Whatever We Are, Or Were

Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

Horse Latitudes (Excerpt)

by Paul Muldoon
 
Burma
 
Her grandfather’s job was to cut
the vocal cords of each pack mule
with a single, swift excision,
a helper standing by to wrench
the mule’s head fiercely to one side and drench
it with hooch he’d kept since Prohibition.
“Why,” Carlotta wondered, “that fearsome tool?
Was it for fear the mules might bray
and give their position away?”
At which I see him thumb the shade
as if he were once more testing a blade
and hear the two-fold snapping shut
of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter’s rule:
“And give away their position.”
 


Holy Thursday

by Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

They’re kindly here, to let us linger so late,
Long after the shutters are up.
A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate
Of stew, or some thick soup,

And settles himself at the next table but one.
We know, you and I, that it’s over,
That something or other has come between
Us, whatever we are, or were.

The waiter swabs his plate with bread
And drains what’s left of his wine,
Then rearranges, one by one,
The knife, the fork, the spoon, the napkin,
The table itself, the chair he’s simply borrowed,
And smiles, and bows to his own absence.

We Were All Unconcerned

Thomas Kinsella (b. 1928 –

Free Fall

by Thomas Kinsella

I was falling helpless in a shower of waste,
reaching my arms out toward the others
falling in disorder everywhere around me.

At the last instant,
approaching the surface,
the fall slowed suddenly,

and we were all
unconcerned,
regarding one another in approval.


The Force of Eloquence

by Thomas Kinsella

The brink of living is inhabited.

Unbrooding as an ox, he thrusts a bald
Muscular head out smiling.  Though his tongue
Chains are fastened, radii of gold.
Gently hauled by these, his swayed captives
Yield their wrists in  lithe angles of peace
– A charmed plight, halted in faint relief
Against a line of hills full of quaint promise.

A token of bronze, long out currency, 
Vivifies an impossible worn world,
Of speech constricted into other terms:
An equilibrium of gift and threat
Moulded in external breathless appearance.

Enter, and inhale the living bronze. 


From Strength to Strength Advancing

Matthew Arnold 1822- 1888

“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.”

Matthew Arnold

Immortality

by Matthew Arnold

Foil’d by our fellow-men, depress’d, outworn,
We leave the brutal world to take its way,
And, Patience! in another life, we say
The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
 
And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn
The world’s poor, routed leavings? or will they,
Who fail’d under the heat of this life’s day,
Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?
 
No, no! the energy of life may be
Kept on after the grave, but not begun;
And he who flagg’d not in the earthly strife,
 
From strength to strength advancing—only he,
His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
 
 

It can be a bit of a head spinner to jump from the language of the mid 19th Century to the 21st Century from one day to the next and then back again, but that’s one of things I find fascinating about the sonnet form.   It is a framework that has remained relatively unchanged and relevant for hundreds of years.  Although the language has changed, many of the themes Arnold is exploring are universal.   Matthew Arnold is not a poet I would ever come across  if not for this project and my radar always being up and listening for sonnets.   Arnold is not a poet who has remained popular.  His language sounds a bit stilted to my ears.  Yet if I push through the language and listen to his themes that he is wrestling, it sounds familiar.   In the middle of a pandemic, where all of our patience has been tested, his opening to Immortality is  dead on to thoughts I have been having.  Where should I place my energies?   Work doesn’t have the same feeling as it used to, working remotely has lessened the humanness and the fulfillment of working alongside other people so that I question a bit, what am I really doing and does it really matter as much as it once did?  I like his language if I let it transport me and embrace its foreign qualities.  It raises questions in my mind; what energies of my life will live past me? What will give strength to my children to others?  What battles are worth winning other than the one we all can win, enjoying our lives.


Shakespeare

 
by Matthew Arnold
 

Shakespeare

Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,
Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,

Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil’d searching of mortality;

And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure,
Didst tread on earth unguess’d at. – Better so!

All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,
Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.

 

You Can’t Get Rid Of It

A. E. Stallings

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks.

A. E. Stallings

Glitter

by A. E. Stallings

All that will remain after an apocalypse is glitter.   – British Vogue

You have a daughter now.  it’s everywhere,
And often in the company of glue.
You can’t get rid of it.  It’s in her hair:
A wink of pink, a glint of silver-blue.
It’s catching, like the chicken pox, or lice.
Its travels, like a planetary scar.
Sometimes its on your face, or you look twice
And glimpse, there on your arm, a single star.
You know it by a hand’s brushing your neck –
You blush – It’s not desire, not anymore –
Just someone’s urge to flick away the fleck
Of borrowed glamour from your collarbone –
The broken mirror Time will not restore,
The way your daughter marks you as her own.


The Pull Toy

by A. E. Stallings

You squeezed its leash in your fist,
It followed where you led:
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
Nodding its wooden head.

Wagging a tail on a spring,
Its wheels gearing lackety-clack,
Dogging your heels the length of the house,
Though you seldom glanced back.

It didn’t mind being dragged
When it toppled on its side
Scraping its coat of primary colors:
Love has no pride.

But now that you run and climb
And leap, it has no hope
Of keeping up, so it sits, hunched
At the end of its short rope

And dreams of a rummage sale
Where it’s snapped up for a song,
And of somebody—somebody just like you—
Stringing it along

We Look For Communion

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

The Argument

by A. E. Stallings

After the argument, all things were strange.
They stood divided by their eloquence
Which had surprised them after so much silence.
Now there were real things to rearrange.
Words betokened deeds, but they were both
Lightened briefly, and they were inclined
To be kind as sometime strangers can be kind.
It was as if, out of the undergrowth,
They stepped into a clearing and a sun,
Machetes still in hand. Something was done,
But how they did not fully realize.
Something was beginning.  Something would stem
And branch from this one moment.  Something made
Them both look up into each other’s eyes
Because they both were suddenly afraid
And there was no one now to comfort them.


Both Levertov and Stallings draw inspiration from their families, each with a personal voice and poetic vision, but in very different forms.  Stallings has the ability to craft highly structured poems that read smoothly, the rhyme and structure doesn’t feel forced or artificial.   This is extremely hard to do and I find the craft of Stallings work remarable.   No less skilled though is Levertov’s ability to create emotion through simplicity.  Levertov picks her words with care and places them with a deft touch.   Each of these poems come at the reality of partnership/marriage that is at once both uncomfortable as it is beautiful.   A reminder that love moves along all the spectrums of emotion and not just in one direction. 


The Ache Of Marriage

by Denise Levertov

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it

As I Desire To Be

This is the 600th post on Fourteenlines

If I Were Loved

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee?
All the inner, all the outer world of pain
Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine
As I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.

‘T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee,
To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.


The Charge of The Light Brigade

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

I
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

II
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.

V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.

VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

How Many Ours

Stefania Heim

A Large Mirror Unloaded From a Truck in the Sun

by Stefania Heim

Participation relegated to sleeping near
the open window. My great failure

has always been not imagining the future
but in managing myself. Your thumbprint, please,

before we launch the new rhetoric. I know
when I grovel I am plain. I’ve actually had a dream

about this building, and it feels soon enough to me now.
For all the reasons we are short of breath, approximate.

Passion clusters as though circumstance. A terrible
child, I grow apart. According to the original

rules, burn everything. Who could have anticipated
what we are becoming—in constraint, in circumspection.

I’ll think of some experiment to move us,
focusing on the lenses learned.


So Torn by My Tides

by Stefania Heim

So torn by my tides, I do not I can read them.

Hour book, our book. “H” in Italian is a tool, not a sound. My mother slips the “h” in only where it doesn’t belong. Our book, our book. How events just accumulate in time. Who will we lose in the duration of this writing. The promise of future children names for our beloved dead. Whispered at caskets. An hour dead. How many hours.

In our village the streets empty at appointed times. If life were a time-lapse video, lingering would be more visible than slipping away. Invisible motions the more pronounced. Once I stood akimbo, 8PM mid-street, waiting for everyone to go. I am astonished, in memory, by the boldness of it. Did everyone go?

                      How many ours.

We Might Work Out

Springtime In Paradise

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Bridled Vows

by Ian Duhig

I will be faithful to you, I do vow
but not until the seas have all run dry
et cetera: although I mean it now,
I’m not a prophet and I will not lie.

To be your perfect wife, I could not swear;
I’ll love, yes; honor (maybe); won’t obey,
but will co-operate if you will care
as much as you are seeming to today.

I’ll do my best to be your better half,
but I don’t have the patience of a saint;
not with you, at you I may sometimes laugh,
and snap too, though I’ll try to learn restraint.

We might work out: no blame if we do not.
With all my heart, I think it’s worth a shot.


The longer the pandemic goes, the more I hear about older couples retreating to one of two extremes in their marriages or partnerships; either the past year of social isolation has strengthened their commitment to each other and they have grown closer being cooped up together or they are in process of filing for divorce.   There are sure to be the vast majority that are somewhere in the middle, but they don’t make the headlines in the rumor mill.  

If you are considering first time nuptials,  late March or first week in April is a good time to get married in Minnesota, it doesn’t cut into your summer plans and it is warm enough the bride doesn’t freeze in her dress on the way from the ceremony to the reception.   It doesn’t tend to be terribly in demand so chapels and reception halls are generally a little more available than the summer months.   Obviously I speak from experience. 

I think we make too much of marriage as an event and not enough of it as a process of ongoing commitment ceremonies.  I have often felt marriage should be like the military.  You sign up for a 4 year tour of duty and at the end of four years, you either re-up for another 4 or give each other an honorable discharge and a bus ticket to a destination of your own choosing. 

If you’re looking to re-up, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to invite guests or spend money on a spectacle; write out some vows that seem genuine or use one of these poems.  Try saying it over breakfast some Sunday morning.   Look each other in the eye and step over the broom lying on the kitchen floor; the first step towards another year of partnership. Then pick up the broom and the dust pan and help each other sweep up the mess and move on with your day. 


Vows

Carol Rumens
To be said by senior couples renewing their vows

1. (He and She, together)
Partner, partner, on the wall,
Nailed there so you’d never fall,
Hope you like this shade of blue
I’ve lightly painted over you.

2. (He and He, together)
Randy, dandy, twist and shout –
B-and-Bs once threw us out.
Now we’re poor old Zimmer-geezers,
Folk think we’re twin-brothers. Jesus!

3. (He)
When I’m toothless, bald and grumpy,
Dump me gently as you dump me.
(She)
Dumping you would be invidious:
You’re already old and hideous.

As I Used To Do

robert-bly_3

Robert Bly

Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us once more to the wellspring of poetry.

Robert Bly

Women We Never See Again

by Robert Bly

There are women we love whom we never see again.
They are chestnuts shining in the rain.
Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books.
Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.
Human war has parted messengers from another planet,
who cross back to each other at night,
going through slippery valleys, farmyards where the rain
has washed out all the tracks,
and when we walk there, with no guide, saddened, in the dark
we see above us glowing the fortress made of ecstatic blue stone.


XLIV

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!–take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

Then Doorway To Her Eyes

Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft

Still Life

by Annie Finch

A sunny afternoon; think of Vermeer.
Here is the apple, here the rounding side
of the blue pitcher. On the scrubbed wood just here,
she puts the pitcher down, so that the slide
of drops against its lip catches what light
there is for pitchers here this afternoon.
She does not really see the drops, or quite
attend the blue. A common thing. But soon
the tide will turn, and salty smells will rise
to circle in the street, and to her ears
will come the voices. Then doorways to her eyes,
then other days than this—afternoons, years.
She will stop to hold this moment near,
and drop the pitcher, and betray Vermeer.


A perk of writing this blog is the correspondence of strangers who graciously email me because of something that moved them on Fourteenlines.   I sincerely appreciate the feedback, the thoughtful criticism, encouragement and suggestions for poems readers would like to see included in the blog.  Recently, Annie Finch, a writer, poet, speaker, entertainer, teacher, translator and self proclaimed poetry witch, sent me several great suggestions, and in particular several of her own sonnets.  I highly recommend you check out her website, her work and her learning opportunities at the link below.  Finch offers several on-line writing classes that are easy to sign up for and affordable.    A good way to fight off the dull times during COVID!

https://anniefinch.com/

I have been debating whether to hold the first annual Fourteenlines sonnet contest in 2021. I am leaning in the direction of kicking the new contest off in May and having deadlines early September with winners announced in December.   Three cash prizes for best rhymed or unrhymed sonnets.   My idea is to provide an additional outlet, albeit modest in scope, for writers of sonnets around the world to submit a poem. 

I am curious, those of you that are frequent readers of Fourteenlines, what you think of this idea of a sonnet contest?  Would you submit an entry?  Would you help network to encourage others on your blog to submit an entry?  What level of cash incentive do you think will motivate people as prizes?  Would any of you be willing to be part of a panel to determine the winners?  If any of these questions resonate, please contact me through fourteenlines10@gmail.com and let me know your feedback?  

I really enjoyed Encounter by Finch.   I have fond memories of my many years of commuting by bus to the University of Minnesota and then to downtown to my restaurant job and then home late at night, most days 3 separate segments and bus changes per segment.  When you commute by city bus, for an extended period of years, you learn the denizens of your route; who has a similar schedule as your own, who are the interlopers who you see infrequently but repeatedly because they  are running late or headed in early, who are morning people, who are night people, who will look you in the eye, who won’t, who is suffering emotionally, who is having a blissful day. On a crowded bus where you are packed shoulder to shoulder, with strangers, you know about peoples hygiene, food preferences, all kinds of personal information is exchanged silently.  There are days commuting your closest contact of the entire day in terms of physical touch is with a total stranger who brushed up against your leg, or the kindly older person who put their hand on your shoulder to sit down on the cold hard plastic seat and smiled at you.   I have witnessed random acts of kindness, generosity, indifference and cruelty, between total strangers on buses,  sometimes over the course of only 12 city blocks.  I have watched lovers make out, have fights, talk and laugh and sit stoically.  A city bus is a living breathing thing. 

I think everyone should have the experience of riding the bus for a while, to learn the humbleness of having to explain to your boss why you are 30 minutes late because the bus didn’t show, to learn patience by having to wait in the rain or snow or cold or heat, to learn the art of communication, verbal and non-verbal that happens with strangers on public transportation, realizing we’re all on a journey together in this city, going somewhere at its own pace with someone else in control and you must just accept it. 


Encounter

by Annie Finch

Then, in the bus where strange eyes are believed to burn
down into separate depths, ours mingled, lured
out of the crowd like wings–and as fast, as blurred.
We brushed past the others and rose. We had flight to learn,
single as wings, till we saw we could merge with a turn,
arching our gazing together. We formed one bird,
focused, attentive. Flying in silence, we heard
the air past our feathers, the wind through our feet, and the churn
of wheels in the dark. Now we have settled. We move
calmly, two balanced creatures. Opened child,
woman or man, companion with whom I’ve flown
through this remembering, lost, incarnate love,
turning away, we will land, growing more wild
with solitude, more alone, than we could have known.

Both included in Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan, 2013).