Monday, May 30, 2016

Remember the honeysuckle

Remember the honeysuckle ’gainst the pillars on the porch? The place we were born is an open field now. Remember the window open to the night, the breaths and sighs of oleander bright, and tallow? We are their yield now. Here we stood, lips parted by our pipe, in a cloud of hallowed smoke. Remember the honeysuckle ’gainst the pillars as we spoke? It’s where I kneel now.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Letter to Walt Whitman, and Walt Whitman’s Reply

Following are companion entries from the first volume of my Songs and Letters, written and posted on consecutive days back in April 2005. I don’t pretend they are important in any way, or even very good; heartfelt, yes, and certainly revealing; but as to what they reveal, I will humbly, gratefully leave to you. Gone are the days wherein I would be embarrassed by something I’ve written. Ample are the times I might be embarrassed by present actions, if I only had the grace and sense.

Letter to Walt Whitman

Home again. You were right. After walking and riding across this country and looking at the land, the sky, and people, this funny little place has changed. The streets are still narrow, but they no longer seem bare and grim.

I’m in my mother’s kitchen. Her lilac is ruffled by the breeze, a pie is in the oven. The lines in her face are deeper than before. Or had I not noticed? When I told her about sitting at your bedside, she asked, “Is there no one looking after him?” I said you were fine, just tired. I recalled how you had made bread that very day, written a poem, and picked a mountain of greens. I described the firm, proud way you held your head, and how your grip tightened on my hand when you spoke. As sad and foolish as it seems, I didn’t tell the truth. But I know she understood.

Thank you for the poems. Now I know what you meant when you said they were written long ago. The words were on his ship when brave Odysseus sailed for home. During the course of his strange journey, they were lost a thousand times, then found again, like stars hiding behind clouds on a stormy night. But they did arrive, and like Odysseus, they were themselves, yet immeasurably altered, were virgin once again.

Before coming home, I visited my father’s grave. I looked down at where he lay, my collar turned against the chill. It is spring, you know, but winter too, a time of mud and blossom. A wagon rattled by. I didn’t know the driver, but he nodded just the same. We might have been friends in another time, or will be someday again. Then my father said, “Remember.” It was just like him.

I also thought of you, shivering beneath your blanket, how I stirred the fire, and saw faces in the coals. When I turned, your lips were moving, but your eyes were shut against the world. What poem were you dreaming then? What bright hammer were you swinging? The day before, you said, “Come again in summer. I’ll be stronger then.” I promised you I would, and before June is gone, I will.

When I told my mother of my plan, she said, “Why don’t you eat some? That’s a long time from now.” Then she filled my bowl with stew. I am eating still. She is humming at the stove. Like me, she would love you. But her world is here, on the path to her garden and the cemetery. She is a wise gray anchor, and will not forsake what she knows, while I, her lonesome, foolish son, go on believing everything.

April 14, 2005

Walt Whitman’s Reply

My dear friend, I am truly flattered by your concern. But I think you should spend less of your precious time worrying about me, and more of it trying to understand yourself. Your mother is right. It is better to know a familiar patch of earth with all of one’s heart and senses than to seek blindly for something that isn’t there. I am an old man, with an old body. The temple is in decay, and the restless spirit seeks another in which to pray. This should not concern you. Stay home and take care of your mother. Ignore my feeble summertime request. It was symbolic — a failed attempt to not break your heart or mine. Instead, go visit your father at the cemetery. Talk with him there. Go on believing what he says, go on believing everything. If you do, then I will walk joyfully down to my own sweet end, and gaze up in wonder at the trees and stars. They have sustained me all my life. It is time I returned the favor.

What bright hammer was I swinging? That is not the question. You hold the hammer now. Do not be afraid. I can hear it ringing. You are like a god standing at his forge, with powerful arms and chest and shoulders, mad and black with soot, with eyes that see the world and all the savage joy that is in it — the coursing rivers, the wild tribes of men, the snow-covered mountains and desolate valleys vibrant and teeming with prehistoric life. It is up to you to make your vision sing. Make the sky your bride, and the earth will be your pillow. Take cosmic pride in all you say and do. Fear not your own perfection, for you come by it rightfully. Do not listen to the ministers of failure, who promise redemption for their imagined sins. They are bitter and small, unequal to living, the miller’s dross. Instead, bathe them in your sunshine. It is what they least desire. Lift them up against their will, let them see their faces in your mirror.

Outside, the weather has turned cold again. Spring came, then frost blackened the tender growth. The vineyard is an orderly congregation of old men standing naked. Nature will clothe them a second time, but there will be no grapes this year. I might never again hold a grape upon my tongue, crush it between my teeth, and absorb its juice. When you walk the countryside in search of poems, ponder this strange truth. Let it penetrate your being, let its wild seed take root.

The world is yours, my friend. Seize it. Suck gladly at its breast. Be a field for our slowly ripening dreams. Always give your best. As your brother, as a man victorious yet cast asunder, I exhort you to stride through the cosmos, sowing your stars. It is an act befitting the god you are.

April 15, 2005

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Every bit a dandelion

Now blissfully adrift, there is no question of weightlessness. Now working the laces on my worn out shoes, none of gravity. Now musing on the trials of the past, none of anxiety. Now present in the present while it lasts, I, every bit a dandelion, bid good seed godspeed my deed of joyous carelessness. And may you, my love, my friend, my confidante, my child, granite that and crevice this, and I promise that, wherewhenever I am blown, will be my wish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Canvas 694

Canvas 694

May 17, 2016

Grave-gray or sky-blue

In this week leading up to my sixtieth birthday, I have had multiple interviews with the mad artist who made me, and asked him, and her — for they are both simultaneously, and in turn — not whether the current version of me represents any desired perfection, but if it gives them satisfaction — in a word, are you pleased, dear Madame, or am I soon to be improved in a brighter more colorful draft with more faithful lines — or if not more faithful, kind Sir, more deeply revealing? — or are you, as I suspect, not quite finished works of art yourselves, because I am the mad artist painting you? Let it be grave-gray or sky-blue, whatever the answer — and I expect and wish for none — may I here, at least, express my gratitude?

Monday, May 16, 2016

His own clock ticking

A human aware of his own clock ticking,
I give you the weather — as it relates to my own,
which, having just bathed, is moist and warm
and promising sun — a day begun
precisely so, is all that matters,
and must not be

How dull — a man nigh sixty
at a keyboard eight years old, printed, black,
dusty, punctuation-worn.

Yet see how he comes to the door
with no shirt on, answers well the bell
before it’s rung.

Hello — he clears his throat — hello? —
takes special notice of the hair upon his arm,
suddenly recalls the water in the ditch
in the sun on the farm — his childhood,
of course — you might have it
for your own — go ahead,
take it, put it on.

Naked-born, such a short while ago —
could there be anything as long
as the interval between a doctor’s spank
(yes, he too is gone) and the crossing
of the floor?

Yes — perhaps this poem.

Come in, come in, he cries, we’ve been
expecting you! — and who should return his wave
but the aching day in bloom — petal-fall, glad you called,
oh, how good it is to be faithful note
in such a simple, sacred tune.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Canvas 693

Canvas 693

May 15, 2016

Immersed again in misty gray

Such joy, after a stretch of warm, dry days,
to be immersed again in misty gray.

Miracle within miracle,
raindrops on rose leaves.

And here am I, a world inside
the one suspended foremost,
as earth and rainbow both,
as mountain neath her veil,
as scattered seed and poppies’ moan,
as child’s shout.

How good, now,
to be in a tiny vase upon your windowsill,
looking out with bubbles clinging to my stem.

How good, to wake up back in bed
beside a loved one’s grave,
ripe with meaning,
without end.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Canvas 691

Canvas 691

May 12, 2016

They gave me a pencil and said,
Arrive at the sum!
Now see — see! — what I have become!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The faithful mirror

Isn’t it wonderful how we remember the memories of others, and how those memories become our own, and in turn are passed along? Take, for example, this one from my father’s Depression Era childhood on the farm:

His mother goes out to use the outhouse, and while she is inside, her son rains clods on that humble splintery shelter — upon which salute she comes out roaring and chases him through the yard, past the barn, under the mulberry tree, he laughing, she cursing, threatening, loving him, her proud glad heart grateful for the foolish exercise. And not just once, but dozens of times.

And now they are gone and I am nearing my sixtieth birthday.

It is all a painting of you, the faithful mirror replied . . . .

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Long dashes, eyelashes

A tiny ladybug — the smallest, I’m sure, I’ve ever seen — the eraser on the end of a pencil would be a roomy perch for five or six of her size, not much bigger than the spots on an adult — somehow got inside my shirt. I was working outside, watering a few things, pulling a few weeds, and so on — didn’t brush up against anything — made it rain on the strawberries — thought heaven-scented waterfall thoughts — wet, shaded stones from the river nearby — long dashes, eyelashes, a woodnymph’s cry — undid my shirt in the house and out she tumbled — I helped her outside, admiring how durable she was as she moved off unfazed toward the big potted jade plant on our front step.


I’m beginning to think
like this jade plant in the mist

a jeweled leaf for each
passing kingdom.

(The four-line poem “Traveler,” from Songs and Letters, November 16, 2008)

Canvas 688

Canvas 688

May 7, 2016

The lines are made of words, the words are children,
and being children, they must run free.