I Now Have A Scar

 

The Chinese Food Dilemma

by Evelyn Curtis

I stopped after class for some Chinese food
I figured I would just grab a quick bite
For sesame chicken is always good
and I hadn’t had much to eat that night.

I got my food and I got in the car,
and I felt my stomach begin to growl.
So before I had gotten very far,
I decided to sneak a taste of fowl.

I waited until I’d stopped at a light;
I grabbed something tasty without concern.
I took one and then another small bite,
but soon I felt something hot start to burn.

Alas! on my chin, I now have a scar
from eating Chinese food inside my car!


Statistics are an imperfect way to share information.  Stats are notoriously unreliable in that they sound factual but are inevitably outdated or biased in some manner in which the data was collected and summarized.   So when I share that I read recently that nearly 70% of Chinese restaurants have closed in the United States since the start of the pandemic, you can feel free to object and say the stat is wrong, because from your perspective it is either too big or too small.   Yet the statistic is directionally correct.  Chinese restaurants have born the brunt, more than any other type of restaurant, during the pandemic not only because of closure of in-restaurant dining reducing income but also because of the blatant anti-Chinese racism that is occurring from the misinformed and small minded who are blaming China and by extension Chinese-Americans and Asian businesses.  Despite being ridiculous, the economic downturn has resulted in successful Chinese restaurants that have been institutions for decades, from New York to San Francisco, from small towns to large, to confront the sad reality of bankruptcy and closure. Behind this glaring statistic are family businesses, many passed down through generations, that are having to confront the reality of a change in American dining habits and questioning the opportunity for Chinese food as a profitable venture in or out of traditional urban centers with diverse ethnic populations.  If the only Asian food that is going to survive in the United States are chain restaurants, then America will be all the more culturally impoverished in the future for lack of finding ways to help authentic small ethnic restaurants flourish and thrive through the pandemic. 

If you haven’t stumbled across the blog – Putasonnetonit – I highly recommend it.   Evelyn Curtis set herself the herculean task of writing and sharing a sonnet everyday for a year.  I can’t imagine myself writing a limerick every day for a year, let alone a sonnet, so I have huge respect for the undertaking.  It would be interesting to ask her what she feels are her top 5 sonnets from that year looking back?  I have no idea where this one would rank, but since it is a sonnet about an actual scar she will carry forward for the rest of her life, I thought it might rank up there a bit.  Its a great example that sonnet writing doesn’t have to take itself too serious.  It can be simply a Polaroid picture of the moment, that might take on more meaning with time, even unexpected meaning.  I wonder if the restaurant in which she purchased the food that the sonnet is based still exists?

For many years I had a subscription to The New Yorker and I enjoyed Calvin Trillin’s regular contributions.  Trillin shared a view of New York that was illuminating to a Midwesterner.   It felt like I had an irascible great Uncle giving me the inside scoop on how the big city works.  I was saddened when Trillin was hit with criticism and blow back on his poem below.  It wasn’t quite cancel culture, but it was roughing up a veteran journalist who had been sharing his unique perspective for decades with gentle humor and a tinge of grumpiness.  I personally don’t think Trillin’s poem rose to the level of the accusations – racism.   But since that criticism was invoked, it felt to me that the The New Yorker drifted into blander and blander territory, less interesting while more politically correct.  Which is why my subscription eventually lapsed, I ceased to find it compelling.  Cancel culture works in both directions and I must admit from the subscription department I am assuming that the editors can’t tell which is the cause; the loss of Trillin like pieces causing subscriptions to dwindle or is it because of “vocal” critics of such work being so outraged they cancel their subscription.   In the end the result is the same. 

I had a boss many years ago who teased me all the time, teased me in ways that were definitely not always politically correctly and did it in front of the entire group.   After several years, I asked a co-worker about it and he said; “You have to realize that he only teases the people he likes.  Its when he stops teasing you that you should be worried.”  I had never thought about it before in that way.  I stopped worrying.  I’m not saying that being emotionally inept in your approach to interacting with others is a role model for success as a current business leader, but the truth is the worst insult is to be ignored.  Teasing is an acknowledgement that you like the person or institution enough to think about them. Teasing taken too far is bullying and I acknowledge teasing can be racist.  But teasing in and of itself is not inherently racist.  I consider Trillin’s poem a form of literary teasing, something that has a long history- think Cervantes.  In my opinion, its far worse for people to stop supporting Chinese restaurants and see them fail, then to publish a silly poem about all the different kinds of Chinese restaurants and to take the time to make it rhyme.   I am guessing that the New York Chinese Restaurant Owners Association, if such a thing exists, would be happy to have Calvin Trillin writing silly poems about the diverse array of thriving Chinese food options in New York in 2021.   It would mean that people were walking through those doors and dining.  Its far worse that 70% of them have had to close their doors for lack of business. 


Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet

by Calvin Trillin

Have they run out of provinces yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Cantonese.
(Long ago, we were easy to please.)
But then food from Szechuan came our way,
Making Cantonese strictly passé.
Szechuanese was the song that we sung,
Though the ma po could burn through your tongue.
Then when Shanghainese got in the loop
We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Came along with its own style of chow.
o we thought we were finished, and then
A new province arrived: Fukien.
Then respect was a fraction of meagre
For those eaters who’d not eaten Uighur.
And then Xi’an from Shaanxi gained fame,
Plus some others—too many to name.
Now, as each brand-new province appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as one province behind?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away near Tibet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?

Change This Bloody Thing

Marcus Garvey (1887 – 1940)

“Progress is the attraction that moves humanity.”

Marcus Garvey

White and Black

by Marcus Garvey

The white man held the blacks as slaves,
And bled their souls in living death;
Bishops and priests, and kings themselves,
Preached that the law was right and just;
And so the people worked and died,
And crumbled into material dust.
Good God! The scheme is just the same
Today, between the black and white
Races of men, who gallop after fame.
Can’st Thou not change this bloody thing,
And make white people see the truth
That over blacks must be their king,
Not white, but of their somber hue,
To rule a nation of themselves


Marcus Garvey is a complex figure, a poet, a visionary, an entrepreneur, a successful businessman, an orator and a key figure in the idea of a homeland for African Americans in Africa as part of  reparations in the United States and elsewhere for slavery.   He didn’t mince words.   I have known several people named Marcus and it was by no coincidence, it was in honor of the best of this man.    

Garvey was proud of his African heritage and spoke of empowering Africans everywhere for a better future.   He advocated that change had to be both economic and political, that African Americans had to prosper for all of America to prosper.  Though he remains a national hero in his birth place Jamaica, he was decidedly controversial.  Garvey’s writing was both admired and disliked among the African diaspora, with some viewing him as self serving in promoting his own business interests, but also some within his own community criticized him as a demagogue,  his ideas sometimes blurred by prejudice against Jews and mix-ed race individuals.  His writing and ideas have had a lasting influence on Rastafarianism, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement.  


Village Blues

by Michael S. Harper

The birds flit
in the blue palms,
the can workers wait,
the man hangs
twenty feet above;
he must come down;
they wait for the priest.
The flies ride on the carcass,
which sways like cork in a circle.
The easter light pulls him west.
The priest comes, a man
sunken with rum,
his face sandpapered
into a rouge of split
and broken capillaries.
His duty is the cutting
down of the fruit
of this quiet village
and he staggers slowly, coming.

One Human Voice

You might as well answer the door child, the truth, is furiously knocking.

Lucille Clifton

homage to my hips

by Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,   
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

Lucille Clifton Reading Homage To Hips

sorrows 

by Lucille Clifton

who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be
 
beautiful         who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals
 
that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin
 
 
sometimes we hear them in our dreams
rattling their skulls         clicking their bony fingers
 
envying our crackling hair
our spice filled flesh
 
 
they have heard me beseeching
as I whispered into my own
 
cupped hands       enough not me again
enough       but who can distinguish
 
one human voice   
amid such choruses of desire

Mother Night

James Weldon Johnsonjpg

James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)

Oh, that mankind had less of Brain and more of Heart,
Oh, that the world had less of Trade and more of Art;
Then would there be less grinding down the poor,
Then would men learn to love each other more;
James Weldon Johnson – Excerpt from Art vs Trade

Mother Night

by James Weldon Johnson

Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the darkness whence they came;
Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
Into the quiet bosom of the Night.


James Weldon Johnson was a renaissance man.  Born in south Florida he was raised to look beyond the barriers of a troubled America post civil war and strive to grasp the dream that emancipation embodied.  Raised by a father who was a free Virginian and Jamaican Mother he would push beyond the racism of the Jim Crow south.  He was a graduate of the University of Atlanta and went on to become the first African American to pass the bar exam in the state of Florida. Johnson was an educator, novelist, poet, song writer, musician, diplomat and civil rights leader.   Johnson and his brother co-wrote the song Lift Every Voice and Sing which became an anthem for the NAACP and the civil rights movement.  He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to diplomatic positions in 1906 in Venezuela and Nicaragua and upon returning in 1914 became involved in the NAACP, eventually serving as its president from 1920 to 1930.

Johnson focused on the arts in retirement, primarily his writing.   Known as a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement over his lifetime he published poetry, novels and stories that helped shape the broader cultural legacy of America.   He died at the age of 67 in a car accident in Maine.

Johnson is just one of many African American writers who wrote sonnets during the early 20th Century.   It may sound odd to connect sonnets to part of the tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, but lyric poetry was still the standard by which literature was judged and writers like Johnson, Claude McKay, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and H. Cordelia Ray and others used them to reach across cultural divides and share their poetic vision, while challenging the dominant racist white culture to think differently and inspire their community of color.   Johnson also wrote playfully, in free verse and in rhyme.   He published in a wide range of poetic forms.

I find his final two lines in A Poet To His Son a bit confusing, double negatives scramble things and it makes the entire poem strange.   When I read double negatives I translate it to understand it as a positive, so one way to read it is for me take both out, which would change what he saying to; “Son you can begin too young to be a poet.”  I don’t agree.  You can never be too young to begin to be a poet.  Everyone utters poetry all the time, thinks poetry, from our first word to our last.  And so it left me scratching my head and was a very unsatisfying poem. I disagree with almost all of the advice he gives to his son. Is it sarcasm when he says; Poets these days are unfortunate fellows?  Is Johnson writing in first person but intending that it not be his voice but the worlds?  Or was Johnson sincere and wanting his son to not follow in his footsteps?  What do you think Johnson is saying in the poem below?


A Poet to His Baby Son

by James Weldon Johnson

Tiny bit of humanity,
Blessed with your mother’s face,
And cursed with your father’s mind.

I say cursed with your father’s mind,
Because you can lie so long and so quietly on your back,
Playing with the dimpled big toe of your left foot,
And looking away,
Through the ceiling of the room, and beyond.
Can it be that already you are thinking of being a poet?

Why don’t you kick and howl,
And make the neighbors talk about
“That damned baby next door,”
And make up your mind forthwith
To grow up and be a banker
Or a politician or some other sort of go-getter
Or—?—whatever you decide upon,
Rid yourself of these incipient thoughts
About being a poet.

For poets no longer are makers of songs,
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living;
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams,
And interpreters of the eternal truth,
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows.
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way
Or new things in an old language,
They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems,
And as a self-imagined Atlas,
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms,
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.

My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants
Out of this old world which is—as it is—
And, probably, always will be.

Take the advice of a father who knows:
You cannot begin too young
Not to be a poet.

Justice Can Rise Up

President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

The Cure of Troy

by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope
On the side of the grave,’
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea- change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles.
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing,
The utter self revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
And lightening and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.


It is the 21rst day, of the 21st year of the 21st Century.   I feel better already….


Sonnet 21

by William Shakespeare

So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse;
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use,
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse;
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O’ let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:
   Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
   I will not praise, that purpose not to sell

Then Came A Departure

John Berryman (1914 – 1972)

“You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you’re merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.”

John Berryman

Dream Songs 1

by John Berryman (1914 – 1972)

 

Huffy Henry hid    the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point,—a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked.

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry’s side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don’t see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.

What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.


John Berryman and Robert Lowell met in 1944 at the suggestion of mutual friends and Lowell’s mother.   Each was still married to their first wives at the time and it was thought that their socializing as couples would do them both some good.   Ha!  It probably did, but maybe not the way mothers intend.  There are many similarities to their personal histories, temperaments, fierce intellect, vices and destructive personal decisions that it’s not a surprise they found enjoyment in one another’s company.   When you have a tendency towards leaning into a bit of insanity and have a mirror to that fracturing in a friendship with someone of the same self destructive inclinations, it can help bring respite and lucidity once in a while, in that at least you know you are not alone in your state of mind. 

Berryman did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He succeeded in spite of his father’s betrayal. He succeeded on the sheer audacity of his talent and intellect. It does not mean that doors were not opened for him because he was white and male, but Berryman is a writer’s writer in my mind. Writing entirely consumed him as maybe the only thing that could keep him alive for as long as it did. Berryman died when he was 58, though he looks more like 78 at the end.

I will turn the same age this year. I have written before on Fourteenlines that I walked across the bridge that Berryman jumped to his death probably a 1,000 times as a young man, on my way from classes on the East bank to the glass studio in the fine arts building at the time on the West bank. In every one of those passages I was completely unaware of Berryman’s fate, his poetry not yet in my consciousness. Despite spending 12 years on the same campus, treading the same paths, entering the same buildings, eating at the same greasy diners, while getting an undergraduate degree and graduate degree, I did not have the good fortune to overlap with Berryman in being physically at the same place at the same time. Looking back, that bridge holds more meaning for me today as a metaphor for the life I have tried to navigate the past 40 years. On one side of my river I have a foundation in practicality, academics and the industriousness to make a living to support myself and my family. On the other side lies the buttress with my heart and soul; creativity and expression. Through the middle of it runs my own mighty Mississippi of time, my bridge just beneath its singular falls on its entire stretch from Minnesota to a gulf, a hypoxia zone where not enough oxygen exists. Unlike Berryman, I do not have the talent or the ego to earn a living from my passions and so I shall have to continue to cross that metaphorical bridge every day and enjoy its views.

I have wondered, as I think about the men and women of letters, who managed to stay productive and thrive into old age, is it because they did not see writing as their profession; William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens but two examples? Or was writing always such a thrill that it never became a chore? We will never know if writing kept Berryman and Lowell alive as long as it did, or whether winning Pulitzers, being crowned as “the” best, created such an unbearable weight of expectation to continue to be brilliant that it may have actually accelerated their own self destruction. Maybe Dickinson did it right? Fill your desk and dresser drawers with scraps of your brilliant self as postcards to your older self. Give your friends the best of your art in cards and thank you notes and gifts. Scatter your creativity throughout your house and those of your loved ones and don’t bother with putting it out there in the world beyond the reach of your own fingertips.

Almost every great poet is also a great translator. There are exceptions, but it is far too common to be a coincidence or a requirement. I have come to believe this tendency to translate is a solution to the problem of trying to be productive as an artist every day. Maybe there are people who can wake up every day with inspiration to write brilliantly? But I suspect, more people suffer from the same thing I observe in myself. Most days nothing comes of my efforts. Sometimes whole months or even a better part of a year goes by without my muse whispering in my ear. Writing is a craft as well as an art, and a writer that can wake up everyday and translate someone else’s brilliance, bringing it to a different mother tongue, that has yet to enjoy the satisfaction of the original poet’s humanity can feel productive and satisfied without the need to entirely create something on their own from nothing.

Lowell was an incredibly gifted translator. There is a silky smooth aspect to some of his translations, like the one below, that he rarely achieved with his own words, so much pent up emotions coursing through his veins, that it may have been impossible to find that level of calm when searching his own mind. Meditation is an example where the madness of Baudelaire is becalmed under the madness of Lowell and in its place resides a little pool of sonnet peace. Dive in!


Meditation

by Baudelaire
Translated by Robert Lowell

Calm down, my Sorrow, we must move with care.
You called for evening; it descends, it’s here.
The town is coffined in its atmosphere,
bringing relief to some, to others care.

Now while the common multitude strips bare,
feels pleasure’s cat o’nine tails on its back,
and fights off anguish at the great bazaar,
give me your hand, my Sorrow.  Let’s stand back;

back from these people!  Look, the dead years dressed
in old clothes crowd the balconies of the sky.
Regret emerges smiling from the sea,

the sick sun slumbers underneath an arch,
and like a shroud strung out form east to west,
listen, my Dearest, hear the sweet night march!

The Dailiness of Life

lowell

“We poets in our youth begin in sadness; / thereof come in the end despondency and madness…

William Wordsworth

Well Water

by Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up . . .” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.


Randall Jarrell’s and Robert Lowell’s friendship, I believe, as much influenced Robert’s Lowell’s success as a writer as any other individual.   Jarrell was finishing his undergraduate at Vanderbilt when Lowell arrived to live at Benfolly with the Tates.  That summer, John Crowe Ransom was being wooed by Kenyon College in Ohio to come turn their English program into a powerhouse and Ransom realized it would take more than him to turn Kenyon into an A league hub of literary activity, he would need bench strength.  So he recruited both Jarrell and Lowell to follow him, going so far as to let the  two of them live in the second floor of his house temporarily and then arranging for them to have comfortable student housing thereafter.

Jarrell and Lowell both spent several years at Kenyon, honing their literary talents, along with their room mate Peter Taylor.  Jarrell’s unique gift to Lowell was his ability to encourage and enjoy the poetry of his friend.   He was Lowell’s fan, biggest encourager, the person who reassured him he was going to be a legend, before he was. So confident was Jarrell in Lowell, that it shored up Lowell’s own anxiety and kept the wolves at bay in Lowell’s mind during key periods in his ascension.  When Lowell shared the early drafts of Lord Weary’s Castle with Jarrell, he was so effusive in his praise that it was like an oracle predicting Lowell’s future Pulitzer.

Jarrell and Lowell remained friends right up until Jarrell’s death.  Jarrell had fallen into a deep depression following President Kennedy’s assassination. He suffered from maniac depressive episodes and his overall health deteriorated.  While seeking medical treatment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina he was hit by a car while walking along the side of the road and died.  Though his death was ruled an accident, it always had the stain of the rumor of a possible suicide.

Jarrell was just one in a generation of poets, all acquaintances if not outright good friends, born between 1899 and 1917, who suffered from alcoholism and mental illness and died prematurely: Hart Crane, Theodore Roethke, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell.  A legacy that continued with  Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

Berryman remarked on the tendency for the gods of literature to eat their own:

  I’m cross with God who has wrecked this generation.
First he seized Ted, then Richard, Randall, and now
Delmore….In between he gorged on Sylvia Plath.

Does it take madness to be a great poet?  Two of the great master’s of American literature who attempted to evolve the sonnet form into the 20th Century, Lowell and Berryman, eventually succumbed to the weight of their own expectations.  Is that why sonnets have largely been left in the dust bin of history,  too mingled with Lowell’s and Berryman’s blood to be an ongoing literary legacy.


Helen

by Robert Lowell

I am the blue!  I come from the lower world
to hear the serene erosion of the surf;
once more I see the galleys bleed with dawn,
and shark with muffled rowlocks into Troy,
My solitary hands recall the kings;
I used to run my fingers  through their beards;
I wept.  They sang about their shady wars,
the great gulfs boiling sternward from their keels.
I hear military trumpets, all that brass,
blasting commands to the frantic oars;
the rowers’ metronome enchains the sea,
and high on beaked and dragon prows, the gods-
their fixed, archaic smiles stung by the salt –
reach out their carved, indulgent arms to me!

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,
Faintly ring – Spring cast its spell,
Peonies and iris are on their way.
It’s worth the wait, to wait for May.

Go on, outside, look about!
Rains in May make mushrooms sprout.
Try peering at the forest floor,
Trillium and elves are more than lore.

Look down, then up, take a step,
Drink in the scent the lilacs wept.
And if 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.