Saturday, July 30, 2011

Poem: The Moon's Question


The Moon's Question

The half-cut moon gleams across the dock
like a riddle of God, and I, a sphinx, guard

the entrance. On the lake’s shore, bound
in soil, a stone shines, a pearl in the dark,

like the tensile eye of Isaac from the altar,
bulging, uncloven, watching for an angel

to illumine the question of surrender, at the
moment of fullness when two realities exist —

one rising, shining, alive, and one falling back,
hidden, the seemingly silent side of the moon.

Illustration of the moonhair woman by Arthur Rackham


Thursday, July 28, 2011

'A Distant City': Moving is done

The view from Brian & Lesley's new apartment in Michigan;
that's a corn field on the horizon;
see the brown grass, the need for rain;
rain was light while we unloaded the truck,
then it let loose in a full-clapping thunderstorm welcome
when the helpers had gone home

I want to thank you for your kind wishes, thoughts and prayers for the Big Move. They bore fruit. The immense heat broke in a gentle rain Sunday night in NYC, before we packed the truck to the gills Monday. Then the rain held off while we loaded, letting loose again while we drove out of the city that afternoon. The drive through five states, including Pennsylvania, where veils of gauzy mist demurely covered the shoulders of the Poconos, was uneventful and easy. (I fell in love with Lesley & Brian’s VW Jetta, hardly letting Lesley drive; the guys drove the moving truck.) Yesterday, unloading with family in Michigan into their roomy apartment was exquisitely sweaty and leg-aching (third floor, no elevator).

Now the four of us (five with Poppy Seed, who is now the size of an apple; imagine, trading one Apple for another in one day!) are resting and recuperating at the lake for a few days. It is raining on this cottage’s tin roof in the early morning dark. I hear it patting oak leaves that surround us, insisting we stay indoors and sleep: Don’t move unless you absolutely have to. Moving is done.

 Their balcony is more like a porch, deep and partially covered.
Lesley's plants emigrated safely from a NYC windowsill
and now sit bookended by potted herbs and a tomato plant
we grew on the farm. Rain. The plants revel, as we do.

The Queens kitchen they left behind, with its street view;
that's the windowsill where the plants lived
(this photo was taken last year)

In my glad hours, I will make a city of your smile, 
a distant city that shines and lives.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from "In My Glad Hours"


Friday, July 22, 2011

I don't wanna miss a thing

I'm going to be away for a brief little while, moving our daughter, her husband and our gestating grandbabe from NYC to Michigan. My gleeps know no bounds.

Don't do anything while I'm away. I don't wanna miss a thing.



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poem: The earth's economy


The earth's economy

Just when I thought the day
had nothing left to give,
when heat was ladled across
the shallow dry plate

of the nation, working or not, alive
or not, my country
road home from work
an affair of sour radio news and roadkill —

the furred skunk, possum, cat,
squirrel, raccoon, in the
special economy of the outward-
facing nose, lost in final scent,

the surrendered open mouth,
forehead pressed back in frozen
tragedy, tension gone, time done,
appetite dissolving into skull —

I find myself at the kitchen counter
in a different Americana, tearing
kale ruffles from their spines
for a chilled supper of greens with lemon

and oil, Dijon, garlic, cucumber —
live, wet and impossibly cool from the
earth garden just outside the door,
where the farmer’s wife one hundred

years ago also opened her apron
like a cradle, gingerly receiving
into thin billowing cotton pockets
as much as she could carry

as much as she could carry

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poem: In the heat

no, it's not raining here, this is a memory

In the heat

       I remember
the smother of hot nights,
the dark shiftless touch
of maple leaves palmed against the screen
of my second storey window, the street
light outshining the fingernail moon,

      the whole damp town
a small comfort, clapboard houses
porched and facelit, parked cars
hulking shadows sleeping along
to the church, like everyone
but me

               and falling back onto moist
sheets where I imagined hovering
like a cloud, lit from within
by lightning’s quick but
far-fingering promise,
unafraid of distant thunder,
believing he spoke of rain.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Poem: Blue star highway


Blue star highway

For a few weeks of summer I drive
or ride my bike between blue chicory flowers,
like lookouts by the wayside. Two redwing
blackbirds chase a crow from the field
across the road. They guard
their own world, unlocked as it is.

What kingdom is this
I ride through, fenced with blue sentinels,
thin and frail, who keep nothing in, nothing
out, common blue stitches in a common cloth
of earth, their roots harvested for poor
prisoners’ coffee, the brew of everyman,
everywoman. What love

like a crossroads
is here where the human with
nature and spirit meet, what crucibles
forged these stars, glaze of tiles,
calm blue flames lighting the path
into Beauty, into the star of self,

the kingdom where the commoner
is royal, and the redwing blackbird
is farmer-king who scoffs his wing at me
incredulously as I snap their picture,
kneeling, as if for knighthood,
when he has work to do.

Note: "Blue flower" is a symbol in Romanticism of inspiration, desire, longing for beauty, and the thinking and feeling self, as first introduced by Novalis in his novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen. For more information about blue flower, including what it represented for C.S. Lewis, read the wiki article here.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Poem: Church


I haven't said much here about my journey away from religion. I'd rather not get into it much on the blog, as it's a conversation best done in person, where the back and forth of body language, facial expressions and words are fuller and quicker. But for whatever reason, today I feel the urge to share a poem I wrote in 1995 at the nadir of my journey away from church. Of course by posting it, I am opening a window for conversation, and I'm OK with that, albeit somewhat tentatively. (I find it interesting how rules about not embarking in conversation on topics like religion and politics seem to have slipped aside to some degree in our blogs.) Maybe time will tell if I am courageous, or merely foolish, to post this.

It's important that you know that I hold nothing against church going in general. I know that there are many good reasons for it, including spiritual bliss, which I've experienced. But I like you knowing something of my own lifelong process of looking for spirituality beneath religion. This is a quest I have felt since my earliest memories, even when my own father preached sermons from a Baptist pulpit. My father and mother were some of the most beautiful Christians I have known, with deep felt and earnest beliefs, often taking them in directions starkly contradicting the convictions of people in their own parish. I admire them for this strength, sincerity and zeal. That I was wounded somewhat in the unfolding of their lives is perhaps ultimately more about me than them. I understand also that some of the very symbols that cause me distress, are deeply and joyfully meaningful to others. I hope my poem doesn't hurt or offend anyone, as that is the last thing I want.

Lest you worry when reading the poem that there was any abuse toward me personally or from my parents toward anyone, there was none. While the poem is very personal in a spiritual sense of woundedness, it is more general in the literal.

Anyway, here is one expression of my spiritual journey. I wonder what it will mean, to you. While I love some churches and cathedrals — sitting in them, wandering in them, looking at icons, smelling burning candles, feeling the cool quiet when it is hot and boisterous outside, praying, listening to silence or to music — Church — for me — is another thing altogether.

I welcome your responses, to the poem, or to my opening remarks.


I saw a red window.

Through it the sun in swords.
When light attacks
the skin of pews,
dissolves the frames of fifty strong
sets of arms
and wrought iron lights puncture
and nail supplications
along ceiling beams,

then I know that there are secrets
that wait like wine in cups,
undergarments stained,
wads of bandages under the altar,
some plotting of ambushes
in the marbled veins of windows,
boxes of medals and strategies hidden
in baptistry dust,
the old anticipation of hymns
lined up in battalions,
of the coming,
the coming of a great army,
a mighty platoon dragging all the prohibitions
like sediment, bottles, broken machinery,
parachutes, collapsed

I shoulder this window,
jagged, perforating my skin,
a thorny cross,
a house with wounded furnishings,
a drape of walls hanging
like rags from a carcass,
a make-shift hospital vacated
after the troops have lost
their legs, their arms.

It is only a window,
a sanctuary,
a sifter of days.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Poem: Summer labor


Summer labor

I walked to the house
from the laundry line, the heat
already steamrolling fringes of color out
of the air at nine in the morning.

I was wearing the frumpy
loose dress I fell in love with on the
mannequin but which seemed to olden
on me the first time I wore it.

There I was, shuffling
past the pitiable lavender bed
clutched by weeds and grass,
with here and there pincushion heads

of powdery purple trying
to be charming, reaching out to me,
as if I were the woman
to free them into their full sun

potential. Had they been words
to be weeded into poems, I’d have sat
with them in the latitude of the morning,
yanking away grasses of the outer

world, spreading apart their leggy stems, reaching
in for heads, coaxing them into the bright air
to breathe their wild and dusty breath,
fighting for their very life from within.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Poem: Morning praise


Morning praise
“You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.”
     ~ Diane Arbus

I drive onto campus where trees, shrubs and curvaceous
roads, easing through roundabouts, soften the hard and fast
boxes, wings, rises, windows and corners of university halls.
I’m grateful these mornings for the continual parade

of flowery trims and perpetual grooming the horticulture
students slavishly maintain so that I can find relief
from steel, chrome, glass and brick hardnesses.
My small car follows the same route like a silvery beetle

who knows the way, and I casually eye students up and down,
admiring bodies, remembering my own smooth
skin and streaming hair. We who are not students now
laugh at the changing uniforms students don — one year it’s plunging

necklines, another, skintight leggings and flowing blouses, this
year hip-high shorts and skirts, and my imagination curls
into the non-academic rhetoric these long legs create.
A beautiful student walks the sidewalk, her long billowing hair

the color of the Red Cedar River, and shining that way,
rippling as if over rocks, with the cadence of feathered
wings flapping up behind. I see that her hair jerks
up and down more than it should, more violently than a breeze

on such a sultry summer day would blow it, and in my momentary
and casual passing, in my need to balance the ugly structures
of the world with something lovely of visual or philosophical
pleasure, I recognize that one of her legs is much shorter

than the other, in movements that cause her to travel nearly as far
between ground and sky as she does on her horizontal path, her
left shoulder diving down toward the sidewalk when her left foot
steps, and swinging back up with the right leg’s rise. The effect

mesmerizes me as her hair sweeps the air like the rhythmic
motion of a broom reaching down from the sky to brush
the sidewalk, but never getting close enough to touch it.
Almost hypnotized, I follow her dancing hair.

She slips into my rearview mirror, and I know what I want
to believe: that there is purpose in beauty, a cleansing of the
air, or the path, the way raking the stones of a Zen garden gives peace
to the soul, organizing them in gestures that are steady, meandering,

repeated, in parallel lines, drawing me forward where I ride
and rest in their mindless destinations, somewhere between
heaven, and earth, with here and there a rock, a bench, a stream,
or an oscillating wing, surprising me with spontaneous irregularity.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Nouvelle 55: Vulnerability



The world is not delicate
on the whole. I feel it here
in my sternum, my ribs,
lying on my back under you,
stars distant, tree immense.
The world is not delicate
and the plum leaf is strong,
even when the beetle nibbles
her into lace, making room
for more stars to be
strung between her veins.

Painting: Georgia O'Keeffe's 'The Lawrence Tree,' painted on her first visit to New Mexico, when she visited D.H. Lawrence's ranch. This tree was in front of his house, with a bench under it, and she lay back on the bench to paint the tree. 

Nouvelle 55 is a flash fiction or poem in 55 words based upon a work of art.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"Sun, but in substance": D.H. Lawrence and Joaquín Sorolla

Girl on the Beach, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

I was nudged by two friends toward two artists this past week. One was Robert of The Solitary Walker, who mentioned D.H. Lawrence's sensual poems about things in a comment at my last post "Ode to a Cantaloupe." The other was Lorenzo of The Alchemist's Pillow about the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. (This site embedded in the painter's name includes his complete works.) As I began reading Lawrence's poems and browsing Sorolla's paintings, I loved how they met, like salt and wind. So I'm sharing a taste of that meeting here, with the ending of Lawrence's poem 'The Wild Common' and a few of Sorolla's seaside paintings. Lawrence believed that anything existential has to do with substance, not eternity. He did not want to dwell in the shadows, in the abstract, in the ether. He wanted stuff, something touchable — wings, feathers, waves, and something screaming like peewits, or pealing like larks. Feel the textures of sand, cotton clothing, hair, and water on skin in Sorolla's paintings. Languish over shapes, relationships, the way the wind is blowing. Hear the sounds of the sea, the bulls bellowing in the water, laughter of children swallowed in the slap and blur of the surf. And be sure to smell that salt in the wind, while you read Lawrence's rhapsody over being substance. If you have time, follow the link to the whole poem in the title (I like version 2; both are at the link).

excerpt from The Wild Common (version 2, 1928)
    by D.H. Lawrence

. . . But how splendid it is to be substance, here!
My shadow is neither here nor there; but I, I am royally here!
I am here! I am here! screams the peewit; the may-blobs burst out in a laugh as they hear!

Here! flick the rabbits. Here! pants the gorse. Here! say the insects far and near.

Over my skin in the sunshine, the warm, clinging air
Flushed with the songs of seven larks singing at once, goes kissing me glad.
You are here! You are here! We have found you! Everywhere
We sought you substantial, you touchstone of caresses, you naked lad!

Oh but the water loves me and folds me,
Plays with me, sways me, lifts me and sinks me, murmurs: Oh marvellous stuff!
No longer shadow!—and it holds me
Close, and it rolls me, enfolds me, touches me, as if never it could touch me enough.

Sun, but in substance, yellow water-blobs!
Wings and feathers on the crying, mysterious ages, peewits wheeling!
All that is right, all that is good, all that is God takes substance! a rabbit lobs
In confirmation, I hear sevenfold lark-songs pealing.

 Sea Idyll, 1909, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

 Children in the Sea, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

 On the Beach, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

 The Young Yachtsman, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

 The Bathing Hour, by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida 


Monday, July 04, 2011

Ode to a Cantaloupe


Ode to a Cantaloupe

Ripe woman
so long in the sun,
skin thick, leathery, with veins
etched like filigree scars
of knowing,
one flat cheek
where you listened
to the earth,

I feel for you
among the rock hards,
fingertips perching, alert
on heads, searching
for you alone,
who have begun to return
inside to the waters
of yourself,
retreating slightly
at the meridians
that circle like rivers
to enter you.

With simple hope,
I carry you home
tucked in my elbow,

On the board
on the table,
at the horizon
of the knife, heavily,
with a groan,
you fall open, glistening —

Rippling sunrise of fruits!
from Michigan lakes
and soil,
pastel and vibrant orange
wet soft firmness,
mellow honey,
gentle watery

A good spoon
and I scoop
dripping seeds out
of your natural bowl
then slide into the easy
flesh, shining spoon
cradling a moon bite
to my
warm trembling
tongue, momentarily
of flavorless

But you are achingly yes
cool, tender,
a velvet miracle
of flesh,
and water,
part musk, part honey,
a quiet rising,
unearthed, clean
into sky,
morning sun
baptized into my happy,
new-day body.

A poem about something I love, humbly, in the tradition of Pablo Neruda, master of elementary odes.

Photo of cantaloupe shared via Creative Commons by John Bosley.