Speaking of offspring, here’s a lament written during the summer writing retreat.* I can’t remember what the prompt was — maybe something about emptying your mind?
Golden rod tug slightly in a breeze. Higher up, the rustle of maples. And everywhere: insects. Bees and flies and stinging pests. How sweet it’d be to merely lament the season coming to a close and not the earth herself melting, collapsing, churning, with the Ring of Fire activating quakes up and down the coasts on either side of the Pacific. Which one will open up under Brentwood, Pasadena, Korea Town, and Studio City and gobble up great edifices of society not to mention, people: Brother, Son? I could never have been the mother who said, ‘No. Do not go.’ And even if I had been, he’d not have listened which is how it should be, but still — a bigger worry added to the usual worries.
And then there’s the plains of Nebraska, the river banks along the Mississippi, the lower reaches of Missouri — should so much land be under water?
And how can the potential destruction of, say, one American Western city compare to all of Greenland’s ice melting, Paris and London frying under a merciless sun? Or colony collapse, the bees giving up the ghost, along with whole caveloads of bats, unable to fight the poisonous fight any longer, tongues and nails, slab and tourniquet. What place, then after?
When we look at the data, we also look away, preferring to note how a grasshopper landing not five feet away says something about summer ending and the memory of other summers ending — times when bikes, hoses, pools, bare feet were the signifiers. Our poor brood when little watched nature show after nature show offering up news of habitat decline and species extinction and people wonder why millennials are anxious?
We wonder why the young refuse heirlooms of any kind, but especially have no interest in the Rosenthal china, the Royal Doulton, the Strawberry Wedgewood. ‘Will we have a home or air?’ they wonder — the inability to afford the former a trifling but inescapable concern compared to the latter.
‘We have ten years,’ they keep saying, trying and failing to sound the alarm. ‘Ten years’ means something different to the young than it does to my aging ears. Gone are the days when insects present as cute and annoying pests. Not when closer scrutiny might reveal how numbered their days are. How connected they are to everything else.
Even if we all rowed in the same direction, what a monumental challenge! But with lies the prevalent currency and corporations granted all ascendancy, we first have to clean house and by then — I’m sorry, the thought is there — mightn’t it be too late?
How many monarchs migrated to the milkweeds, those perennials standing proud and erect, proper in their heliotropic course, casting lozenge-shaped shadows, offering praise to sun and nourishment to caterpillars? How many? Less than last year? A tenth of the year before?
It’s easy to shrug at the extinction of some two-toed sloth or a miniature lizard with nocturnal habits literally never seeing the light of day, but what about ALL of the passerines? Polar bears and reindeer? What about us? If we’d cared more about the two-toed sloth all those years ago, would we be better situated today — able to enter the “Wild Kingdom” programming, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha and hosted by some hokey and corny know-nothing, instead of learning about floating islands of plastic the size of Delaware and about Colorado burning for half a season?
* It turns out that the response to the prompt mentioned yesterday became a chapter in the book (working title: •Blood and Indigo•). That means I’m precluded from ‘publishing’ here (seriously, with 100 hits a day?) What would happen if I ‘published’ it, left it up for ten days, and then tagged it private? SShhh
Sharon Olds poem, published in Atlantic Magazine.
Not that I want to but I need to float off for a bit from here. Please come back! I’ll likely continue to post on Instagram, but less often. It’s time to FOCUS.
I’ll leave you with two responses to a prompt from the retreat, both using a poetic structure listed below. I paid attention to the rhyme scheme, you’ll see, but not the line lengths.
Bref Double, One
The mist rolls, sheer scalloped grace.
Curls floating past trees
echoing the canopy’s curve,
hurrying somewhere I want to go.
The hills rise sturdy and silent.
Clouds come and go and leave no trace.
Mountains like a tolerant mother meeting
a toddler’s antics, squatting low
to grin and meet him, where he is, face
to face, nose to nose, abiding
in connection, eschewing haste.
Such moments seem more than we deserve.
Sturdy love. Isn’t it a disgrace
to reject what’s here, adopt strictures,
go quiet and lose our heart, our verve?
Bref Double, Two
Tardiva points, a flurry
of misdirection, while clouds
creep and float, aligned with
the mountains. Purpose.
Or is it conspiracy? Ridges hold blue,
their stillness a contrast to sliding
mist, while gauze clouds above
wander, roll, tell secrets unheard of
by us. Crickets act as jury
to the crime of vacancy
while low-lying lichen, furry
almost, in ruffled patterns, gifts
the eye. Yellowed leaves, the color of curry
hint at how soon the season’ll leave us bereft.
Look at the clipped grasses! The curb with its
divets. Tell me, could the ribbons of tar
shining in the midday sun be
any more gorgeous?
for the light to turn, for the grey
hulk of hospital to leave the rearview —
waiting for the return of things
or the start of them, or even the
Impatience is a surly thief!
And, shopping, a deficient religion.
I should have known better.
By the time I arrive,
the capris of summer are picked over.
Meanwhile, my sister’s heart flutters
in uncertain alarm and children
dead from cholera in Yemen pile up,
Somehow, I’m alive and shopping for pants.
In the swanky interior, the clack of my sandals
on the polished geometry stirs
sorrow. How it is these days.
“This is it,” my shoes percuss. “This is it.”
Going one place to another, you are never
anywhere but here.
Impatience acts the rude interloper
while uncertainty takes you to your knees.
Later, but not much, I slap my notebook
on the shiny ebon surface of a grand piano
and pull a pen out of my hair. One of
two. There, in the sunlit atrium, a prop of luxury
holds my weight. To one side, the familiar
bronze statue of girl and dog and to the other,
an absence I can’t get used to even though
the beloved fountain’s been gone for years.
(All those pennies tossed and wishes made
two little tow-heads at my side —
where are they now — pennies, wishes, and
boys turned brown-haired men?)
Regret followed far enough
takes you to love.
The Tiffany’s clerk paces
behind jewel-filled cases, not sure
what to make of a woman writing in fury
in the middle of the morning, in the middle of
the atrium and where did
that notebook come from anyway?
the ribbons of tar, the cement divets
polished geometry, regret,
Oh tissue first, silver medallion next and finally,
the tasteful grey bag. The clerk chirps
“Have a good day of shopping,” even as
my ribs smolder about to combust, one hour
being thirty minutes too long.
How much time do we have? Ever?
Tick. Tick. Swipe. Delete.
How much time do we have
to be kind, to be kind,
to preserve the republic?
Fairness gone amok in every quarter
makes a girl want to cry —
even a girl who never cries.
No wonder the ordinary sound
of sandals clacking on
polished tile calls out, “Wake up!
This is it!” rattling up a
ferocious grief twinned
“These are no ordinary times.” Say.
Repeat. Do nothing. The acts
held in reserve depend on gross
miscalculations of risk — as if we
have time and time and more time?
Tick. Tick. Delete. Swipe.
Regret followed far enough
leads to damnation.
Would the clerk in Tiffany’s understand
why a woman wails in the bathroom
corridor given our collective failure
or would she choose not to hear?
You lean your frantic frame against the
silent instrument, hoping to leave
behind more than the echoes of impatience
or a sweaty hand print that the cleaners
will have to buff off later.
Let me be kind. Let me speak up. Let
me pause long enough
to give thanks.
Regret expressed deeply enough always
turns into prayer.
The ribbons of tar, the polished geometry,
vanished pools and children, wishes
gathered and held in regions unknown.
A ditty from a prompt in class this week. “Peas and the rice done, done, done” comes from a song sung by bondmen and women during the age of slavery.
Speckle, spackle lint
Globe, orb, light
Star prick, potato cut – Fie!
Cookie cutter, duster buster —
Done. Peas and the rice,
done, done, done.
In the dark, we tag along in
ignorant clumps. Safety
in numbers? One arm
finds a rail, a toe stubs
rock. “Ho there!”
A single organism, we turn.
Out on the deck early, a
powdery blue sky offers its
solace — beauty
that can be referred to again
and again, lasting and constant.
Except it’s not
lasting. Or constant.
Look how swiftly the clouds
cover the setting and
glorious moon — in the short interval
it took you to dash inside for your camera.
What happens when the shifting
markers of beauty verge
toward extinction, not merely sway
and decay with time?
“Ho! There! Ho!” No one
corrects course. The inevitable crash
sparks discussion, as if pinpointing the
cause of the wound trumps all other action.
In this season of cold, shattered bones and
bruises are nothing next to damnation.
Who knew lying would win
the hearts and minds of so many?
Sprinkle, dash, salt and mire.
Blood stream, character, impossible glow.
Peas and the rice, done, done, done.
Catastrophic, relentless capture
of the future: too swift to
block; too pervasive to illuminate.
It threatens to be so cold, there
The party lanterns bob and strain on the deck
rail, hanging, forgotten, so long
past their June flings. Remember June?
Just above the eave – “Ho! There!”
She runs inside for her camera, but it’s too late. The grey fuzz of
cloud shoved by a cold, cold
wind has changed everything.
She missed the moon
but caught a dream of power — a friend gathering her skirts to make an entrance. Stately. Invested. Prepared. She will
study everything, consider all the
players, account for the force of history. Seventy years of wisdom coming to bear.
Such a dream!
Mighty beech. Singular gate.
Ho there! The icy air seeps
through the window frame.
In the kitchen, you watch the
tiny grain moths zig-zag
against their doom. Slap. Slap.
The dog pants beside the fire.
Dots and dabs of light on the festive tree
blur after you take off your glasses,
offering another version of pretty.
Remember Wallace Stevens
trying to decide which to prefer:
the blackbird’s cry or just after?
As if calibrating how much reality you can stomach is anything like weighing
the relative beauties of music and silence!
We slide into a
Bosch painting – celebrities being eaten by plants,
destroyers appointed to protect, eggs sprouting legs. Babies cry all the way
from Aleppo. We are
cursed and lack the explaining mythology.
Stab, slice, potato cutter — fie!
How quaint a cut to the finger. Apply pressure,
glue and presto — no more blood.
There goes the moon, behind its periwinkle
shroud. Time feels a foe this season.
Arctic air whips up its icy announcements
and someone, somewhere takes it as proof
that everything is as it always was.
Who will measure the cold and with what instruments
after they round up the scientists?
They’ll say: ‘Study moles and circuits. Or lumps of coal.’
“Ho there!” How about darkness? Make
a chart that nobody will believe
and store it somewhere in Canada.
“Ho there! Ho.” We smile and drink. We bundle up. We exchange
sweets and trinkets while frigid air sweeps down from the north.
So, go ahead – dream of power
or dream of extinction. Dream of
capturing the moon with your
bare hands. But when you wake,
with thermal underwear and corrective lenses on, gather your skirts and make an entrance. Somewhere. And speak.
“Ho there. Ho” Peas and the rice
done, done, done.