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.
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 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!
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.”
“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
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
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
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
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
That enfolds your silver skill
She thinks you are a mountain and a star, unbaffleable;
With sentient twitch and scurry.
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?
What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.
My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone
And plenitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere .
It’s Ground Hog Day. A perfectly silly tradition with no less than pomp and circumstance surrounding the formal process of observing Punxsutawney Phil either see or not see his shadow. I think the Pennsylvania Dutch who came up with this quaint tradition were suffering from vitamin D deficiency at this point in the winter and couldn’t think straight, because I have always thought they got it mixed up. If the ground-hog sees his shadow and retreats to his burrow, (is it because he is afraid of his shadow?), then its six more weeks of winter, but if it’s cloudy and he ventures out then spring will arrive early. Doesn’t it make more sense if the sun is out that spring is coming early? In Minnesota, only six more weeks of winter, means spring has arrived way early. So I guess according to this tradition we’re a winner winner, chicken dinner no matter which way things go down with Mr P. Phil Ground Hog today.
It is a pleasure to revisit Gwendolyn Brooks at the start of Black History month. I love the playfulness in the word selection of Brooks’ poetry, even in the most serious of subject matters. It creates an odd tension, a contradiction that conveys a complexity. In the sonnet this playfulness says to me that being poor is not one thing, and not all bad, but that her “little halves” are whole people who still know the feel of velvet. As a friend of mine reminds me it’s not a crime to be poor. Although we treat it as such sometimes with ways we penalize those without adequate means.
I was tempted to share Brooks’ poem “The Boy Died In My Alley” as it fits the Ground Hog Day theme of repetition, from the Bill Murray film by the same name. Brooks’ captures in that poem the senselessness of gun violence in our communities that is no different today than when she wrote the poem. Gun violence is a scourge in our country in all our communities, not just communities of color. But I decided against it. We’re all a little short of vitamin D after being cooped up for several weeks of cold weather, we may not be thinking straight, so let’s think about love instead. Better to be confused by love than anything else. Valentines Day is right around the corner and it’s not too late to make a date and ask that someone out who already has your heart or maybe has just caught your eye.
To Be In Love
by Gwendolyn Brooks
To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.
“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its saying where executives Would never want to tamper; it flows 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. H. Auden
By W. H. Auden
Encased in talent like a uniform.
The rank of every poet is well known;
They can amaze us like a thunderstorm,
Or die so young, or live for years alone.
They can dash forward like hussars : but he
Must struggle out of his boyish gift and learn
How to be plain and awkward, how to be
One after whom none think it worth to turn.
For, to achieve his lightest wish, he must
Become the whole of boredom, subject to
Vulgar complaints like love, among the Just
Be just, among the Filthy filthy too.
And in his own weak person, if he can.
Must suffer dully all the wrongs of Man.
I shall miss this winter interlude with Auden. But as the high is forecast to be -7 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, -22 degrees Celsius, I won’t be dissapointed to greet February next weekend. Truth be told, I like a little bitter cold. It’s a bonding opportunity with your fellow Minnesotans. Cold gives us a common advisary which we can in harmony direct our angst and see our fellow neighbors as equals in our journey. Even the one’s spouting memes that rankle our own particular political centers.
Auden was briefly American, a poet prisoner exchange of sorts, with England accepting T. S. Eliot in return. No shots fired, nor spies deployed, as each found asylum in the country they felt more to their temperament in middle age. Auden’s Americanism didn’t last however. He was European through and through and eventually he returned.
Auden’s body of work over his lifetime is mind boggling. I have been meaning to write an entry on all his translation work, but I don’t even know where to begin. Auden not only wrote over 400 poems, many of them long poems, an equal number of essays, several manuscripts for plays but also was constantly producing book reviews, articles and translations of poems from Russian, Chinese, German, Gaelic and Danish, most of which were languages he did not even speak. I wonder if the man ever stopped thinking about writing and did something trivial like play cards?
Auden lived a life shrouded in cigarette smoke, with pen and paper or typewriter close at hand. Auden achieved his massive body of work by relying on amphetamines for extended fits of focused energy. Then at night, to bring him down to a state he could sleep, he would resort to drinking and sleeping pills. He is the not the first writer or last which has found chemical addiction as a necessary and useful tool in pursuit of one’s art. I don’t think Auden left much unsaid that he wanted to say. I wouldn’t put forth that Auden died prematurely as the result of hard living. He is quoted as saying; “All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.” I would beg to differ Mr. Auden. I would claim the terminal point of sin is abdication and acceptance, relinquishing the shame of one’s vices, the very thing that makes us most human. Damnation, I would put forth, is unnecessary abstinence from that which we crave, an abstinence that serves no useful purpose other than to avoid judgement from others who will never share your life’s experiences. If we cannot accept ourselves, then why spend a lifetime in search of salvation in the pleasure of our lives?
by W. H. Auden
Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.
Here at a small field’s ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
And a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.
Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.