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“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry. … One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.”

W.S. Merwin’s 80th birthday was on Sunday, September 30. I’ve been reading his memoir, Unframed Originals in addition to lots of his poetry. It’s sparse, poignant, humorous in a Russell Edson kind of way–a study of the fatherline…a silent stoic lineage…the mystery of distant relatives and a child’s wonder as he cobbles together an understanding of his people.

I appreciate his capacity to capture the bare bones of life and the essence of familial relationships…his poem, “Yesterday” really strikes a chord…

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YESTERDAY

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
have to
just because I’m here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

– W.S. MERWIN –

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Last night it poured. Thunder, lightning and wild winds. I love summer rain. I love thunderstorms. I love the smell of rain and the sound of rain.

More and more, I notice the small things. This leaf…harbinger of the change of season that lies ahead. The tiny droplets; reminder of the storm long gone.

I notice possible pictures all day. Angles of light; angles of sight. Even without camera in hand, I have camera in mind.

THE FALL

There was a man who found two leaves and came
Indoors holding them out saying to his parents
That he was a tree.

To which they said then go into the yard and do
Not grow in the living room as your roots may ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.

– RUSSELL EDSON –

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It’s almost 2 am. I’ve started and scrapped three posts. My mind’s a blank. I yearn for brilliance…I yearn for bed.

I had dinner with my father at The Bull’s Head Inn. We sat in the Gazebo, delighted by “daylight savings” evening light; surrounded by patches of snow and hints of spring. His mind was fluid…rangy…lumbering. Time frames colliding and collapsing. He thinks we’re in Fearrington Village...he thinks we’re in Garden City…he thinks we’re in his home…he thinks we’re in a restaurant where he conducts interviews.

Before leaving his room at the nursing home, I notice that there is a message on his answering maching. I press PLAY. It’s Bob. His voice is distant, slow, deliberate. “Ken, I wanted you to know that the Bradford pear trees you planted are blooming–they’re in full bloom…so are the cherry trees and the crab apples.”

Spring is full-blown in Fearrington, NC where we planted six beautiful Bradford pears in memory of my mother 16 years ago. They’re tall and full now–so symmetrical. Dad is befuddled–not sure what Bob is talking about. I explain, “Dad, you remember…the trees we planted by The Gathering Place where we had Mom’s memorial service…” I see a glimmer of recognition.

He orders steamers and lamb chops for dinner. He is happy and as always, it’s the best meal he’s ever eaten. I savor his enthusiasm for small pleasures. He remembers to ask about my daughters, Sara and Grace. “Now when is Gracie’s wedding?” he wonders. I tell him that Sara got married last fall and that I don’t know whether Grace is quite ready yet. I remind him that she wants him to walk her down the aisle. “Oh,” he says, “I’ll have to get some roller skates for that, or a sidecar for my scooter.”

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Grace & Grampie

ANTIMATTER

On the other side of a mirror there’s an inverse world,
where the insane go sane; where bones climb out of the
earth and recede to the first slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon
childhood robs them of their pleasure.

In such a world there is much sadness which, of course,
is joy.

RUSSELL EDSON

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