A Life Reprehensibly Perfect

Waving Goodbye

How lucky I am to have something that saying good-bye is so hard.

A. A. Milne

Waving Good-Bye

by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.


Departures and arrivals, leaving and returning home, this is the way of summer vacations and more metaphysical deliberations on the meaning of “home.” I have wished loved ones off this past week and depart myself on multiple journeys over the course of the next few. But it is a much more interesting and ominous departure I am contemplating of late, a departure from “things.”  It is cliche to talk about how the things we possess come in time to possess us, but why else do we pay such elaborate mortgages and taxes to afford houses or condos large enough to store all the things a middle aged person accumulates? I have had a rule for the past year; for everything that is brought in something has to depart.  It works to a point but inevitably the scale tips towards more and never toward less.  It takes something radical to actually move the needle in the direction of fewer things.

 My possessions consist mostly of clothing, books, music and art these days. None of it expensive or elaborate.  None of the categories are large enough to be called a collection, and yet it is much to large to be easily relocated. So who owns whom?  I spend little time in the condo in which they are housed, and yet I pay the bills each month so that my pictures can hang on the wall, and my clothes can hang in the closet in relative prosperity.  Its a bit absurd if I think about it clearly, and yet it is comforting in an odd way to know where things are.   So who or what owns what or whom?   I’ll continue to pretend I am the one in control, at least I know I am the one paying the bills, but I would like to see my art be a little more grateful for its wall space, lest I decide to take the plunge and box it all up for storage and stop paying their “gallery” rent unless they are going to contribute more to my sense of home, and less to my sense of obligation.


 

Poetry of Departures

Philip Larkin

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I’d go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo’c’sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren’t so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

The World’s True Lover

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

“Some things are too great to come at directly. Just as we may weave back and forth as we climb a hill, and appear to be going round in circles, yet all the while are coming closer to the summit, so in our religious and spiritual life things may seem circuitous; we may think we have come back to the same spot, but always, if we press on, it is a little higher, a little closer to the truth.”

Malcolm Guite

The Anointing At Bethany

by Malcolm Guite

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

 

A friend asked me recently, “Do any of us really see what is going on in another person’s life?” It was in reference to an unimaginable tragedy, the death of a beloved spouse. My answer was yes we do.  Its what death brings, a spotlight into the reality of our friends and families lives.  There’s no hiding in death for the grieving. Grief is a public, communal act.  An act of giving to each other the gift of remembrance, support, and sharing of sadness.  But that spotlight doesn’t last very long before the community moves on, because it must move on, beyond the place of just love and loss, and back to the place of love and life, to see beyond the cross.

Malcolm Guite is one of those big minds whose energy comes through his poetry, his oratory, his intention.   He is a fellow lover of sonnets.   The video below is an example of his clever wisdom and a good reminder on the power of words.

The Fatal Flash Catastrophe of Being

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

The Indications (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman

The words of the true poems give you more than poems,
They give you to form for yourself, poems, religions, politics, war, peace, behavior, histories, essays, romances, and everything else,
The balance ranks, colors, races, creeds, and the sexes,
They do not seek beauty-they are sought,
Forever touching them, or close upon them, follows beauty, longing, fain, love-sick.

They prepare for death-yet are they not the finish, but rather the outset,
They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full;
Whom they take, they take into space, to behold the birth of stars, to learn one of the meanings,
To launch off with absolute faith-to sweep through the ceaseless rings, and never be quiet again.


Poet

by Oscar Williams

He sees the world, a trek of values, ply
Its trade of waysides to a common view;
The sun and moon are blinkers to his eye;
That head on wisdom’s shoulders is askew
From watching dread dimensions crossroads lock,
Collision of directions so intense
The hands and face slip from the circled clock,
The atoms statue melts the niche of sense.

Aye, root and flower swordplay in his rhyme
And judgments parry their high blades of light –
The lightning from the bush of thunder fleeing
Kindles a home of symbols with the height –
And in his song is etched the blanch of time,
The fatal flash catastrophe of being.

 

 

My Living Laughing Love

Carol Ann Duffy.jpg
Carol Ann Duffy

Anne Hathaway

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed…’ – Shakespeare’s Will

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

 

All of Creation Is Asleep

Ole Sarvig
Ole Sarvig (1921 – 1981)

Christ In The Corn

by Ole Sarvig

I saw the corn last night,
the dreaming corn,
the corn and ears of all mankind ever
in these fields.

I saw it this morning around five o’clock,
when Christ came,
that pallid hour, when children are born
and fires break out.

It was so beautiful. They slept so silently.
And Christ passed like a moon through the corn.


Americans like to be unique, even when it comes to naming conventions common to the rest of the world. The word corn, particularly in a religious context means grain or wheat.   America is the only place where the word corn refers to maize.  So if you read the word corn in a poem and are American, translate it in your mind into wheat and you’ll gain greater insight into its meaning, even when its a metaphor as in this case.

Ole Sarvig is a Danish poet who suffered a fate not uncommon to poets, he took his own life. Sarvig is not well known outside Europe.  I do not know why poets are prone to tragedy? Is there a desperateness that poets connect from their life to their writing that makes them more susceptible to extreme acts of self destruction?

I am watching Herren’s Veje on Netflix.   There is a powerful use of Sarvig’s poem Christ in The Corn in Season One, but unless you know that Sarvig ended his own life by jumping from a building the complete connection to the episode will not have as much emotional impact.  Taking one’s own life is a an act that can not ever be completely understood in my opinion by anyone else and leaves a lasting question and a unique form of grief for their loved ones. It is a wound unique unto itself among the living, it is a wound of doubt as to what could have been done differently for a different outcome.


The Rain Gauge

by Ole Sarvig

The rain gauge
with its shallow basin
stands in the June night’s gentle rain
on its column
letting itself be filled with water,
while dark poplars sigh
and move their branches.

The night can be heard far and wide.
The rain finds its echo in the world.
It is empty. It is still.
All of creation is asleep.

The poplars sigh.

Tonight the garden is awake
and full of fragrance.

Quite still
like a shallow basin
in June rain
I will fill to the brim
with will
tonight.

In The Broken World

oliver
Mary Oliver

An Afternoon in the Stacks

by Mary Oliver

Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me. From in here, the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open. When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library. But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move.


An Invitation

by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

The God Of Opportunity

 

Vachel-Lindsay
Vachel Lindsay

Never be a cynic, even a gentle one.  Never help out a sneer, not even at the Devil.

Vachel Lindsay

To the God of Opportunity

by Susie Frances Harrison (1859 – 1935)

Strange, that no idol hath been roughly wrought,
Or fairly carven, bearing on its base
A name so potent! Strange, no ancient race,
Workers in whitest Parian, ever sought
To reproduce thy beauty, slyly fraught
With vast suggestion! Strange, thou couldst not brace
The dull Assyrian, didst not tempt from chase,
Trophy and battle, the sons of literal thought.

We who are tired of gods must yet to thee
Render allegiance. Chance and Love are blind,
And Cause is soulless, Art is deaf and vain,
All unavailing looms the God of Pain
Disclaiming these, we choose with prescient mind
The unknown God of Opportunity.


Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight

by Vachel Lindsay (1879 – 1931)

(In Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long,
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why;
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:
A league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that things must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?