How Can A Body Withstand This?

KV_photo

Karen Volkman

The Thing Is

by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

 

Sonnet [Laughing below, the unimagined room]

by Karen Volkman
 

Laughing below, the unimagined room
in unimagined mouths, a turning mood
speaking itself the way a fulling should
overspilling into something’s dome,

some moment’s edging over into bloom.
What is a happening but conscious cloud
seeking its edge in a wound or word
pellucidity describing term

as boundary, body, violated bourne
no sounding center, circumscription turn.
Mother of mirrors, angel of the acts,

do all the sighing breathing clicking wilds
summon the same blue breadth the sense subtracts,
the star suborning in its ruptured fields.


My Thoughts Recover

October 2020 – Minnesota’s Fall Colors

Chanson d’automne

by Paul Verlaine

Les saglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte

Autumn Song

by Paul Verlaine
Translation by Arthur Symons, 1902. 

When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and long.

Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.
My thoughts recover,
The days that are over,
And I weep.

And I go 
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

 

Lassitude

by Paul Verlaine

With sweetness, with sweetness, with sweetness!
Calm this feverish rapture a little, my charmer.
Even at its height, you see, sometimes, a lover
Needs the quiet forgetfulness of a sister.

Be languid: make your caresses sleep-bringers,
Like your cradling gazes and your sighs.
Ah, the jealous embrace, the obsessive spasm,
Aren’t worth a deep kiss, even one that lies!

But you say to me, child: in your dear heart of gold
Wild desire goes sounding her cry.
Let her trumpet away, she’s far too bold!

Put your brow to my brow, your hand on my hand,
Make me those promises you’ll break by and by,
Let’s weep till the dawn, my little firebrand!


Cold Comforts Set Between Us

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The Cross of Snow

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face- the face of one long dead-
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books  be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow on its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.


I can’t imagine the increased sorrows and difficulties that COVID has created for those mourning the deaths of loved ones, regardless of cause.  Celebrating life and mourning the death of friends and family is supposed to be an expression of family and community unity, not something we do remote.   We hug, we cry, we eat, we talk, we share, we sit silently together.   October is the anniversary of my Mother’s birthday and internment of her ashes.  This blog arouse out of me processing the one year anniversary of that event and using poetry as a salve for the hurt of mourning.

October is a month of harvest and senescence, living things withering, dying, decaying, recycling the contents of their living cells and nutrients back to the soil, in preparation for new life next spring. The vibrant colors of this year’s leaves in Minnesota are a reminder of the inherent beauty in the cycle of life all around us.  Even the end of the cycle of life.

When All The Others Were Away At Mass

by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

I’m Grateful We’ve Got Each Other

 

anatomy-charts-human-body

If my heart could do my thinking And my head begin to feel would I look upon the world anew, And know what’s truly real.

Van Morrison

Corpus

by T. A. Fry

Brain speaking;

“Dear friends, if in the hour of my gleaning,
while in pain, I should forget. let me praise
muscle, bone and gristle, who gave meaning
to ‘faithful vessel’ in moving me always.
I’ve come to ken the fullness of delays
in the blub, dub of heart’s beat.  Finding joy
in spine’s bearing, I wanted to relay
my love of skin that covers our favorite toy.
I defend my reckless caring as a feeble ploy
to test our limits through a hoary pest.
That measured steadfast mettle to alloy
acts of arrogance with a modest rest.”

Heart said to guts:  “Don’t let this go to head.
But, I’m grateful we have each other
         And not another brain instead.”


This past few months, with the specter of COVID hanging over us, it is hard to not fall into a bit of melancholy thinking about what will happen if and when you contract the disease. Based on what I think I know about this specific corona virus it is likely that true immunity from a vaccine is unlikely, at least the first treatments available are likely to act more like the current flu vaccines which can strengthen my immune system and help diminish the effects of getting the flu that year, but not eliminate my chance of getting it. And like the flu vaccine it will require yearly additional vaccinations after a preliminary round of two to four boosters to continue to impart any kind of enhanced immune response.

As I contemplate what that means for my long term prospects of living into my 80’s its hard to not ignore that being diabetic puts me at much higher risk of complications if not in the near term but in 13 short years from now when I am in the official high risk age group of over 70 somethings. What I find a bit humorous is that I am relatively unconcerned about these potentially dire outcomes. I am either in denial about this new revised actuarial tables for my morbidity or I feel too damned lucky over the past 57 years to bear a grudge against my body now. I have been extremely fortunate to have gotten a very reliable model in terms of my physical corpus. Yes, a little rust is forming on the chassis and some minor knocking and pinging in the engine but it still is a daily driver with few aches and pains.

My only real experience with discomfort is the three separate episodes of kidney stones (the hoary pest in the poem above) spaced out over 20 years and those were short lived experiences over and done in less than 24 hours. Hardly worth mentioning really. However after my most recent kidney stone, that certainly got my attention for a day, I wrote the above sonnet as a thank you to my body, or I should say the sonnet wrote itself. It was one of those poems, that I came up with the first line and from there it flowed.

Andrew Marvel’s inner dialogue has far more spiritual intention than the playful nature of my sonnet. Do you have a poem that you wrote or someone else that fits your head’s feeling about your body?


A Dialogue Between The Soul and The Body

by Andrew Marvel

SOUL
O who shall, from this dungeon, raise
A soul enslav’d so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fetter’d stands
In feet, and manacled in hands;
Here blinded with an eye, and there
Deaf with the drumming of an ear;
A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins;
Tortur’d, besides each other part,
In a vain head, and double heart.

BODY
O who shall me deliver whole
From bonds of this tyrannic soul?
Which, stretch’d upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go;
And warms and moves this needless frame,
(A fever could but do the same)
And, wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die.
A body that could never rest,
Since this ill spirit it possest.

SOUL
What magic could me thus confine
Within another’s grief to pine?
Where whatsoever it complain,
I feel, that cannot feel, the pain;
And all my care itself employs;
That to preserve which me destroys;
Constrain’d not only to endure
Diseases, but, what’s worse, the cure;
And ready oft the port to gain,
Am shipwreck’d into health again.

BODY
But physic yet could never reach
The maladies thou me dost teach;
Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
And then the palsy shakes of fear;
The pestilence of love does heat,
Or hatred’s hidden ulcer eat;
Joy’s cheerful madness does perplex,
Or sorrow’s other madness vex;
Which knowledge forces me to know,
And memory will not forego.
What but a soul could have the wit
To build me up for sin so fit?
So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.

Our Father Who Art In Heaven

Malcolm_Guite

Our Father

by Malcom Guite

I heard him call you his beloved son
And saw his Spirit lighten like a dove,
I thought his words must be for you alone,
Knowing myself unworthy of his love.
You pray in close communion with your Father,
So close you say the two of you are one,
I feel myself to be receding further,
Fallen away and outcast and alone.

And so I come and ask you how to pray,
Seeking a distant supplicant’s petition,
Only to find you give your words away,
As though I stood with you in your position,
As though your Father were my Father too,
As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.


Have you ever considered what poem in the English language is spoken daily more than any other?  What poem has been memorized by the most people?   I would place a small wager that it is The Lord’s Prayer.  Malcom Guite may have considered this when he wrote a series of sonnets reflecting on The Lord’s Prayer. As beautiful as Guite’s words are, it is impossible to improve on the collective artistry of the words that have become our modern version of this poem;

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give
us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us
not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

There is a lot going on in The Lord’s Prayer.   It is the one prayer/poem that I have spoken in unison with a group of people more than any other.  Yet, I always wonder how my interpretation of this poem may be similar or different from others as we say it aloud in Church? 

I have always been fascinated by the start, the first sentence; “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”  I learned The Lord’s Prayer prior to being confirmed as a teenager and it became anchored in my memory by saying it frequently at church.  However, after saying it many times over my life, I run the risk of it becoming so rote,  that the words roll off my tongue nearly without thinking.  In recent years,  every time I say it, I ponder a split-second on the word “art” to bring me mindfully back to the moment of what I am saying. 

Like all great poetry, The Lord’s Prayer contains several uses of words in ways that are not common to our traditional or common use or understanding of those words, allowing our minds to acquire their own unique interpretation and associations around those words.  I have noticed standing next to people in Church that some people replace the word “art” with “is.”  In doing so, the speaker creates a straightforward relationship with a distant God that is separate from our realm and in some ways separate from ourselves, a rather traditional view of an all knowing, almighty.  In starting that way it creates a theme of a distant benign relationship with a giving God throughout the rest of the poem.  That is not how I have come to think of The Lord’s Prayer.   As someone who has wrestled his entire adult life with the idea of who is an artist and what is achieved in the act of creating art, I look at the first sentence differently.  “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” means to me, that the earth and every living thing on it are God’s art in heaven.  For that to be a literal reading it would require changing the word “who” to “whose.”  But poetry is not intended to be read literally, rather its a way to be moved through words into a new appreciation of things that cannot be explained solely by words. 

When I read or speak the first three sentences, thinking about myself as art, God’s art, not as an artist, but as an actual art form, surrounded by God’s other works of art in the biology, geology and beauty of this planet and all the people and creatures who inhabit it, it allows me to think of the planet earth as the most spectacular art gallery in the universe! Building on that thought, the rest of the sentence takes on a different meaning; ‘hallowed be thy name” becomes a reminder that my name is hallowed as a piece of God’s art, God’s signature is upon me and everything else.  In this context, the word art becomes a noun whose common meaning now fits the sentence; “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing or of more than ordinary significance.” 

My interpretation of The Lord’s Prayer affirms that each of us has more than ordinary significance.  The next sentence also becomes more earthly and immediate if I drop a word –  the word “in.”  The third sentence then reads, “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is heaven.”   Try this word play and thought process next time you need a boost in feeling a bit more beautiful.  In doing so, the rest of the poem becomes an affirmation of all life here on earth through our collective glory, forever and ever.  Amen.

Our Father, who(se) art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth, as it is heaven….


The Good Morrow

by John Donne

I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean’d till then ?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den ?
‘Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west ?
Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally ;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

Stolen Sweats Are Always Sweeter

leigh-hunt

Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1857)

Stolen sweets are always sweeter,
Stolen kisses much completer,
Stolen looks are nice in chapels,
Stolen, stolen be your apples.

Leigh Hunt

To My Friend, the Indicator

by Charles Lamb

Your easy Essays indicate a flow,
Dear friend, of brain which we may elsewhere seek;
And to their pages I and hundreds owe,
That Wednesday is the sweetest of the week.
Such observation, wit and sense are shown,
We think the days of Bickerstaff return’d;
And that a portion of that oil you own,
In his undying midnight lamp which burn’d.
I would not lightly bruise old Priscian’s head
Or wrong the rules of grammar understood;
But, with the leave of Priscian be it said,
The Indicative is your Potential Mood.
Wit, poet, prose-man, party-man, translator-
H, your best title yet is Indicator.


Jenny Kiss’d Me

by Leigh Hunt

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

The Smile, The Tear, The Sun, The Show’r

The Housekeeper

by Charles Lamb (1775-1834)

The frugal snail, with forecast of repose,   
Carries his house with him where’er he goes;   
Peeps out,—and if there comes a shower of rain,   
Retreats to his small domicile again.   
Touch but a tip of him, a horn, – ’tis well, –          
He curls up in his sanctuary shell.   
He ’s his own landlord, his own tenant; stay   
Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day.   
Himself he boards and lodges; both invites   
And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o’ nights.       
He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure   
Chattels; himself is his own furniture,   
And his sole riches. Wheresoe’er he roam, –  
Knock when you will, – he ’s sure to be at home.


Beauty’s Song

by Charles Lamb

What’s Life still changing ev’ry hour?
Tis all the seasons in a Day!
The Smile, the Tear, the Sun, the Show’r”
Tis now December, now tis May
At morn we hail some envied Queen;
At eve she sinks some Cottage guest;
Yet if contentment gilds the scene
Contentment makes the Cottage blest.

Who more than I, this truth can feel?
I feel it yet am charm’d to find
While thus I turn the spinning-wheel
The station humbles not the mind.
Ah no! in days of youth and health
Nature will smile tho’ fortune frown
Be this my song Content is wealth”
And duty ev’ry toil shall crown.

Every Pig Was A Pig In A Poke

Paul Muldoon

The Old Country

A sonnet sequence
IX

By Paul Muldoon

Every escape was a narrow escape
where every stroke was a broad stroke
of an ax on a pig nape.
Every pig was a pig in a poke
 
though it scooted once through the Diamond
so unfalt—so unfalteringly.
The threshold of pain was outlimened
by the bar raised at high tea
 
now every scone was a drop scone.
Every ass had an ass’s jawbone
that might itself drop from grin to grin.
 
Every malt was a single malt.
Every pillar was a pillar of salt.
Every point was a point of no return.

Hedgehog

By Paul Muldoon

The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself,
Sharing its secret

With the hedgehog. The hedgehog
Shares its secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you.

We mean no harm. We want
Only to listen to what
You have to say. We want
Your answers to our questions.

The hedgehog gives nothing
Away, keeping itself to itself.
We wonder what a hedgehog
Has to hide, why it so distrusts.

We forget the god
Under this crown of thorns.
We forget that never again
Will a god trust in the world.

When I Am With You

bly

Robert Bly (1926 – )

being to timelessness

by e. e. cummings

being to timelessness as it’s to time,
love did no more begin than love will end;
where nothing is to breathe to stroll to swim
love is the air the ocean and the land

(do lovers suffer? all divinities
proudly descending put on deathful flesh:
are lovers glad? only their smallest joy’s
a universe emerging from a wish)

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star

—do lovers love? why then to heaven with hell.
Whatever sages say and fools, all’s well.


When I Am With You

by Robert Bly

When I am with you, two notes of the sarod
Carry me into a place I am not.
All the farms have disappeared into air.

Those wooden fence posts I loved as a boy —
I can see my father’s face through their wood,
And through his face the sky as threshing ends.

It is such a blessing to hear that we will die,
Ten thousand barks become a hundred thousand;
I knew this friendship with myself couldn’t last forever.

Touch the sarong’s string again, so that the finger
That touched my skin a moment ago
Can become a lightning bolt that closes the door.

Now I know why I keep hinting at the word you —
The sound of you carries me over the border.
We disappear the same way a baby is born.

Some fool with my name has been trying.
To peer all afternoon through the thick boards
Of the fence. Tell that boy it isn’t time.

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.