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DSCN5240Queen-Anne’s Lace

William Carlos Williams

Her body is not so white as

anemony petals nor so smooth – nor

so remote a thing. It is a field

of the wild carrot taking

the field by force; the grass

does not raise above it. 

Here is no question of whiteness, 

white as can be, with a purple moleDSCN5245

at the center of each flower.

Each flower is a hand’s span

of her whiteness. Wherever

his hand has lain there is

a tiny purple blemish. Each part

is a blossom under his touch

to which the fibres of her being

stem one by one, each to its end,

until the whole field is aDSCN5152

white desire, empty, a single stem,

a cluster, flower by flower,

a pious wish to whiteness gone over -

or nothing. 

 

 

 

 

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DSCN4730DSCN4735From Marilyn's peonyBev peony:3:one bud, one opening, one openedDSCN4738This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

from New And Selected Poems by Mary Oliver

I posted the first verse of this ethereal poem by Mary Oliver when my tree peonies first opened. I wanted to save the rest of the poem for when the herbaceous peonies came out to play – and they have, indeed. They have been frolicking in the front gardens, under the tree peonies, over the ferns, and atop all else that awaits blossoming, and, yes, dear reader, I did “hurry, half-dressed” in my pajamas, enjoying their “honeyed heaviness”  enjoying their perfect moments, for they shan’t last long, but, oh, while they are here – what joy they are to behold. 

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DSCN4611I wait for them to open up; first a tightly wound bud, then the petals pealing away like yarn from a skein, to reveal their true identity. If you have been reading about life on the Cutoff for a few years, you surely know how much I adore tree peonies. If you are new here, waiting for these beauties to open are among my most cherished rites of spring.

These light pink ones opened up yesterday. They were stubborn buds in the morning, but, by late afternoon, they bloomed, filling me with appreciation for their sunny disposition.

From Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems” I found her poem, Peony. The opening lines are perfect.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

 

 

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DSCN7029

 

Arbor Day

From the earth’s loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance and thrives;
Though stricken to the heart with winter’s cold,
The drooping tree revives. From An April Day by Longfellow

 

 

 

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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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