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Archive for July, 2007

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LYING IN A HAMMOCK AT WILLIAM DUFFY’S FARM
IN PINE ISLAND, MINNESOTA

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

– JAMES WRIGHT –

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Like anyone else who loves reading and writing, I am infinitely nosey–curious about the lives of poets and writers. I always read their acknowledgements; their dedications. I want to know who they are thanking–who brought salsa, beer and chips…who diapered and fed the kids; who was always there for them…who did the typing; who read and re-read pages late at night; who let them use a summer cottage; do they mention their parents? With Google at my fingertips, I’m a practiced stalker; I can drill down through the layers of anyone’s life.

Years ago, I read this James Wright poem–it took my breath away…

A BLESSING

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

– JAMES WRIGHT –

Immediately, I wanted more…more poems, more details about this humble mid-western man who knew, “the ache and sorrow of darkened earth.” I discovered The Delicacy and Strength of Lace–a collection of his letters to Leslie Marmon Silko and her replies. It is the poignant story of their friendship that tells everything about who James Wright was.  A Wild Perfection is a comprehensive collection of his letters to Donald Hall, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke, Galway Kinnell, James Dickey,and Robert Bly. The letters, raw and vulnerable, speak of his creative process and his struggles with depression and illness…precious!

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QUATRAINS: 1246

The minute heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.

– RUMI –

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STARFISH

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

– ELEANOR LERMAN –

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NEXT TIME

Ginko trees live 1,000 years.
Eating the leaves will clear your brain.
When I heard about them, I thought of my mother,
how much I would like to sit under one with her
in the ancient shade, nibbling
the flesh, the stem, the central vein.

– NAOMI SHIHAB NYE –

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This is a very, very special, special day in my life. Twenty three years ago, on a perfectly beautiful morning at 7:55 EDT, I gave birth to an exquisite baby girl…Grace…surrounded by people I love in the bedroom of my 1860’s farmhouse.

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For me, there are no words to express my experience of giving birth and growing with my children…it is–they are the miracle of my life.

I can’t help but think of a song that Grace’s Dad used to sing to her…

Oh, oh, oh Miss Grace,
Satin of the human race,
the first time I saw your face,
I knew that I loved you!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, dear girl…I love you more than you can ever know!

P.S. And a very Happy Birthday to Tia Dana!

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Is it possible to have a favorite poet? Or for that matter, a favorite food? Certainly there are foods that stand out–lobster; top drawer chocolate and ice cream; perfectly ripe mangoes; fresh sushi from Sushi Dan; Irish oatmeal on a cold morning with dried cranberries and vanilla soy milk; blueberries, red raspberries and Ranier cherries in peak season; ripened, room temperature brie with rosemary crackers; butternut squash soup from Catherine’s restaurant…

For me, T.S. Eliot is akin to lobster–something delicious that I enjoy infrequently. I fell in love with Eliot when I took a semester of “Modern” Poetry with Carmine D’Andrea in 1968. At 20, I didn’t fully understand the poems–still, they spoke to me deeply and touched sensitive nerve endings. That love was rekindled one evening in 1971, and, again, years later in 1979, when I went to see an exhibition of Tom Neugebauer’s work at The Peter’s Valley Craft Center. Tom’s studio had just burned to the ground–his pieces were Raku fired; smokey pinks, and sooty black–beautiful, sculptural forms displayed on white pedestals. Stark black and white photographs of the charred remains his studio hung in silence on the white walls of the gallery. Next to the photographs were quotes from Four Quartets. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loss and gain; that poignant intersection where life is at once vibrant and raw…strewn with ash.

Every time I open Four Quartets, wisdom and truth leap from its pages and though I’ve read it many times from beginning to end, I prefer now to just open it randomly and surrender to what I read–it is never less than completely relevant…

FROM FOUR QUARTETS: EAST COKER

in my beginning is my end…

…Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

– T.S. ELIOT –

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