Nothing To Cover Her

1-Miller-Williams
Miller Williams (1930 – 2015)

Going Deaf

by Miller Williams

No matter how she tilts her head to hear
she sees the irritation in their eyes.
She knows how they can read a small rejection,
a little judgment, in every What did you say?
So now she doesn’t say What? or Come again?
She lets the syllables settle, hoping they form
some sort of shape that she might recognize.
When they don’t, she smiles with everyone else,
and then whoever was talking turns to her
and says, “Break wooden coffee, don’t you know?”
She pulls all she can focus into the face
to know if she ought to nod or shake her head.
In that long space her brain talks to itself.
The person may turn away as an act of mercy,
leaving her there in a room full of understanding
with nothing to cover her, neither sound nor silence .

 


I have noticed that one of the by-products of wearing masks during the pandemic is how hard it is to understand other people speaking and other people difficulty in understanding me.  I hear, “What did you say?” all the time, either coming out of my mouth or someone else’s.  I don’t think masks garble the words, it’s hearing is based in part on our reading lips and expression and body language to a greater extent then I understood before.  Communication is way more than auditory.   Masks mask emotions, they prevent us from seeing irony and the wry smile, they make it harder to follow interactions on every level. In short they are a barrier to efficient and effective communication.  Research on infants suggests one of the ways babies learn about human interaction is by intensely studying faces.  We learn at a young age how communication is shared non-verbally through the most minute of expressions on our faces.  So is it any wonder we are all feeling a little lost and bewildered among a faceless crowd of strangers these days in masks?

Maybe we are all experiencing a touch of prosopagnosia, the rare medical condition in which people are unable to distinguish between different people’s faces, where everyone looks the same.  Is that why the world feels a little more harsh these days?  Our individuality is being absorbed by a collective mass disinterest in the world around us as we each try and manage our way through this confusing mix of trying to self isolate and remain human.

Maybe its time we all learned a bit of sign language? What if we collectively entered the world of the deaf and experience their reality for a little while?  It would be a safer alternative to speaking, reducing a bit of talking of simple expressions would likely reduce droplets in the air and possibly risk of transmission when in close proximity to strangers.  I am not making light of the deaf, but suggesting that empathy is the thing that is in shortest supply right now and maybe if we experienced another’s permanent reality temporarily it would recenter us as a society that we have a shared purpose in looking out for one another.  Would it be so awful if we all learned ASL for hello, goodbye, please, thank you, could you help me and a few other key words and phrases? It would force us to slow down, look up at each other,  pay attention and acknowledge each other safely.  And by doing so maybe retrace our steps back to a world where we were not fearful of the stranger next to us in line.

Raymond Luczak is a deaf writer, poet, playwright, renaissance man who lives in Minneapolis. The video below is him, reciting his brilliant poem in a beautiful expression of how to communicate beyond speech.


Instructions to Hearing Persons Desiring a Deaf Man

by Raymond Luczak

His eyebrows cast shadows everywhere.
You are a difficult language to speak.

His long beard is thick with distrust.
You are another curiosity seeker.

His hands are not cheap trinkets.
Entire lives have been wasted on you.

His face is an inscrutable promise.
You are nothing but paper and ink.

His body is more than a secret language.
Tourists are rarely fluent in it.

His eyes will flicker with a bright fire
when you purge your passport of sound.

Let your hands be your new passport,
for he will then stamp it with approval.

A deaf man is always a foreign country.
He remains forever a language to learn.

Containment Is The Key To Breaking Through

Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

by Austin MacRae

How best to hold a Master’s mastered light
that flickers deep in pearl, a milklit face?
His paintings stun: complex perspectives right,
well-framed, with every fold and thread in place.
Over and over, within this structured space,
he nails the tough proportions, deftly blocks
the naked eye’s distortions with such grace
of form that every stricture clicks and locks.
Like him, I shoot life through a dovetailed box,
a darkened room. Containment is the key
to breaking through. I watch what it unlocks
inside the mirror’s polished glass, and see
if like the great, meticulous Vermeer,
a blooming world pours through my pinhole, clear.


Camera obscura is the optical phenomenon that occurs when an image at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole and appears as reversed and inverted on a surface opposite the opening. This discovery led to the development of photography.  It is also an apt metaphor for how the world feels six months into the pandemic. I still see the world around me, but it appears smaller and flipped upside down. There is a wall between me and that world and much less light is shining in.

Yesterday, the young woman at the Trader Joe’s checkout jumped away from me as I approached her register and with fright in her voice commanded I stand exactly on the watermelon on the floor in front of the growing fortress-like plexi-glass barrier that separated us.  I warily complied exactly as commanded, all pleasantries of human interaction obliterated by caution and safety, no smiles exchanged through our face masks, her eyes continuously downcast, a bit too intensely ringing up my modest purchase, never once looking at me, tangible her fear of being in the same space that I am in.  I get it.   I am not sure how I would handle a cashier job these days.  I too would probably suffer from moments of the ebbie-jeebies that I was observing. It’s not that I had violated her six foot barrier, it was that it felt like she wanted a 30 foot barrier in that moment.  I made a half-hearted attempt at fake pleasantries but it seemed to make the mood even more somber.  It wasn’t her fault.  In the end it made me feel like shopping at Trader Joe’s was my mistake.  My local Cub Food let’s me check out all on own, maintaining this false notion we have that our social isolation is intact. It’s depressing that when I venture out for my one interaction with the world in a day and the world jumps back from me in alarm, runs away from me in fear, even if that destination has the best gluten-free bagels in town.

I long to get out of this box of COVID-19, end the cues in lines in front of everywhere I go, this social distancing which is another way of feeling social ostracism.  I long to remove the masks and cut a giant hole in the universe and walk back into the world as I formerly knew it. Go to a baseball game, sit surrounded by strangers and drink a beer. I know it can’t be done, that world may never exist again. I fear that the future will be so completely foreign to the world that I had grown accustomed that everything will feel upside down forever and I will be the one much smaller than before, inverted. I feel myself moving along this new foreign, unpaved path, looking for hope, looking for ways to make my world big again, even if these days its only in the pages of a book or in the line of a poem, where an adventure may still await.

images (1)
Vladimir Kush

The Camera Obscura

by John Addington Symonds
Inside the skull the wakeful brain,
Attuned at birth to joy and pain,
Dwells for a lifetime; even as one
Who in a closed tower sees the sun
Cast faint-hued shadows, dim or clear,
Upon the darkened disc: now near,
Now far, they flit; while he, within,
Surveys the world he may not win:
Whate’er he sees, he notes; for nought
Escapes the net of living thought;
And what he notes, he tells again
To last and build the brains of men.
Shades are we; and of shades we weave
A trifling pleasant make-believe;
Then pass into the shadowy night,
Where formless shades blindfold the light

 

 

Try As We May

schuyler
James Schuyler, New York City

Sonnet

by James Schuyler

August, tasting of ripe grapes and afternoon sleep,
sharpening, like the smell of boxwood, the grass blades
that yellow an uncut hill a heavier green
while the trees lean in folds and the rose of Sharon blooms
and blooms at each twig and branch tip like a toy tree,
setting a sleepy cat on an after-lunch table
among uncleared plates, white-and-black like the coolness
of the oilcloth in warm shade: withhold from these days
the rain that made the succulence of which you reek
in haze that hides the furthest view and seems like smoke
seeking, before it is time, the ripening leaves
bronze in your pollen-dusty air that films the sky
and, as the light fades, burns blue, that the hot moon may,
bathing its light in water, find its white coolness.


Poem

by James Schuyler

I do not always understand what you say.
Once, when you said, across, you meant along.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

Words’ meanings count, aside from what they weigh:
poetry, like music, is not just song.
I do not always understand what you say.

You would hate, when with me, to meet by day
What at night you met and did not think wrong.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

I sense a heaviness in your light play,
a wish to stand out, admired, from the throng.
I do not always understand what you say.

I am as shy as you. Try as we may,
only by practice will our talks prolong.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

We talk together in a common way.
Art, like death, is brief: life and friendship long.
I do not always understand what you say.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

In All The Glory Of Thy Opal Sheen

Iceburg
Thomas B. Hayward, June 1905, Narrows of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada

Our Lady of the Fjords

by Archbishop Michael Francis Howley

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!


High definition cameras on cell phones are incredible inventions. We are accustomed to dazzling imagery that it has had the unintended consequence of taking the mystery out of photography.  In the past strange phenomena, supernatural sightings, fantastic beasts, divine apparitions, ghosts and goblins were best when slightly obscured through a grainy or blurry image, letting our imaginations take part in what may or may not exist.  I found this reference to a mystical photograph when searching for a sonnet to pair with the poem by Olaf Bull.  A year ago I was in Norway being bewitched by its beauty.  Although there were no ice-burg sightings, I was enchanted by the lush green of the landscape and the many kinds of ferns and moss that covered every inch of available soil and rock.

Do you have a favorite picture you have taken where there is something unexplained in the image?  Is it just a trick of light and shadows, an optical illusion or something more mysterious?

 


Fantasi

by Olaf Bull

Som kjærlighed er trangen til at mødes
og gjøre jordens ørken til et Eden,
trængs der en drift, som ligner kjærligheden,
skal skilte tanker festligt sammenglødes.

Det er i fantasiens brudekammer
at blomst og kvinde saligt sammenfalder,
og smilehuller vorder til konvaller,
og munde roser, i vidunderflammer.

Men alle ting i deres spredte vrimmel
som staar og suser mørke mod hverandre
maalik som dø — og kun som sjæle vandre
og samles bag en ensom pandes himmel!

Dens bærer blir en gud, naar livet gløder
bag haanden, som er presset over øiet.
Det er, som om hans hode tungt er bøiet
af heftigheden ved de tusind møder!

As love is the urge to meet
and make the earth’s desert an Eden,
if there is an operation that is similar to love,
divorced thoughts must be celebrated together.

It is in the bridal chamber of the imagination
that flower and woman blissfully coincide,
and smile holes become convalescent,
and mouths of roses, in flames of wonder.

But all things in their scattered garbage
staring at each other in darkness
Angels dying – and only as souls wandering
and gather behind the lonely brow of heaven!

Its bearer becomes a god when life glows
behind the hand, which is pressed over the eye.
It is as if his head is heavily bowed
of the vehemence of the thousand meetings!

 

The Dark Accidents Of Strange Identity

delmore-schwartzs-quotes-1

The Rumor and The Whir of Unborn Wings

by Delmore Schwartz

Some girl serene, some girl whose being is
Affection, and in love with natural things,
In whom like summer like a choir sings,
Yet with a statue’s white celebrities
Although the city falls.  Golden and sleek,
Spontaneous and strong, quickend and one
To wake for joy, the mother of a son
Who climbs with conscious laughter every peak!

But I know well the party rush, the black
Rapids of feeling falling tot a bride,
Trapped in the present and the body’s lack,
Long reasons’s new hat quickly thrown aside,
And soon a child rising and toiling like me
With the dark accidents of strange identity.

 

At a Solemn Musick. (Recorded at the National Poetry Festival, 1962)


O City, City

by Delmore Schwartz

To live between terms, to live where death
has his loud picture in the subway ride,
Being amid six million souls, their breath
An empty song suppressed on every side,
Where the sliding auto’s catastrophe
Is a gust past the curb, where numb and high
The office building rises to its tyranny,
Is our anguished diminution until we die.

Whence, if ever, shall come the actuality
Of a voice speaking the mind’s knowing,
The sunlight bright on the green windowshade,
And the self articulate, affectionate, and flowing,
Ease, warmth, light, the utter showing,
When in the white bed all things are made.

 

 

There’s Copper In My Brain

Melissa Range
Melissa Range

Verdigris

by Melissa Range

Not green as new weeds or crushed juniper,
but a toxic and unearthly green, meet
for inking angel wings, made from copper sheets
treated with vapors of wine or vinegar,
left to oxidize for the calligrapher.
When it’s done, he’ll cover calfskin with a fleet
of knotted beasts in caustic green that eats
the page and grieves the paleographer.
There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts;
in my blood, an essential mineral.
Too much is poison. Too much air imparts
sickness to the script—once begun, eternal,
its words forever grass in drought. Nor departs
my grief, green and corrosive as a gospel.


Kermes Red

by Melissa Range

Called crimson, called vermilion—“little worm”
in both the Persian and the Latin, red
eggs for the carmine dye, the insect’s brood
crushed stillborn from her dried body, a-swarm
in a bath of oak ash lye and alum to form
the pigment the Germans called Saint John’s Blood—
the saint who picked brittle locusts for food,
whose blood became the germ of a crimson storm.
Christ of the pierced thorax and worm-red cloak,
I read your death was once for all, but it’s not true:
your kings and bishops command a book,
a beheading, blood for blood, the perfect hue;
thus I, the worm, the Baptist, and the scarlet oak
see all things on God’s earth must die for you.

O Let Me Burst

berrigan
Ted Berrigan (1934 – 1983)

The Sonnets:  III

by Ted Berrigan

Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay,
I, an island, sail, and my shoes toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It’s true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they’ve seen.
And since then I’ve been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships

O let me burst, and I be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then, womanly.


It feels like we are an entire country in mourning.   I don’t know if I am more attuned since the pandemic to the obituaries but it feels like the list of those passing weighs heavier, regardless of the cause of death.  Poetry has always been a way to express grief and loss, to remember those that are missed.  If you were to follow Berrigan’s example, what poem would you write in tribute to those friends and strangers whose deaths have marked you with sadness and gladness of perspective for the celebration of their life?


People Who Died

by Ted Berrigan

Pat Dugan……..my grandfather……..throat cancer……..1947.

Ed Berrigan……..my dad……..heart attack……..1958.
Dickie Budlong……..my best friend Brucie’s big brother, when we were
                                                        five to eight……..killed in Korea, 1953.
Red O’Sullivan……..hockey star & cross-country runner
                                                who sat at my lunch table
                                                            in High School……car crash……1954.
Jimmy “Wah” Tiernan……..my friend, in High School,
                                       Football & Hockey All-State……car crash….1959.
Cisco Houston……..died of cancer……..1961.
Freddy Herko, dancer….jumped out of a Greenwich Village window
     in 1963.
Anne Kepler….my girl….killed by smoke-poisoning while playing
                                    the flute at the Yonkers Children’s Hospital
                                    during a fire set by a 16 year old arsonist….1965.
Frank……Frank O’Hara……hit by a car on Fire Island, 1966.
Woody Guthrie……dead of Huntington’s Chorea in 1968.
Neal……Neal Cassady……died of exposure, sleeping all night
                                            in the rain by the RR tracks of Mexico….1969.
Franny Winston……just a girl….totalled her car on the Detroit-Ann Arbor
                                    Freeway, returning from the dentist….Sept. 1969.

Jack……Jack Kerouac……died of drink & angry sickness….in 1969.

My friends whose deaths have slowed my heart stay with me now.

Attach One Silken Strand To You

e-b-white

E. B. White (1899 – 1985)

Wedding Day in the Rockies

by E. B. White

The charm of riding eastward through Wyoming
Is not so much the grandeur and the view
As that it is an exercise in homing
And that my fellow passenger is you.
In fourteen years of this our strange excursion
The scenic points of love have not grown stale
For that my mind in yours has found the diversion
And in your heart my heart could never fail.

It’s fourteen years today today since we began it–
This sonnet crowds a year in every line–
Love were an idle drudge if time outran it
And time were stopped indeed were you not mine.
The rails go on together toward the sky
Even (the saying goes) as you and I.


Natural History

by E. B. White

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of her devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place
From which she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning


Youth and Age

by E. B. White

This is what youth must figure out:
Girls, love, and living.
The having, the not having,
The spending and giving,
And the melancholy time of not knowing.

This is what age must learn about:
The ABC of dying.
The going, yet not going,
The loving and leaving,
And the unbearable knowing and knowing.

Quiet At The Core

Roethke
Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

The Waking

by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


Reply To Censure

by Theodore Roethke

Repulse the staring eye,
The hostile gaze of hate,
And check the pedantry
Of the inveterate.

Defamers of the good.
They mock the deepest thoughts,
Condemn the fortitude
Whereby true work is wrought.

Though just men are reviled
When cravens cry them down,
The brave keep undefiled
A wisdom of their own.

The bold wear toughened skin
That keeps sufficient store
Of dignity within,
And quiet at the core.

 

 

My Bones Drank Water

Swimming at Cedar Lake, South Beach – Minneapolis

Morning Swim

by Maxine Kumin

Into my empty head there come
a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

and in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed “Abide With Me.” The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang “Abide With Me.”


One of the simple pleasures of summers in Minnesota is swimming in the neighborhood lake.   There is a quality to swimming in a clean lake that is unmatched, compared to the ocean or a pool.   The water is soft and inviting, the unexpected interactions with the little fish that nibble on your skin and the pleasant sounds of families and children playing in the sand and water.  When my children were small we went swimming during July and August as often as possible, probably 3 to 5 times a week.  There was a local pond that was stream fed, that had once been a gravel pit that sprang a leak and it had a sandy beach, clean water and no lifeguard, so we could do all the fun things we wanted to do, like leap off the rope swing tied in the tree and have the kids jump off my shoulders. It was exactly the kind of fun I had as a child and it was delightful to re-experience it again with my children.

Today I am swimming at a neighborhood lake and beach that my grandfather used to swim at regularly as an adult when he lived in the same neighborhood I live today 60 years ago.  I am blessed to have a partner who loves to swim and we love to head over after dinner and swim for about an hour as the sun goes down.  It is a short window for swimming in Minnesota but we are in its prime and we need to savor every opportunity we can to get in the water.

Do you have favorite memories of swimming as a child? Wast it at a pool, at a lake, in a river or the ocean?   Where do you swim today?  If its been awhile, throw modesty to the wind, find a swim suit that mostly fits and get out there in the water and enjoy.


Why I Am Happy

by William Stafford

Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens
gracefully.

I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
The lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.

And I know where it is.