Yourself The Door That Opens Into Home

New Door in Old House

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.

Joseph Campbell

 

‘I Am The Door Of The Sheepfold’

by Malcolm Guite

Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,
Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.
Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.


I have been installing salvaged doors into the farm house we are moving into.   As is usually the case with houses over a hundred years old, particularly houses that have had several renovations and additions over the years it has its own unique personality, (translate as challenges) when it comes to floors and walls not being perfectly straight. Things have sagged a bit here and there requiring some ingenuity if you are going to hang new doors. 

The original structure was a small home, two story roughly 20  X 30  on each floor.  In the late 1970s early 1980s two roughly identical 14 foot additions were added off the front and back of the house facing east and west that now give the first floor the perfect amount of space for two people.  There are two front rooms that serve as offices and TV space, then the original living room and kitchen (which were reversed in location somewhere along the way), and then a new bath, new master bedroom and new laundry room off the back all on the main floor. It is a good house to grow old in, everything you need is on one floor.   There are guest accomodations and a sewing/adult time out room are on the second floor with a second bath.  It has everything two people would ever need and is small enough that its easy to take care of.  It will require sensible decision making on how we combine our possessions from multiple households, while adding a few new things, all into one space.  We have cheated by moving most of our furniture and boxes of stuff into a temporary storage unit.  Once we finish renovations, we can start purging “things” that don’t fit and paring down our possessions, something our children will appreciate when they carry us out in a box someday. 

In my experience, the process of moving offers a narrow window for renovations, before possessions are unpacked and dust a tremendous bother.  I know that every project deferred into the realm of “I’ll get to it someday”, is likely to turn ten years from now, “I meant to fix that years ago,” so I am doing my best to get as much done as possible up front.  Its amazing how quickly we accept our new surroundings as status quo.  It’s why every time I have ever moved into an old house, which this is fifth time in my life, there is a frantic dash to get as much plaster fixed, walls painted, wiring fixed or replaced, new carpeting laid, plumbing repaired as one can afford and has time to do.  I am both blessed and cursed with the tendency to be both fearless and handy when it comes to fixing things, which can add up in terms of projects that I am attempting to tackle.  This time round its mostly simple plaster repairs and paint, along with new light fixtures that were needed.   However, my partner and I wanted a way to keep pets from going into the basement and second floor.  Neither set of stairs had a door on them and so searching around on Craigslist I found a guy selling salvage doors in the very town I was moving.   It was perfect, we found two outstanding doors, with glass pains that match the style of the house.  The one leading to the basement has frosted glass so that you can’t see through it and the light for the stairs back lights it as well throwing much needed light into a dark hallway on the first floor.  The other is clear glass that is also back lit, thanks to a clever bit of wiring, (I uncovered an existing switch outlet with power hiding behind the sheet rock and was able through a careful bit of measuring from the basement hit it on the first try with a drill bit.  From there running a new badly needed light on the stairs to the second floor was a cinch.   My investigations from the basement did uncover the cause of the settling on the floors and its because somewhere along the way the bottom plate for half the wall was torn out and never replaced to accomodate new runs on heating ducts.  Not exactly up to code, but next winter I’ll spend a day figuring out a way to shore that up and jack things a tiny bit with a screw post or at least prevent it from settling any further  

Neither door was the dimensions for the opening, each requiring a bit of trimming on two or three sides.  The bigger issue was what to do about the door jams that were anything but plumb.  The door leading to the basement was level on top but desperately out of level on each side, off more than 3/4 of an inch from top to bottom in the 76 inches of the height of the door on the side I was going to hang the hinges.  The only solution was to remove the molding, start ripping out the jam and rebuild it.  The problem was the jam was firmly attached to the plaster and lath that was near a lovely plaster arch.  I realized how much trust my partner had in my abilities when at 11:00 pm on a Saturday night I am sawzalling through plaster and studs in her beloved farmhouse saying; “trust me dear, I will have it back together in no time.”  True to my word a week later, I did.  Both doors required my 40 years of experience in working on old houses.  Both turned out great, but the key to each one’s success was I didn’t try and make them look perfect, didn’t try and make them look like new construction.  Both door openings were crooked to start with and are a little crooked when finished.  I made the hinge side perfectly level and dealt with the rest by shimming and acceptance of a certain amount of tilt that will add to the character of the house. 

I enjoy taking something  someone else didn’t want and through a little hard work, ingenuity and acceptance turn it into something that transforms the space.  I have bought a third door that will be the next project once all the painting is done.  Its a massive solid walnut exterior door that is unfinished.  Our plan is to replace the old painted hollow core door going into the first floor bedroom with this incredible piece of architectural wood.  There are oak hardwood floors throughout the first floor stained dark  and the door will add a bit of additional wood accent on the first floor as all the molding is painted white.  The door to the bedroom happens to be the same size as an exterior door, so it matches the opening. I have to sand it down and put several coats of marine varnish on it and it will create a statement piece that you will see as you walk in the front door looking through two plaster arches down a long hallway from the front door.  Can’t wait to get started on it. 


Salvage

by Malcom Guite

Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off,
Another scrap of paper for the bin.
So, should I struggle on or turn the light off?

My muse, maybe, has booked another night off
Without her help I can’t even begin.
Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off.

And yet I can’t forget what I caught sight of;
A grace I mustn’t lose, but cannot win,
So, shall I struggle on, or turn the light off?

I’m weighted by the love I most make light of,
I cast aside what’s not yet counted in.
Could I presume to recognise a write-off?

It is despair itself that I must fight off
When giving up feels just like giving in
So, do I struggle on, or turn the light off?

There’s something here to salvage, something right off
Life’s radar, or else underneath her skin.
Since I’m redeemed, (and I was once a write-off)
I’ll struggle on until they turn the light off.

Just This Side of Wonderful

Margaret Noodin

“Whether we hear giji-giji-gaane-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen. Our world is shaped by the sounds around us and the filter we use to turn thoughts into words.”

Margaret Noodin, What the Chick-a-Dee Knows.

 

Six Sonnets : 2

By Janice Gould

She is just this side of wonderful,
and suddenly the glamorous world
fills itself with shining and we laugh
at highway monuments that explain
how hard the trek had been for Franciscans
in the Indian wilderness, poor fellows—
conversion is the devil’s own
work! Then the stones of her dream
turn up under her feet, the back
of a huge land turtle. I know
we must be circling Paradise
because the ants enter the fleshy petals
of the roadside flowers with evident
joy and purpose (oh, my dark, pretty one).
 

Margaret Noodin brings up an interesting idea; what we hear is heavily influenced on how we have been taught to listen.  I think that issue pertains not just to the natural world but to poetry as well.  How do we hear words? Each of us can listen to the same thing and hear something completely different, poetry more so than most other forms of written communication.  Poetry invites personal interpretation by defying convention and  completeness. What we hear is heavily biased by our lens in ways that reinterpret a poem into our own personal art form. I often realize that my bias so tilts me in favor or against specific poems that what I read is obviously different than what was in the writer’s mind when they created it. In some ways the act of writing and publishing allows both writer and reader to create their own separate discourse, and rather than that being a limitation of poetry, it is one of its blessings.  Poems are not directions on how to assemble an Ikea bookcase in which there is only one way to read it for one correct outcome.  

I wonder if some writers would take offense to the idea of a reader creating something unique by the act of reading, as it’s much harder to write something than it is to read it, but it sometimes takes courage on both sides of that ledger.  It happens to me all the time.  What I think I have said or written is so completely altered in the interpretation by someone else that it becomes its own thing by the act of sharing it between the two individuals.  Communication and specifically sharing poetry, opens the mystical gates of creativity that are perpetually a pandora’s box, with unending possibilities.  Once released by the writer it goes out on an unpredictable destination.

June is strawberry month in Minnesota.   The once bearing and ever bearing strawberries (which in Minnesota means 3 months, June, July and August) are both at their peak. If you grow strawberries it means you are picking and eating strawberries nearly every day this time of year.  You can only eat so many fresh strawberries, which is why strawberry jam is so much fun to make and store, so that as you spread it on your PB&J sandwich next January, you can picture that gorgeous June day when you picked the fruit and canned it.  

Noodin and Gould learned to listen differently in part because they grew up hearing a language uniquely American.  Noodin’s creative process is to write in Anishinaabemowin and then translate it into English.  I can’t read the lines in her native tongue as I have no basis for understanding pronunciation, so her poetry violates one of my cardinal rules, READ POETRY OUT LOUD, but it is delightful to see the beauty of the language on the page, thick with vowels and soft consonants.  Her poem makes me want to make strawberry jam this weekend.


Umpoawastewin

 
by Margaret Noodin
 
Ode’iminibaashkiminasiganke
She makes strawberry jam
 
ginagawinad wiishko’aanimad, waaseyaagami
mixing sweet wind and shining water
 
miinawaa gipagaa nibwaakaa,
with thick wisdom
 
bigishkada’ad, dibaabiiginad
pounding, measuring
 
gakina gaa zhawenimangidwa
everything we’ve cared for
 
gakina gaa waniangidwa
everything we’ve lost
 
nagamowinan waa nagamoyaang
the songs we have not yet sung
 
miigwanag waa wawezhi’angidwa
the feathers yet to decorate
 
ezhi-zhoomiingweyaangoba
and all the ways we’ve smiled
 
mooshkine moodayaabikoong
into jars filled to the brim
 
ji-baakaakonid pii bakadeyaang.
to be opened when we are thin.
 
 
 

And Not To Yield

 

Ulysses (An Excerpt)

by Alfred Lord Tennyson  (1809 – 1892)

….Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
 

Of Old Sat Freedom On The Heights

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Of old sat Freedom on the heights,
The thunders breaking at her feet:
Above her shook the starry lights:
She heard the torrents meet.

There in her place she did rejoice,
Self-gather’d in her prophet-mind,
But fragments of her mighty voice
Came rolling on the wind.

Then stept she down thro’ town and field
To mingle with the human race,
And part by part to men reveal’d
The fulness of her face—

Grave mother of majestic works,
From her isle-altar gazing down,
Who, God-like, grasps the triple forks,
And, King-like, wears the crown:

Her open eyes desire the truth.
The wisdom of a thousand years
Is in them. May perpetual youth
Keep dry their light from tears;

That her fair form may stand and shine,
Make bright our days and light our dreams,
Turning to scorn with lips divine
The falsehood of extremes!

I Now Have A Scar

 

The Chinese Food Dilemma

by Evelyn Curtis

I stopped after class for some Chinese food
I figured I would just grab a quick bite
For sesame chicken is always good
and I hadn’t had much to eat that night.

I got my food and I got in the car,
and I felt my stomach begin to growl.
So before I had gotten very far,
I decided to sneak a taste of fowl.

I waited until I’d stopped at a light;
I grabbed something tasty without concern.
I took one and then another small bite,
but soon I felt something hot start to burn.

Alas! on my chin, I now have a scar
from eating Chinese food inside my car!


Statistics are an imperfect way to share information.  Stats are notoriously unreliable in that they sound factual but are inevitably outdated or biased in some manner in which the data was collected and summarized.   So when I share that I read recently that nearly 70% of Chinese restaurants have closed in the United States since the start of the pandemic, you can feel free to object and say the stat is wrong, because from your perspective it is either too big or too small.   Yet the statistic is directionally correct.  Chinese restaurants have born the brunt, more than any other type of restaurant, during the pandemic not only because of closure of in-restaurant dining reducing income but also because of the blatant anti-Chinese racism that is occurring from the misinformed and small minded who are blaming China and by extension Chinese-Americans and Asian businesses.  Despite being ridiculous, the economic downturn has resulted in successful Chinese restaurants that have been institutions for decades, from New York to San Francisco, from small towns to large, to confront the sad reality of bankruptcy and closure. Behind this glaring statistic are family businesses, many passed down through generations, that are having to confront the reality of a change in American dining habits and questioning the opportunity for Chinese food as a profitable venture in or out of traditional urban centers with diverse ethnic populations.  If the only Asian food that is going to survive in the United States are chain restaurants, then America will be all the more culturally impoverished in the future for lack of finding ways to help authentic small ethnic restaurants flourish and thrive through the pandemic. 

If you haven’t stumbled across the blog – Putasonnetonit – I highly recommend it.   Evelyn Curtis set herself the herculean task of writing and sharing a sonnet everyday for a year.  I can’t imagine myself writing a limerick every day for a year, let alone a sonnet, so I have huge respect for the undertaking.  It would be interesting to ask her what she feels are her top 5 sonnets from that year looking back?  I have no idea where this one would rank, but since it is a sonnet about an actual scar she will carry forward for the rest of her life, I thought it might rank up there a bit.  Its a great example that sonnet writing doesn’t have to take itself too serious.  It can be simply a Polaroid picture of the moment, that might take on more meaning with time, even unexpected meaning.  I wonder if the restaurant in which she purchased the food that the sonnet is based still exists?

For many years I had a subscription to The New Yorker and I enjoyed Calvin Trillin’s regular contributions.  Trillin shared a view of New York that was illuminating to a Midwesterner.   It felt like I had an irascible great Uncle giving me the inside scoop on how the big city works.  I was saddened when Trillin was hit with criticism and blow back on his poem below.  It wasn’t quite cancel culture, but it was roughing up a veteran journalist who had been sharing his unique perspective for decades with gentle humor and a tinge of grumpiness.  I personally don’t think Trillin’s poem rose to the level of the accusations – racism.   But since that criticism was invoked, it felt to me that the The New Yorker drifted into blander and blander territory, less interesting while more politically correct.  Which is why my subscription eventually lapsed, I ceased to find it compelling.  Cancel culture works in both directions and I must admit from the subscription department I am assuming that the editors can’t tell which is the cause; the loss of Trillin like pieces causing subscriptions to dwindle or is it because of “vocal” critics of such work being so outraged they cancel their subscription.   In the end the result is the same. 

I had a boss many years ago who teased me all the time, teased me in ways that were definitely not always politically correctly and did it in front of the entire group.   After several years, I asked a co-worker about it and he said; “You have to realize that he only teases the people he likes.  Its when he stops teasing you that you should be worried.”  I had never thought about it before in that way.  I stopped worrying.  I’m not saying that being emotionally inept in your approach to interacting with others is a role model for success as a current business leader, but the truth is the worst insult is to be ignored.  Teasing is an acknowledgement that you like the person or institution enough to think about them. Teasing taken too far is bullying and I acknowledge teasing can be racist.  But teasing in and of itself is not inherently racist.  I consider Trillin’s poem a form of literary teasing, something that has a long history- think Cervantes.  In my opinion, its far worse for people to stop supporting Chinese restaurants and see them fail, then to publish a silly poem about all the different kinds of Chinese restaurants and to take the time to make it rhyme.   I am guessing that the New York Chinese Restaurant Owners Association, if such a thing exists, would be happy to have Calvin Trillin writing silly poems about the diverse array of thriving Chinese food options in New York in 2021.   It would mean that people were walking through those doors and dining.  Its far worse that 70% of them have had to close their doors for lack of business. 


Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet

by Calvin Trillin

Have they run out of provinces yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Cantonese.
(Long ago, we were easy to please.)
But then food from Szechuan came our way,
Making Cantonese strictly passé.
Szechuanese was the song that we sung,
Though the ma po could burn through your tongue.
Then when Shanghainese got in the loop
We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Came along with its own style of chow.
o we thought we were finished, and then
A new province arrived: Fukien.
Then respect was a fraction of meagre
For those eaters who’d not eaten Uighur.
And then Xi’an from Shaanxi gained fame,
Plus some others—too many to name.
Now, as each brand-new province appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as one province behind?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away near Tibet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?

Then It Was Over

 In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast; In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest. In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Wild Iris

by Louise Gluck

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out:
that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over:
that which you fear, being
a soul and unable

to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.


Iris have a way of waiting until the first week of June in Minnesota before they make a splash in our gardens.  The timing of their flowers coincide with peonies filling the air with their unique fragrance, while iris fill our eyes with unparalleled splendor.   There is nothing really like the blue/purple color of iris with their yellow beardish highlights.   Iris have six petals, not unusual in the flower world, but the way they present themselves is unique at least for Minnesota gardens, a visual treat we wait for anxiously each summer.  Sadly this year, we have been hit with an unprecedented early heat wave with temperatures in the high 90’s for 7 days in a row just as the iris started blooming.   The iris and peonies are both showing the stress effects of the high temperatures, dropping petals much too quickly.    There will be no slow languor of color this year in our iris beds, just a quick visit and then the promise of next year in their foliage the rest of the season. 

The origins of the English word iris – with meanings for both the flower and the colored portion of our eyes are the same; Greek for rainbow.   Apparently, flattery will get you everywhere, even in the ancient world, with a whispered compliment in your lover’s ear about the beauty of their eyes reminding you of flowers and rainbows the perfect way to set the mood. 

I was pleased to find multiple poems in which one form or the other of iris are used as inspiration to paint a verbal picture.  I was recently in California at a house with an incredible array of gardens and landscaping.  There was a very old pond that was in need of a bit of attention, but still had vestiges of a former gardener’s deft touch.  There was a wild iris overhanging its reflecting surface, long and gangly and brilliant green, with a single yellow flower that was utter perfection.  As I stared at it silently and took in the broader view of the entire pond, I realized there was a golden hued frog, with only its head and a bit of its back showing above the water line, directly below the embankment on which the iris stood prominently.  As I crouched down to get a better look at this fine froggy friend, it jumped and dove beneath the duck weed and lily pads and disappeared.  That encounter was a great reminder of how brief beauty can enter and exit our eye in a flash, and the need to let it live on in our memory and in our art to inspire us to keep looking for it to return when we least expect it. 


The Sadness Of The Moon

by Charles Baudelaire

THE Moon more indolently dreams to-night
Than a fair woman on her couch at rest,
Caressing, with a hand distraught and light,
Before she sleeps, the contour of her breast.

Upon her silken avalanche of down,
Dying she breathes a long and swooning sigh;
And watches the white visions past her flown,
Which rise like blossoms to the azure sky.

And when, at times, wrapped in her languor deep,
Earthward she lets a furtive tear-drop flow,
Some pious poet, enemy of sleep,

Takes in his hollow hand the tear of snow,
Whence gleams of iris and of opal start,
And hides it from the Sun, deep in his heart

I Smile To Think

Motherhood is priced of God, at price no man may dare to lessen or understand.

Helen Hunt Jackson

 

Poppies On The Wheat

by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830 – 1885)

 
Along Ancona’s hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.
The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn’s gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.

 


Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry is filled with the loss she experienced in her life.  By 1865, at age 25, Jackson had lost her first husband and two children to disease and accidents.  She moved to Colorado Springs and a sanitarium seeking a cure for tuberculosis.  There she met a wealthy banker and married.  The final 20 years of her life she became devoted to the cause of improving the rights and conditions of Native Americans, after having met Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe from Nebraska at a lecture in Boston. Upset about the mistreatment of Native Americans, Jackson became an activist on their behalf, publicizing the government’s misconduct.  She began circulating petitions, raising money, and writing letters to The New York Times on behalf of the Ponca.  Jackson’s became so focused on this issue she was quoted as saying, “I would wake up in the morning and write 2,000 to 3,000 words, faster than I could write a letter, as if I could do anything else.”  She would go on to write A Century Of Dishonor (1881) which describes the mistreatment of Native Americans by the American Government.  In 1884 she shrewdly wrote a romance novel to popularize the issue among a broader audience in the novel Romana, which used the backdrop of romance to tell the plight of Native Americans in Southern California after the Mexican-American war for her heroine.   The novel was a success and reprinted over 300 times.  It attracted a large readership to the issues surrounding Native American rights. 

“If I could write a story that would do for the Indian one hundredth part of what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for slaves I would be thankful for the rest of my life.” 

Helen Hunt Jackson

Jackson obviously had sufficient wealth to travel, her opening line giving it away with the reference to Ancona.  Poppies are not a frequent flower in the wheat fields of North America, but are in Europe and England.  The poppies she is referring to come from a picturesque field in Italy to which she must have traveled.  Both Jackson’s and Kemble’s poems deal with the brevity of life and use the metaphors of weeds in our own plot of land that we till.  In Jackson’s case the poppy is the carefree interloper to remind us of the enjoyment of life’s pleasures, despite her losses, whereas Kemble’s weed is more poisonous, an “evil weed of woe” that casts its shade upon the productive soils of her youth.  Both poems are a bit melodramatic and old fashioned for my tastes, but solid reminders of how the sonnet form has inspired writers over hundred of years in expressing their emotions and memories.  One of the reasons I think the sonnet lends itself to theme’s of loss, is its relatively short.  The sonnet allows the author to release and heal while not wallowing in past.   Of the two sonnets, I enjoy Jackson’s more, with the optimism and the beauty of the red poppies a reminder that even in the solidarity of wheat’s goodness, it can’t quench the exuberance and defiance of the poppy to spice up life. 


Thou Poisonous Laurel Leaf

by Frances Anne Kemble (1809 – 1893)

Thou poisonous laurel leaf, that in the soil
Of life, which I am doomed to till full sore,
Spring’st like a noisome weed! I do not toil
For thee, and yet thou still com’st darkening o’er
My plot of earth with thy unwelcome shade.
Thou nightshade of the heart, beneath whose boughs
All fair and gentle buds hang withering,
Why hast thou wreathed thyself around my brows,
Casting from thence the blossoms of my spring,
Breathing on youth’s sweet roses till they fade?
Alas! thou art an evil weed of woe,
Watered with tears and watched with sleepless care,
Seldom doth envy thy green glories spare;
And yet men covet thee—ah, wherefore do they so!

Good Night, Dear Heart

Late Street Bridge separating Minneapolis and St. Paul on Mississippi River

Summer Sun

by Mark Twain

Warm summer sun,
    Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
    Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
    Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
    Good night, good night.
 

The Mississippi river is an omnipresent force in the Twin Cities.  It snakes its way down from the northern suburbs, through the heart of Minneapolis and then along stunning bluffs through downtown St. Paul  and Minneapolis, separating the two cities.   The river has a bi-polar personality along its banks on this stretch. Minneapolis and St. Paul are positioned where they are because of the commerce and transportation the river provided from the very founding of these towns.   Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis is the only natural water fall along the entire length of the Mississippi of any size and strength, and that power fueled the rise of the milling district and the wealth of Minneapolis, while St. Paul grew up around the barge and steam boat traffic that would help it prosper.   There are stretches of the river throughout the Twin Cities that from its banks look industrialized, yet get on any kind of boat and float its waters through the locks and dams of this stretch and you’ll find yourself surrounded more by its natural beauty tucked into this urban environment, than the concrete embodiments of industrialization along its shores.
 
It is a little more than the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death from a calendar perspective but it wasn’t until Monday morning of Memorial Day that it felt like the anniversary was upon us.   What’s changed in a year?  Certainly an openness to understanding of the issues facing people of color past and present, but has there been any real change in terms of racial equity?   Change is hard.   It doesn’t come as easily or as quickly as we want, but at least it feels like the discussions are more direct and open on paths forward to real change than they once were on these issues and that in itself is a step in the right direction.
 
Twain as a writer and in particular the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as books may not be relevant to today’s discussions on racial justice.   Regardless, they certainly had an influence on me as a young person.   I was inspired by the idea of floating down the Mississippi, something I still hope to do someday in some type of water craft.   I enjoyed the humor and the adventure in Twain’s writing.  It was also one my first introductions to understanding America’s history of racism and slavery, made all the more real for myself as told through the eyes of two young white boys befriending a black man and their river journey and adventures together.  The books are not a perfect morality play for today’s times, nor a model by which we should measure or teach racial equity, but they deal with human issues of friendship as part of literature in ways that in our efforts to make everything politically correct we may lose sight of; the ability to be imperfect and still genuinely kind to each other.  Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Jim are imperfect characters.  They both assist and  betray each other, love and fear each other,  and in the end are friends and care about each other as human beings in ways that go beyond their differences and focuses on what they have in common.  It’s a bit harder today to relate to the world of Mark Twain.  Sometime this summer I will put my kayak into a stretch of the Mississippi for a day trip, and it won’t be that difficult to transport myself back to Twain’s time on the river, to the mystery and adventure that Twain explored in those books; the idea that we all have something waiting for us around the next corner as we float along in our journey called life.
 

 

On The Mississippi

by Hamlin Garland (1860 – 1940)

Through wild and tangled forests
 .     broad, unhasting river flows—
.   Spotted with rain-drops, gray with night;
 .   Upon its curving breast there goes
A lonely steamboat’s larboard light,
.   A blood-red star against the shadowy oaks;
Noiseless as a ghost, through greenish gleam
Of fire-flies, before the boat’s wild scream—
.       A heron flaps away
  .     Like silence taking flight.

There Is May In Books Forever

Leigh Hunt – National Portrait Gallery

Now shall I walk or shall I ride? “Ride,” Pleasure said; “Walk” Joy replied.

William Henry Davies

 

May And The Poets

by Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859)

There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:—
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.
 

 

In May

 
By William Henry Davies
 
 
Yes, I will spend the livelong day
With Nature in this month of May;
And sit beneath the trees, and share
My bread with birds whose homes are there;
While cows lie down to eat, and sheep
Stand to their necks in grass so deep;
While birds do sing with all their might,
As though they felt the earth in flight.
This is the hour I dreamed of, when
I sat surrounded by poor men;
And thought of how the Arab sat
Alone at evening, gazing at
The stars that bubbled in clear skies;
And of young dreamers, when their eyes
Enjoyed methought a precious boon
In the adventures of the Moon
Whose light, behind the Clouds’ dark bars,
Searched for her stolen flocks of stars.
When I, hemmed in by wrecks of men,
Thought of some lonely cottage then
Full of sweet books; and miles of sea,
With passing ships, in front of me;
And having, on the other hand,
A flowery, green, bird-singing land.

A Sweet Disorder

Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

Delight in Disorder

by Robert Herrick

A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.


To Daffodils

By Robert Herrick

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

She Shall Make The Old Man Young

Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)

There never was a great genius without a touch of madness.

Ben Johnson

 

Doing, A Filthy Pleasure Is

by Gaius Petronius
Translated by Ben Johnson

 
Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.
 
 

Time has a way of white washing the past.    In Ben Johnson’s case what has lived on into the future are his words as a brilliant playwright and poet, not his murderous misdeeds.   On September 22nd, 1598, Johnson,  a young man of twenty-six, a former bricklayer turned playwright, his play Every Man in his Humour only recently debuted, got in an altercation with a young actor named Gabriel Spencer.  Both men had a history of violence and tempers quickly escalated. Spencer had previously publicly threatened to kill a boy who threw a candle stick at him and Johnson boasted among his drinking mates of killing a man when he was younger, which his friends could never discern if the tale was true or whether Johnson used it to polish his reputation.  What is not in dispute is that Spencer challenged Johnson to a duel and Johnson promptly ran him through with his sword, killing him instantly.  Johnson was arrested a week hence and thrown in Newgate Prison.   He was arraigned on October 6th and confessed to the crime of manslaughter for which the court had a reputation for sentencing the lower classes to death by hanging.  However, Johnson, who looked like a laborer,  made a calculated defense and called upon an obscure legal statute called “neck verse.”   It allowed for the trial to be made in front of the clergy as jury rather than a hanging judge.  During this alternative trial, the accused would be asked to sight-translate a random passage from the Latin Bible.  If the criminal could pass the test it was proof of his religious stature and advanced education.   In such cases, the court had the ability to grant clemency during sentencing,  considering the crime a reflection of  temporary insanity and not an indication of the accused true nature.   It worked, Johnson was exonerated.  He left Newgate Prison a free man, with only a brand upon his thumb to remind him of the blood he had spilled.  The brand was a “T” for Tyburn, the gallows, where he would have met his end.  Johnson no longer had to embellish his reputation,  he had the mark for life to prove he was a killer. 


A Celebration of Charis: I. His Excuse for Loving

by Ben Johnson
 
Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers;
Poets, though divine, are men,
Some have lov’d as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or fortune, gives the grace;
Or the feature, or the youth.
But the language and the truth,
With the ardour and the passion,
Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then will read the story,
First prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now
Either whom to love or how;
But be glad, as soon with me,
When you know that this is she
Of whose beauty it was sung;
She shall make the old man young,
Keep the middle age at stay,
And let nothing high decay,
Till she be the reason why
All the world for love may die.