I Will Dissolve Gold

Singer-front-cover
To Order A Copy Go to Prolific Press:

https://prolificpress.com/bookstore/chapbook-series-c-14/elemental-by-julia-klatt-singer-p-256.html

 

Cobalt Co, 27

by Julia Klatt Singer

The color I bruise,
the color of blood,
the color of dusk,
of knowing,
of longing.

I hold my breath –
imagine you;
the color of your eyes – the color
of the sea, of crickets,
of music of me.

The color stars turn
when they realize
they are not
alone.


It is the 150th anniversary this week of the periodic table, that much seems to be accepted. But which chemist should actually get credit for that leap forward in thinking is a bit more muddled. More than one scientist contributed to early versions, Dmitri Mendeleev most often credited, but Alexandre-Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois and Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier both could lay claim to significant contributions as well. As often happens with science, innovation happens simultaneously on multiple fronts and when history is written someone gets lead credit for what is really a mashup of combined brilliance. Regardless, the periodic table was a leap forward in thinking about how to align and describe elements based on their atomic weight and atomic structure, so accurate in its depiction that it would predict elements that wouldn’t be found until well into the future.

Julia Klatt Singer, a Minneapolis poet, and longtime friend, used the periodic table as inspiration to create poetry that is elemental in its humanness and empathy.  I picked two poems from her new collection; Cobalt because it is fourteen lines and a beautiful poem and Nitrogen because she nailed it.  I also picked Nitrogen because it has the largest impact of all elements in increasing crop yields.

Nitrogen is the most plentiful gas in our atmosphere. By volume, the air we breathe contains 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95%oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases and water vapor. Despite nitrogen being abundant all around us, the ability to synthesize it efficiently and effectively from the atmosphere was a threat to humanity’s ability to feed the planet early in the 20th Century. Several European governments offered a significant monetary reward to the first scientist who could crack the code and find a way to produce ammonia abundantly from the air. Fritz Haber rose to that challenge and figured out in 1909 that with the right combination of heat, pressure and specific catalyst it was possible to break the bonds of N2 gas and create NH3 (ammonia). Carl Bosch built on Haber’s invention and figured out how to produce ammonia and anhydrous ammonia NH4NO3 on a industrial scale, making nitrogen fertilizer inexpensive and plentiful as well providing one of the key building blocks for the entire modern chemical industry possible today.  Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918 for his part and Bosch the Nobel Prize in 1931.

In 100 years, the world’s population has grown from 1.5 billion to over 7 billion, largely because of the increase in crop yields through improved crop nutrition with nitrogen the most significant driving force. To maximize yields sustainably crops need balanced crop nutrition, with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium fertilizers the most important contributors to improving crop production in our modern era.  It is ironic that famine and hunger are so distant in our memory for most in the developed world that there are those that now consider fertilizer and specifically nitrogen fertilizer an optional luxury. If we attempted to feed the world through the current definitions of “organic” certification, we would rapidly be on a path towards declining soil productivity, wide spread food shortages and famine unless we all put our hands in the middle and agreed to all be vegetarians and give up feeding livestock and eating meat, eggs and milk. Long term research trials have shown that up to 60 percent of crops yield is directly influenced by fertilizer and crop nutrition and it is that increase in yield that has made it possible for populations to rise along with greater economic prosperity in the past 100 years. That’s not to say we can’t improve efficiency with which crops use fertilizer or reduce losses into rivers and lakes through better timing and placement of fertilizer, but a world in which fertilizer is not abundant is a world of food scarcity and conflict. There’s an old saying, “First world countries have lots of problems.  Third world countries have only one problem – how to provide the basic necessities to feed their citizens.”  So as you read Klatt-Singer’s poem below, think about how the miracle of our ability to produce ammonia from nitrogen in the atmosphere and how that impacts political stability today and into the future.

For more information on the periodic table, including Julia Klatt Singer own placement on the chart with the element of surprise, check out this website: https://openkim.org/

Enjoy and go to Prolific Press to order a copy of Elemental for yourself.

periodic-table

 


Nitrogen N, 7

by Julia Klatt Singer

I am Nitrogen tonight,

colorless – tasteless – relatively rare
 .          . always causing difficulty.

But useful
when I burn or decay.

You cannot wash me away,
I make the ocean my bed.

Prefer moons
that have atmosphere.

I am impure.

I will dissolve gold.

Love Is Proved In The Letting Go

 

Pearl

“poetry is not—except in a very limited sense—a form of self-expression. Who on earth supposes that the pearl expresses the oyster?”

O Dreams, O Destinations

Sonnet 1

by Cecil Day Lewis

For infants time is like a humming shell
Heard between sleep and sleep, wherein the shores
Foam-fringed, wind-fluted of the strange earth dwell
And the sea’s cavernous hunger faintly roars.
It is the humming pole of summer lanes
Whose sound quivers like heat-haze endlessly
Over the corn, over the poppied plains —
An emanation from the earth or sky.
Faintly they hear, through the womb’s lingering haze,
A rumour of that sea to which they are born:
They hear the ringing pole of summer days,
But need not know what hungers for the corn.
They are the lisping rushes in a stream —
Grace-notes of a profound, legato dream


In the last blog I ended with the question that arose from James Baldwin’s poem The Giver; does an artist give up something integral of themselves in giving their art to the world? I didn’t write it at the time, but what was also in my mind is does the same hold true of parents with their children and children with their parents? The greatest act of giving that we can provide to each other is to embrace independence, a belief that our greatest achievements are gifted to the world. But Cecil Day-Lewis’ quote above is equally true. Our children are not an expression of their parents, they are entirely of their own wonderful creation, we only provide a thin shell of protection along the way, their real beauty of their own volition.

March is coming in like a lion, a cold lion in Minneapolis.  It’s -9 F this morning, but the sun is shining and the snow is beautiful. Ice dams decorate every 1950’s era home in my neighborhood and despite the inconvenience of needing to warm up the car before heading out it’s awfully pretty in this big wintry world I live in.  I refuse to grumble about the snow and cold as I sleep most contentedly when its this chilly in a drafty old house next to my beautifully warm partner,  our bodies naturally needing the touch of the other in the night beneath the covers.   I think therapists should send feuding spouses to sleep in old farm houses in Minnesota as touch therapy as they would settle their differences pretty quickly in search of heat in the other’s arms.  If I could sleep every night in winter with my partner, I would get a much better nights sleep all the year round.

Enjoy this brisk Sunday and let your pearls out, whatever they maybe, to roll around freely to catch the sun in all their glory.


Walking Away

by Cecil Day Lewis

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

 

 

I Cannot Tell How Much I Owe

Duke-Ellington-Library-of-Congress
Duke Ellington – Such Sweet Thunder

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

James Baldwin

The Giver  (For Berdis)

By James Baldwin

If the hope of giving
is to love the living,
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.

Some such lesson I seemed to see
in the faces that surrounded me.

Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted,
what gift would give them the gift to be gifted?
 .     . The giver is no less adrift
 .     . than those who are clamouring for the gift.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer
knows that all of his giving has been for naught
and that nothing was ever what he thought
and turns in his guilty bed to stare
at the starving multitudes standing there
and rises from bed to curse at heaven,
he must yet understand that to whom much is given
much will be taken, and justly so:
I cannot tell how much I owe.


James Baldwin was a prolific writer but not a prolific poet. At first glance The Giver is not a sonnet.  However, look closer. From the line Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted to the close every line is exactly 10 syllables long except the two lines: The giver is no less adrift than those who are clamouring for the gift.  The entire final two stanzas are 15 lines, because of one triplet.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer

I have written several sonnets which could not be contained by traditional rhyming sequences or by fourteen lines. These sonnets fall under the umbrella of protection of the same muse, but force their way out into unique forms because the poet has a need to break the rules and let the poem find its own way. Atypical sonnets can challenge us with questions about why the poem is structured the way it is. The themes of The Giver fall squarely in the purview of sonnets throughout literature with its personal first person voice and its message of reconciliation and atonement.

Another great artist of the Harlem renaissance, Duke Ellington, wrote and recorded a series of jazz songs that were inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare and titled several of the songs sonnets as a way to honor the great bard. I have included the Sonnet for Caesar below, preformed as a collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as a sound track, as you read The Giver a second time and ponder the question whether Baldwin’s opening line is true, and why many artists who give their art to the world are a little mad;  If the hope of giving is to love the living, the giver risks madness in the act of giving.

 


 

The Giver  (For Berdis)

By James Baldwin

If the hope of giving
is to love the living,
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.

Some such lesson I seemed to see
in the faces that surrounded me.

Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted,
what gift would give them the gift to be gifted?
 .     . The giver is no less adrift
 .     . than those who are clamouring for the gift.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer
knows that all of his giving has been for naught
and that nothing was ever what he thought
and turns in his guilty bed to stare
at the starving multitudes standing there
and rises from bed to curse at heaven,
he must yet understand that to whom much is given
much will be taken, and justly so:
I cannot tell how much I owe.

Go Ahead, See Where It Goes

Dove
Rita Dove

“There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.”

Rita Dove

Demeter’s Prayer to Hades

by Rita Dove

This alone is what I wish for you: knowledge.
To understand each desire and its edge,
to know we are responsible for the lives
we change. No faith comes without cost,
no one believes without dying.
Now for the first time
the trail you have planted,
what ground opened to waste,
though you dreamed a wealth
of flowers.
  .                 . There are no curses, only mirrors
hold up to the souls of gods and mortals.
And so I give up this fate, too.
Believe in yourself,
go ahead – see where it gets you.


I got shivers when I read for the first time Rita Dove’s poem titled Sonnet, which I have shared below.   It cut into me, the words laceratingly familiar as I read them.  Does that ever happen to you with poetry? The hair on the back of your ,neck goes up after the second line, you suddenly feel naked before the author’s words, as if they had burst in on you in a dressing room at Macy’s by accident, witnessing all your humanness and then had the audacity to write a poem about it.

My friend Liz described to me her thrill in hearing Auden lecture in person at the University of Minnesota and the lightning bolt that experience created in her mind. She had been trained in college to think that poetry was something academics interpreted and then they told you what to think. Auden declared, use your own brain, let poetry speak to you in your own voice and make of it what you will. (A bit ironic coming from a retired Presbyterian minister who was already ordained at the time, since wasn’t the reformation about not needing an elite group of academics to interpret what you find sacred?) But we all learn through parables in our lives at our own pace and at the proper time.

Rita Dove’s sonnet, Demeter’s Prayer to Hades’ cements in my mind my feeling that these sonnets about Persephone are not solely about parenting in the traditional sense, except the parenting we all do of ourselves.  The truth is, we never truly parent our children, we live by example. Our children have their own minds, their own filters, their own experiences. We pretend we help them grow when in reality we feed and clothe and shelter them and what they learn of love and life they learn by watching us how we parent ourselves. If we parent ourselves with wisdom, forgiveness and compassion they likely will be influenced by the example. If we parent with excessive anxiety, then do not be surprised if they follow suit. I learned as much from my parents humbly admitting their mistakes than from the 98% of their lives they lived in prosperity. If we parent ourself with consistent recklessness, stupidity and anger, they will either by seduced by its ugliness or become orphans to find their own way.  So like Dove says – “believe in yourself – see where it goes.”  Parent yourself in ways, you will be honored if your children follow suit, and if nothing else, “one learns to walk by walking.”


Sonnet

by Rita Dove

Nothing can console me.  You may bring silk
to make skin sigh, dispense yellow roses
in the matter of ripened dignitaries.
You can tell me repeatedly
I am unbearable (and I know this):
still, nothing turns the gold into corn
nothing is sweet to the tooth crushing in.

I’ll not ask for the impossible
One learns to walk by walking.
In time I will forget this empty brimming.
I may laugh again at
a bird, perhaps, chucking the nest –
but it will not be happiness,
for I have known that.

This Is Important, Stop Fooling Around!

Rita Dove
Rita Dove (1952 –

The poetry that sustains me is when I feel that, for a minute, the clouds have parted and I’ve seen ecstasy or something.

Rita Dove

Persephone, Falling

by Rita Dove

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.

No one! She had strayed from the herd.
(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don’t answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.


There are several well-reasoned analysis of this poem which say that it is about parenting and cautioning children about the dangers of strangers, with Hades in his carriage from the underworld a pretty grandiose stranger. But that is not what this poem speaks to me.  I find in her words an artist’s admission to the lure of poetry and writing. The splendid terribleness of having to let go and fall and fall into your own pit of your imagination. And then find in that falling the beautiful truth of whatever it is that you are going to write about and the courage to share.

The goddess Persephone is a crazy metaphor to begin with in shaping this sonnet.  She is the goddess of the plant kingdom and prosperity of the harvest.  Yet she is kidnapped by Hades into the underworld to be his wife, bringing famine to the world as nothing can grow where no light reaches. There is not a true poet alive who feels they have any choice but to write even if they starve in some ways for it. Their purpose in life has been kidnapped in search of the right words, to write words, to impart the intangible in a way that they themselves and possibly their readers can grasp ecstasy for a moment.

Artists, teachers, clergy and everyone else who peddles in matters of the soul eventually have to give themselves wholly over to the pursuit of their vocation, even if it means entrapment in a place that does not always serve their best interest.  It is not a choice that can be made halfway. You either commit and succeed or are reticent and fail. Hades’ Pitch, the sonnet below, I think is a continuation of this admission, that in finding her artistic voice, she had to accept the lure of fire and darkness that comes with commitment, passion and desire.  A poet experiences unpleasantness, the process of writing comes easy to some, but for most is hard work and not everything they are going to write is going to be about subjects that want to visit or revisit. Great art sometimes is about scars or leaves them in its creation. Fisherman have callouses on their hands. Writers have callouses on their reputations, for half the critics will evaluate you for your best work and the other half judge you only by your worst.

I love the quote from Audre Lorde below and believe it to be true of all great artists like Rita Dove as well; “that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.”  What are you teaching or creating today to continue being?  

Audre Lorde

I am Black, Woman, and Poet—fact, and outside the realm of choice. I can choose only to be or not be, and in various combinations of myself. And as my breath is a part of my breathing, my eyes of my seeing, all that I am is of who I am, is of what I do. The shortest statement of philosophy I have is my living, or the word ‘I.’

Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker, for already my children betray me in television, in plastic, in misplaced angers.

Last spring, under a National Endowment to the Arts Grand, I spent some time as Poet in Residence at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where I became convinced, anti-academic though I am, that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.

At the City University of New York, I teach young people.


Hades’ Pitch

by Rita Dove 

 

If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there
on the inside, above the bone—leans closer,
breath of lime and pepper—I know I could
make love to you.
She considers
this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite
sure what he meant. He was good
with words, words that went straight to the liver.
Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom—
cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone
gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire?
Her ankle burns where he described it. She sighs
just as her mother above ground stumbles, is caught
by the fetlock—bereft in an instant—
while the Great Man drives home his desire.

I Am The Darker Brother

langston hughes 2
Langston Hughes

 

“I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?

~ Langston Hughes

 

I, Too

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.
Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.


Dreams were a constant theme in Langston Hughes writing from his first published poem, Weary Blues, to one of his most famous, Harlem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load

Or does it explode?

When Elmer Rice, a playwright, sent out a questionnaire to others on the black list from Senator McCarthy’s investigation into “Anti-American” activities, Langston Hughes, who was at the top of the list replied in a 1952 letter:

Dear Elmer,

Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:

  1. The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.

He goes on to give a more thorough scorching of the racism and lack of opportunity he has faced in career, because of racism. I am always drawn to Hughes for his honesty. There is a righteous anger that runs through the back bone of his verse, even in his poems of joy, that gives it validity and strength. I have shared other Hughes poems in earlier posts, including his poem Let America Be America Again a much more compelling vision for change than our president’s red MAGA hat – which represents to me when I see it, a buffoon puffing his chest to “Make Assholes Great Again.”

Hughes’ poem below, As I Grow Older, brings the imagery of walls into focus. It is a powerful reminder that walls have symbolism far beyond their physical presence. Walls can serve a purpose in making peace between neighbors and providing physical security. But walls that are meant only to keep people corralled in ways that prevent them from seeing their hope for the future serve no one’s best interest and will eventually be torn down with time.

Let’s spend our money wisely.  Let’s support the arts with federal tax dollars with equal zeal with which we invest in the military and border security and see which one in the end moves us further forward in meeting the ideals of what America can be, with a just, strong and safe, civil society.


As I Grew Older

by Langston Hughes

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

 

 

Where Shall We Meet

paul-laurence-dunbar
Paul Lawrence Dunbar

On An Old Book With Uncut Leaves

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

Emblem of blasted hope and lost desire,
No finger ever traced thy yellow page
Save Time’s. Thou hast not wrought to noble rage
The hearts thou wouldst have stirred. Not any fire
Save sad flames set to light a funeral pyre
Dost thou suggest. Nay,–impotent in age,
Unsought, thou holdst a corner of the stage
And ceasest even dumbly to aspire.

How different was the thought of him that writ.
What promised he to love of ease and wealth,
When men should read and kindle at his wit.
But here decay eats up the book by stealth,
While it, like some old maiden, solemnly,
Hugs its incongruous virginity


I wonder if you have to be a writer to understand the sadness of this poem?  Only writers think about such things as whether the words they put forth are destined to languish, untouched and unbidden, between the pages of a fading dust jacket.  Dunbar is one of the those writers who does everything well.  He wrote beautiful classical poetry, he wrote free verse and he also wrote lyrics to songs and poems in the vernacular of his day.  He just flat out wrote.


 

A Song

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Thou art the soul of a summer’s day,
Thou art the breath of the rose.
But the summer is fled
And the rose is dead;
Where are they gone, who knows?

Thou art the blood of my heart o’ hearts,
Thou art my soul’s repose
But my heart grows numb
And my soul is dumb;
Where art thou, love, who knows?

Thou art the hope of my after years —
Sun for my winter snows;
But the years go by
`Neath a clouded sky.
Where shall we meet, who knows?