Sometimes, Everything I Write

Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)

“If we see light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the light of the oncoming train.”

Robert Lowell

Epilogue

by Robert Lowell 

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name


 

Happy New Years.   My intention has been to spend the month of January doing a deeper dive into Robert Lowell,  the last white male poet to be on the cover of Time Magazine.  It is said we all foreshadow our own destruction, but in the case of Lowell, he foreshadowed not only his own, but also nearly the down fall of poetry itself in America. 

In my mind Lowell epitomizes where the politics of poetry went wrong in the 20th Century.   For an artform that is irreparably bound to breaking all the conventions in its creation, there is still politics in the way that new poets are vetted and published and paid.  Something happened as Lowell reached the zenith of his career in the 1960’s that nearly broke poetry.  The business of poetry, which was and still is in some ways, largely controlled by an elitist insulated establishment, committed the gravest of sins in my mind, it became boring.  Lowell is the demarcation point where poetry hit the proverbial white male wall. And although there have been many fine white male poets who have carried on since, the sun has set on that regime to have the type of influence, readership and popular appeal that was possible in the first half of the 20th century.  

The 1970’s, 1980’s and beyond have seen the rise of  greater diversity, different perspectives, different expressionism and  the full ascension of free verse, to the point that many poets have forgotten,  that poetry at its essence should go beyond the page and live in our mouths as well as our minds.  It should read well aloud.  The past 40 years have carved out a niche for nearly ever type of poetry, but along with it a smaller and smaller readership, at least published, even for the most successful, such that it is harder and harder for a poet to make a living as a poet.  Poetry has become what it always was, a way of thinking, a life style, but it is only for a very talented few, who can actually make a living at it without subsidizing their passion through teaching or another line of work or an acceptance of poverty.  You don’t have to be wealthy to be a poet, but it certainly doesn’t hurt if it is your desire for it to be your vocation. And such as it has been since Homer and Browning. 

Lowell wrote 100’s of sonnets in his lifetime and translated nearly that many as well from other poets.   Yet, there is not a single sonnet of Lowell’s that I can point to that anyone is likely to be familiar or that I would give a resounding, thumbs up.  The problem with celebrating Lowell is he is hard to like because his poetry is so overtly academic, it is not accessible.  Lowell’s poems are inside jokes of arcane knowledge written for the critics and his other academic friends to decipher.  And because Lowell won nearly every award a poet can win, and was heaped with praise and success, other’s followed mistakenly down his rather drab path, creating a self-compounding problem of scaring off more and more readers.  Poetry became up and through the 1990’s more and more incestuous in the process of what is published.  In my opinion, the only thing that saved poetry from extinction was the internet.  The internet over the last 20 years made it possible for writers to self publish in ways that harken back to Dicken’s selling single page periodicals in the streets.  Anyone willing to set up a blog and willing to write could access the world.  

I honestly believe more people on the planet are reading poetry than ever before, though you wouldn’t know it to look at the poetry section in your local bookstore, that is if your local book store has survived the ravages of the past 20 years and the pandemic.  The fact that local book stores have closed in droves across the United States is further evidence of the challenges that writers face in finding their audience in the traditional printed sense.  And yet, I am blown away by the level of talent that emerges year after year.   There are more good writers of poetry than ever before, even if book sales continue to decline. 

The internet has made it possible for people to create, find and share poetry like never before.  So why spend a month diving into someone I so dislike and worse disdain? Life is too short to read bad poetry. My mantra about reading poetry is the same as it is for food, consume what you enjoy!   The reason is I have decided I would like to figure out  maybe where poetry took the wrong road less traveled, particularly classical poetry and why it hit a dead end.  And to do so, I thought it might be interesting to follow that trail back and look about.   If the sonnet is a vehicle of artistic endeavor rusting in the scrap yard in most readers minds, then let’s spend a little time with one of the writers who helped run it off the road into some trees.   Lowell was connected to so many poets, first as a student,  then through his social network as friends, and then as a professor and the writers he mentored as students, that he is one of those literary figures that sits at the center of an incredible spider web of authors from the 20th century.  I will do my best over the next 30 days, to spend the majority of the time on writers other than Lowell, to which Lowell was connected, and to actually find a poem or two of Lowell’s in his vast collected works, that I enjoy.  Wish me luck.   

Happy New Years!  And if Lowell and his cronies are not to your liking.  I will see you in February. 


Bringing A Turtle Home

by Robert Lowell

On the road to Bangor, we spotted a domed stone,
a painted turtle petrified by fear.
I picked it up.  The turtle had come a long walk,
200 millennia understudy to dinosaurs,
then their survivor.  A god for the out-of-power….
Faster gods come to Castine, flush yachtsman who see
hell as a city very much like New York,
these gods gave a bad past and worse future to men
who never bother to set a spinnaker;
culture without cash isn’t worth their spit.
The laughter on Mount Olympus was always breezy….
Goodnight, little Boy, little Soldier, live,
a toy to your friend, a stone of stumbling to God —-
sandpaper Turtle, scratching your pail for water. 


My Grateful Christmas Spirit’s Still Alive

Childhood Creche purchased at the Ben Franklin store on main street in North St. Paul in the early 1960s.

 

Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree

by George Starbuck

*
O
fury-
bedecked!
O glitter-torn!
Let the wild wind erect
bonbonbonanzas; junipers affect
frostyfreeze turbans; iciclestuff adorn
all cuckolded creation in a madcap crown of horn!
It’s a new day; no scapegrace of a sect
tidying up the ashtrays playing Daughter-in-Law Elect;
bells! bibelots! popsicle cigars! shatter the glassware! a son born
now
now
while ox and ass and infant lie
together as poor creatures will
and tears of her exertion still
cling in the spent girl’s eye
and a great firework in the sky
drifts to the western hill.


Heading into the final days before Christmas I am trying to be upbeat.   I have much to be grateful for this year.  And yet, even a vastly toned down version of my normal Christmas cheer feels a bit overdone.   2020 is going to take some time to process.  How are you processing all that has happened in 2020?   Has your creativity been fueled or stunted by the dislocation of the pandemic?   For me it has been a year of getting up everyday and trying to move forward with little energy for creativity.   I am grateful for whatever small bit survived along the way. 

I wrote A Christmas Sonnet over Thanksgiving weekend.   It is not a great poem, but it feels genuine.  I think there are good things that have come out of 2020’s toughest moments.   It feels like we took a tiny faltering step forward as a nation of recognizing systemic racism for what it is, despite the failure of  our leadership in our federal government. It feels like change is coming as an organic outgrowth of individuals and organizations searching their conscience and trying to do not necessarily “the” right thing but something better than silence or ignorance.  The fact that multiple sports teams changed their names from something blatantly disrespectful and racist is a tangible example, even if they haven’t figured out what the new name is going to be.   The fact that monuments to a racist, slave owning past are being taken down and towns are acknowledging their part in that history in ways that do not glorify it, because there never had been glory in those institutions that warranted memorializing it in bronze, is a start to a conversation around actual reparations.   The fact that state flags are being changed to forge a new symbol away from the cultural identity of hate is a good thing.   Change is hard.   It’s painful.  Not everyone is going to peacefully join in.  But the herd has moved in a direction away from status quo and there is no stopping it now, no matter how much white privilege objects. These birth pangs of moving towards a more equitable future is worth it even if its still in its infancy and screaming its head off because its hungry.   

I do not believe poetry has one interpretation.  Poems have as many different meanings as people who read them,  which is why I find literary criticism an inherently suspect enterprise.  I believe poetry by its very nature is a personal language of an individual  that by its public sharing creates a thread of common humanity regardless of what other readers take from it.  

I chose the words of A Christmas Sonnet carefully.  They represent as best as words can how I feel right now.  I generally enjoy Christmas.  But I have been wresting with how I reconcile the pleasant traditions and memories of my past with the reality of the things that are completely broken in our society today and have been for hundreds of years?   How do I allow those two things to live peacefully in my mind side by side?  I haven’t figured that out yet.  For now I have decided the best I can do is to not create an emotional moat around the memorabilia of Christmas past and pretend it is above the pain of Christmas present.   Instead I will welcome that pain and confusion into the emotional mix and stir it up in the holiday pot and let the two co-exist, hoping that it brings a clearer ownership on my part in moving forward in the right direction next year.   And if nothing else, it feels authentic to seek redemption from things that represent the good of what was in the past, even when in some ways it represents the white blindness of my suburban childhood experience.


A Christmas Sonnet

By T. A. Fry

I would like to think I am not too old
For magic. This year’s endless tragedies,
Hunger, Fire, Floods, Injustice, Death, Disease,
Ran rough-shod o’er my nostalgic soul.
Will New Year’s bells ring as clear? Will hanging
Stockings, trimming trees, blot out blatant lies?
Fascists mocking humility, raging
At democracy in their bright red ties.

My grateful Christmas spirit’s still alive.
Despite the horrors; George Floyd’s death,
A pandemic stalking loved one’s breath,
Our compact frayed, but for now, survives.
I’ll honor the flesh of “I Can’t Breathe,”
Redeeming childhood crèche and Christmas wreath.

A Few Old Papers

Ted Kooser (b. 1939 –

Year’s End

by Ted Kooser

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red feather on the wind.


The past few years I have taken the month of January to do a deeper dive into one poet, an attempt to go beyond an understanding of a few poems and to read not only their broader canon of work, but  also their circle of influencers.   This coming January I have been planning showcasing Robert Lowell, but the closer I get to January and the more I read of Lowell the more ambivalent I become. Lowell is a little too slick, too academic, too privileged.  As much as I try to find things I like about Lowell, given the vast amount of sonnets the man wrote, in the end I just don’t like his poetry very much.   Poetry is supposed to be enjoyable for the reader, not a beat down drubbing that leaves you bored and mystified. 

Kooser, in my mind, is the anti-Lowell as a poet in some ways, but if Lowell hadn’t existed would Kooser as a poet exist?  The same could be said of Pound and others.  What I like about Kooser is his poems give me energy, whereas too many Lowell’s seems to take energy out.  Kooser, for me, embodies the best of mid-western poetry, a relatively straight forward poetic vision that lets the reader inside his world, a world that is  recognizable, not mamby-pamby, but not so stark as to scare us off.  Kooser, like his poetry, has aged well. 


Sonnet

by Karen Volkman

Say sad. Say sun’s a semblance of a bled
blanched intransigence, collecting rue
in ray-stains. Smirching pages. Takes its cue
from sateless stamens, flanging. Florid head

got no worries, waitless. Say you do. Say
photosynthesis. Light, water, airy bread.
What eats its source, its orbit? Something bad:
some plural petal that will not root or ray.

Sow stray. Salt night for saving, dreaming clay
for heap, for hefting. Originary ash
for stall and stilling. Say it will, it said.

Corolla corona, bliss-bane—delay
surge and sediment. Say instrument and gash
and ruminant remnant. Rex the ruse. Be dead.

Let Me Be Silent

IMG_9683

RBG on the Christmas Tree. 

Your Sadness

by Marion Strobel (1895 – 1967)

Not because beauty is as thin and bright
In you as the white outline of a tree
In winter, but because I find delight
In the curved sadness of your lips. (I see
Pleasanter things each day, each day recall
Happy faces, laughter that knew a way
To spin senses to oblivion.) . . . All
Your words are swift upon your lips and grey
As swallows, yet I stay to listen, yet
I cannot tear myself away from you:
For in a little while you may forget
Your sadness. O no matter what I do
You may forget your sadness — O my dear
And even smile, and make the mystery clear


Marion Strobel was an associate editor of Poetry Magazine from 1920 to 1925.  She obviously was beloved at that institution, because over her lifetime Poetry Magazine published 137 of her poems.  Contrast that with Robert Frost’s mere 57 and it makes you realize how deeply connected she was in the publishing world during her career.   Strobel was associated with Poetry Magazine in some way for 45 years, accounting for her impressive achievement.  She was a novelist as well as poet and part of the voices that would go on to establish what would be called confessional poetry.  Due in part to her editorial duties, Strobel had personal relationships  with numerous writers and literary figures, including Sylvia Beach, Louise Bogan, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Carl Sandberg.  I have enjoyed diving into Strobel’s poetry and look forward to exploring more.

We cut our Christmas tree at a tree farm that is run by a family for more than 50 years north of Elk River, MN yesterday.  Despite several of the usual activities being disrupted by COVID restrictions, like caroling in a horse drawn carriage,  it felt like a way of touching traditions of the past.   A fresh cut tree brings the smell of a balsam fir into the house like no other.  We’ll decorate it properly in the next couple of nights, but for one day, RBG presided over it as a guiding angel from her perch at the top.


Two Sonnets

II

by Marion Strobel

How can I offer you the dull, frayed song
Of love I know? Each word would stumble on
A memory; and I should see a long
Blurred line of faces grimacing upon
A musty curtain of the past . . . . Ah, no . . . .
Let me be silent . . . . Words would only sound
A monotone: a toxic, cloying flow
Of echoes would sift through, and eddy round
My voice, and all the rapture that I feel
Would turn into a harlequin and steal
Away beneath the vivid, measured hum
Of mockery.  Ah, dearest, may there come
An ecstasy of stillness in each day,
That you may sense the thoughts I dare not say!

With Silver Claws and Silver Eye

full_beaver_moon

Above The Dock

by T. E. Hulme (1883-1917)

Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded
Hangs the moon.  What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.


This December we began the month with a full moon (Dec. 1) and we will end it on a full moon (Dec. 30).  A little lunar cheer to ring in the New Year for any holiday revelers trying to find their way home.

I was on an explore out at the farm last weekend, trying to find the beaver dam that has been transforming the landscape of the east end of the property the past couple of years.  it wasn’t hard to find, a massive structure nearly 3 feet high and over 75 feet long.   They have been busy.  From their perspective (the beavers), it couldn’t be a more perfect placement, right on a fence line between a public wildlife reserve and private property, its unclear who if anyone but the beavers have jurisdiction over these change in events.   Talking to a neighbor whose back third of his property is now underwater, he said, “One the one hand I’ve lost a big chunk of the land I used to bow hunt, on the other, the beavers have done more in 2 years than Ducks Unlimited did in 30 in creating wood duck habitat.” My intuition says the beavers and the wood ducks have won and we’ll all have to just get used to water being where it never was before.


Silver

By Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

We Can Be Happy

george-santayana

George Santayana (1863 – 1952)

Only the dead have seen the end of war.

George Santayana

There may be Chaos still around the World

By George Santayana

There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.


Sonnet XXV

by George Santayana

As in the midst of battle there is room
For thoughts of love, and in foul sin for mirth;
As gossips whisper of a trinket’s worth
Spied by the death-bed’s flickering candle-gloom;
As in the crevices of Caesar’s tomb
The sweet herbs flourish on a little earth:
So in this great disaster of our birth
We can be happy, and forget our doom.
For morning, with a ray of tenderest joy
Gilding the iron heaven, hides the truth,
And evening gently woos us to employ
Our grief in idle catches. Such is youth;
Till from that summer’s trance we wake, to find
Despair before us, vanity behind.

 
 

Through Faith

William Bradford (1590 – 1657)

Hebrews 11

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it our elders obtained a good report.

Bible – King James Version.

Through Faith

by T. A. Fry

Through faith, we understand the worlds were framed
By God’s words; that things are not made solely
Of which they appear.  Without faith, it is
Impossible to please or be wholly pleased.
Faith is a reward unto itself.  And those
That state plainly; “we’re earthly strangers, pilgrims, 
Seeking a country from whence we came,”
May have the opportunity to return.

But what if we desire something better?
A heavenly country; where God is not
Ashamed to be called our God.  Is there more?
Our elders, having obtained a good report,
Through faith, received not the promise; 
God provided something better; 

They, without us,  should not be made perfect. 


The end of the American experiment, may well come in part, out of the fictional character from which it was partially fashioned; the idea of American independence and rugged individualism.  We have fashioned a cloak for ourselves and our politicians out of this idea of American exceptionalism.  The idea that as American’s we are innately superior by our very founders declaring independence and then fighting for our freedom.   These noble words and ideas may yet fashion the heroic myth that will be our undoing;  the idea that you can make it in this country by yourself, if you just apply yourself and work hard and don’t let the government or anyone else get in your way.  What that myth ignores, is that the reason that all of us have things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving is because of others’ contributions, small and large, to our successes and our failures.  The Plymouth plantation survived, the reason the revolution succeeded, when so many others prior to it did not, was because groups worked together, communally, with the belief that they could build something better together, build it through self sacrifice for the betterment of others, where alone, they would fail. 

It is ironic then,  the heroic myth of American exceptionalism and independence is partially responsible for bringing us to the brink of fracturing, has created a divide that is growing through a proclamation of self service, when the need to work cooperatively could not be more beneficial for all.   This failing should not be a surprise.  It is because we suffer as human’s from the same challenges of being human that William Bradford and his fellow colonists on the Mayflower did nearly 400 years ago, our egos get in the way of our better selves. 

Bradford penned a journal of his voyage and establishment of the Plymouth colony, that was published by his sons after his death.   A devout Christian, a man of faith and also realism, he believed that his faith in God, could help guide the providence of his community and his family if they worked together with the idea of a common good.   He observed: 

“The settlers, too, began to grow in prosperity, through the influx of many people to the country, especially to the Bay of Massachusetts. Thereby corn and cattle rose to a high price, and many were enriched, and commodities grew plentiful. But in other regards this benefit turned to their harm, and this accession of strength to weakness. For as their stocks increased and became more saleable, there was no longer any holding them together; they must of necessity obtain bigger holdings, otherwise they could not keep their cattle; and having oxen they must have land for ploughing. So in time no one thought he could live unless he had cattle and a great deal of land to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks.”

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Bradford was a poet as well.  Most of his poetry is religious in nature or what we would now call patriotic.  Bradford wanted for his sons and their families to have something better than what his opportunities had been in England.  I found humorous that Bradford wrote poetry complaining about various things he considered sinful, including – Ranters, proving not much has changed in 400 years, only the technology with which the Ranters rant. 


On The Various Heresies In Old And New England, With An Appeal To The Presbyterians (Excerpt)

By William Bradford


Nor need you fear sin to commit,
For Christ hath satisfied for it.
But these doctrines make men profane,
And bring dishonor to Christ’s name.
Now faith is made, hereby, to be
A dead body, as you may see;
And these are but a wretched race,
That they abuse God’s holy grace.

Ranters
Next unto these we may bring in
The filthy Ranters, near of kin.
Where had they first their rise or name?
I know not from the devil they came.
The Adamites they are most like,
But more against public shame do strike.
Cynic-like, as vile as dogs,
Carry themselves as filthy hogs,
Yea worse than brutes, they know no end;
But all their strength in lusts they spend.
They shame the nature of mankind,
And blot out reason in their mind.
Professed atheists some of them are,
Who openly revile God dare,
And horridly blaspheme His name,
And publicly avow the same,
Which makes my heart quake and tremble.
Nor may I herein dissemble;
Methinks such wretches should not live
In any land offense to give,
Of this high nature, against the most high,
And men it hear, and pass it by.
I might say more of their vileness,
How in contempt they will profess
Their fellow creatures to adore,
That God’s dishonor may be more.
But let them pass; they are too vile
My fingers for to defile.
I hope the Lord’s help will come in
To cleanse the land of such vermin.


I feel compelled to leave a footnote about the poem Through Faith. I thought carefully whether to attach my name to this poem, as it feels a bit like hubris to do so. I recognize that many people take scripture as literal, the literal word of God. I do not. I see it as a creation of many minds over time, written in languages other than my own and passed down. I see the connection between poetry and scripture and the poetry in scripture.

I found this text the first time I read it incredibly confusing. I could not wrap my head around it. If you read Hebrews 11 in it’s entirety it is a lengthy list of prophets in the Old Testament and their trials of faith. It feels impersonal and antiquated. But there was an element in it, that the more time that I spent with it felt relevant. And its relevance is in being a father and a son. The process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the text into a poem made it viable as something meaningful to me. And I hope might open the door for others to look at it through their own spiritual or poetic lens.

And The Chef is God

Max Ritvo (1990 – 2016)

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is Thank You, it will be enough.

Master Eckhart

We Eat Out Together

by Bernadette Mayer

My heart is a fancy place
Where giant reddish-purple cauliflowers
& white ones in French & English are outside
Waiting to welcome you to a boat
Over the low black river for a big dinner
There’s alot of choice among the foods
Even a tortured lamb served in pieces
En croute on a plate so hot as a rack
Of clouds blown over the cold filthy river
We are entitled to see anytime while we
Use the tablecovers to love each other
Publicly dishing out imitative luxuries
To show off poetry’s extreme generosity
Then home in the heart of a big limousine



Where ever you are in this world, whatever your traditions, or beliefs, we share our humanness through gratitude. So much of poetry is tied to this quality, the ability to express thankfulness, that I don’t think poetry would exist without this innate ability.

I don’t think however it is only a human trait. If you live around animals they often express their gratitude for your touch, for your presence, for feeding them or grooming them, or petting them. Gratitude is a trait that goes beyond our species.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving today, separated because of COVID from the loved ones I would normally get together, I will say the same prayer of Gratefulness that I have said many times over the years. I am maybe more grateful than previous years as strange as it sounds. I am grateful they are healthy and capable of marshalling through these challenging times. I am grateful for their self reliance, their perseverance, their ability to make their own fun, and keep a positive attitude. I am thankful for all my blessings, – the greatest of which is their love.

I feel compelled to be original writing this blog, to have every poem on every post be new, for the first time on Fourteen Lines. But that’s not the way I read poetry. I go back to the same poems over and over. If you are needing a Thanksgiving Prayer, either to read aloud at your table or to say silently, here’s my go to favorite for Thanksgiving. I shared it on the first Thanksgiving of Fourteen Lines in 2017, and it warrants sharing again, as I plan on reading it again, and again.

Gratefulness

Thou that has given so much to me
Give me one thing more, – a grateful heart,
See how Thy beggar works on Thee by art.

Not Thankful when it pleaseth me, –
As if they blessings had spare days.
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

George Herbert


Amuse-Bouche

by Max Ritvo

It is rare that I
have to stop eating anything
because I have run out of it.

We, in the West, eat until we want
to eat something else,
or want to stop eating altogether.

The chef of a great kitchen
uses only small plates.

He puts a small plate in front of me,
knowing I will hunger on for it
even as the next plate is being
placed in front of me.

But each plate obliterates the last
until I no longer mourn the destroyed plate,

but only mewl for the next,
my voice flat with comfort and faith.

And the chef is God,
whose faithful want only the destruction
of His prior miracles to make way
for new ones.

Wildpeace

Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000)

Yes, all of this is sorrow. But leave a little love burning always like the small bulb in the room of a sleeping baby that gives him a bit of security and quiet love though he doesn’t know what the light is or where it comes from.

Yehuda Amichai

Sonnet

by Yehuda Amichai

My father fought their war four years or so,
And did not hate or love his enemies.
Already he was forming me, I know,
Daily, out of his tranquilities;

Tranquilities, so few, which he had gleaned
Between the bombs and smoke, for his son’s sake,
And put into his ragged knapsack with
The leftovers of my mother’s hardening cake.

He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead,
The many dead for my sake unforsaken,
So that I should not die like them in dread,
But love them, seeing them as once he saw.
He filled his eyes with them; he was mistaken,
Like them, I must go out to meet my war. 


Wildpeace

by Yehuda Amichai

Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace

We Saw It In His Eyes

A Life of Austerity

By Peter Hartley

My grandfather was always old. The more
I think of him the more I call to mind
He seldom left his kitchen. We would find
Him sitting in an upright chair, the door
Pine-panelled, high ceiled, lino on the floor,
And he would sit there all day long behind
A newspaper. The place for me defined
Him like the horrors of the First World War.

You see it spoke of his austerity.
He dwelled, like all the old in reverie,
A lifetime in his prime. Sometimes he went
To sleep, his nightmares we could only guess.
Sometimes again we saw an immanent
Serenity, a twilight peacefulness.


One hundred years ago the returning soldiers from World War I helped spread the Spanish Flu epidemic, the last great pandemic, to all corners of the earth.  Peter Hartley’s memories of his grandfather in sonnet form are touching testimonials to the his grandfather’s humanity.  The difference between that virus pandemic and COVID-19, is the Spanish flu killed young adults equally as well as old. 

When reading about the Spanish flu pandemic in the past, I had a sense of isolation from it, an arms length detachment.  No matter how many health experts sounded the alarm that it could and likely would happen again, it felt like something that was in the past, despite SARS, Ebola, etc.  Our experience of relative safety because of public health strategy and modern vaccination technology for generations was ignorant bliss.  Despite the paranoid rantings of anti-vaxers we have lived the past 50 years in undreamed of respite from childhood diseases in human history, and unfortunately taken it for granted.  There is certainly reason for optimism heading into next year that things will get better,  but I also have a sense of realism in what 2021 will bring before this is brought under control with effective vaccines. 

How will this pandemic experience shape poet’s writing in the future?  I could retreat into my kitchen for a couple of years to write and read if I didn’t have a job I had to attend.  I would need a wood stove in my kitchen for winters and a kennel for the dog in another room on those occasions I want peace and quiet, all things for me to consider putting on my checklist of what to do if this continues beyond 2021.  What will our grandchildren write about us one day, sitting in our chairs reading, looking off into the distance?


A Biscuit Tin

by Peter Hartley

Put in a biscuit tin behind a door
Beside the hearth among old dog-eared snaps,
Of long-forgotten kith and kin perhaps,
His father on a bicycle we saw
Who died in nineteen ten, four years before
All hell broke loose. Amid the other scraps
We found inside their careless little wraps
Were all his letters home from the Great War

One hundred years ago, and all forlorn
His honourable discharge creased and torn.
Could he still hear the pounding of the guns
Resounding to a barrage from the Huns?
For if by chance upon the Somme one day
We saw it in his eyes he didn’t say.