, and tells me so.

We Buy A Fish. We Are Fed.

 

Keillor
Garrison Keillor

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” .

Julia Childs

Supper

by Garrison Keillor

You made crusty bread rolls filled with chunks of brie
And minced garlic drizzled with olive oil
And baked them until the brie was bubbly
And we ate them lovingly, our legs coiled
Together under the table. And salmon with dill
And lemon and whole-wheat cous cous
Baked with garlic and fresh ginger, and a hill
Of green beans and carrots roasted with honey and tofu.
It was beautiful, the candles, the linen and silver,
The sun shining down on our northern street,
Me with my hand on your leg. You, my lover,
In your jeans and green T-shirt and beautiful bare feet.
How simple life is. We buy a fish. We are fed.
We sit close to each other, we talk and then we go to bed.


I have recently been forced to take my diabetes seriously.  It’s a bit like an alcoholic telling everyone he’s an alcoholic.  By doing so he hopes that everyone else will hold them accountable.  The problem with diabetes, at least for me, is because I wasn’t diabetic for 54 years, everyone seems to think if I would just exercise a bit more, lose a few pounds and eat right it would be fine.  I wish it was that simple. There is nothing simple about my diabetes.  I wake up and before I have eaten anything my blood sugars are so far above my target that I start the day feeling like I can’t eat anything.  If I use my blood glucose monitor as the green flag for actually eating there are days I completely fast and never get in the target range.   It’s no way to live.

I like to cook, I like to eat.  I am a decent cook.   My relationship with food has completely changed in the past 3 months, and I feel betrayed.  I feel like I can’t enjoy the simplicity of bread and cheese and a glass of wine unless I am going to ignore my blood sugars and the nagging of loved ones that something which was perfectly normal until recently is now some kind of violation of being a good person.   Eating normal food in moderation is not a moral failing for diabetics. But the only way to be seen as virtuous is to deny myself even the most simple of things.  Diabetes is like becoming a Catholic priest and having to swear an oath of celibacy, but in this case its swearing off the occasional treat of peanut M and M’s.

I refuse to be defined by my diabetes. I am going to make an attempt at trying to get it mostly under control, but my experience is doctors are only too happy to play the blame and shame game and watch your A1c climb year after year without really giving you all the tools to manage the disease because type II diabetes is considered a life style disease. But I’m not overweight.  And I don’t eat a lot of sugars. My body just doesn’t make insulin anymore. So, I can decide to live like a monk and stop enjoying food or I can accept that this disease is likely going to kill me eventually. The good thing is its going to kill me really slowly, plenty of time to enjoy life and eat lots of great food.


Fairy Bread

by Robert Louis Stevenson

.           . Come up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
.            . And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.

Look Upon This Verse

ea poe.jpg
Edgar Allen Poe

Sonnet 71

By William Shakespeare

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.


Was Edgar Allen Poe life as unconventional as his poetry and writing or has time allowed for Poe to be re-imagined in his own words?  Poe’s life certainly would not fit into the conventions of today.  He married his first cousin when she was 13 and he was 27.  I think we would call that a pedophile today, not an eligible bachelor.  She died eleven years later from tuberculosis.  Poe died only two years after following her death under somewhat murky circumstances.  In 1849, Poe went missing for five days and was found incoherent and delirious.  He was taken to a Baltimore hospital where he died soon after at the age of 40.   Typical of the time, No autopsy was performed and the cause of death was listed as a vague “congestion of the brain” and he was buried two days later.  This rather unusual description opened the door for crack pots and scholars, (or are those the same thing?) to propose everything from murder, to carbon monoxide poisoning as the reason for his death.  It doesn’t really matter, dead is dead.   Poe doesn’t get enough credit for the quality of his writing and the varied contributions he made to literature.  Poe grew up in desperate poverty and he wrote in true fashion as his vocation and made a living at it.   I think he deserves more credit than he sometimes receives as a poet and writer.


Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

It is not death, that some time in a sigh
This eloquent breath shall take its speechless flight;
That some time the live stars, which now reply
In sunlight to the sun, shall set in night;
That this warm conscious flesh shall perish quite,
And all life’s ruddy springs forget to flow; —
That verse shall cease, and the immortal spright
Be lapp’d in alien clay, and laid below: —
It is not death to know this, but to know
That pious thoughts, which visit at new graves,
In tender pilgrimage will cease to go
So duly and so oft, and when grass waves
Over the past-away, there may be then
No resurrections in the minds of men!

 

 

You Shall Above All Things Be Glad And Young

joy_harjo
Joy Harjo

you shall above all things be glad and young

by e. e. cummings

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you’re young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man’s
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation’s dead undoom.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


There are certain poems that jump out and bite me, latch on and won’t let go.  Both of these poems reached out and bit me several weeks back and I have come back to read them over and over.  I can’t even articulate the power they have over me, other than I smile when I read them. I like a poet who has the talent to make me smile, make me happy that they took the time to share the glory of their inner thoughts.

I wish our federal government had a kitchen table that each morning our leaders were required to not only make breakfast with each other but sit down and eat it together with a civil tongue.   I recently wrote a blessing to remind me of how blessed I am.

Thank you for this food.  I give thanks because I’m able.
Thank you for each person dining at this table

Focus on what’s good, let my breath be praise.
Let’s enjoy the rest of this ordinary day.

And when my wrongs need right, grant me strength to see.
Then find in this brief silence, forgiveness and revelry.


Perhaps the World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

Wonder Upon Wonder

file-8 (7)

“I will try and honor Christmas in my heart, and try and keep it all the year.”

Charles Dickens

Before The Ice Is In The Pools

by Emily Dickinson

Before the ice is in the pools—
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow—

Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!

 


 

A few years ago, I took the same concept as Tom’s Best of CD and applied it to poetry.  I keep a crude poetry log every year.   It is a google Docs that I add poems as I come across that I like throughout the year. I print it out in early December and read through it,  marking my absolute favorites. I then create a little hand bound book of poetry, making covers for it and give it away at Christmas to family and friends.

The first year I made the book it took a little figuring out. I make it the size of a 1/2 sheet of paper folded over, and I had to come up with a template on where to place each poem so that it worked out.  This is the fifth edition of Tom’s Best of… Poetry and I have it down to a science, being able to use the prior year’s as a template.  It consists of 10 sheets of paper – which when folded provides 40 pages.  I include a title page and table of contents which takes up two pages so that I am left with 37 pages as canvas with which to work. I have found over time that long poems don’t lend itself to this format, so a poem has to fit on no more than two pages to make the cut and be included.  I typically include two to four poems of my own.

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Several of my favorite poems from 2018 that I have included in my poetry book are listed below.  I have provided a link if you would like to read them. What was your favorite poem that you came across in 2018?  Do you keep a poem diary?  Have you ever made your own hand bound book?

1).  Aging by Randall Jarrell

2).  Professor’s Song by John Berryman

3).  Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant by Emily Dickinson

4). Corruption by Srikanth Reddy

5).  Stung by Heid E. Erdrich 

To Fit The Naked Foot of Posey

keats
John Keats

“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the Truth of the imagination.”

John Keats

 

On The Sonnet

by John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d,
  .And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter’d, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain’d,
.Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of posey;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain’d
.By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
.Than Midas of his coinage let us be
  .Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
.She will be bound with garlands of her own.


Keats commitment to poetry was metaphysical, religious.   He famously rejected the Christian norms of the time, in particular the idea of salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ. The quote above comes form a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated November 22, 1817:

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth, whether it existed before or not, for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty. . . . I have never yet been able to perceive how any thing can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning. . . . O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is a “Vision in the form of Youth” a Shadow of reality to come‹and this consideration has further convinced me . . . that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in Sensation rather than hunger as you do after Truth.

Isn’t that the point of poetry?  Poetry provides a respite from the impossibility of truth and a chance to live for a moment in sensations.  Poetry provides a brief silence in which our imaginations might be fulfilled with a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves, that ephemeral connection of our soul to the universe.


O Solitude!

By John Keats

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

 

 

Add Some Extra, Just For You

Larkin
Phillip Larkin

 

This Be The Verse

by Phillip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 


Phillip Larkin made English Lit 101 much more interesting for a legion of young people by penning This Be The Verse. It opens with the single most identifiable first line for teenage angst of any poem every written. The holiday season has a way of raising anxiety for many people, it brings out their inner bah-hum-bug. I am the opposite. I pretty much enjoy everything about Christmas and New Years. I enjoy the fellowship with family. I like to bake. I like to cook. I like to have people over to my house. I like making and giving presents. I like the corny Christmas shows on TV. I even like Christmas music. I realize that many find this a character flaw, which is why I am bringing you a little Joni Mitchell -and Phillip Larkin to counter balance the good cheer with classic curmudgeonly poetry.  If you have a bit of inner Grinch, may this no, no, no darken your day like winter solstice in Norway.

 


To Failure

by Philip Larkin

You do not come dramatically, with dragons
That rear up with my life between their paws
And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
The horses panicking; nor as a clause
Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
What out-of-pocket charges must be borne
Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
That’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

It is these sunless afternoons, I find
Install you at my elbow like a bore
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. You have been here some time.

 

When Thou As Little As I Am

NPG x13363; Walter de la Mare by Mark Gerson
Walter de Mare (1873 – 1956)

 

Sonnet for Her Labor

by Maggie Anderson

My Aunt Nita’s kitchen was immaculate and dark,
and she was always bending to the sink
below the window where the shadows off the bulk
of Laurel Mountain rose up to the brink
of all the sky she saw from there. She clattered
pots on countertops wiped clean of coal dust,
fixed three meals a day, fried meat, mixed batter
for buckwheat cakes, hauled water, in what seemed lust
for labor. One March evening, after cleaning,
she lay down to rest and died. I can see Uncle Ed,
his fingers twined at his plate for the blessing;
my Uncle Craig leaning back, silent in red
galluses. No on said a word to her. All that food
and cleanliness. No one ever told her it was good.

 


 

Full Circle

by Walter de la Mare

When thou as  little as I am, Mother
And I as old as thou,
I’ll feed thee on wild bee honey-comb,
And milk from my cow.
I’ll make thee a swan’s down bed, Mother;
Watch over thee then will I.
And if in a far-away dream you start
I’ll sing thee lullaby.
It’s many –  oh ages and ages, Mother
We shared, we too, Soon now:
Thou shalt be happy, grown again young,
And I as old as thou.