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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Tree:Morton Arboretum:Shadows #2I am fortunate. I was raised in a family overflowing with love. Although they were strict, I appreciate having grown up with parameters in a home whose occupants were loving and loyal to each other, beyond measure, and who held a respect for education. Mine was a childhood full of colorful characters, on both sides of my family, who added to the recipe that became my life story.

I am unfortunate in that my parents died at fairly young ages. Daddy died when I was 19, Ma when I was 38. Both died after brief illnesses. He died in mid-April, she mid-March. Spring brings hope here on the Cutoff, along with a mini-dose of melancholy.

I am fortunate. I was raised in a family with a good sense of humor. It comes mostly from my father’s side, as my cousins from that arm of the tree can attest to, but, Ma, well, Ma had a special part in the family humor. She was the Gracie Allen to Daddy’s George Burns. She was the constant foil. My dad would set her up for the punch line, and she would fall for it, hook, line and sinker. Like Gracie, my mom took it in good stead.

I think of them both as spring comes around the bend. I make mental notes, sometimes paper ones, to stop by the cemetery and say hello. The first time I mentioned to Tom, the young man I was dating way-back-when, that I stopped to say hi to  my father, he looked at me, puzzled.“I thought your dad died”. “He did, but, I sometimes go to talk to him.” Eventually, Tom got used to me and my humor, though he’s careful not to trip in front of me, but, those are references to stories for other times.

With spring slowly emerging, and a wistful feeling in my heart, I once again made a mental note to visit my parents at Elmwood Cemetery. Then, I picked up Billy Collins’ “Nine Horses”, letting the small volume of poems open where it chose to, which ended up being page 101, with a simple poem that brought a fortunate smile.

No Time, by Billy Collins

In a rush this weekday morning,
I tap the horn as I speed past the cemetery
where my parents are buried
side by side beneath a slab of smooth granite.

Then, all day, I think of him rising up
to give me that look
of knowing disapproval
while my mother calmly tells him to lie back down.

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The Country by Billy Collins15798111

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

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The Winter Wood ArrivesDSCN3922

I think
I could have
built a little house
to live in

with the single cord—
half seasoned, half not—
trucked into the
driveway and

tumbled down. But, instead,
friends came
and together we stacked it
for the long, cold days

that are—
maybe the only sure thing in the world—
coming soon.
How to keep warm

is always a problem,
isn’t it?
Of course, there’s love.
And there’s prayer.

I don’t belittle them,
and they have warmed me,DSCN3936
but differently,
from the heart outwards.

Imagine
what swirls of frost will cling
to the windows, what white lawns
I will look out on

as I rise from morning prayers,
as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
as I go out into the yard
and bring the wood in

with struggling steps,
with struggling thoughts,
bundle by bundle,
to be burned.

by Mary Oliver, from “Thirst”

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DSCN3707

The Christmas Sparrow

The first thing I heard this morning
was a rapid flapping sound, soft, insistent—

wings against glass as it turned out
downstairs when I saw the small bird
rioting in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.

Then a noise in the throat of the cat
who was hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap of a basement door,
and later released from the soft grip of teeth.

On a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a shirt and got it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, when I uncupped my hands,
it burst into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks.

For the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms as I wondered about
the hours it must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes open, like mine as I lie in bed tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

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We call it Veteran’s Day, though our elders, who were children during World War I, may still call it Armistice Day. You might call it Remembrance Day. Whatever the name, these are moments, brief moments in time, set aside to remember and honor those who have fallen in war.

Have you seen Masterpiece Theater’s My Boy Jack? It was aired here in the States on public television a few years ago. It is the story of Rudyard Kipling, and his boy, Jack, who went off to war, and never came home. This is the final scene with a poem so haunting. So poignant. So memorable on this day of remembrance.

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220px-Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Mice_on_stairsAs I was sorting through some boxes, I came across some of my grandmother’s handkerchiefs and a silk scarf of my mother’s. Ma never wore scarves tied in the artful ways we do these days, or as a shawl. She used them underneath her coat, near her collar; a buffer against the cold. In the box was a faded linen towel from France, brought home from the first World War by her father.  There were some pressed flowers, and a prayer book of Ma’s uncle. The things that one finds inside a box or drawer; forgotten treasures of long ago past.  It was not so much these things I uncovered, however, but the feel and scent of family that rose to meet me when I opened the box.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever felt your family, or a friend, come to meet you, tucked inside a box, in a cupboard or a pantry, a basement or an attic?

I put the box back on the shelf and remembered a poem that Nan shared some time ago on her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm.  The poem, The Cupboard, by Arthur Rimbaud, touched me then, and it touches me now. I hope it does the same for you.

The Cupboard

It’s a board carved wooden cupboard;
the ancient dark-coloured oak
has taken on that pleasant air
that old people have; the cupboard is open,
and gives off from its kindly shadows
inviting aromas like a breath of old wine;
full to overflowing, it’s a jumble of quaint old things:
fragrant yellowed linen,
rags of women’s or children’s clothes, faded laces,
grandmothers’ kerchiefs embroidered with griffins;
- here you could find lockets,
and locks of white or blonde hair,
portraits and dried flowers
whose smell mingles with the smell of fruit. -

O cupboard of old times, you know plenty of stories;
and you’d like to tell them;
and you clear your throat every time
your great dark doors slowly open.

Arthur Rimbaud

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DSCN3049We had such a delicious rain yesterday. It started with thunder and lightning late the night before. The rafters creaked from the noise and the sky streaked with the illumination from the lightning. It was quite a show. Then, the rain carried on, like a weeping school girl whose boyfriend has just left for college.  By late afternoon yesterday, the clouds separated, the Cutoff wore the most enchanting shade of  green, and the sun shone through with all its glory.

DSCN3044When the rain stopped, I rambled about the garden, to see what I could see. My eyes wandered up to the deadened old apple tree, which insists, still, on bearing fruit.

Most of the apples clung to the branches, glistening in the late afternoon light, but, a few windfall apples appeared, like this one in the hollow of the tree. DSCN3068

Mary Oliver’s poem, John Chapman, came to mind from “American Primitive”.  John Chapman is known to most American schoolchildren, probably most adults as well, as Johnny Appleseed, a legend in is own time as he went about planting apple orchards across the East and as far west as Indiana and Illinois as a young country emerged. He lead a nomadic life., sleeping under the stars, or wherever he could find shelter, and wearing  a tin can for his hat, which doubled as a pot to cook his supper in. John Chapman didn’t actually toss apple seeds across the land. He planted apple trees, putting fences around them to protect them from predators, creating orchards. His legacy is the many descendant apple trees that dot the eastern part of the country, and, America’s love affair with the once forbidden fruit.

This is a portion of Ms. Oliver’s poem, John Chapman.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
signs of him: patches
of cold white fire.

DSCN3047

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DSCN2101Summer is officially here on the Cutoff. Most days are warm and humid, with a few brilliant, perfect days DSCN2099scattered in between, and just as many thunderous days and nights with rain. The peonies are finished, but . . . the roses and clematis have been having a grand time, holding court for days on end, and buds are forming on the Echinacea and daisies. Why, just today the bee balm joined the chorus. Yes, my friends, it is summer on the Cutoff, with a poem that showed up in my inbox this morning and seemed to be written just for us!

DSCN2124

The oriole sings in the greening groveDSCN2104

As if he were half-way waiting,

The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,

Timid and hesitating.

The rain comes down in a torrent sweep

And the nights smell warm and piney,

The garden thrives, but the tender shoots

Are yellow-green and tiny.

Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,

Streams laugh that erst were quiet,

The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue

And the woods run mad with riot. 

Summer in the South by Paul Laurence Dunbar

DSCN2109

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A Final AffectionDSCN2091

I love the accomplishments of trees,
How they try to restrain great storms
And pacify the very worms that eat them.
Even their deaths seem to be considered.
I fear for trees, loving them so much.
I am nervous about each scar on bark,
Each leaf that browns. I want to
Lie in their crotches and sigh,
Whisper of sun and rains to come.

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.

When I die I want to slant up
Through those trunks so slowly
I will see each rib of bark, each whorl;DSCN2098
Up through the canopy, the subtle veins
And lobes touching me with final affection;
Then to hover above and look down
One last time on the rich upliftings,
The circle that loves the sun and moon,
To see at last what held the darkness up.

“A Final Affection” by Paul Zimmer

I love this poem by Paul Zimmer. I first read it on Writer’s Almanac in May and kept it in abeyance for the right images. A bonus is a Baltimore Oriole. Click on the picture below to see him aloft and singing to his love.

Oriole in tree

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DSCN1812There is a supermoon tonight. The Flower Moon. We cannot see it here, however, as a dense cloud cover has been hovering above. Even when the sky is clear we don’t get a full view of the moon until it is overhead because of all the trees.  Friday night, however, I happened to be meandering about at dusk, and I caught a preview of May’s supermoon as I drove over one of the main expressways into Chicago. I eased on to the shoulder, grabbed my camera, jumped out of the car – and focused the eastern sky.

The setting sun to my back added to the pink aura of what is sometimes called The Strawberry. This poem seemed to belong to the sunset and the Flower Moon.

Muffin of Sunsets

by Elaine Equi

The sky is melting. Me too.

Who hasn’t seen it this way?

Pink between the castlework

of buildings.

Pensive syrup

drizzled over clouds.

It is almost catastrophic how heavenly.

A million poets, at least,

have stood in this very spot,

groceries in hand, wondering:

“Can I witness the Rapture

and still make it home in time for dinner?”

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