You Could….Not Know Why, At Any Given Moment

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Off A Side Road Near Stauton

by Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)

Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall
meadow, high above the harvest, perfect
to the tree line, then spirit clouds and intermittent
sunlit smoky rain riding the tops of the mountains,
though you could walk until it’s dark and not reach those rains—
you could walk the rest of the day into the picture
and not know why, at any given moment, you’re there.

Labor Day is here, marking the end of  summer.   Today and tomorrow will be the last of the swimming season in Minnesota (at least for me) as the lows are going to be in the 40’s all week after Monday and the lakes will suddenly be too cold.  This has to be the strangest summer of my entire existence.  It was utterly devoid of most rituals and events that have marked summer’s passing since I was a child.  The only thing that I have done that felt the same was to swim and camp, but summer music festivals, fireworks, friends BBQ and fish fries, the State Fair, and an endless list of summer work events were all cancelled this year.   This loss of ritual strangely made the summer slip by too quickly, as the weeks and months ran together.

In trying to find a poem to sum up my feelings on what has transpired since George Floyd’s death in May, I kept coming back to a poem I shared in my Auden retrospective in January of 2019.  Auden’s line “we must love one another or die,” sticks in my brain as the one call to action that might heal this nation.  In my opinion, it is the only thing that might work.  We aren’t going to solve inequality through partisan gamesmanship and politics, from either side of the political spectrum.  Somewhere we have to find the ability for mutual respect and acceptance of differences to co-exist again in America in a productive manner, both sides have to flourish.  There is no winning in love.

With roughly 60 days before the election I am bracing for what will be a glaring, blaring intolerable two months of  political attack ads and over reaching rhetoric.  All the more reason to retreat from the media into the silence of nature and cast my vote by mail.  I will attempt to avoid the shrillness of American politics as best I can and hope that change is coming after the first of the year. Not just in the White House, but in our hearts and lives as well.


September 1, 1939

(Excerpt)

by W. H. Auden

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

The Sweet Clear Bell Of The Joys

Kadunce River

Kadunce River, Northern Minnesota

“I am proud only of those days that pass in
undivided tenderness.”

Robert Bly

Gone, Gone, Gone

by Robert Bly

“Search for the longing. O you who love me.”  Old Saint

When the wind-sleeve moves in the
. . morning street,
I walk there, and brood on brown things,
On green things,
On the green waves
Lifting at seas, the green wives, and the
. . brood of heaven.

I hear a faint sound, a bell inside the waves
Coming from far off . . . and the sweet clear
Bell of the joys
Of silence pierces
Through the roaring of cars, the hum of tires,
. . the closing of doors.

When I hear that sound, a subtle force, a sheath,
Motherly, wraps me.  Inside that sheath
I need no
House or land,
Caught in sweetness as the trout in the
. . running stream.


Full Consciousness

By Juan Ramon Jimenez
Translated by Robert Bly

You are carrying me, full consciousness, god that has desires,
all through the world.
                               Here, in this third sea,
I almost hear your voice: your voice, the wind,
filling entirely all movements;
eternal colors and eternal lights,
sea colors and sea lights.
   Your voice full of white fire
in the universe of water, the ship, the sky,
marking out the roads with delight,
engraving for me with a blazing light my firm orbit:
a black body
with the glowing diamond in its center.

Eloquent of Still Replies

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La Ghirlendata by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Lovesight

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

When do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours (we two alone,)
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?

O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,–
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?


Gabriel  Dante Rossetti may have been blessed with artistic ability from birth by his parents honoring Dante as his namesake.  Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais and became the main inspiration for a second generation of artists like William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

I like his paintings, ornate with color and complex shading. They are highly stylized, erotic and beautiful, with imagery filled with symbols and connections to myth, religion and art. His poetry leans like his painting to the romantic, but there are deeper shades of meaning than just sweet nothings he is whispering in your ear.   At a time when hope is something that many of us are finding in short supply, his poem The One Hope is a good reminder that hope is something we can obtain merely for the focus on the word alone.  As silly as it may sound, I can find hope in Hope.


The One Hope

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When all desire at last and all regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet,—
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?

Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown,
Ah! let none other written spell soe’er
But only the one Hope’s one name be there,—
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.

You Won’t Get A PostCard From Me

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Excuses Minnesota Child Uses to Get Out of Swim Lessons While Going Through Her Fear-of-Water-and-Obsessed-with-Dying-Before-She’s-Ready Phase

by Ash Goedker

Last time you said there’s cabins north
nowhere near water or
heaven, or me –

Ever hear of the Boundary Waters
Lake of the Woods
Lake Winnibigoshish
Child Lake Lake Watch Me Do a Flip
You Can’t Make Me Lake
Lake Looks Like a Lady
Grave Lake Holy Name Lake
Ice Cracking Lake Big
Too Much Lake
Lake of Fire
Like My Back Door?

I’m still training
in the Lord’s Army,
and if I drown
out,

You won’t
get a postcard –

not from me.


I have been on vacation this week, camping 5 nights in a tent several places in Northern Minnesota, spending three of those nights on the shores of Lake Superior north of Grand Marais, Minnesota.   Lake Superior is an inland fresh water sea, an ocean of fresh water, that is almost too mystical to imagine if you haven’t been there.  It is different from the ocean in that the water is soft and clear and cold.  Lake Superior is a rocky, largely undeveloped shore line that remains not disimilar to what it looked like one hundred years ago.  My grandfather helped build the original highway from Duluth to the Canadian border in the 1920s.  The boundary between Canada and the United States from Grand Portage to the Northwest Angle was the last portion of the boundary to be surveyed by both countries and wasn’t completed until the 1920’s as well. We camped 20 miles from the Canadian border right on the lakeshore on a portion of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail.  We largely had the place to ourselves.   We had brought our kayaks and kayaked on the lake during calm waters, finding rocks and shore line agates in the water, using the kayak to scout drift wood and find treasures.

There is nothing like a tent camping vacation.   We back packed into a campsite for two days, reminding us how heavy even the most modest of conveniences and necessities are and the need to upgrade some of our equipment for future back country experiences.  It was also a reminder of how little you really need on a vacation when the focus is on quiet and wilderness.  I am blessed to have an adventurous partner who is not intimidated by biting insects, sleeping on the ground and uninvited leeches during our daily swims.   It is a peaceful lifestyle to wake up in the morning, decide on what to do and go out into nature and experience it.  Do you have a favorite camping destination?  How do you like to camp?


Dear Friends

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.
And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some improfitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores.
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

Before Some Great Unutterable Thought

Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

As if the Sea Should Part

by Emily Dickinson

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea —
And that — a further — and the Three
But a presumption be —

Of Periods of Seas —
Unvisited of Shores —
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be —
Eternity — is Those —


I aspire to be dubbed an idler.   It sounds like a knighthood for sonnet writers. The Beneficent Society of Idlers strikes a nice cord, maybe with a large pennant on a red velvet cord for worthy recipients. Great unutterable thoughts that somehow are still uttered is what makes poetry a glue that connects people across time and place. Dickinson is the master of the unutterable and letting unutterances exist between the words and yet be completely understood despite each of our understandings different.

Poetry is not a user manual.   It is not meant to be literal or complete.  The best of it it is a glimpse into another’s inner life, hopes, dreams and miseries.  And if the Sea should part and understanding is lying gleaming in the sand, don’t rush in too quick to pick it up.  Let the Sea return to equilibrium and let it soak for a bit.  And then dive down again to revel in your discoveries, holding your breath with excitement.


They Dub Thee Idler

by Henry Timrod (1828 – 1867)

They dub thee idler, smiling sneeringly,
And why? because, forsooth, so many moons,
Here dwelling voiceless by the voiceful sea,
Thou hast not set thy thoughts to paltry tunes
In song or sonnet. Them these golden noons
Oppress not with their beauty; they could prate,
Even while a prophet read the solemn runes
On which is hanging some imperial fate.
How know they, these good gossips, what to thee
The ocean and its wanderers may have brought?
How know they, in their busy vacancy,
With what far aim thy spirit may be fraught?
Or that thou dost not bow thee silently
Before some great unutterable thought?

 

And For Myself, No Quiet Find

Minds Eye
Mine Eye Is In My Mind

 

Sonnet XXVII

by William Shakespeare

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

 


I have always had a hard time reading or hearing Shakespeare prior to starting this project.  My mind doesn’t follow old English grammar and vocabulary easily. I get bogged down and frustrated following the plot and dialogue in the few Shakespeare plays I have seen live or movies made true to the old script I have watched.   I am afraid that biased me fairly negatively towards his sonnets in the past.  So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the longer Fourteen lines continues the easier it is for me to put myself inside Shakespeare’s sonnets.  My enjoyment of his complicated and witty verse continues to grow.

My daily social distancing has not been particularly intellectual. I have retreated to the simple pleasures of popcorn, games and mindless TV.  But the longer this goes on, the more restless my mind becomes and I can feel more serious pursuits starting to push towards the front of my mind as fall looms.  Maybe my brain is starting to awaken again after sheltering in place for a bit.

I recently got my hair cut for the first time since January.   My stylist asked me; “how was your quarantine?”  For a moment my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the question, realizing how chipper he was when he said it.  I could tell he was brimming with excitement to share his experience, which was refreshingly upbeat. I let him do all the talking. In the end I did what midwesterners do, I simply didn’t answer the question as sometimes silence is better than being gloomily honest.

I wonder what my brain would look like in an MRI section right now?  Would it look elegant and complicated as in the video below?  Or would it look like a big bowl of popcorn, simple and satisfying but not particularly motivating. What does your brain look like right now?   What colors is it radiating based on the current palete of your mind.?


Sonnet CXIII (113)

By William Shakespeare

Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth latch:
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour or deformed’st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature.
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine eye untrue.

Try As We May

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James Schuyler, New York City

Sonnet

by James Schuyler

August, tasting of ripe grapes and afternoon sleep,
sharpening, like the smell of boxwood, the grass blades
that yellow an uncut hill a heavier green
while the trees lean in folds and the rose of Sharon blooms
and blooms at each twig and branch tip like a toy tree,
setting a sleepy cat on an after-lunch table
among uncleared plates, white-and-black like the coolness
of the oilcloth in warm shade: withhold from these days
the rain that made the succulence of which you reek
in haze that hides the furthest view and seems like smoke
seeking, before it is time, the ripening leaves
bronze in your pollen-dusty air that films the sky
and, as the light fades, burns blue, that the hot moon may,
bathing its light in water, find its white coolness.


Poem

by James Schuyler

I do not always understand what you say.
Once, when you said, across, you meant along.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

Words’ meanings count, aside from what they weigh:
poetry, like music, is not just song.
I do not always understand what you say.

You would hate, when with me, to meet by day
What at night you met and did not think wrong.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

I sense a heaviness in your light play,
a wish to stand out, admired, from the throng.
I do not always understand what you say.

I am as shy as you. Try as we may,
only by practice will our talks prolong.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

We talk together in a common way.
Art, like death, is brief: life and friendship long.
I do not always understand what you say.
What is, is by its nature, on display.

In All The Glory Of Thy Opal Sheen

Iceburg
Thomas B. Hayward, June 1905, Narrows of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada

Our Lady of the Fjords

by Archbishop Michael Francis Howley

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!


High definition cameras on cell phones are incredible inventions. We are accustomed to dazzling imagery that it has had the unintended consequence of taking the mystery out of photography.  In the past strange phenomena, supernatural sightings, fantastic beasts, divine apparitions, ghosts and goblins were best when slightly obscured through a grainy or blurry image, letting our imaginations take part in what may or may not exist.  I found this reference to a mystical photograph when searching for a sonnet to pair with the poem by Olaf Bull.  A year ago I was in Norway being bewitched by its beauty.  Although there were no ice-burg sightings, I was enchanted by the lush green of the landscape and the many kinds of ferns and moss that covered every inch of available soil and rock.

Do you have a favorite picture you have taken where there is something unexplained in the image?  Is it just a trick of light and shadows, an optical illusion or something more mysterious?

 


Fantasi

by Olaf Bull

Som kjærlighed er trangen til at mødes
og gjøre jordens ørken til et Eden,
trængs der en drift, som ligner kjærligheden,
skal skilte tanker festligt sammenglødes.

Det er i fantasiens brudekammer
at blomst og kvinde saligt sammenfalder,
og smilehuller vorder til konvaller,
og munde roser, i vidunderflammer.

Men alle ting i deres spredte vrimmel
som staar og suser mørke mod hverandre
maalik som dø — og kun som sjæle vandre
og samles bag en ensom pandes himmel!

Dens bærer blir en gud, naar livet gløder
bag haanden, som er presset over øiet.
Det er, som om hans hode tungt er bøiet
af heftigheden ved de tusind møder!

As love is the urge to meet
and make the earth’s desert an Eden,
if there is an operation that is similar to love,
divorced thoughts must be celebrated together.

It is in the bridal chamber of the imagination
that flower and woman blissfully coincide,
and smile holes become convalescent,
and mouths of roses, in flames of wonder.

But all things in their scattered garbage
staring at each other in darkness
Angels dying – and only as souls wandering
and gather behind the lonely brow of heaven!

Its bearer becomes a god when life glows
behind the hand, which is pressed over the eye.
It is as if his head is heavily bowed
of the vehemence of the thousand meetings!

 

The Dark Accidents Of Strange Identity

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The Rumor and The Whir of Unborn Wings

by Delmore Schwartz

Some girl serene, some girl whose being is
Affection, and in love with natural things,
In whom like summer like a choir sings,
Yet with a statue’s white celebrities
Although the city falls.  Golden and sleek,
Spontaneous and strong, quickend and one
To wake for joy, the mother of a son
Who climbs with conscious laughter every peak!

But I know well the party rush, the black
Rapids of feeling falling tot a bride,
Trapped in the present and the body’s lack,
Long reasons’s new hat quickly thrown aside,
And soon a child rising and toiling like me
With the dark accidents of strange identity.

 

At a Solemn Musick. (Recorded at the National Poetry Festival, 1962)


O City, City

by Delmore Schwartz

To live between terms, to live where death
has his loud picture in the subway ride,
Being amid six million souls, their breath
An empty song suppressed on every side,
Where the sliding auto’s catastrophe
Is a gust past the curb, where numb and high
The office building rises to its tyranny,
Is our anguished diminution until we die.

Whence, if ever, shall come the actuality
Of a voice speaking the mind’s knowing,
The sunlight bright on the green windowshade,
And the self articulate, affectionate, and flowing,
Ease, warmth, light, the utter showing,
When in the white bed all things are made.

 

 

There’s Copper In My Brain

Melissa Range
Melissa Range

Verdigris

by Melissa Range

Not green as new weeds or crushed juniper,
but a toxic and unearthly green, meet
for inking angel wings, made from copper sheets
treated with vapors of wine or vinegar,
left to oxidize for the calligrapher.
When it’s done, he’ll cover calfskin with a fleet
of knotted beasts in caustic green that eats
the page and grieves the paleographer.
There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts;
in my blood, an essential mineral.
Too much is poison. Too much air imparts
sickness to the script—once begun, eternal,
its words forever grass in drought. Nor departs
my grief, green and corrosive as a gospel.


Kermes Red

by Melissa Range

Called crimson, called vermilion—“little worm”
in both the Persian and the Latin, red
eggs for the carmine dye, the insect’s brood
crushed stillborn from her dried body, a-swarm
in a bath of oak ash lye and alum to form
the pigment the Germans called Saint John’s Blood—
the saint who picked brittle locusts for food,
whose blood became the germ of a crimson storm.
Christ of the pierced thorax and worm-red cloak,
I read your death was once for all, but it’s not true:
your kings and bishops command a book,
a beheading, blood for blood, the perfect hue;
thus I, the worm, the Baptist, and the scarlet oak
see all things on God’s earth must die for you.