She Drinks Of Living Waters

Tiger lilies at the end of the drive way.

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”

Pablo Neruda

A Calendar of Sonnets:  July

by Helen Hunt Jackson

Some flowers are withered and some joys have died;
The garden reeks with an East Indian scent
From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent;
The white heat pales the skies from side to side;
But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content,
Like starry blooms on a new firmament,
White lilies float and regally abide.
In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed;
The lily does not feel their brazen glare.
In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share
Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread.
Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head;
She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.


Having traveled rural Minnesota, North and South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin roads for all of my career, I can tell you  orange day lilies (Hermerocallis fulva) are ubiquitous along roadsides and at the end of driveways of farms and rural properties.   Mistakenly called Tiger lilies sometimes, because of the orange coloring, this day lily is an introduced species that has gone rogue and grows wild.   I am rather fond of this perennial, invasive or not, as it reminds me of roads traveled as a child.  I am rather pleased there is a nice clump thriving at the end of our driveway, no surprise as its close to a wetland/seasonal creek and is the perfect setting for this plant.  Obviously day lilies came west with settlers early on, a tuber tucked away to brighten up a vegetable garden.  To the orange day lilies credit, it is hearty enough to take care of itself and naturalize into areas in which it was never cultivated.   I find Jackson’s reference to the lily in her poem a reminder of how gardeners observations don’t change much over time. 

I am far enough along in the Fourteenlines project, that I have an archive of drafts I have set aside waiting for the right time to possibly use them.  I was surprised as I reviewed potential July drafts there were a number of Robert Frost poems waiting for me that I have found over the past year or so.   Frost’s talent sneaks up on me.  I tend to not think of him when people ask me who are my favorite poets, and yet I find myself more and more attracted to his poetry. 

The poem below maybe hard to interpret unless you have some experience with an old fashioned well.   A well-curb is a masonry, stone or brick structure around the above ground portion of a well that protects anyone from falling in it and also to keep things out from contaminating the water.   If you have never lived on a property with a well, modern or old, you may not have an understanding of the frequent ways you interact with your water source.  To relate to this poem, you have to become a little boy or a curious adult, who is fascinated by the cool water that comes out of the well and likely the hand made structure from stone and mortar or concrete or brick that protects this vital asset of your home and farm.  Wells were hand dug in the 19th century, generally maintained by the family and a source of clear, sweet drinking water was something to be prized.   Frost’s poem below is an opportunity to transport yourself back in time, when water didn’t come out of the tap, and see the wonder that lays just beyond our reach. 


For Once, Then, Something

Robert Frost – (1874-1963) 

 

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

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.

The Inevitable Colt of Disarray

Don Share

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

in the valley of its making where executives

would never want to tamper, flows on south

from ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives

A way of happening, a mouth….”

W. B. Yeats

For Laura

by Don Share

While we were swimming, a butterfly
dipped past the pool.

Sunshine forced the ripples
to glow like bent halos,

and the black marker lines shivered
like brain waves in their final cogitations.

What were your thoughts as the butterfly
drifted to feed in the weeds?

Why did the one and only sea breeze
tip the treetops with false stars?

I only know that as my hands passed over
and around you, time endstopped,

and that we leaned back from our last kiss
the way one tree bends away from another for light.


There are poems that I have written that exist in the ether of the cloud that is my google chrome book that I rarely read,  I have nearly forgotten about them.  The Armor of You is one such poem.  I wrote this poem back in 2017 and I hadn’t read it in years, until I came across it the other day unexpectedly. It”s almost like reading someone else’s words.   I have been fighting multiple battles lately; without – within, and  I identified with this poem immediately. It’s funny how poetry connects with me differently over time, as Yeats describes; “different towns that we believe and die in.”  Do you have a poem that recently has taken on different emphasis or meaning?  Which one?  Why?


The Armor of You

by T. A. Fry

The rebel yell of a swirling blaze
Is a decibel below the loudest loud.
The hungry silence of my lover’s gaze
Lifts rabble from the madding crowd.
Withdraw from battle; without – within.
Find meadows where the sweet grass dries.
Summer’s gold-green smoldering on feathered winds;
Smudges primeval cord blood of its cries.

Gird the armor of you across my best.
Cinch your Love around my breast.
Paint faithful magic on my chest.
While loss subsumes the ebullience of it’s guests;
Chiding complainers who overstay
The inevitable colt of disarray.

For He Can Spraggle Upon Waggle

The Cat

by Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867)
Translated by Roy Campbell

Come, my fine cat, against my loving heart;
Sheathe your sharp claws, and settle.
And let my eyes into your pupils dart
Where agate sparks with metal.

Now while my fingertips caress at leisure
Your head and wiry curves,
And that my hand’s elated with the pleasure
Of your electric nerves,

I think about my woman — how her glances
Like yours, dear beast, deep-down
And cold, can cut and wound one as with lances;

Then, too, she has that vagrant
And subtle air of danger that makes fragrant
Her body, lithe and brown.

Le Chat

by Charles Baudelaire

Viens, mon beau chat, sur mon coeur amoureux;
Retiens les griffes de ta patte,
Et laisse-moi plonger dans tes beaux yeux,
Mêlés de métal et d’agate.

Lorsque mes doigts caressent à loisir
Ta tête et ton dos élastique,
Et que ma main s’enivre du plaisir
De palper ton corps électrique,

Je vois ma femme en esprit. Son regard,
Comme le tien, aimable bête
Profond et froid, coupe et fend comme un dard,

Et, des pieds jusques à la tête,
Un air subtil, un dangereux parfum
Nagent autour de son corps brun.


I am in the midst of a long drawn out move, multiple steps along the way in terms of locations and we are at that critical stage where we are spending most nights at the new house, but have yet to move the cat, needing to get a few more things in place before her arrival.   Not having her in my lap each night has reminded me how much my sense of home is tied to having a cat in the house.   A cat changes the vibe for me in such positive ways that a dog does not, especially a cat with a great personality like Tasha, the long haired black mostly Persian cat that is my partners, but whom is fond of me and the feeling is mutual.  She is the best kind of cat in that she is accepting of all the comings and goings of people and dogs, even cleaning the dogs ears for them on occasion and is quietly confident in her affection for people.   I am looking forward to this weekend when we’ll have the full compliment of pets installed in the new place. 

The story of Christopher Smart is tragic.   As was common in his day, family disagreements and business failures often played out in  the courts locking people away in asylums for either because “religious” objections, mental health issues or debt.  In Smart’s case all three played into his eventually being locked away in a debtors prison in which he eventually died, his wife and father in law persecuting his case rather than being his defenders.  Jubilate Agno was written during his long confinement, Smart writing one line a day while living in solitary confinement.  The entire poem is thousands of lines long, part testament of faith, part confession, part adoration of his one faithful companion in prison, a cat called Jeoffry.   In my opinion, it is the greatest poem ever written about a cat.  What’s amazing about Jubilate Agno is the playfulness of the words given the depravity of his surroundings; “he rolls upon prank to work it in…”, “he can spraggle upon waggle…”, “he can swim for life, he can creep.”  I agree with Smart’s statement about cats; “having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor. ”  Smart recognized the spirit kindness of his cat companion and turned that into a connection with God and his spirituality.  Thank goodness Smart had Jeoffry and Jeoffry had Smart. 


Jubilate Agno

(An Excerpt)

By Christopher Smart 
 
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins….
 
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
 
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

To Pierce Our Mean Content

The Mowing

by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts

This is the voice of high midsummer’s heat.
The rasping vibrant clamour soars and shrills
O’er all the meadowy range of shadeless hills,
As if a host of giant cicadae beat
The cymbals of their wings with tireless feet,
Or brazen grasshoppers with triumphing note
From the long swath proclaimed the fate that smote
The clover and timothy-tops and meadowsweet.

The crying knives glide on; the green swath lies.
And all noon long the sun, with chemic ray,
Seals up each cordial essence in its cell,
That in the dusky stalls, some winter’s day,
The spirit of June, here prisoned by his spell,
May cheer the herds with pasture memories.


 

The Cow Pasture

by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts

I see the harsh, wind-ridden, eastward hill,
By the red cattle pastured, blanched with dew;
The small, mossed hillocks where the clay gets through;
The grey webs woven on milkweed tops at will.
The sparse, pale grasses flicker, and are still.
The empty flats yearn seaward. All the view
Is naked to the horizon’s utmost blue;
And the bleak spaces stir me with strange thrill.

Not in perfection dwells the subtler power
To pierce our mean content, but rather works
Through incompletion, and the need that irks, —
Not in the flower, but effort toward the flower.
When the want stirs, when the soul’s cravings urge,
The strong earth strengthens, and the clean heavens purge.

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?

We Forever Choose

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.”

William Blake

 

Dreams

by Helen Hunt Jackson

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,
Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,
And lead us to the houses where we keep
Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain
That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain
Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;
Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—
Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!
They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest
Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam
Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.
Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,
The proof if heaven be, or only seem,
That we forever choose what we will dream


A Cradle Song

By William Blake

Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel
Smiles as of the morning steal
O’er thy cheek, and o’er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful night shall break.

 

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!