Go Ahead, See Where It Goes

Dove
Rita Dove

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

Rita Dove

Demeter’s Prayer to Hades

by Rita Dove

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


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

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

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


Sonnet

by Rita Dove

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

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

This Is Important, Stop Fooling Around!

Rita Dove
Rita Dove (1952 –

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

Rita Dove

Persephone, Falling

by Rita Dove

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

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


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

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

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

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

Audre Lorde

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

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

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

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


Hades’ Pitch

by Rita Dove 

 

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

Where Shall We Meet

paul-laurence-dunbar
Paul Lawrence Dunbar

On An Old Book With Uncut Leaves

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

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

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


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


 

A Song

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

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

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

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

 

Love Me As I Am

file-11 (3)
T. A. Fry – Day dreaming with a twinkle in my eye.

 

love is more thicker than forget

by e. e. cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

 


It’s Valentine’s Day, a day hopeless romantics unite to eat prix fix expensive dinners with cheap champagne with someone who makes them smile. I hope you’re one of ’em.  Dating in your mid 50’s requires a bit of a thick skin and a sense of humor. If you are one of my fellow 50 something daters, love is in the air if not chalk candy hearts in your dish.  If you haven’t heard, the company that makes those went bankrupt.  This is not a cosmic karmic sign that love is dead.  In fact it is a love success story as a new round of investors has bought the company and plan to have inventory in place for next year so your chalky lite-pink BE MINE candy can wind up in your squeezes tummy.

I do find it just a tiny bit odd, that all of us who are mid 50’s, at this incredible junction in our lives, for most of us helping our elderly parents or parent, watching our 20 something children launch their adult lives and/or ushering in grand children, while still dealing with late stage careers and trying to navigate the last stretch without getting side swiped or down sized, while reeling from watching friends be stricken by cancer, despite dealing with all that stuff on our plates, (not to mention male and female menopause), we then set this preposterously high bench mark to simply go out on a date. You would think with all those stressors we would make it easier to eat Tai food over a glass of wine with a member of the opposite sex who responds in much more human sounding responses than our pets or dead silence in our downsized apartments.  I do laugh at the bios people post on online dating apps and the criteria they have for agreeing to see someone for the first time.  When did we get that choosy?  Answering 438 questions on-line to filter out dates?  Yikes.  It didn’t work that way in high school or college.

Sadly, many of us in our mid 50’s suffer from PTSD – Post traumatic stress divorce syndrome. Or even worse yet, the traumatic loss of a spouse because of death. In both cases we are coping and adapting to the loss of a partner.  If it is because of divorce, we have come through the grindstone of a once successful marriage that deteriorated into something that was no longer successful and have enough bruises and scars accumulated that we’re still recuperating and wondering if we have what it takes to take a run at one last great love affair, preferably one that take us all the way to end of our lives. It can be even harder emotionally to move on for those still dealing with the processing of grief. Dating is daunting, but the alternative of not dating is daunting as well. How do you find that person that can meet you at your level for companionship? On-line multiple choice quizzes? I don’t think so. Probably have to roll up our courage, take a shower and get out there on a date and find out.

Fortunately, I have good role models in my life that you can find love at every stage.  My 87-year-old father is dating an older women for the first time and the two of them bring happiness and fun into each others lives on a daily basis while steadfastly maintaining their independence.  My friend Liz, who is 91 and in an assisted living facility, just moved again so that she could be only a couple of doors down the hall from her friend Jerry. Both are confined to wheel chairs these days, but eat 3 meals a day together and always have something interesting to talk about and a kind word for the other.  For both of these couples there is no screen time intervening, they are 100 percent present in each other’s company and have the most optimistic of spirits.

I wrote Generous Eye – the sonnet below, on a Sunday afternoon, after having gone to church with my Mom, we were sitting next to Liz, her wheel chair parked right next to our pew.  The pastor’s sermon made reference to generous eyes and I wrote it down in my bulletin as a writing prompt and this sonnet eventually emerged. At the time I was dating a french speaking woman and the only thing holding our relationship together was passion and it was obvious that wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship going forward. My writing, I think like most writers, is not autobiographical, it is an attempt to create a reality I hope one day might exist.

Romance is this odd magical trance, where it can’t begin generally without some attraction but as the relationship matures into something lasting, it needs to soften and be flexible, just like our bodies as we age, into a greater focus on companionship, while wanting a partner whose ear is still tuned to hear the ancient lutes and lyres playing the song that stirs our bones and keeps us going. I am envious of those couples, like in the song below referencing Johnny and June Cash, whose love lasted through the best and worst of their lives. We all aren’t so fortunate.  But we should all keep trying, your Liz or Jerry might still be out there waiting for you.  Happy Valentines Day!

 


 

Generous Eye

by T.A. Fry

As salient desires spark like steel on flint,
with generous eye and gentle ear you scold
my broken ways, without the faintest hint
your loyalty sways, nor spite has taken hold.
What’s after passion?  Mon amour, je t’aime!
Will lust be lost amidst our dwindling fuel,
as ancient bonfires cool?  I’ll not condemn
this reckless plight where human hungers rule,.
For sexual desire knows no bounds of youth.
All hear its song from deep within their flesh.
It sings; “Caress me dear….with the naked truth.
Heal from gentle touch as two hearts enmesh.
Savor carnal knowledge, as a worthy goal,
And love me as I am; body, mind and soul.”

Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Audre lorde.jpg
This is a print of a painting by Molly Crapapple of the author Audre Lorde, originally released as part of PEN America’s #writersresist campaign.  Check out her website if you would like to purchase a copy.  https://mollycrabapple.com/product/audre-lorde/
“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
Audre Lorde

 

A Woman Speaks

by Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.


I can definitively say that I do not have any insight into what it is to be black in America or a black woman. But to quote her;  “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”   

The opening two sentences of her biography on the Poetry Foundation website speak to Lorde’s mission of using poetry as a change agent and a healing force.

“A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.”

Poetry Foundation

In many ways, the two of us could not be more different, I am a white male, born into a middle class family, have experienced all of the benefits and priviledge that those two facts impart.   And yet in this short video below, Audre Lorde articulates exactly the same thoughts that I have on artistic expression and legacy and a concept of what we do in this life and what we leave behind. And since those are the answers that hold the most weight in my world, then are we not brethren?  Are we not more same than different? If we have arrived at the same answers by way of a very different roads do we not share the same view of the sunset?

 

Audre Lorde had to live fast and full and make an impact.  She died of breast cancer at the age of 58 (1934 – 1992), the median age of me and my siblings presently, something that feels much too short for a woman with as big, and important voice as hers.  If you read Lorde’s poetry you might question why I have included her on Fourteenlines, as sonnets do not appear as part of her legacy.  Yet her first published poem was a sonnet, (which I have yet to find a copy, if you have one, please share.)   She said of her writing:

“I learned about sonnets by reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s love sonnets and loving them and deciding I was going to try. I learned to write love poems by reading poems I never understood but the words would get me high. I remembered all of these particular things. I started writing because I had a need inside of me to create something that was not there.”

Audre Lorde

Lorde had too many things to say to stay confined within the walls of a sonnet.  Thank goodness she pushed through and found her voice and created her own world.  Below is a lovely sonnet by Allison Joseph, a poet, an educator and editor.  Enjoy.


 

Apologies To My Hair: A Black Woman’s Sonnet

by Allison Joseph (1967 –

So why’d I torture you for years, so long,
inflicting chemicals on scalp and skin,
pulling hunks of you through fiery combs
so you’d lie straight and stiff? I only thinned
your numbers out, made sure you couldn’t grow
strongby shocking you with lye, a dryer’s din
and heat to fry my follicles, then hair spray or foam—
thick mousse to make my hair obey, make it akin
to cotton candy. Now, I let you roam
wherever you want. Couldn’t leave you be
before, but now I’m awed by all I find
in you: a stray feather, leaf shed from a tree,
a strand of my husband’s hair, a texture we
don’t share. Somehow, we still end up entwined.

Whirling Fantastic

 

Luminary Loppet
Luminary Loppet Minneapolis, MN

The Snow Fairy

by Claude McKay

I

Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol’n away.


We have had not one but two significant snow storms this week.  We have surpassed the monthly average total for snow fall in Minneapolis and here it is only barely the end of the first week of February.  Unfortunately prior to the snows fell a sheet of ice such that everything was coated with treachery, driving reduced to a crawl until the salt could work and walking even more of a nuisance.  It didn’t deter my enjoyment of the snow.  I am one of those people who want a healthy taste of winter, so that we know what its like to be cold.  We need to touch our lizard brains with a reminder to be grateful when the sun warms us upon a rock next summer.

Claude McKay is making a reappearance on Fourteenlines.  McKay is one of my favorite poets, along with Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance. I like this poem as it shows that McKay’s writing was also a poetic voice aboout beauty in our world.

It has not been a good week for the Democratic party in terms of leading by example.  We have the top three elected state wide officials in the Commmonwealth of Virginia all either admiting to or being accused of actions that if confirmed, should lead to their resignations.  A reminder that no one political party has a monopoly on stupidity.  I don’t have to wonder what McKay and Hughes would have written about our current state of politics, for as rocky as things are currently in the state of our union, things are not nearly as bad, nor is the putrification of racism any more virulent than it was a hundred years ago.  Both writers were consistent in their unvarnished depiction of the impact of racism on diminishing all of society from its potential.  But neither poet allowed racism to poison their hearts, they saw its adherants wounded by stupidity and worthy of pity as well as being loathsome for their beliefs. McKay did not hide his bitterness in his writing, nor did he wallow in it either, transcending the darkness of bigotry to also depict the joy of being alive on a winters day, with the hope of spring not far ahead.

Here’s part II of The Snow Fairy.


II

And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter’s night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

She Envies You Your Fury

Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks

 

To A Winter Squirrel

By Gwendolyn Brooks

That is the way God made you.
And what is wrong with it? Why, Nothing.
Except that you are cold and cannot cook.
Merdice can cook. Merdice
Of Murdered heart and docked sarcastic soul.
Merdice
The bolted Nomad, on a winter noon
Cook guts; and sits in gas. (She has no shawl, her landlord has no coal.)
You out beyond the shellac of her look
And of her sill!
She envies you your fury
Buffoonery
That enfolds your silver skill
She thinks you are a mountain and a star, unbaffleable;
With sentient twitch and scurry.


 

SONNET 34

Ted Berrigan

Time flies by like a great whale
And I find my hand grows stale at the throttle
Of my many faceted and fake appearance
Who bucks and spouts by detour under the sheets
Hollow portals of solid appearance
Movies are poems, a holy bible, the great mother to us
People go by in the fragrant day
Accelerate softly my blood
But blood is still blood and tall as a mountain blood
Behind me green rubber grows, feet walk
In wet water, and dusty heads grow wide
Padré, Father, or fat old man, as you will,
I am afraid to succeed, afraid to fail,
Tell me now, again, who I am?