Never mind. The self is the least of it. Let our scars fall in love.
After Making Love We Hear Footsteps
By Galway Kinnell
For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
by Galway Kinnell
Didn’t you like the way the ants help the peony globes open by eating the glue off? Weren’t you cheered to see the ironworkers sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable, in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe baloney on white with fluorescent mustard? Wasn’t it a revelation to waggle from the estuary all the way up the river, the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck, the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring? Didn’t you almost shiver, hearing book lice clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old Webster’s New International, perhaps having just eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon? What did you imagine lies in wait anyway at the end of a world whose sub-substance is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck? Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren and how little flesh is needed to make a song. Didn’t it seem somehow familiar when the nymph split open and the mayfly struggled free and flew and perched and then its own back broke open and the imago, the true adult, somersaulted out and took flight, seeking the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial, alimentary canal come to a stop, a day or hour left to find the desired one? Or when Casanova took up the platter of linguine in squid’s ink and slid the stuff out the window, telling his startled companion, “The perfected lover does not eat.” As a child, didn’t you find it calming to imagine pinworms as some kind of tiny batons giving cadence to the squeezes and releases around the downward march of debris? Didn’t you glimpse in the monarchs what seemed your own inner blazonry flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air? Weren’t you reassured to think these flimsy hinged beings, and then their offspring, and then their offspring’s offspring, could navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico, to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree, by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors who fell in this same migration a year ago? Doesn’t it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert to wake in the night and find ourselves holding hands in our sleep?
Poetry is the art of imaginary gardening with real toads.
by Archibald Lampman
How deep the April night is in its noon, The hopeful, solemn, many-murmured night! The earth lies hushed with expectation; bright Above the world’s dark border burns the moon, Yellow and large; from forest floorways, strewn With flowers, and fields that tingle with new birth, The moist smell of the unimprisoned earth Come up, a sigh, a haunting promise. Soon,
Ah, soon, the teeming triumph! At my feet The river with its stately sweep and wheel Moves on slow-motioned, luminous, gray like steel. From fields far off whose watery hollows gleam, Aye with blown throats that make the long hours sweet, The sleepless toads are murmuring in their dreams.
Spring on the River
by Archibald Lampman
O sun, shine hot on the river; For the ice is turning an ashen hue, And the still bright water is looking through, And the myriad streams are greeting you With a ballad of life to the giver, From forest and field and sunny town, Meeting and running and tripping down, With laughter and song to the river.
Oh! the din on the boats by the river; The barges are ringing while day avails, With sound of hewing and hammering nails, Planing and painting and swinging pails, All day in their shrill endeavor; For the waters brim over their wintry cup, And the grinding ice is breaking up, And we must away down the river.
Oh! the hum and the toil of the river; The ridge of the rapid sprays and skips: Loud and low by the water’s lips, Tearing the wet pines into strips, The saw mill is moaning ever. The little grey sparrow skips and calls On the rocks in the rain of the water falls, And the logs are adrift in the river.
Oh! restlessly whirls the river; The rivulets run and the cataract drones: The spiders are flitting over the stones: Summer winds float and the cedar moans; And the eddies gleam and quiver. O sun; shine hot, shine long and abide In the glory and power of the summer tide On the swift longing face of the river.
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair
by Robert Burns
O were my love yon Lilac fair, Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring, And I, a bird to shelter there, When wearied on my little wing! How I wad mourn when it was torn By Autumn wild, and Winter rude! But I wad sing on wanton wing, When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yonred rose, That grows upon the castle wa’; And I myself a drapo’ dew, Into her bonie breast to fa’! O there, beyond expression blest, I’d feast on beauty a’ the night; Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest, Till fley’d awaby Phoebus’ light
So come to the pond, or the river of your imagination, or the harbor of your longing, and put your lips to the world. And live your life.
The Voice of Spring
Mary Howitt (1799 – 1888)
I am coming, I am coming! Hark! the honey bee is humming; See, the lark is soaring high In the blue and sunny sky, And the gnats are on the wing Wheeling round in airy ring.
Listen! New-born lambs are bleating, And the cawing rooks are meeting In the elms-a noisy crowd. All the birds are singing loud, And the first white butterfly In the sunshine dances by.
Look around you, look around! Flowers in all the fields abound, Every running stream is bright, All the orchard trees are white, And each small and waving shoot Promises sweet autumn fruit.
by Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)
May, and among the miles of leafing, blossoms storm out of the darkness— windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees dive into them and I too, to gather their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs is the deepest certainty that this existence too— this sense of well-being, the flourishing of the physical body—rides near the hub of the miracle that everything is a part of, is as good as a poem or a prayer, can also make luminous any dark place on earth.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Instructions on Not Giving Up
by Ada Limon
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
by John Clare
The spring is coming by a many signs; The trays are up, the hedges broken down, That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines Like some old antique fragment weathered brown. And where suns peep, in every sheltered place, The little early buttercups unfold A glittering star or two–till many trace The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold. And then a little lamb bolts up behind The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe, And then another, sheltered from the wind, Lies all his length as dead–and lets me go Close bye and never stirs but baking lies, With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.
“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”
by Jane Kenyon
When I take the chilly tools from the shed’s darkness, I come out to a world made new by heat and light.
The snake basks and dozes on a large flat stone. It reared and scolded me for raking too close to its hole.
Like a mad red brain the involute rhubarb leaf thinks its way up through loam.
by Jane Kenyon
The dog and I push through the ring of dripping junipers to enter the open space high on the hill where I let him off the leash.
He vaults, snuffling, between tufts of moss; twigs snap beneath his weight; he rolls and rubs his jowls on the aromatic earth; his pink tongue lolls.
I look for sticks of proper heft to throw for him, while he sits, prim and earnest in his love, if it is love.
All night a soaking rain, and now the hill exhales relief, and the fragrance of warm earth. The sedges have grown an inch since yesterday, and ferns unfurled, and even if they try the lilacs by the barn can’t keep from opening today.
I longed for spring’s thousand tender greens, and the white-throated sparrow’s call that borders on rudeness. Do you know— since you went away I’ve done little but wait for you to come back to me.
A SWEET disorder in the dress Kindles in clothes a wantonness : A lawn about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction : An erring lace which here and there Enthrals the crimson stomacher : A cuff neglectful, and thereby Ribbons to flow confusedly : A winning wave (deserving note) In the tempestuous petticoat : A careless shoe-string, in whose tie I see a wild civility : Do more bewitch me than when art Is too precise in every part.
By Robert Herrick
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun Has not attain’d his noon. Stay, stay, Until the hasting day Has run But to the even-song; And, having pray’d together, we Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you, or anything. We die As your hours do, and dry Away, Like to the summer’s rain; Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, Ne’er to be found again.
When darkness hovers over earth, and day gives place to night, Then lovers see the Milky Way gleam mystically bright, And calling it the Way of Love they hail it with delight.
Joyce Kilmer, Summer of Love
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
In Minnesota, May is the month of trees even more so than the splendor of the fall. Minnesotan’s come out of a long winter eager for the warmth of spring. The bare and brown trees tease us all April long, with hints of green and growing things. But it isn’t until May that the canopy is filled with as many colors of green as the mind’s eye can imagine. Then, about the middle of the month, crab apples and lilacs fill our neighborhoods with their delights. By Memorial day their blossoms will be gone, their sweet smells a reminder to slow down, close your eyes and breath.
The beauty of this year’s greenness got me thinking about poems about trees. It’s what lead me to James Emanuel’s poem A Fool for Evergreen. Of course the most famous poem about trees is Joyce Kilmer’s Trees. I asked a good friend of mine who was in her 90’s at the time a few years back; “what are some of your favorite poems?” The first one she recited from memory was I think that I shall never see…. I was surprised. It feels like such a simple poem for her sophisticated and educated pallet. I hate to say I had even found Kilmer’s Trees a bit cliche prior to writing this entry. But of course I hadn’t realized Kilmer died in World War I as a young soldier, on a brave and fool hardy mission, in which lives were shed needlessly, as easily as petals fall from the trees. I had not stopped to listen to her reverence for the poem through her eyes until today.
Kilmer entered the army as a statistician for the New York National Guard in the summer of 1917, shortly after the death of his daughter Rose and the birth of his son. He left his wife and newborn son with visions of writing a book of prose and poetry based on his wartime experiences. The reality of being a soldier drained him of his creative energy and he wrote little during the final 9 months of his life. He arrived in France in November 1917 and like so many young men of that war, who thought there was glory to be found, found something else was waiting. By spring of 1918 he was volunteering for ever more dangerous assignments putting him in harms way at the front lines, possibly out of survivor’s guilt. On July 30, 1918 he was shot and killed while as an advance scout for the 165th Infantry Regiment in an open field, at the crest of a small hill, trying to identify the precise location of a nest of German machine guns that were raining down death upon his comrades.
I didn’t think about it until now, my friend who was born in the early 1920’s, that in her grade school years the healing from World War I had barely begun for the families scarred by its tragedies. She memorized Kilmer’s poem in grade school a decade after Kilmer’s death, probably from a lesson plan taught by a young female teacher; Kilmer’s poem both a way to honor those that they had known who had died in the war and as a primer for young students for a life long love of literature. The poem is sometimes looked down in the halls of literary criticism for its simplicity, an object that is not valid in my mind. Simple poems, in my opinion, are the foundation of literature that offer a foot path into the vault of our adult imaginations.
Do grade school children memorize poetry anymore? What poems will become their primers for healing for the dissonance of the past couple of years? Are the poems that this generation memorizes in childhood similar or different than the past? What literature is lurking beneath the beats of hip hop and Tik Tok, countless young people absorbing its artistic energy, without the rest of us even aware? A hundred years from now, what poems will people share with each other from this decade? Do you have a poem that has touched your heart in a different way these past two years that you will carry with you from here forward in a different light, a perfect light about you? In what form did that poem come to you? You may not even realize how it has buried itself under your skin until that day you find yourself saying it out loud to a friend….
by Joyce Kilmer
Tired clerks, pale girls, street cleaners, business men, Boys, priests and harlots, drunkards, students, thieves, Each one the pleasant outer sunshine leaves; They mingle in this stifling, loud-wheeled pen. The gate clangs to—we stir—we sway—and then We thunder through the dark. The long train weaves Its gloomy way. At last above the eaves We see awhile God’s day, then night again.
Hurled through the dark—day at Manhattan Street, The rest all night. That is my life, it seems. Through sunless ways go my reluctant feet. The sunlight comes in transitory gleams. And yet the darkness makes the light more sweet, The perfect light about me—in my dreams.
You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.
Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.