My True Verse

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Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis MN

The following is a re-posting from October of 2017 of a portion of one of the first blog entries on Fourteenlines in honor of my Mother’s birthday.  If you would like to read the entire post use the calendar side bar to revisit it.

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Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

October in Minneapolis is a sacred month.   It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky.  Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees.  Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come.  Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.

October is sacred for another reason for me personally.  It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.

The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother.   Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on.   My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again.   That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure.  Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota,  allowed me and my oldest sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.

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Mary Fry

Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night.  It started out informally but grew to have regular rules.   We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months.  The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through).   We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time,  then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next.  We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence.  Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.

Love is a Place

by e. e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)  all worlds

My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace.

It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother.   Words never measure up.   I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process.  It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light.  The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.  I read it before the small group of family and friends that had gathered to remember and celebrate her life.

Happy Birthday Mom.

My True Verse

by T. A. Fry

Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.

Feel Me To Do Right

May Swenson (1913 – 1989)

The summer that I was ten – Can it be there was only one summer that I was ten? It must have been a long one then.

May Swenson

That The Soul May Wax Plump

by May Swenson

“He who has reached the highest degree of
emptiness will be secure in repose.”
A Taoist saying

My dumpy little mother on the undertaker’s slab
had a mannequin’s grace. From chin to foot
the sheet outlined her, thin and tall. Her face
uptilted, bloodless, smooth, had a long smile.
Her head rested on a block under her nape,
her neck was long, her hair waved, upswept. But later,
at “the viewing,” sunk in the casket in pink tulle,
an expensive present that might spoil, dressed
in Eden’s green apron, organdy bonnet on,
she shrank, grew short again, and yellow. Who
put the gold-rimmed glasses on her shut face, who
laid her left hand with the wedding ring on
her stomach that really didn’t seem to be there
under the fake lace?

Mother’s work before she died was self-purification,
a regimen of near starvation, to be worthy to go
to Our Father, Whom she confused (or, more aptly, fused)
with our father, in Heaven long since. She believed
in evacuation, an often and fierce purgation,
meant to teach the body to be hollow, that the soul
may wax plump. At the moment of her death, the wind
rushed out from all her pipes at once. Throat and rectum
sang together, a galvanic spasm, hiss of ecstasy.
Then, a flat collapse. Legs and arms flung wide,
like that female Spanish saint slung by the ankles
to a cross, her mouth stayed open in a dark O. So,
her vigorous soul whizzed free. On the undertaker’s slab,
she lay youthful, cool, triumphant, with a long smile.


 

Feel Me

By May Swenson 
 
“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed.
We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant.
His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall.
He left us a key, but how did it fit? “Feel me
to do right.” Did it mean that, though he died, he would be felt
through some aperture, or by some unseen instrument
our dad just then had come to know? So, to do right always,
we need but feel his spirit? Or was it merely his apology
for dying? “Feel that I do right in not trying,
as you insist, to stay on your side. There is the wide
gateway and the splendid tower, and you implore me
to wait here, with the worms!”
 
Had he defined his terms, and could we discriminate
among his motives, we might have found out how to “do right”
before we died—supposing he felt he suddenly knew
what dying was. “You do wrong because you do not feel
as I do now” was maybe the sense. “Feel me, and emulate
my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right
for the first time.” And then the vessel burst,
and we were kneeling around an emptiness.
 
We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us,
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm,
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek
his meaning. “Feel me,” he said, and emphasized that word.
Should we have heard it as a plea for a caress—
a constant caress, since flesh to flesh was all that we
could do right if we would bless him?
The dying must feel the pressure of that question—
lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot
cowards there above protesting their love, and saying,
“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens
and the blue night pours through. “What can we do?
We want to do what’s right.”
 
“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be
with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.”

Lost To All Music Now

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am part of all that I have met.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIT MDCCCXXXIII: 5

by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
 
But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
 
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold;
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.


The Bad Season Makes the Poet Sad

By Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
 
 
Dull to myself, and almost dead to these
My many fresh and fragrant mistresses;
Lost to all music now, since everything
Puts on the semblance here of sorrowing.
Sick is the land to th’ heart, and doth endure
More dangerous faintings by her desp’rate cure.
But if that golden age would come again
And Charles here rule, as he before did reign;
If smooth and unperplex’d the seasons were
As when the sweet Maria lived here;
I should delight to have my curls half drown’d
In Tyrian dews, and head with roses crown’d.
And once more yet (ere I am laid out dead)
Knock at a star with my exalted head.

All Life Is Built From Song

James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)

You are young, gifted, and Black. We must begin to tell our young, There’s a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that’s just begun.

James Weldon Johnson

If-ing

by Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967)

If I had some small change
I’d buy me a mule,
Get on that mule and
Ride like a fool.

If I had some greenbacks
I’d buy me a Packard,
Fill it up with gas and
Drive that baby backward.

If I had a million
I’d get me a plane
And everybody in America’d
Think I was insane.

But I ain’t got a million,
Fact is, ain’t got a dime —
So just by if-ing
I have a good time!


 

Now and Then

by James Weldon Johnson

 

“All life is built from song”
   In youth’s young morn I sang;
And from a top-near hill
   The echo broke and rang.

The years with pinions swift
   To youth’s high noon made flight,
“All life is built from song”
   I sang amid the fight.

To life’s sun-setting years,
   My feet have come—Alas!
And through its hopes and fears
   Again I shall not pass.

The lusty song my youth
   With high-heart ardor sang
Is but a tinkling sound—
   A cymbal’s empty clang.

And now I sing, my Dear,
   With wisdom’s wiser heart,
“All life is built from love,
   And song is but a part.”

Love Will Endure

May Sarton (1912 – 1995)

We have to dare to be ourselves, no matter how frightening or strange that self may prove to be.

May Sarton

Poem in Autumn

by May Sarton

Now over everything the autumn light is thrown
And every line is sharp ad every leaf is clear,
Now without density or weight the airy sun
Sits in the flaming boughs, an innocent fire
That shines but does not burn nor wither.
The leaves, light-penetrated, change their essence,
Take on the gold transparence of the weather,
Are touched by death, then by light’s holy presence.

So we, first touched by death, were changed in essence,
As if grief grew transparent and turned to airy gold
And we were given days of special radiance,
Light-brimmed, light-shaken, and with love so filled
It seemed the heartbeat of the world was in our blood,
And when we stood together, love was everywhere,
And no exchange was needed, if exchange we could
The blessedness of sunlight poised on air.


Autumn Sonnets

by May Sarton

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go

There’s A Bluebird In My Heart

Joyce Peseroff

Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.

Charles Bukowski

Bluebird

by Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994)

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

 


Bluebird

By Joyce Peseroff

My mother’s voice is at my throat
—”Try a scarf in the neckline”—
and on my lips: “Just a little
lipstick.” Today I’m wearing both.
 
My “mother’s voice,” pitched high, carries
reprimand and care:
“No boom on the table!” My daughter
swats me as I carry her
 
away from the dearest
activity on earth—sticks, stones, struck
as if the coffee table were a flint.
 
“Barbarian,” I croon
in heels. “What’s that?” she asks and rips
a nylon with a fingernail.
 
She cries at the turtleneck
pulled over her head. “I’ll give you something
to cry about!” I hush, succeeding for another
 
day, or an hour—another minute
late for work. Tonight I’ll choose
a lullaby: “Bluebird
at my window,” Mother sang to me,
a voice that could broom sorrow
 
through the door . . . A decal
staggered on the painted bureau,
blue wing seeking, finding no way out.

Summer In The Stomach

And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet corn boiled, with the addition of salt.

Henry David Thoreau

Coming Home At Twilight In Late Summer

by Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

 


Self-Portrait as a Bear

by Donald Hall

Here is a fat animal, a bear
that is partly a dodo.
Ridiculous wings hang at his shoulders
as if they were collarbones
while he plods in the bad brickyards
at the edge of the city, smiling
and eating flowers. He eats them
because he loves them
because they are beautiful
because they love him.
It is eating flowers which makes him so fat.
He carries his huge stomach
over the gutters of damp leaves
in the parking lots in October,
but inside that paunch
he knows there are fields of lupine
and meadows of mustard and poppy.
He encloses sunshine.
Winds bend the flowers
in combers across the valley,
birds hang on the stiff wind,
at night there are showers, and the sun
lifts through a haze every morning
of the summer in the stomach

Springing Naked To The Light

Sir, say no more.
Within me ’t is as if
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.

 

Live Blindly And Upon The Hour

By Trumbull Stickney
 
Live blindly and upon the hour. The Lord,
Who was the Future, died full long ago.
Knowledge which is the Past is folly. Go,
Poor child, and be not to thyself abhorred.
Around thine earth sun-wingèd winds do blow
And planets roll; a meteor draws his sword;
The rainbow breaks his seven-coloured chord
And the long strips of river-silver flow:
Awake! Give thyself to the lovely hours.
Drinking their lips, catch thou the dream in flight
About their fragile hairs’ aërial gold.
Thou art divine, thou livest,—as of old
Apollo springing naked to the light,
And all his island shivered into flowers.
 
 

I Used To Think

 
by Trumbull Stickney
 
I used to think
The mind essential in the body, even
As stood the body essential in the mind:
Two inseparable things, by nature equal
And similar, and in creation’s song
Halving the total scale: it is not so.
Unlike and cross like driftwood sticks they come
Churned in the giddy trough: a chunk of pine,
A slab of rosewood: mangled each on each
With knocks and friction, or in deadly pain
Sheathing each other’s splinters: till at last
Without all stuff or shape they ’re jetted up
Where in the bluish moisture rot whate’er
Was vomited in horror from the sea.

Where The Simple Heart is Bowed

Léonie Adams (1899 – 1988)

An envy of that one consummate part
Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep,
Some inner silences are at my heart.

Léonie Adams

Country of the Proud

By Léonie Adams
 
A fall over rock,
Metal answering to water,
Is the seal of this spot;
A land trodden by music
And the tune forgot.
 
Of a region savage,
The territory that was broken,
Silver gushed free;
And earth holy, earth meek shall receive it
In humility.
 
This, not dwelt in, this haunted,
The country of the proud,
Is curdling to stone,
And careless of the feet of the waters
As they glance from it down.
 
 

Send Forth The High Falcon

by Léonie Adams
 
Send forth the high falcon flying after the mind   
Till it come toppling down from its cold cloud:   
The beak of the falcon to pierce it till it fall
Where the simple heart is bowed.
O in wild innocence it rides
The rare ungovernable element,
But once it sways to terror and descent,
The marches of the wind are its abyss,
No wind staying it upward of the breast—
Let mind be proud for this,
And ignorant from what fabulous cause it dropt,
Or with how learned a gesture the unschooled heart   
Shall lull both terror and innocence to rest

I Have Made It This Far

Anne Sexton

In a dream you are never eighty.

Anne Sexton

The Starry Night

By Anne Sexton 

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.   
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.
 
It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons   
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.   
Oh starry starry night! This is how   
I want to die:
 
into that rushing beast of the night,   
sucked up by that great dragon, to split   
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.


Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound

(An Excerpt)

By Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974)
 
I am surprised to see
that the ocean is still going on.   
Now I am going back
and I have ripped my hand
from your hand as I said I would   
and I have made it this far
as I said I would
and I am on the top deck now   
holding my wallet, my cigarettes   
and my car keys
at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday
in August of 1960.
 
Dearest,
although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.   
The sea is very old.
The sea is the face of Mary,
without miracles or rage
or unusual hope,
grown rough and wrinkled
with incurable age.
 
Still,
I have eyes.
These are my eyes:
the orange letters that spell   
ORIENT on the life preserver   
that hangs by my knees;
the cement lifeboat that wears   
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf   
saying KEEP OFF.
Oh, all right, I say,
I’ll save myself.