Tag Archives: poetry

407. Where Life Is

This is a repost from very early in the history of this blog.  SL

I was in the shower getting ready for a day at school when my wife called to me. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I dried and dressed, the second plane had hit.

Twenty minutes later, driving to work, I listened to the radio as the towers fell.

All day long I taught science, keeping to the lesson plan. I didn’t want to teach, and no one wanted to listen, but it was necessary to keep a semblance of normalcy. Every break we teachers watched the television, but we didn’t take any news back to the classroom. Our students needed to be in their own homes, with their parents, before they began to deal with the details of America’s disaster.

At the end of the day, I drove home. I had upon me the need to write, but not of the tragedy. Others wrote that day of what had happened, and wrote well. I needed to write of love and joy and beauty – and of my wife who is all those things to me.

Poems come slowly to me; usually they take years to complete. This one rolled freely about in my head as I drove, and when I arrived at home, I only had to write it down.

                    There Am I

Where there is water, there am I.
In sweet, soft rain and in hard rain,
driving and howling,
or filling the air with luminescent mist.
Water is life, and there am I.

Where there is sun, there am I.
In the soft heat of morning or in the harsh afternoon,
or heavy with moisture, forcing its way through clouds,
or dry as a lizard’s back.
Where the Sun is, is life, and there am I.

Where Earth is, there am I.
Whether dark loam, freshly plowed
or webbed with fissures, hard as stone,
or sandy, or soft as moss.
Where Earth is, is life, and there am I.

Where life is, there am I.
rainforest or desert,
broad plains of grass, or brooding jungle,
Where life is, there am I.

Where She is, there is life,
and sun and rain and earth, and all good things.
Where She is, is life,
And there am I.

The “I” was supposed to be me, of course, speaking of my own love for wilderness, and “She” was, of course, my wife.

However, when it was done it felt more like a religious poem. Strike the last verse, let the “I” be God and it sounds like something written by someone with a great deal more faith than I have. Odd.

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Blondel 2

Like his father, Blondel (the Younger, of Arden, if formality be needed) was of short stature and fine build. He looked like a perfect miniature of a larger man. Seen at a distance where no growing thing lent reference to his size, he might seem a tall, slim viking. On closer examination, it became apparent that he stood no more than five feet in height. Some attributed that to dwarf blood, but of course that was not so. Had it been, he would have been stout and twisted, not a finely sculptured miniature. In point of fact, one of his grandmothers had been a fairy.

Now there was reputed to be a great Faire assembling at the confluence of the Raipiar and Andis rivers in honor of the coming visit by King Henrique, and it seemed to Blondel that such a place would be a likely prospect. What, exactly, he would do there was a matter best left to fate and an agile mind. However, since it might include the singing of ballads, he took his voice out of the scratchy throat where it had been hiding and aired it.

                The mighty Artur in his court,
                With knights both brave and fair,
                Did turn his eye with some delight
                To a Lady‘s serving lady there.

                And if in night, the Knight did weave,
                The first warp of a golden dream;
                The last weft brought him black despair.

Not bad. The coarseness of the last week was gone, though he still felt a strain at some of the higher notes. Well enough; by the time he reached the Faire, his voice would be back to its normal sweetness. Such was Blondel’s evaluation, though it was hotly disputed by a magpie whose slumber he had disturbed.

No sooner had the magpie begun his remonstrance than the bird found himself talking to an empty road, though only for a minute. Then a rider came into view leading a gaily painted cart. He was handsome enough, in a sour way, to have been a knight, but his threadbare clothing and the device worked into his tunic said that he was a guard for hire. That would make his charge the daughter of a wealthy merchant from one of the towns; a rural baron, however poor, would have at least one knight and would not stoop to hiring protection.

They were still a long way off, and Blondel hesitated before working his way deeper into the brush. On one hand, he had no reason to confront the travelers and that guard had a surly look about him. On the other hand, it had rained only a few hours earlier, and Blondel had no desire to trade slaps with a hundred leafy branches still wet from that shower. Compromising, he moved back out of sight to let them pass. more tomorrow

337. The Year Without a summer

The Little Ice Age (yesterday’s post) was vague and questionable in its outlines and origin. The Year Without a Summer was precisely delineated, and there is no question of how it came about. It was the result of volcanic activity.

There is, however, a smaller mystery. In 1808, a very large eruption took place, but no westerner saw it. It is memorialized in ice samples from Greenland and Antarctica, and scientific detective work places the eruption somewhere between Tonga and Indonesia. It began a period of northern hemispheric cooling.

Then in 1815, the largest and most destructive volcanic eruption in human history took place at Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia. The explosion was heard 1600 miles away. (Krakatoa, a better known eruption in the same region in 1883, was less intense.) Between the mystery eruption of 1808 and the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the second decade of the 1800s became the coldest on record. 1816 became known as The Year Without a Summer.

(As always seems the case with science, nothing is simple. 1816 fell within the Little Ice Age and was also associated with a low in the cycle of sunspots. If you really want to understand, I suggest a Ph.D. and a lifetime of study. That will give you some answers and a cartload of more sophisticated questions.)

The Year Without a Summer was disastrous. Crops, which had already been bad, probably because of the 1808 eruption, failed. Famine was everywhere in Europe, followed by typhus. There were massive storms and floods; an estimated 200,000 died in Europe.

In America, the northeast was hit hardest. Frosts continued through the summer. In August ice floated on Pennsylvania rivers. Snow fell in June in Massachusetts. Food was scarce and in 1816 there was no way to move it from less affected regions to those hardest hit. That year and shortly after, masses of northeasterners moved to the midwest, swelling the populations of Indiana and Illinois.

The event left echoes in literature. In 1816 Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, J. W. Polidori and others were storm bound together in a villa overlooking Lake Geneva. A contest of writing ghost stories ensued. Byron wrote a fragment, which Polidori later turned into the first vampire story (The Vampyre), Mary Shelley began what later evolved into Frankenstein, and Byron also wrote Darkness, a long poem inspired by the lightless days.

Here is a bit of that poem, which brings back memories of those old science fiction stories from my youth when the glaciers moved in to destroy humanity.

The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame

326. Dogwood Spring

The California dogwoods are in bloom. Today (March 20) my wife and I took a drive along our favorite semi-secret road to see them. The road isn’t really secret, nor even secluded, but it is off the beaten track. People who don’t live on it, rarely use it. We wound through twists and turns, admiring the green fields and placid cattle, down a steep trail to a hairpin curve at the bottom where a vernal creek rushes through a culvert.

In summer, this is a pool and a trickle, but it has been an exceptionally wet spring and the steep hill behind the pool now provides a double waterfall. We stopped. I admired the bounty of water while my wife took pictures of the dogwoods.

Just at the point where the pool empties into the culvert, there was a clump of grass, rooted in a crack in the rock, partially submerged in the rushing stream. You could see that it had only been growing a few weeks, and shortly the water will fall. When that happens, there will not be soil enough to support the clump, and it will die. But for now, the clump of grass was wiggling and tossing in the water, happy as a hummingbird.

This quatrain occurred to me as I watched.

Though the bee did not come,
And the fruit did not form,
            It does not follow
That the blossom lived in vain.

Like any natural poem, you could apply it to a number of situations. Any un- or under-published author will know what I mean.

277. Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
            Robert Frost

Both Dante’s inferno and a comment to Frost by astronomer Harlow Shapley are given as the inspiration for Frost’s poem. I’m in no position to argue with scholars, but for me it reeks of the North, of Up Helly Aa, of Bifrost and Valkyries, mead halls and winter warfare among Viking people.

Imagine yourself there, in your stave hall before the fire. Surrounded by your kinfolk, safe from the howling wind and deep frost outside your walls. Feasting on meat and mead.

Midwinter has come and gone. You have celebrated with bonfires. Now begins the long wait for spring, for the return of the absent sun.

It is a time for feasting, and for the telling of tales. Tales of Frost Giants and the Fenris Wolf. Tales of Odin sacrificing his eye for wisdom. In the great north, even the Gods live a harsh life. See him there in the corner, in the shadows near the roofbeam, just an image carved in swirling smoke, with Huginn and Muninn on either shoulder.

Old tales and new.

Agnar is speaking now. A third mead has loosened a tongue normally silent. He tells of last summer, of the fogs and waves and heaving seas, of cliffs towering black and high, wet with spume and crowned by the massed nests of fulmars. And of the soft coast, the green coast, the coast of Ireland where soft monks in black robes keep food and drink in quantity and spend their days illuminating manuscripts.

Look at the manuscript there, leaning against the wall at Dagmar’s elbow. Drawings of strange men tangled with curling letters that no one in the hall can read. Tales, no doubt, but of what value? Soft tales, by soft monks, without blood or fire.

The monks had no fire, no courage, but they had blood. Agnar and his men set that blood free to wet down the stones of their chapel. A short fight, and much treasure. Not much battle for a Viking’s tale, but sometimes it is good to tackle an easy foe.

Then Fannar raised his hand and hissed, and all fell silent. Fannar’s ears were legendary. He could hear a sword whispering from an oiled sheath, or a fur clad foot falling in a snowdrift.

They all heard, now, what Fannar had already heard. A thump and hiss, followed by another, and then a third. Soft. Almost like a clump of snow falling from a pine.

Or like torches falling on thatch.

There were no windows in the hall and only one door. They had told their tales and drunk their mead in darkness, lighted only by the hearthfire, but now it began to grow light as the thatch above began to glow, and to stare down at them with a hundred crimson eyes.

Then came the shout. Fifty voices if there was one; fifty strong male voices. In Agnar’s hall were nine men, and their women, and their children. The men leaped to their feet together and went weaving and staggering to take up their swords and axes. Hanne, Agnar’s younger wife bent double, placing her body between the child she was nursing and the burning thatch that now began to fall like rain.

Even if nine could win against fifty, the hall was burning. There would be no more shelter and no more food. It took the heart out of a man, and they screamed out their hatred to bring fire back to their blood, so they would not die soft, like the monks of summer.

Agnar threw open the door, axe in hand. Hanne crouched on the floor, protecting her infant a few seconds more, though her hair and clothing were afire.

Agnar plunged out into the frigid night. Hanne curled tighter around her daughter.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

Take your choice.

274. Solstice: a poem

DSCN4794This is the day that the sun has turned it face furthest away from our northern lands. The veil between the worlds is thin today. Among pagans, there is expectation of visitation from those who have gone on before, and among all men there is an understanding that individuals, like the years they inhabit, have ends as well as beginnings.

Solstice

It hardly seems an hour
since the sun rose up
into the crystal sky.

Now it sinks westward into clouds
like a crimson bird, descending
slowly into gray.

A bitter wind cuts deep.

I was young this morning
and worried already
about the end.

Now that I’ve known
both youth and age . . .
They are no different

Tonight I am cold,
        but I’ve been cold before.
I’ll sleep well under blankets
        that trap what little warmth remains.

Good evening, sun.
I thank you for the day you gave me.
Now the long night begins.


I will see you in the morning
           And if not
That will be all right, too.

272. The Hard and the Soft

DSCN1841Welcome to winter. For northern folk, and that’s what we all are in Europe and America, the coming of winter is an inevitability that rounds out our lives and prefigures the end of our lives.

The poem which follows is not full of summer graces, nor flowers, nor joy. I wrote it in August, when the temperature outside was above a hundred, but it is still a winter poem. I would say I don’t know where it came from, but that would only mean that it came unbidden when I was working on other things. It was committed to paper in five minutes, in its first form, and polished in twenty. That is rare for me.

In truth, I know where it came from, and so will you.

The Hard and the Soft

There is a soft season and a hard season,
And now the hard season has come.

Through the springtime and the summer,
When green was the color of the world,
Fruits of the earth abounded.
Children were conceived in joy
And brought forth in fullness.

Now is the hard season,
The color of the earth is stone gray,
The water is hard and the ground is stony hard.
Children of this season come out hungry
Crying with harsh voices that give no joy,
Troubled by deep hungers that allow no rest.

She was born of summer,
He was born of winter.

They joined together, and she made him whole,
     for a space,
          for a little space.
But now it is the season of cold
And he has turned back
     to his true nature.