To Keep But Never Understand

At a certain point all writing is political, whether the writer realizes it or not, because it positions itself a certain angle. It stands, whether it likes it or not, in relation to its time.

Sean O’Brien

At the Solstice

by Sean O’Brien

We say Next time we’ll go away,
But then the winter happens, like a secret

We’ve to keep yet never understand
As daylight turns to cinema once more:

A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,
And the print in need of restoration

Starting to consume itself
With snowfall where no snow is falling now.

Or could it be a cloud of sparrows, dancing
In the bare hedge that this gale of light

Is seeking to uproot? Let it be sparrows, then,
Still dancing in the blazing hedge,

Their tender fury and their fall,
Because it snows, because it burns.


For the past couple of years I am in a race with the start of winter and the on-set of cold weather, a rush to see how many outdoor projects I can finish.   This year I discovered, late in the fall, the solution for a problem that had been vexing me all summer, just as the number of days above freezing were dwindling.   I had ordered screens for the windows I had installed a year ago back in May, and the brand name company who made them apparently has decided to stop making screens, because my order was never completed.  Then in late November, I realized there were stock storm windows available at my local building supply store that would fit my windows, with just a minor clever tweak at instillation. After buying one to prove my theory correct, we bought three more and got them in last weekend.  Now I am tempted to try and get two more on the second story of the north side of the house, where the wind blows, this coming Sunday, but it means making many trips up and down a ladder in the cold.  The question I ponder – is it worth it? 

Increasingly, that seems to be a question I ask myself about a lot of things that pull at me lately, wanting my attention and time?  Is it worth it?  I think the answer is yes, but it’s going to be miserable, or at best uncomfortable, like many of the other things I contemplate that very same question.   Life is not made up of a series of tasks that are pleasant.   Someone has to muck out the stalls, clean the cat pan, suffer through another boring TEAMs meeting on the very same topic as the previous week by the inept project lead who can’t seem to take notes or make decisions.  Life is a slog these days more often than not.   How does one wax the sleds so that life pulls a little easier or even glides ever so slightly downhill once again?  

One of the blessings of Fourteen Lines, is that I have come to appreciate poets that I had glossed over years before.  Robert Frost is one such poet.   The deeper I read Frost the more I enjoy his perspective.  Maybe I am finally catching up to him.  I have read this poem a few winters, considering it.  But it wasn’t until this week that several lines jumped off the page and grabbed me.  I appreciate Frost extending a literary hand and pulling me closer.  For those of us that experience an actual winter, it can become a time, to come in out of the cold and ponder the stores in our cellar. 

A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.


An Old Man’s Winter Night

by Robert Frost

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon,—such as she was,
So late-arising,—to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.

O The Mind, Mind Has Mountains

God, though this life is but a wraith, Although we know not what we use, Although we grope with little faith, Give me the heart to fight and lose.

Louis Untermeyer

No Worst, There is None

by Gerard Manley Hopkins
 
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”‘
 
    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
 

 

One could argue, quite successfully, that pairing Hopkin with Untermeyer is in poor taste, rather like pairing champagne with collard greens.   Each has it own merit, but better to drink beer with one and eat strawberries with the other.  However, just because it isn’t done, doesn’t mean the clash can’t be illuminating.  

Untermeyer was a clever chap, he ran in elite literary circles, not so much as a writer but more so as an editor and anthologist.  His academic background helped to wrangle a spot as one of the original judges on What’s My Line? in the early days of television. He was booted off the show after a year because there was a whiff of Marxism floating around in his closet from many years prior. The producers used it as an excuse to remove what was a decideldy dull personality from its show.  Untermeyer’s blacklisting was more like a grey listing, as the evidence really didn’t stand up.  In fact at the very time that Untermeyer was under suspicion, he was waging a rather nasty rhetorical battle against Ezra Pound, who was in prison for treason.   Many other writers had come to Pound’s defense, but not Untermeyer.  With a level of wit completely non-existent from his television career, he was quoted as saying, ““I do not believe he (Pound) should be shot. I would favor merely life imprisonment in a cell surrounded by books—all of them copies of the works of Edgar A. Guest.” 

Untermeyer fared far better than others who were blacklisted for less.  He was appointed to the position of poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, the position that was the predecessor to our national poet laureate.  Untermeyer is best known for his translation work and his many anthologies for readers of all ages. Untermeyer traveled extensively late in life giving lectures on poetry around the world, his welcome little sullied by his political leanings. 

On The Birth Of A Child

by Louis Untermeyer

LO, to the battle-ground of Life,
Child, you have come, like a conquering shout,
Out of a struggle—into strife;
Out of a darkness—into doubt.

Girt with the fragile armor of youth,
Child, you must ride into endless wars,
With the sword of protest, the buckler of truth,
And a banner of love to sweep the stars.

About you the world’s despair will surge;
Into defeat you must plunge and grope.
Be to the faltering an urge;
Be to the hopeless years a hope!

Be to the darkened world a flame;
Be to its unconcern a blow—
For out of its pain and tumult you came,
And into its tumult and pain you go

Like The Ooze of Oil

“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

  God’s Grandeur

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1899)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
 
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
 
 

Hopkins, for all his precise literary religious fervor, is complicated in his contradictions.   He uses exquisite rhyme and structure to construct his poetic hymns.  His goal was to promote Christianity through his art.   In his own words;
 
“What are works of art for? to educate, to be standards. To produce is of little use unless what we produce is known, is widely known, the wider known the better, for it is by being known that it works, it influences, it does its duty, it does good. We must try, then, to be known, aim at it, take means to it. And this without puffing in the process or pride in the success.”
Well, let’s not go too far Mr. Hopkins in your humbleness.  You also said, “What I do is me, for that I came,” which is a clever way to say, I am what I write or I write because I am, either way there is a certain amount of credit being taken.  I have never met a writer who put their work out into the public eye that didn’t take a little pride in its success.  If Hopkins’ was writing today he would have thousands of likes on his blog.  My point is genius can rarely get out of the way of its own recognition. 
 
It’s okay to not seek recognition, it is another to ignore it.  I am in the camp both approaches are acceptable to an artist, but the latter can get one in bind if they pick and choose what awards they acknowledge during their career.   Writers willing to be adored only by fans worthy of their adoration rarely age well, the vintage goes off as dust settles, something just not quite right as the flavor goes off. 
 
The interesting question is why do some why do poets like Hopkins continue to inspire for hundred’s of years after their deaths, while thousands of other writers, some with equal gifts,  are discarded by and large to obscurity relatively quickly?   I think it may have something to do with luck and inspiration, but in reality I have no idea….
 

Justus quidem tu es, Domine

 
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
 

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

We Belong Near To Each Other

A recipe has no soul, soul food comes from the heart.

Anonymous

New York Sonnets

by Stacie Cassarino

ii.
The months have not left us, living apart
from city to treeline, how do we speak
tenderly or not speak at all, the heart
has many winters, the earth cannot keep
us still. In my dreams I touched you every-
where with my lips, and lost my feet in snow
fields, and told you a story of safety
on Snake Mountain. Now, you seem far, you know
where words fail to sound, you know we choose wrong,
sometimes, and look away. The mind paces
in its beautiful error. We belong
near to each other, like this, our faces
assigned to see again. My love, the air
grows around us, the body wakes, come here


I enjoy my kitchen.   It is impractical, generally cold, no work space to speak of and by most cooks standards uninviting.   It’s not about what it isn’t, its about what it is.  It is painted a sparkling bright tangerine, a color I most appreciate at 5:30 am throughout the winter when it is dark for the hour I sip my coffee while reading and writing.  It is like my own personal sunrise.  I have hung a vintage chandelier that is my favorite light fixture in the history of lighting over the small antique round oak table.  It is truly one of a kind, a work of art, from the earliest onset of electric lighting when it still was something magical and to be constructed with elegance.  It has a peacock theme in brass in its simple infrastructure, but I pretend they are blue herons, which in summer I can see from my kitchen window some mornings. 

I am never alone in the kitchen.  There is always at least one of the two dogs or the cat keeping me company, demanding my attention after their breakfasts are served.  They each have their own way of not taking no for an answer.  A nudge from a nose on my elbow timed perfectly to make me loose my train of thought, one of them leaning into my leg while I type, a slow stroll across my keyboard or a sly soft claw in my thigh, all of these done with genuine humor and a smile upon on their furry faces.  They don’t approve of my poetry addiction and consider it impolite that I insist on my indulgence most mornings until each has had sufficient pets.

I wonder if we could measure in the history of poetry, what percentage of poems have been written in the kitchen?   At least what percentage of good poems or great poems have been written in the kitchen?  I am guessing it tops the list of all places one can possibly imagine to write. The kitchen is where most of creation has been created.  Food has always been an important way lovers connect, the courting process can begin with something as simple as a bowl of soup or a cup of tea. A man or woman knows the earliest onset of intimacy often begins by being invited into the others kitchen, particularly a messy kitchen.   Sex is messy.  So is cooking.  So are relationships.   If one can’t deal with a bit of a mess and clean up afterwards, then you are likely going to wind up eating that bowl of soup alone. 

In the Kitchen

By Stacie Cassarino
 
It’s right before you drive away:
our limbs still warm with sleep,
coffee sputtering out, the north
wind, your hips pressing me
hard against the table. I like it hard
because I need to remember this.
I want to say harder. How we must
look to the road that’s gone,
to the splayed morning of cold
butter and inveterate greed.
Light comes and goes in the field.
Oranges in a bowl, garlic, radio.
In the story of us, no one wins.
Isolation is a new theme
someone says. By now
I’ve invented you. Most people
don’t like to touch dead things.
That’s what my friend tells me
when I find my fish on the floor.
It must have wanted an out.
Sometimes my desire scares me.
Sometimes I watch football
and think: four chances
is enough to get there. But
we don’t have helmets.
I want to say harder,
I can take it, but
there’s no proof I can.
 

Snow Comes and Goes

This looks like a December day, it looks like we’ve come to the end of the way.

Willie Nelson

 

A Calendar of Sonnets – December

by Helen Hunt Jackson

The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
Of water ‘neath the summer sunshine gleamed:
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile gently for their sakes
Who listened might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O’er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.

 

Here it is, December already.  We mutually survived a month of war poetry,  easier to stomach than the real news coming out of  Ukraine.   Let’s pray the madness ends soon and freedom and autonomy return to Ukraine and we can go back to loathing American democracies two year run up to the next presidential election….

I am beginning my annual process of beginning to create gifts for Christmas. It takes me about a month of weekends to keep the projects moving forward. I am keeping it simple this year; a smaller number of hand bound poetry chap books, an electronic playlist of  my favorite new songs for the year and peanut brittle for the unfortunate.  Peanut brittle has become in my mind my very own version of Santa putting coal in your stocking, with in my case dental jeopardy your holiday wish.  Just writing it gives me the willies.  I think 2022 is the year to put a fork in the holiday tradition of peanut brittle and transition to caramel corn instead.    Or better yet, a mixture of toffee pop-corn dyed bright red and caramel corn dyed a muddy green.     


Love (I)

By George Herbert
 
Immortal Love, author of this great frame,
Sprung from that beauty which can never fade,
How hath man parcel’d out Thy glorious name,
And thrown it on that dust which Thou hast made,
While mortal love doth all the title gain!
Which siding with Invention, they together
Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain,
(Thy workmanship) and give Thee share in neither.
Wit fancies beauty, beauty raiseth wit;
The world is theirs, they two play out the game,
Thou standing by: and though Thy glorious name
Wrought our deliverance from th’ infernal pit,
Who sings Thy praise? Only a scarf or glove
Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.
 

The Daring and the Chatter Will Go On

Good can imagine evil, evil cannot imagine good.

W. H. Auden

In Time of War (An Excerpt)

by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

        VIII

 

    He turned his field into a meeting-place,
    And grew the tolerant ironic eye,
    And formed the mobile money-changer’s face,
    And found the notion of equality.

    And strangers were as brothers to his clocks,
    And with his spires he made a human sky;
    Museums stored his learning like a box,
    And paper watched his money like a spy.

    It grew so fast his life was overgrown,
    And he forgot what once it had been made for,
    And gathered into crowds and was alone,

    And lived expensively and did without,
    And could not find the earth which he had paid for,
    Nor feel the love that he knew all about.


       
XXI
 
by W. H. Auden 
 
The life of man is never quite completed;
The daring and the chatter will go on:
But, as an artist feels his power gone,
These walk the earth and know themselves defeated.
 
Some could not bear nor break the young and mourn for
The wounded myths that once made nations good,
Some lost a world they never understood,
Some saw too clearly all that man was born for.
 
Loss is their shadow-wife, Anxiety
Receives them like a grand hotel; but where
They may regret they must; their life, to hear
 
The call of the forbidden cities, see
The stranger watch them with a happy stare,
And Freedom hostile in each home and tree.

What Like A Bullet Can Deceive

 
 
Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows When
 
Abraham Lincoln
 

Sonnet C

by George Henry Boker

For life and death to me are so akin,
So aptly one suggests the other’s being;
So quickly treads behind existence fleeing
The dark pursuer, sure at last to win;
That when life’s frolics o’er the world begin,
In the stern presence of my darker seeing,
There moves a shadow, every way agreeing
With each gay motion that he revels in.
Even the sweet wonder of thy slender shape
A graceful shade is haunting hour by hour;
And in the future there begin to lower
The signs that make the stricken household drape
Their tearful faces o’er with sullen crape–
Why should I trust in life’s unstable power?


Shiloh:  A Requiem

by Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight A
round the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Heroic Happy Dead

A Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

War is what happens when language fails.

Margaret Atwood

pity this busy monster, manunkind

by e. e. cummings

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
—electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born—pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if—listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go.


Do wars ever come to an end?  One side runs out of ammunition or conscripts or volunteers, or civilians are pummeled into subjugation, to the point they can no longer support the war effort, but is there really ever a victor?   The current war sow’s the seeds for the next war and so on and so on.  Veteran’s day is to honor those that served, but it’s also a reminder on how war is handed down generation after generation.   One’s family’s liberation is another’s subjugation.  One’s person’s defeat is another’s lifelong PTSD for the incalculable cruelty of victory.  We survive them, outlast them and unfortunately repeat them.

The narrative of war is driven by the propaganda used to justify the expense in human lives and human capitol.    Why do we fail to invest in diplomacy, honor carefully crafted accords, when it is more effective and less costly than conflict? Cummings catch-22 clunky use of language fits the inherent contradictions of war.  War rarely make ssense but we all understand its consequence.  Cummings lack of clarity in his word-hash feels like clarity, in the context of the longing left behind by the heroic happy dead….

 


next to of course god america

by e. e. cummings

“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

Now Here, Now There

The songs I had are withered Or vanished clean. Yet there are bright tracks Where I have been.

Ivor Gurney

Servitude

By Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937)
 
If it were not for England, who would bear
This heavy servitude one moment more?
To keep a brothel, sweep and wash the floor
Of filthiest hovels were noble to compare
With this brass-cleaning life. Now here, now there
Harried in foolishness, scanned curiously o’er
By fools made brazen by conceit, and store
Of antique witticisms thin and bare.
 
Only the love of comrades sweetens all,
Whose laughing spirit will not be outdone.
As night-watching men wait for the sun
To hearten them, so wait I on such boys
As neither brass nor Hell-fire may appal,
Nor guns, nor sergeant-major’s bluster and noise.

After-Glow

By Ivor Gurney
(To F. W. Harvey)
 
Out of the smoke and dust of the little room
With tea-talk loud and laughter of happy boys,
I passed into the dusk. Suddenly the noise
Ceased with a shock, left me alone in the gloom,
To wonder at the miracle hanging high
Tangled in twigs, the silver crescent clear.
Time passed from mind. Time died; and then we were
Once more at home together, you and I.
 
The elms with arms of love wrapped us in shade
Who watched the ecstatic west with one desire,
One soul uprapt; and still another fire
Consumed us, and our joy yet greater made:
That Bach should sing for us, mix us in one
The joy of firelight and the sunken sun.

I’m Stone. I’m Flesh

if I had to give up the heavenly
taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t
live another goddamn day. Darling,
you can chisel that into my headstone.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

We Never Know

By Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrelsHe
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There’s no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
kissing the ground.

______________________________________________

Facing It 

By Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn’t  
dammit: No tears.   
I’m stone. I’m flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I’m inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap’s white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet’s image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I’m a window.   
He’s lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.