Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nouvelle 55: Portrait of Mary Magdalen, or a Poet

Saint Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre
by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
Mary has just now seen Christ, and the artist paints
radiance reflected on her cloak from the risen Lord,
while Mary's face is in shadow

Portrait of Mary Magdalen, or a Poet

A response to 'Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre'
by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo

A veiled face,
cloves cloaked in a sleeve.

like late summer gold,

leans into the cold of tombs.
Interior lights

– not the apotheosis of the sun—
are the radiants you seek.

Day is where you are,
everything else, shadow.

Break the clove’s shell.
Rub the dark powder

painting your skin,
and smell your breath.

Nouvelle 55 is a poem or fiction in 55 words, based on a piece of art.

Poetry should be heard.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Poem: His instrument


His instrument

In this early morning dark
I am unused to the sound
of the old rasping clock that hangs
on the wall until it is shipped
to our son. It is a banjo twin
of the one our girl already has —
gifts from their grandpa,
my father-in-law, who is still
living, though altered
from when he collected time
pieces, wool-serge-suited for work.
He wound keys of all 74 clocks
before driving off in his ‘77
Lincoln, back when he had both
kidneys and a five-bedroom
colonial. His meticulous fingertips
have plucked pendulums
into motion, rotated arrow-hands,
and shut doors with
miniature country paintings
on glass, housing hollows
of time that keep tapping out
the rhythm of a heart,
strumming the quarter hour,
radiating his timbre now into
our many houses across
the land, long after
he has fallen asleep, flanneled
in his corduroy chair,
snug in the apartment where
he'll drift off until the end of time.

banjo clock image found here

Friday, August 26, 2011

Poem: Petty sorrows of the ego


Petty sorrows of the ego

Night craves them like a tongue its wine.
Moon’s eye bleaches the pillow

where bare I lie, my head a stone,
my mouth a hasp, dry.

Sweet grapes of specious self
long eaten, velvet skins split

and empty beneath the bed-attire,
with opal shadows, gone by morning.

Small sacrifice: the tiny deaths of what
I wanted, never got, and didn’t require.

Poetry should be heard.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Poem: Little stints


Little stints

Under white cloud mountains as stiff as meringue
the shore pulled away, me in a daze
of life. The windowed, curving mansion on the dune
emptied itself onto the air.

Two little stints ran and stopped, ran
and stopped, in the thin shine at the water’s edge,
their bills the gauge of what is well,
what is continuous, their black feet whirring
in the same motion of the paddleboat
thumping by with tourists,
whose wind-distant voices tipped
the horizon like sails flitting
in a sudden, subtle flap.
The sandpipers must have found
their bugs, or maybe tiny shelled
beings that I take for quartz.
Ahead of me they darted, then bowed
in a moment’s snowy bite, and again
the quick black feet motored along.

I felt blind
to everything but feeling, a human without
the sense of a beast, loping into nothing,
out of nothing, chasing shore birds
in a slow wade, my legs an ache
of sand-walking, my body fresh but tired
from swimming, where something had washed
away, and something had returned,
though I could not say what it was.

Of a sudden, they flew up and arced
behind me, to where we had already walked,
to the somethings I had not seen, the things
I had forced them to pass over too quickly,
but in all their lightness, they knew
awaited them in their brief and patient life.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Andreas Trepte, more beautiful bird photos

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nouvelle 55: Nelson's Mandala

Nelson's mandala "synch-ro-ni-zing"

It never once occurred to me to write a Nouvelle 55 for my 55th birthday. But it did to my brother Nelson who wrote this one for my birthday post today. It is based on this complex and radiant mandala he designed for me in April. When he created it he meditated on the name of my blog, and flights of imagination caught him. I see me at the center. I see the overlapping worlds that touch me. I see crosses . . . perhaps the religion of my past. I see XOXO - the symbols of hugs and kisses which commenters and I use for one another. I see memories, stories, all that has made me who I am. I see the worlds of others around the country and world whose lives have come into mine through blogging. I see vibrancy and life, and most of all color.

Nelson is the oldest of eight kids, I'm the youngest. We didn't bump into each other much at home, since he went off to college before I began kindergarten. He did have a part in naming me. He was sweet on a certain girl, so when Dad asked what they should name me if I was a girl, Nelson said her name, "How about Ruth Anne?"

It wasn't until 1995, the year I turned 40 (the age of my parents when I was born) that our friendship began. When Dad died of cancer six weeks after his diagnosis, Nelson and I were given the task of designing the funeral program for him. The family had to take special care arranging the funeral of a minister who had conducted countless funerals in our little town. While Nelson and I sat with our heads together at the dining table over the typewriter designing the printed program for the service, gradually, and unrelated to our task, out trickled traces of our own stories, revealing similar feelings about growing up in our home. It hadn't always been easy.

Since then, we've grown to be close friends. We talk about the mysteries of the soul, and we're both deeply optimistic about that. "Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward." Do you know which Nelson said that?

The haiku-esque stanzas of Nelson's poem are like layered stairs of time, bearing our separate-yet-interconnected steps toward spiritual freedom.

These gifts live and move.

Nouvelle 55: Eight Twenty-two

An age ago
Sophia undraped Ruth,
baby number eight.

   Soon number one
   teased out smiles and, later,
   steps from her stances.

      Then he hid in ivied halls;
      when he emerged
      she dropped petals for his bride.

         That couple drove
         into the sunrise
         and Ruthie blossomed.

            she soars under stars,
            inspiring him onward and upward.

            Mandala and Poem © Nelson Hart, 2011

Nelson's Note: Ruth describes Nouvelle 55 as a flash fiction or poem in 55 words based upon a work of art. Nelson describes mandala as a symbol of the relationship between the larger world and our inner world; the image accepts life's tension and ambivalence. Carl Jung believed them to arise out of “the unconscious self." For information on mandalas in the Indian subcontinent, see this.

Ruth’s note: Sophia is a feminine aspect of God in the Gnostic tradition. Some say She fell from grace and created the material world, still expressing the light of God. She’s the deep mystery of wisdom (and the wisdom of mystery?). Lately when I pray, I pray to her. I don’t think Nelson knew that when he wrote his poem.

Us 8 kids in 1961 (?)
bookended by Ruthie and Nelson, 
with Ginnie (Boots) 3rd from right;
I loved my matching dress and sweater set,
and velvet shoes

Nelson and Peg's wedding in 1964; I was junior bridesmaid;
our brother Bennett who passed away in 1996 stands next to Nelson;
and our Dad is next to Bennett

Dad married Nelson and Peg in his Baptist church

 my college graduation in 2001 when I was 44,
with Ginnie (Boots) and Nelson,
a sister and brother of the soul as well as the blood

Nelson and me at our great-niece Katy's wedding in May 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Poem, for Susie: The River and the Sea


The River and the Sea

"The river is within us, the sea is all about us . . ."
— T S Eliot (Four Quartets)

How does the river run within the sea?

Like the coyote, bounding deer-like
in the soy bean field last evening,
and behind him the honeyed sun
a young girl’s hair, cascading among
the trees. He distanced gradually
from the road we cycled, his body
now disappearing beneath
the shrubby, wavy green, now
reappearing in the bob and bounce
of a cork retreating from shore. Like
a dream. Like a secret stone that leaps
as the sun sets, an opal, a tiger’s eye,
to the horizon, until he and the sun are one.

For Susie

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Notice: garden closed due to armored bug takeover


The mosquitoes have staged a hostile coup.
They are massive and ravenous, these Psorophor ciliata monsters.
They hold all veggies hostage in the garden fortress.
No weapons are effective against them.
We sneak in to aid the escape of ripe tomatoes, then flee.
You will find us in the house freezing heirlooms, Romas and whipping up gazpacho until further notice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Poem: Ode to a Turkey Vulture


Ode to a Turkey Vulture

“The other world is to be found, as usual,
inside this one.” ~ Susan Sontag

O companion of my heart,
I am kneeling at the long
window, hushed with you,
gargoyle grotesque
on the cathedral barn.

In this, the attentiveness
of longing, you wait
in your placid eye,
onyx bead embedded
in the corrugated heart
of your featherless head.
You hunger, like me, taciturn
in a violent world. You lift

off into the blue
without sound, to travel
like John in the wilderness.
O calm and golden remiges,
soft oars stippled with sun,
my love, my inspiration,
my ferryman to the flowing sky,

your peaceful floating
a surrender to what rises,
the kitely sails of your wings
tilting, lilting on tides of heat
that carry fragrance
of decay. In this air,
what is death is your joy.

All the suffering in these little
ones who bring you sustenance
you did not wield with talon
or tooth. The pink and gray
fleshes gurgle over the gullet
stones of your hearted throat, all
their silenced cries,
their chests opened, every
disappointed beat and falling
enveloped in your beak,
lifted up, a mercy
in this fractured air.

And long
in the shadow of the tree
you clean yourself. Through you
all is purified. Tonight the moon shines cool
in a black No Man's Land, and we sleep.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.


gargoyle - originally gargouille in French means throat or gullet;
the downspout for rain at the outer edges of roofs of churches
and other buildings; grotesques were gargoyles of fantastical
creatures that were not waterspouts but were meant to scare off
harmful spirits
remiges (pronounced ree-meks) - the flight feather of a bird’s wing,
its origin from the Latin for oarsman

Read my prose poem about a turkey vulture in a previous post here.

The Turkey Vulture's cousin - King Vulture porcelain

This King Vulture porcelain is in the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is the AIC's booklet writeup about the piece: Around 1728 Augustus II, the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, conceived of replicating the animal and bird kingdoms in porcelain. By 1733 more than 30 different models of birds and almost 40 animals had been made, many by the sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler. Kändler modeled this King Vulture from life, which allowed him to animate the creature’s quintessential spirit. Such porcelain animals remain the most vivid expression of Augustus’s wish to possess and rule over the natural world.

See scanned turkey vulture (and other bird) feathers like the ones below at The Feather Atlas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Poem: The body elastic

The body elastic

On a day too hot to walk the asphalt
of the outdoor city, we maneuver
through the cool black of museum rooms
where human cadavers — preserved
in polymer — stretch and bend in elegant
leanness, all musculature and bone.

As I examine a half-skinned woman
kneeling on one knee, her other leg bent
and poised forward, toes pointed,
I touch the wave of my clavicle involuntarily.

Her breasts thrust ahead — full, nippled,
intact, sheathing her torso like a vest,
while the rest of her is naked muscle,
ligament, ribcage, spine, and behind

her sacrum the phalanges — still
fingernailed — trickling breezily from her
backward-flowing arms, curved
like the winged Nike of Samothrace.

The pointing finger of my splayed hand
supports the jugular notch of my sternum
while I lean toward the pink beltstrap
muscles of her neck. Her head arcs back,
eyes watching into stars to join the far-flung
head of her petrified sister, the Victory.

After the exhibit we emerge from the
museum’s stone passage into a sea of heat.
Trees stand masted and green against the blue
sky, and behind them the towering skyline
of man’s intransigence, where we are attracted
irresistibly, on the tide of our humanness.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

The exhibit we saw was "Body Worlds" by Gunther von Hagens at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was a transforming experience, to see bodies at various stages of aging, and organs in states of disease and health. Please go if it comes near you. The Kneeling Woman can be found here. This page shows where Body Worlds exhibits are and will be.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Apple baby


I get a kick out of finding faces in nature, where a face isn't necessarily required. In a cloud, the moon, a tree's bark where branches have left scars. I happened upon this apple face in our orchard this week, the very week our growing future grandbaby is the size of an apple (and we escorted the parents out of the Big Apple for Michigan). I find all this very propitious. The other apple face, below, I found on my university campus a couple of years ago. You might know that the coming of this baby has been the coming of a joy that is beyond anything I've ever felt. It's as if all my cells were balloons, waiting to be filled up, and now someone is breathing into them one by one. In January, when the baby arrives, I might just float away. To keep myself grounded this all has to go somewhere, and I have a thousand and one ideas in my head for expressing it. (These expressions are not only words. See a hint at the bottom of the post.) This little lullaby is the first of probably more lullabies to come.

Apple baby

Apple cherub, laugh with me,
while I bounce you on my tree.

Plum and pear might grow a lot
but they are not an apple tot:

You can watch the fireflies
while robin twitters lullabies.

Close your eyes now as she sings.
Fall asleep and swing, swing, swing.

One morning soon we’ll hear a sound,
and then we’ll know — you’ve hit the ground!

Hint of joyful expression unfolding:


Monday, August 01, 2011

Poem: Departures


I am on vacation (stay-cation) and am 'supposed' to be working on my book this morning, a self publishing project that I hope to have ready in the fall for anyone interested. Well, I came across this poem in that partial volume, written in 1994, and I thought I'd post it. I am the youngest of eight children. This is about my next older sibling, four years my senior. He doesn't read my blog, but even if he did, I'm not sure he'd find anything in this poem that is untrue or unfair. He was my best buddy growing up. He tried to teach me to laugh at myself when I struck out at neighborhood baseball. He didn't succeed, but I love him for trying.


He arrived home like a Fenian
in his long-haired sheep coat,
dirty from bus sides, the smell of English
cigarettes a celebration in his hair,
maroon patent platforms cracked
from two lavish weeks on London sidewalks,
fulvous Lennon wire-rims the keystone,
his mark of triumph.

At 18,
he had pocketed his tuition money and cast
the coins over his shoulder into the Thames.

I noticed him camber slightly
as they stepped from the station wagon,
then straighten to the same height as Dad,
the first time my brother ever appeared
a stranger in our town, combating the gravel
of the driveway, so unlike Dad, even calumnious
in his gait, the jingle of foreign currency
audible above the restraint of our welcome.

It was then I knew he had entered a mezzanine
decade or century or maybe an island
where he began to linger
away from us, although 25 years later
he still lives in the same town.
He approached my mother and me on the porch
and, looking me in the eye,
departed across the channel, oars cocked.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

Photo still of London in 1970 from the movie "Follow Me" found here.