The crystal stream wherein my love did swim, Melted in tears as partners of my woe; Her shine was such as did the fountain dim, The pearl-like fountain whiter than the snow; Then like perfume, resolvéd with a heat, The fountain smoked, as if it thought to burn; A wonder strange to see the cold so great, And yet the fountain into smoke to turn. I searched the cause, and found it to be this: She touched the water, and it burned with love. Now by her means it purebased hath that bliss, Which all diseases quickly can remove. Then if by you these streams thus blesse’d be, Sweet, grant me love, and be not worse to me.
by Giles Fletcher Jr.
LOVE is the blossom where there blows Every thing that lives or grows: Love doth make the Heav’ns to move, And the Sun doth burn in love: Love the strong and weak doth yoke, And makes the ivy climb the oak, Under whose shadows lions wild, Soften’d by love, grow tame and mild: Love no med’cine can appease, He burns the fishes in the seas: Not all the skill his wounds can stench, Not all the sea his fire can quench. Love did make the bloody spear Once a leavy coat to wear, While in his leaves there shrouded lay Sweet birds, for love that sing and play And of all love’s joyful flame I the bud and blossom am. . Only bend thy knee to me, . Thy wooing shall thy winning be!
There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.
by Edwin Denby (1903 – 1983)
A governing and rouged nun, she lifts the cubed Jewels, garlanded heavy on hair, shoulders Breasts, on hands and feet, the drak-blue the cell-roomed Splendor’s fountain lifts sunken to Him Who holds her; But the emperor is running to his pet hens Cackling like a hermit, and his foolish smile Alone on the vacancy of noon-glazed fens Haunts a blossoming water-capital’s guile; Holy placidity of lilylike throats Ravenna of fleets, silent above the cows A turnip plain and stagnant houses floats Exultance of sailor hymns, virginal vows; In a church’s tiered and April-green alcoves Joy rises laughing at ease to love God’s loves
Edwin Denby was born in Tientsin, China in 1903. He spent his childhood first in Shanghai, then in Vienna, where his father served as consul general from 1909-1915, before coming to the United States in 1916. He attended Harvard and University of Vienna without completing a degree. He found his life long partner Rudy Burckhardt in Switerland in 1934 while looking for someone to take his passport photo.
Denby is an artist’s artist. He is one of those names whom you have never heard of but seemed to rub shoulders with the artistic elite in New York and Europe. Long time friends with Willem de Kooning, Orson Welles, John Houseman, Paul Bowles, Eugene Labiche and Aaron Copland just to name a few. He is best remembered as a ballet critic in New York and Europe and for adapting several scripts for theater and movies.
As a fellow lover of ballet, I had come across his name in his main area of work back as a writer about ballet in the 1980’s when I had season tickets to Northrop Ballet Series and the best in the ballet world would come to town including Baryshnikov with American Ballet Theater more than once. So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he wrote poetry and excellent poetry at that as well. Denby published multiple books of poetry over a 25 year period.
I am particularly taken with Song. It is obviously inspired by his experience with his partner Burkhardt. It is a simple poem, but expresses the gift of true love as good as any. Its rhyme makes the serious a little less serious, the playfulness of love, more playful, the force of love, more forceful. Its meter sneaks up on you and is more sophisticated in its construction than on first glance when read the second time through. It is the kind of poem if it was written for you it might be better than a wedding ring. It is the kind of poem that everyone should write for their true love. And, if you aren’t up to that task, read them this one over breakfast tomorrow and clink your coffee cups in honor of Rudy and Edwin.
by Edwin Denby
I don’t know any more what it used to be Before I saw you at table sitting across from me All I can remember is I saw you look at me And I couldn’t breathe and I hurt so bad I couldn’t see.
I couldn’t see but just your looking eyes And my ears was buzzing with a thumping noise And I was scared the way everything went rushing around Like I was all alone, like I was going to drown.
There wasn’t nothing left except the light of your face, There might have been no people, there might have been no place, Like as if a dream were to be stronger than thought And could walk into the sun and be stronger than aught.
Then someone says something and then you spoke And I couldn’t hardly answer up, but it sounded like a croak So I just sat still and nobody knew That since that happened all of everything is you.
This is the slyness of art: If you tell enough lies, you’re bound to say something true.
by William Meredith
Touching your goodness, I am like a man Who turns a letter over in his hand And you might think this was because the hand Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man Has never had a letter from anyone; And now he is both afraid of what it means And ashamed because he has no other means To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him, Or his parents died before he sent them word, Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved. Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him. What would you call his feeling for the words That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved
William Meredith, poet, academic, translator, editor and one toughbird, wrote formal poetry at a time when formal poetry was revered. His talent was recognized young by Archibald MacLeish following his service in World War II. His writing received many awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the National Book Award and the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the International Vaptsarov Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in Poetry, two Rockefeller Foundation grants just to name a few. Meredith’s remarkable success for an extended period of time feels a bit foreign now given how out of fashion his writing is today. It shows how challenging it is to remain relevant in poetry and how fast reader’s tastes and times change.
In 1983, Meredith had a stroke and began experiencing aphasia, limiting his speech, forcing retirement from teaching. Meredith recovered some speech after years of rehab but it forever altered his experience of communication. In part because of it, Meredith received the National Book Award for Poetry for Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (1997). Meredith died in 2007 at the age of 88, having been lovingly nursed through his long illness by his partner, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis. Harties, himself a talented poet and author, is still alive and published a recent book of poetry; Plague Poems: 2020 Vision. Here’s a Youtube video of Harteis reading poetry this past New Year’s Eve. Meredith is quoted as saying; “Life is some kind of loathsome hag who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.” It feels to me that Meredith experienced ultimate beauty; love.
Words After Midnight, Forbidding Remorse
by William Meredith
Do not say to the gay game nay now lover Under cover of love enough; does puritan twinge Predict, against respite from passion, real change? No, we shall want again later and greatly all over. If the angular sky was not fashioned to conform To these warm doings, then the stars there err, For this our way always; therefore have care That no third sleeper come to our bed bringing harm: Forbid Fear, whether his face be righteous as this is And his talk scriptual of ultimate places, Or whether he wear rather War’s unfeatured face Who sleeps out nightly now and seduces Many men and innocent women in their beds; Say always to strangers that I am all your needs.
“All loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I.
by Austin MacRae
She devours Steel, and he L’Amour. She leads him to the fiction, where they part for different shelves. He’s eager to explore the tough ol’ west, and she the tough ol’ heart. They meet me at the desk with separate piles. Unthinkingly, I mix the books together. I sense his wave of nervousness. She smiles and quickly sorts the titles out. ‘Nice weather today,’ she says. He slides his pile away, averts his eyes, and waits for her to pull out bags. ‘Let’s eat at Lou’s,’ I hear her say. She grabs his arm and leads him, tote bag full of cowboy stories swinging at his heel, his sidearm holstered by her whim of steel.
Louis L’Amour wrote fiction but his life was purely genuine. Born in Jamestown North Dakota as Louis LaMoore in 1908, he moved with his father in 1923 after family finances suffered from a series of bank failures and hard times in the farming business in North Dakota. They moved west and for the next 20 years, L’Amour lived the life that would infuse his stories as a writer. Ranch hand, professional boxer, dock worker, itinerant laborer and merchant seaman, he traveled the west and the world before serving in WWII in the Army.
L’Amour always had an interest in writing and had some success placing articles on boxing along with short stories about a sea captain during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was during this time he published poetry including a number of sonnets. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that L’Amour’s big break as a writer occurred when a short story of his was published in Collier’s with a western theme. John Wayne and the producer Robert Fellows read it and Fellows offered L’Amour $4,000 for the rights to the screen play. L’Amour wisely kept the rights to the novel, rewrote the short story as a full length novel that mostly followed the plot of the movie, changed the title of the novel to Hondo, same as the movie, with a quote on the cover from John Wayne saying; “this is the finest Western I have ever read.” L’Amour’s success was cemented from there. L’Amour wrote pulp fiction in a style that was popular and was prolific in his output. Many of his books might not pass the sniff test for political correctness of today, but as a writer, he was unflagging in his focus on entertaining with the novels he created. I have probably read 10 to 15 Louis L’Amour books over the years, although none in the last 35 years. Although none of them are on my book shelves today, I look back and enjoy them all the more, knowing he also was a writer of sonnets.
An Ember In The Dark
by Louis L’Amour
Faintly, along the shadowed shores of night I saw a wilderness of stars that flamed And fluttered as they climbed or sank, and shamed The crouching dark with shyly twinkling light; I saw them there, odd fragments quaintly bright, And wondered at their presence there unclaimed, Then thought, perhaps, that they were dreams unnamed, That faded slow, like hope’s arrested flight.
Or vanished suddenly, like futile fears- And some were old and worn like precious things That youth preserves against encroaching years- Some disappeared like songs that no man sings, But one remained- an ember in the dark- I crouched alone, and blew upon the spark.
“Why speak of the use of poetry? Poetry is what uses us.
By Hayden Carruth
You rose from our embrace and the small light spread
like an aureole around you. The long parabola
of neck and shoulder, flank and thigh I saw
permute itself through unfolding and unlimited
minuteness in the movement of your tall tread,
the spine-root swaying, the Picasso-like éclat
of scissoring slender legs. I knew some law
of Being was at work. At one time I had said
that love bestows such values, and so it does,
but the old man in his canto was right and wise:
ubi amor ibi ocullus est.
Always I wanted to give and in wanting was
the poet. A man now, aging, I know the best
of love is not to bestow, but to recognize.
Let’s start with ubi amor ibi ocullus est, which means; where love is, there is insight. I have read several translations of The Divine Comedy over the years, and although I know they skillfully portrayed Dante’s words in English, the true wit and intelligence of Dante can only be understood in Italian. Maybe when I retire I’ll take on learning enough Italian to be able to read it in its original verse. The Divine Comedy takes place on the eve of Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300. Dante descends into hell with the Roman poet Virgil at his side, continues on with him into Purgatory before meeting up with his longtime platonic lover Beatrice, who guides him through Heaven. Dante wisely avoided controversy by not drawing heavily upon the bible in constructing his afterlife, allowing the theater of his literature to inform the critiques and humor that are contained within. It is only at the very end that he meets God, for whom he describes as being beyond words in the manifestation of the love of creation that surrounds us. In many ways The Divine Comedy is about love, how love heals, corrupts, tempts, tortures and purifies. Beatrice is Dante’s guide to help him rid himself of human frailties and absorb more fully a natural love that comes from all of creation’s higher power.
Hayden Carruth was a poet, critic, essayist and faithful anthologist, who spent his life connecting poetry to matters of the mind that matter. I particularly like his first line of the poem below; The shells that men secrete are made of words. A question I’ll pose is whether the use of the word “men” is limiting in that sentence? Is it sexist, symbolic, or inclusive for his time? Or as man who writes from a man’s perspective is it just his opinion, among other men and women of letters, that men’s secretions can be different than women’s in what they leave behind? Secretions being a thing that connects these two poems and obviously something that captured his imagination.
Hayden Carruth is well respected by the scholarly, but he is not a name that you come across frequently. His poetry is far superior to his current reputation. I need to look no further than the list of volumes of work he left behind to understand that he was as devoted to the craft of poetry as any writer of his era.
I keep coming back to Dante and Carruth; Where love is, there is insight. I worry that in our current environment of binary polarizing debate, we fail to find insight into “the others” point of view, because we fail to love those with which we disagree. I think Dante and Carruth have it right. If you want to understand, recognize each other through eyes of love and insights will open before our eyes.
Three Sonnets On The Necessity of Narrowly Escaping Death
by Hayden Carruth
The shells that men secrete are made of words, And even those undignified by print Are hard and multiple. Through cracks, asquint We twist for primed glimpses of the birds The flash and wheel and cry, the hundred herds Whose thundering hooves roar over the earth in sprint. We ache for motion, now and then by dint Of impulse move a nerve and think in surds.
Motion is meaning, meaning knowledge. Locked In shells of words, the mollusks know that things, Nor even selves, the crimped and cramped, unblocked, Unwatched and unexpressed. The radio sings, We think with archness of the Pleistocene, And fuel our flaccid hearts with gasoline.
I heard the sweet voice of a robin,
High up in the maple tree,
Joyously, singing his happy song
To his feathered mate, in glee!…
If we could be like this tiny bird,
Just living from day to day,
Holding no bitterness in our hearts
For those we meet on our way…
Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings.
The artist’s earliest effort wrought with care,
The bard’s first ballad, written in his tears,
Set by his later toil seems poor and tame.
And into nothing dwindles at the test.
So with the passions of maturer years
Let those who will demand the first fond flame,
Give me the heart’s last love, for that is best.
The fears of what may come to pass, I cast them all away, Among the clover scented grass, Among the new-mown hay
Louise Imogen Guiney
BY ROBERT FROST
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
It was a busy week at the farm. The alpaca got sheared, the hay field was cut and baled and the 160 new square bales stacked in the shed. You can tell by Captain Crunch’s grin that he’s pleased about it too. Our barn yard has a pleasant smell. We have a small Case IH utility tractor, 1956 55 HP with a loader that makes quick work of cleaning up the horse stall and the alpaca pen. Alpaca have this interesting trait in that they defecate and urinate in the same place, outside their stall in the barn yard. It makes it very easy to clean things up every other week or so.
There is something immensely satisfying in cutting your own hay field. This is a hay field that is in need of some agronomic attention next year, a bit scant on clover, but nothing a little fertilizer and over seeding can’t cure. It is the kind of hay field that doesn’t lend itself to much else, too rolling in some areas, too wet in others, it fits its purpose as pasture for the horse and hay cut once a year. The hay field is surrounded by huge preserve and wetlands, which makes for great habitat for birds and insects and wildlife. It is the kind of hayfield that is disappearing in my county, sadly to development and new houses. We are hoping to hold on to this little slice during our lifetimes.
When you see pictures of Robert Frost, it’s clear he was a farmer at heart. The poetry of his that I am most attracted to are his postcards in words of his life and observations of nature on the farm. Frost is at his best in my mind when he is simplest in his words. I hope to follow in his foot steps and grow old tending to fruit trees, a chicken or two, some bees and a garden that requires daily attention. It is not surprising that there are many references to pastures in poetry. Seek out a pasture and lay down in it. Watch the clouds go by for a bit quietly, hiding in the grass. And then slowly peek above the grass, look about and see what comes to visit you. Is it any surprise that pastures are an inspiration to writers throughout history?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul;
When I was a child my Mother hung the stars and strips flag outside our front door each fourth of July. She did it on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as well. It was a gesture to honor her Father, who served in both World War I and World War II. She was genuinely patriotic. It was a high quality flag, with a good wooden pole and gold knob at the end. It was stored in our front coat closet and sometimes when we played hide and seek when I was little I would hide in that closet in the dark corner and unfurl a bit of the flag and cloak myself behind it. It was a winning strategy.
Hiding behind the flag has been a winning strategy for politicians forever. An inflated sense of patriotism seems to be a requirement to become a politician. It feels harder to for me to be patriotic these days. Yesterday NPR read the entire Declaration of Independence. The opening is beautiful and poetic. It gets tougher to listen to as it rolls into the myriad of grievances it spells out and the pomposity of white men declaring everything their sovereign right to ownership, ignoring the in inalienable rights of women, Native Americans and slaves. I am surprised there has not been a larger movement to redress the language of the Declaration of Independence to eliminate the blatant racism that exists within the document. NPR did a good job of both reading it as written and unpacking the parts that should be questioned and condemned, specifically clause 27;
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
To all who believe racism is not structurally still present in our systems of government, we need look no further than our most important documents. Why do we continue to allow language to exist that is offensive, simply because its historical? This is not just a federal issue, the same problems exist at the state level. As late as February 2020, Minnesota’s state constitution still had a reference to slavery. Although slavery was illegal from Minnesota’s founding in 1857, it contained a clause that slavery was a justifiable form of punishment for crimes unspecified, leaving plenty of room for interpretation; “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
Apparently slavery is illegal, unless you deserve it, according to my state’s constitution. Of course that’s ridiculous, but if it’s so ridiculous, why is that language remain, unquestioned for so long? Removing racist, idiotic, hurtful language, in my mind is not being politically correct, it’s about being politically aligned with how we define our democracy today. When we allow vestiges of our racist history to remain in our most important government institutions, we give racism a foot hold for justification, a Trojan horse of hate, that continues to wreak havoc on our ability to unify as a nation, with respect for all people. Let’s read beyond the pretty parts of our government documents, the parts that make our hearts swell with patriotic pride and dig a little deeper. And then let’s task our politicians with living our collective values and striking down through legislation the racist sentiments that linger still in our government institutions.
by William Oandasan
around the house stood an orchard of plum, apple and pear a blackwalnut tree, one white pine, groves of white oak and willow clumps the home of Jessie was largely redwood
blood, flesh and bone sprouted inside her womb of redwood for five generations the trees now stand unpruned and wild
after relocating so many years before the War the seeds of Jessie have returned
afternoon sunlight on the field breezes moving grass and leaves memories with family names wait within the earth, the mountains, the valley, the field, the trees
“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
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.
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
‘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.
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.