More Onerous Than The Rites of Beauty

linda-pastan
Linda Paston b. 1932

“It is all around us, free, this wonderful life: clear jingle of tire chains, the laughter of ice that breaks under our boots. Each hour’s a gift to those who take it up.” 

― Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book

The Obligation To Be Happy

by Linda Paston

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.


I have the annoying habit of being in a good mood in the morning when I get up, annoying at least to those that enjoy a bit of melancholy and gloom with their first cup of coffee. I realize that there is little difference between the two breakfast visages, each its own armor to the start of the day and separated in humor by less than the width of smile.

The harder acceptance for me is the realization that for some people happiness is a burden they would prefer to not carry around with them. Happiness is something uncomfortable to them, an infrequent, temporary visitor that stays only awkwardly for a quick spot of tea and then makes a tepid excuse for why it needs to hurry off again. Linda Paston’s poem provides genuine insight into something foreign to my nature, not quite full blown depression but melancholy.

I heard this week a perky scientist explaining on NPR they have isolated a hormonal response in mice which prevents them from going into depression under stress. It sounds like a such a wonderful idea, particularly to people like myself that struggle to understand the true nature of depression having never experienced it.  But what do we lose as a species if we fail to feel the full range of emotions?  Depression that results in suicide is a mental state to be avoided and can be medically addressed, but grief, the blues, sadness and meloncholy are not fatal conditions and a normal spectrum of the human condition.  Next time someone is sad in your midst, hesitate before you tell them to “cheer up.”  Linda Paston’s poem a potent reminder that we all experience life differently and one person’s blues maybe another person’s way to live fully in their skin.


After Years

by Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

 

Quiet As The Sun Always Goes

kenneth-rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth (1905 – 1982)

Quietly

by Kenneth Rexroth

Lying here quietly beside you,
My cheek against your firm, quiet thighs,
The calm music of Boccherini
Washing over us in the quiet,
As the sun leaves the housetops and goes
Out over the Pacific, quiet–
So quiet the sun moves beyond us,
So quiet as the sun always goes,
So quiet, our bodies, worn with the
Times and the penances of love, our
Brains curled, quiet in their shells, dormant,
Our hearts slow, quiet, reliable
In their interlocking rhythms, the pulse
In your thigh caressing my cheek. Quiet.


Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Constantly risking absurdity
and death
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
The poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of day
performing entrechats
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
anything
for what it may not be

For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap

And he
a little charley chaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems copyright 1958

And The Heart That Fed

ozymandias
The Relic of Ramses II that inspired Ozymandias

Ozymandias

by Horace Smith

IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.


Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 


Where does inspiration arise?   In the case of Shelley’s famous poem, it came from a little gamesmenship between two friends, a modest wager of who could write the better poem after seeing a drawing of Ozymandias pictured above.   Smith was a friend of Shelley’s and the two each wrote a sonnet after reading a portion of Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca historica, a history of the known world in the last century BC, much of which survives.

It does not seem such an odd place for poetic inspiration.  My parents invested in a complete Encyclopedia Britanica as a child, a very expensive addition to our library, and placed it on the lowest book shelf to give all of us easy access.  It served two purposes as a child.  It was the perfect building material for adding height and variation to hot wheel tracks, when hot wheels were only powered by gravity, and on rainy days, I would sit by the heater with the cats, and pull out a letter and browse through it, stumbling upon all kinds of interesting things I knew nothing about.   In grade school the Encyclopedia was the first place you went to begin a book report or paper on any subject.  Today, you see them out for free at yard sales, the owners hoping someone will cart them off.

I will never completely succumb to the lure of the simplicity of the digital era.  I don’t want an algorithm dictating what I do and don’t see based on past searches.  I want the freedom to stumble across something completely foreign and inviting.   I still look at maps, instead of relying on GPS for the same reason.   A map gives you context.  A map can tell you things about your surroundings that you had no idea existed.  A map can help you take the detour that turns out to be your real destination after all.  And I still enjoy finding an encyclopedia and pulling out a letter and opening it up randomly to find out what cool thing in Volume W might contain.

Something Miraculous Will Happen

Olav Hauge
Olav Hauge  (1908 – 1994)

It’s The Dream

By Olav Hauge
Translated by Robin Fulton

It’s the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the mountains will open
that springs will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn’t know was there.


June has arrived, a soggier version of itself this year, but none the less welcome.  The school year is coming to an end, the teachers in my life every bit as glad for the upcoming break as the students.  If I plan it right, there are several weekends of free meals at graduation parties, the promenade of new graduates ever younger appearing it seems than the previous year.  It must be that our brains get stuck in a time warp, looking at ourselves each morning and evening in the mirror brushing our teeth, that we are fooled into thinking we are not aging, only to be shocked by how baby faced the new crop of college and high school seniors appear in their garish cap and gowns. How is that every year they appear younger?

I am so glad I am not graduating from anything as formal as school anymore. My personal commencements these days are simpler, more private; a car loan paid off, a house project completed, a big project at work finalized, a son or daughter moving into their first apartment.  No new diplomas to be hung on the wall, but the satisfaction of accomplishment equally as genuine.  The terrible part of having to settle on a degree is that it seems to limit your options from that point forward.  I never really could decide what I wanted to be when I grew up but managed to stumble upon a career that I have truly enjoyed. But if I had it to do over again, my guess is I would have stumbled into something else, as it never felt like I really had a grand plan on how I was going to make a living.  My goal today is to keep graduating each spring with fresh skills, regardless if they are employable.

What’s are you graduating from this spring?   What shall you commence to do from this new demarcation?  Where’s your own little harbor that you didn’t know even existed until you sailed into its’ smooth waters?


Gratitude For Old Teachers

by Robert Bly

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked.  But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?
Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then- holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

Music, When Soft Voices Die

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Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Music, When Soft Voices Die

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

 


life is more true than reason will deceive

by e. e. cummings

life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose:higher than have
—but beauty is more each than living’s

all multiplied by infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete;pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing’s more than everything)

death, as men call him, ends what they call men
—but beauty is more now than dying’s when

I Miss Your Voice, Your Elegance

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Quietus

By T. A. Fry

The sun rises with no less dazzling sway,
And yet, gardens sulk in muted eloquence.
Nature’s splendor is colder ever since
Quietus bore your gentle hand away.
It’s your silence which weighs upon my days.
Unexpected things will make me wince.
For I miss your voice, your elegance
All which hold me still amidst the fray.

You draped and shaped us with loving shears.
Thin striplings pruned and fed to reach the sun
You protected us from winter’s coldest years
To bloom again despite what’s done is done.
In mourning,  I’ll manage through these low tears
Ever blessed to be your beloved son.


 

Happy Memorial Day!

The Extreme Austerity Of An Almost Empty Mind

John Ashbery
John Ashbery (1927 – 2017)

I don’t look on poetry as closed works. I feel they’re going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.

John Ashbery

Sonnet: More of Same

by John Ashbery

Try to avoid the pattern that has been avoided,
the avoidance pattern. It’s not as easy as it looks:
The herringbone is floating eagerly up
from the herring to become parquet. Or whatever suits it.
New fractals clamour to be identical
to their sisters. Half of them succeed. The others
go on to be Provencal floral prints some sleepy but ingenious
weaver created halfway through the eighteenth century,
and they never came to life until now.
It’s like practising a scale: at once different and never the same.
Ask not why we do these things. Ask why we find them meaningful.
Ask the cuckoo transfixed in mid-flight
between the pagoda and the hermit’s rococo cave. He may tell you


And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name

by John Ashbery

You can’t say it that way any more.
Bothered about beauty you have to
Come out into the open, into a clearing.
And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
Of you, you who have so many lovers.
People who look up to you and are willing
To do things for you, but you think
It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
So much for self-analysis. Now,
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
There are a lot of other things of the same quality
As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
Ought to be written about how this affects
You when you write poetry:
The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.