Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.
The World is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The world has felt too much of late, this year’s mid summer holiday not even registering as a holiday in my mind, it was so completely removed from traditional rituals and celebrations. I stayed home and social distanced and worked on projects.
Dickinson does have a way of coming up with phrases that register as strangely optimistic in my thoughts;
“Unconcern so sovereign To Universe, or me – Infects my simple spirit with Taints of Majesty, till I take vaster attitudes and strut upon my stem, disdaining Men and Oxygen for Arrogance of them.”
Arrogance was in full regalia this past weekend by Trump in his usual narcissistic ramblings with his absolute lack of empathy for the impact that COVID-19 is having on families, individuals and communities. I am still energized by the moment that change is happening and pleased to see emblems of white privilege and worse white supremacy under scrutiny, like the names of pro sports teams, finally coming to a reckoning for change. Let’s hope that it is more than talk and action follows to eliminate symbols of injustice and bias with new emphasis on inclusion and crafting a legacy all can be proud and embrace. I am hopeful being a patriot is supporting a better, more just path forward.
Of Bronze—and Blaze—
by Emily Dickinson
Of Bronze—and Blaze—
So adequate—it forms—
So preconcerted with itself—
So distant—to alarms—
And Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me—
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty—
Till I take vaster attitudes—
And strut upon my stem—
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them—
My Splendors, are Menagerie—
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass—
Whom none but Daisies, know.
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety
The magic of rainbows is one of the delights of summer. In Minnesota the best ones are generally in the early evening after a brief shower, the clouds moving west to east so that as the storm passes by you get a glimpse at a rainbow for a few brief minutes in the eastern sky. I don’t believe that rainbows can be explained only by physics. Physics doesn’t take into account the wonder it casts. When I was a child and conditions were right we would run outside after the rain had passed over, grab our bikes and see if we could find a rainbow.
I have some amazing memories of rainbows, a particularly glorious one recently with my daughter in Scotland that went on and on and on across the Scottish countryside. If ever there was going to a pot of gold hidden, it was there. The treasure was the adventure with my daughter. Do you have a particularly vivid memory of a rainbow? What was your hidden treasure?
The Green Mountains
by James Lowell
Ye mountains, that far off lift up your heads,
Seen dimly through their canopies of blue,
The shade of my unrestful spirit sheds
Distance-created beauty over you;
I am not well content with this far view;
How many I know what foot of loved one treads
Your rocks moss-grown and sun-dried torrent beds?
We should love all things better, if we knew
What claims the meanest have upon our hearts;
Perchance even now some eye, that would be bright
To meet my own, looks on your mist-robed forms;
Perchance your grandeur a deep joy imparts
To souls that have encircled mine with light, –
O brother- heart, with thee my spirit warms.
…..O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
When my Mother and Father were in their early 20’s, over 60 years ago, they would go on long car camping trips each summer. The kind of trips most people only dream about today taking 2 or 3 weeks and traveling all over the west. To define how different those days were is nearly impossible. There was no working remotely back then, vacations were a vacation, you couldn’t be reached. My mother had several favorite memories of Yosemite; My Mother and Father met her sister and husband. They had corresponded by mail, lining up the date and time and approximate camping spot they would rendezvous. That might seem archaic in this age of hyper connectivity. For two adults to simply agree to meet months in advance at a spot on a map, and then without any further communication both arrive within hours of each other at that spot. How glorious it would be to return to those days! For all the convenience of a cell phone it is also a curse. We are never out of reach of our everyday life. We are constantly at the mercy of the next teleconference. We have relinquished the peace and rejuvenation that a vacation afforded the generations before under the banner of productivity.
My Mother also fondly remembered an earlier visit, when she went alone by train 10 years prior and visited Yosemite with her sister and then boyfriend. Yosemite still had the nightly performance of what was called Firefall. Firefall consisted of a large bonfire set ablaze before sunset on top of the canyon wall with a sheer face that overlooked the central valley. And then shortly after sunset the park rangers would push the fire, embers and aover the ledge, to create a stream of fire falling all the way to the canyon below. It is impossible to contemplate something like that today. First the fire danger would be out of this world and second, having park rangers set fires for the enjoyment of campers entertainment is not the education message the national park service espouses today around conservation. But it was incredibly beautiful and strangely safe in its day. It was nightly ritual during certain times of the year for decades, enjoyed by millions who visited. It was a celebration of our connection to something visceral about fire and nature and lighting up the night. It is something that will never return again except in the memories of those who tell the story from long ago.
My girlfriend is off on an old fashioned wander; car camping and hiking in the west. She has that need of connection with nature, with the mountains, with the west. It is an ancient calling that rings in many of our hearts, the primal need to connect with the beauty of nature and the connection that we have with the wilderness.
Safe travels for all who are headed out on a car camping trip this summer. What are the stories your parents or grand parents tell about their experiences in National Parks over the years?
The Song of Wandering Aengus
by W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread; And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor I went to blow the fire a-flame, But something rustled on the floor, And someone called me by my name: It had become a glimmering girl With apple blossom in her hair Who called me by my name and ran And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o’er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.
Come! Come and draw your loose lines
of light against and into my open mouth
like the fine lines of a web being built
along my heavy face; led bellied, blood
clotted clouds of night’s sleep borne
brooding of your bright breast keeping me
from rest while you lay onto my chest—
the weight of your body spread,
your coarse beard presses into my neck.
Give me leave. Leave me like this night
of my marriage to the moon’s urgent flight;
leave me outright for the day’s light—I can’t
bear to close my eyes tonight because
I may not wake to see the end of this night.
by Ruben Quesada
We were given a curfew on the second day.
Clouds filling windows were replaced by soot
and ash from the burned out market on the corner.
We lost the smell of buttered beetroot, Wissotzky tea
and kishke; a tendril of root infiltrated a crack
in the floorboards. We kept our distance and let it grow
in disbelief. Someone said we should kill it
before it gets too strong. Hours, maybe even days,
went by as we hid waiting for attacks and looting
to end. At times, when the door opened, a waft of wind
made its way to those unfolding leaves
waving like the curtains out of blown out windows.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Take me. Take this. My wasted life and all
its bliss—the sea of your waking body
dawning with its warm grip on night’s wrist.
Your lips once curled into me. Your eyes
set me loose in a foggy lake. Loons call
to fill my deadened heart. To know
what loss is like you must lose everything,
you must lose even yourself, you said.
I am alone. Each night I lie and learn
to sing the dead back to life. Only they
can see what has been taken from me.
You are the bloodied cracks in my skin
so deep; I keep my hands together to hold
you in. Hear the damned prayers I reap.
Among the chaos of the 24/7 news cycle this week was this little gem: the 3M corporation raised a rainbow flag to honor Pride on Wednesday at their corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. If we are looking for small signs of change on how we treat each other as humans across the entire spectrum of our diversity it may seem a bit trivial, but it was in my mind none the less significant. That the flag will hang there for less a week is not important. This small step is not something that would have happened 5 years ago. It sometimes takes pain to foster change and healing. 3M is in the spotlight for providing masks to the world to protect ourselves during the pandemic and with the Twin Cities metro area in the global headlines for the wrong reasons, George Floyd’s murder, it is reassuring to see one of our corporate citizens do the right thing, take a risk and acknowledge in a public way the contributions of its LGBT scientists, employees and customers. It is a modest milestone that should be saluted.
Today’s poems are excellent examples of why not to read poetry literally. When I read the poem below it is obvious its about how readers take his poetry into their conscious and subconscious. How Whitman’s words are the essence of his best self. How poetry is sublime in ways that can cross metaphysical boundaries, but in the end, no matter how conjoined you become with a poet’s words, Whitman commands his independence and asks you, the reader to do the same. Even if you have been intimately moved and changed by what you have read and considered, you stand apart from the poet. Poetry can be a penultimate act of intimacy between two human beings but it remains personal in what we give and take as writer and as reader. Poetry in my opinion is procreation with our own souls. It is part of what I would consider essential living, the fulfillment of an exciting, passionate and considered life, whether writing it or reading it.
Another milestone this week: John Prine hit the charts with his first Billboard #1 hit with the last song he recorded before his death called I Remember Everything. He recorded it in his hotel room in London while under quarantine during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly isolation wasn’t enough and this insidious virus took his life. Prine’s song writing has always been a source of solace and inspiration to me. I smile that he is going out on top. Enjoy.
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand
by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are holding me now in hand,
Without one thing all will be useless,
I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.
Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?
The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon’d,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.
Or else by stealth in some wood for trial,
Or back of a rock in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not, nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband and I am the comrade.
Or if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus merely touching you is enough, is best,
And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.
But these leaves conning you con at peril,
For these leaves and me you will not understand,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.
For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit, that which I hinted at;
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.
I have used this time at home to continue the purge of belongings I began 10 years ago. There is something healthy about going from 3,000 square feet to 710 square feet of living space. It puts a premium on prioritizing what belongings have value. In cleaning out my garage this week, I came across the REI six man tent that was my car camp tent when my children were small. It accompanied us on many adventures. It is now 30 years old and despite multiple attempts at re-water proofing the fly, the last few times it has been used it has proven disappointing in its ability to function as a tent should. It also is bigger than I need now and weighs more than I want for hiking, so I decided it was time to part ways. I ran a CL list ad basically giving it away to a family as a kid fort in the back yard, to serve as some outdoor summer fun. I had an immediate response and it has found a better home where I hope it can create for another child some of the memories I have of the family tent as a fort in the back yard for daytime adventures and the occasional fair weather sleep over with a friend.
It is surprising to me there are not more poems written with tents as a metaphor for something grand and mystical. But then I have to remind myself that those of us that have been lucky enough to grow up with tents as part of their summer adventures are not in the majority, too many families either weren’t capable of vacations or parents ideas of vacations did not include biting insects, sand in your underwear and burned hot dogs over a fire. I am so grateful my parents did.
Do you have a favorite memory regarding a tent? What’s happened to your family tent? Is it still serviceable? Do you have plans to use it or is it time to let it find a new home and another purpose?
by Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952
When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched. History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.
“When the wound is deep, the healing is heroic. Suffering and ascendance require the same work.”
― Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Snow For Wallace Stevens
by Terrance Hayes
No one living a snowed-in life
can sleep without a blindfold.
Light is the lion that comes down to drink.
I know tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk
holds nearly the same sound as a bottle.
Drink and drank and drunk-a-drunk-drunk,
Light is the lion that comes down.
This song is for the wise man who avenges
by building his city in snow.
I know what he said in his poem.
“Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery.”
How, with pipes of winter
lining his cognition, does someone learn
to bring a sentence to its knees?
Who is not more than his limitations,
who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language have placed my faith in language.
Thus, I have a capacity for love without
forgiveness. This song is for my foe,
the clean shaven, gray-suited, gray patron
of Hartford, the emperor of whiteness
blue as a body made of snow.
Is it not true that if we were to assemble enough of our life’s work and thoughts in one place, and dug through it carefully, we would find it would be an erector set of contradictions, or at least an odd creation with parts of it out of place? Are we to throw out everything a person creates because the worst of it is worse than we expect of them or that they expect of themselves? Is that not the nature of being human? Maybe it’s impossible to walk a straight line on a round planet forever twirling endlessly in two trajectories, one a slanted axis; the very nature of it dizzying, causing us to lose our balance once in a while and go akimbo.
One of the purposes of art is to hold ourselves and other artist’s accountable, for their genius and their failures or limitations. One of the sins of white privilege, particularly in the realm of poetry, is the reverence placed on the tradition of affluent white men of means who are held up as the pantheon of poetic tradition, without recognizing their legacy of poetry is tainted by the ease with which they found a publisher and an audience, the ease they were afforded recognition, while there were equally as many gifted voices of people of color that went unnoticed, unrewarded, unpublished, unheard. We best be careful as we venture back in literature to not let the whiteness of the page on which the words are set blind us to the whiteness of the privilege of the writer’s life that for many have persisted into the present.
Terrance Hayes has a knack for connecting the present to the past, for wading in the pools of literary history, feeling their swirling eddy’s, but then making the current his own. I love his lines; “I too have lost faith in language have placed my faith in language. Thus, I have a capacity for love without forgiveness.” These are the words at the core of how we might find a path to heal as a nation. Have we the people, lost faith in the words of our founding fathers? Words like “freedom” and “justice for all“? Maybe, if we can as a nation, hold on to love, we’ll find our way forward, even if the sins committed by our founders, in allowing slavery on these shores, and institutionalizing racism by that very act and suppression of rights under Jim Crow and segregation will never deserve forgiveness.
The Brave Man
By Wallace Stevens
The sun, that brave man,
Comes through boughs that lie in wait,
That brave man.
Green and gloomy eyes
In dark forms of the grass
The good stars,
Pale helms and spiky spurs,
Fears of my bed,
Fears of life and fears of death,
That brave man comes up
From below and walks without meditation,
That brave man.
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron – Prisoner of Chillon
Sonnet on Chillon
by Lord Byron
Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
I have slept terribly in recent weeks. I don’t think I am alone in that predicament. What little sleep I get appears to be at least restful enough to have the energy I need to be productive. I am eager for life to get back to normal but I fear that what was once my “normal” maybe a thing of the past. And I fear even more, that if and when we have the tools to resume the lives we expect, that we will have all grown so accustomed to being isolated that we will be fearful to venture into the rock and roll concert mosh-pits of our existences again.
Lord Byron’s poetic voice can feel a bit antiquated, but the ideas of state sponsored suppression of minority freedoms, injustice, unfair incarceration, and in spite of those opposing forces, hopeful dreams for a better future are as relevant in his verse from 200 years ago as today. I look to poets to help me make sense of the senseless in times of grief and loss and fear. Which poets do you find inspiration from right now? What emerging new voices have caught your attention?
Life is Twofold
(From The Dream)
by Lord Byron
Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
a boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence. Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality;
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight off our waking toils.
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity.
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain.
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of their own,
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh….
Said the chair unto the table,
“Now you know we are not able!
How foolishly you talk
When you know we cannot walk!”
Said the table with a sigh,
“It can do no harm to try.
I’ve as many legs as you.
Why can’t we walk on two?”
Edward Lear – Excerpt from The Table To The Chair
by T. S. Eliot
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
I have a confession. I hope you will find it as funny as I do. I live in a small one bedroom condo and the distance from my desk to my Lay-Z-Boy is about 15 feet. I have on occasion during the age of COVID-19 and working from home begun taking long teleconferences from the comfort of my recliner. This is one of those well built, real leather clad behemoths that can stand the test of time. It has been tanned a second time by the sweat and oils of my skin, a patina leather furniture takes on with their owners essence over many years of use. It also has a certain voice, a low squeak and bark that leather makes when your body settles into it, particularly in the summer. It makes that sound of leather rubbing on leather when you move about in it changing positions. It talks to me in a pleasant greeting telling me; “settle down, get comfortable, put your feet up.” It has talked to me so long in that leathery low voice that I cease to give it a second thought.
I was chatting with my girl friend the other night from its comfortable confines and she said, “What are you doing? What’s that sound?” I said, “What sound?” She said, “It sounds like you have terrible gas tonight.” I laughed, “this sound?” and I raised and lowered the recliner’s foot rest a few times continuously, suddenly realizing that the microphone on an Apple I-Phone picks up that leather squeaking as exactly like a huge fart. My recliner has become a giant whoopee cushion. We both started giggling wondering how many people on group conference calls with me recently were wondering who was in such distress. We laughed and laughed. It’s reassuring to know that neither of us have out grown a good fart joke. But, I think I need to rethink taking conference calls from the recliner. I have a certain professional decorum to uphold….
The Chair She Sits In
by Albert Rios (1952
I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—
The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.
It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in
But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one
And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.
There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.
It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,
The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.