Tag Archives: poetry

436. Thank You

This is for Thanksgiving, but posted a day early. After all, who looks at their computer while the Macy’s Parade is happening?

If you grow up Christian, God never leaves your bones, even if you lose your faith.

Thank You

Thank you.
Even if you aren’t there, thank you.

We need you so badly,
That it almost makes you real.

Thank you for peace.
We have precious little of it;
Help us appreciate the days we have.

Thank you for bodies that are often without pain;
Help us remember those days, when the pain comes.

But most of all —

For the days when our lovers sit beside us,
Close enough for a reached-out hand,
Thank you.

Advertisements

Symphony 25

“On a day like this,” Neil went on, “it would be easy to think that anything is better than heat . . .”

“Right,” Jason Parmalee chimed in.

“. . . but in fact people who live where it is cold dream about heat just like you are dreaming about cold now.”

“Impossible!” was Lee Boyd’s opinion.

“True, though. Take the miners in the Klondike gold rush, for instance. Do you know what that was?” They didn’t, of course, so he told them a bit of that tale, then said, “One of the men who went to the gold rush was a poet named Robert Service, and he wrote about a man who couldn’t stand the cold. This man wanted so much to get warm that when he died he wouldn’t let his partner bury him. His name was Sam McGee.” And Neil began to read:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
     By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
     That would make you blood run cold . . .

He had them for a solid eleven minutes, and the discussion that followed lasted until the final bell rang.

# # #

Neil gathered up the student’s papers and stuffed them into his briefcase. As he locked the door and headed for his car, he ran into Glen Ulrich. Glen was looking pale and ill, but he was polite enough to say, “How was your first day?”

“Hot! How do you stand these classrooms?”

Glen looked sour. “Well, we don’t have much choice, do we? Not everyone can get an air conditioned room. It all depends on who you are.”

Neil was taken aback. He made a conventional reply and broke off the conversation. In the parking lot he saw Carmen but she paid no attention to him. Pearl Richardson was getting into her station wagon. She waved, smiled, and said, “How was it?”

“Okay.”

“How did it feel, having little hooligans instead of big hooligans?”

Neil was in no mood for banter, but he managed to say, “A hooligan is a hooligan, I guess.” Then he waved and got into his car.

He was low. Rock bottom depressed, and it had sneaked up on him. When he had been reading to the children he had felt some of the old excitement of teaching for the first time since Alice Hamilton had made her false accusation. When the children left for the evening, two of them had said good-bye and at least a half dozen had looked friendly. It was all any strange teacher could hope for on the first day. He had done very well, really.

So why did he feel like dog droppings?

He drove east on Kiernan, but he couldn’t face his apartment, so he turned right on McHenry and drove down between the filling stations, the department stores, and the tire stores. It was like prodding a wound. He hated the tabletop flatness, the heat, the traffic, and the enervating blandness of Modesto. To Neil, it was a town without character. He drove downtown, past the modern ugliness of the new civic center and headed aimlessly southwestward. Down Crows Landing Road he found Modesto’s equivalent of a slum, rolled past the boiled meat stench of the rendering plant, and southward past a tractor dealer with a showroom so big and grand that it was like a temple of agriculture. Still further south he went, out of the city and across the flat valley. The heat wrapped itself around him, carried in by a wind that did not cool. Off to his right, the coast range stretched north and south, burned to pale gold by the pitiless sun. He passed palm trees and farm houses, drove through the butter thick smell of feed lots. He no longer knew where he was, and he did not care. As long as he could just drive, he did not have to think. more tomorrow

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.

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.