This post/poem is in response to the prompt: “some days disappear like…” courtesy of Kathleen Olesky. Also, though it’s presumptuous, Rumi also deserves a credit here.
(Above: writing room as seen in mirror)
Some days disappear like
Some days disappear like snow on an
outstretched tongue, quietly, others
like butter in a hot iron skillet
with a froth and a sizzle.
Some nights land like a stranger
lurking in the bushes, leaving
us shaken and afraid, others
come on us like Magi
to the Christ child, bearing
fragrant and precious
An afternoon can drawl
or contract, lounge
or catapult. Is the rhythm a
function of what we had for breakfast and
the dreams that visited overnight?
Or are they perhaps their own
small kingdoms, with rules external?
My favorite times are mornings
born of rest when the pulled
curtain reveals a lovely
soft wash or a hearty
glare of eastern light. A
new day, no matter what.
Let’s meet there, near the
windowsill and pull it up,
the sash, and lean, together,
and breathe, then shout, “Thank you!”
This post is a prompt response from yesterday. Of five provided images, the one I responded to was of a piebald horse (not unlike the one above). I quote two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce Kilmer and for your enjoyment include the entirety of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Pied Beauty, at the end.
It helps to know that I am ten years plus into writing a novel in which one of the central characters is Eliza Lucas Pinckney (b. 1722) and that the other three main characters are enslaved Black women.
Rhombuses of Light
The morning light is sectioned
mintons and mullions
through the glass, hitting floor and
wall, bending at baseboard.
She often referred to light
It’s the glow we like
especially when April
breezes seep past sills
and chill. But what about the
bend at the baseboard?
An easy compliance.
“Glory be to God for dappled
things,” said the poet.
Rhombuses of light
are not pied or
dappled, but when created
by a window speak
to the relationship between
solidity and light.
She repeats herself. All
those references to clouds!
It’s time to find and replace.
Thunderclouds with slate
grey bottoms, slants of
rain like an etching against
the horizon. Again, Eliza,
Her friend rode a dappled
grey sixteen hands high. How I had
to look all that up, authority running
to cats and dogs and at a stretch to
the way the interior of a barn
smells and how light catches
dust and particles of hay
drifting below the rafters.
How light and gravity inform
Imagination as authority,
not a popular position
Ripples of clouds above
the marsh, liked ruched
silk. Sunlight on creek
shining like pewter. God
in nature. We get it! Eliza
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Light will slide up the
wall as day goes on.
Sometimes the miraculous has
a predictable element to it.
All those author interviews
and how they make her
shrink. What’s on HER
bedside table? Did she
even read as a child?
The Case of the Hidden Staircase.
But it occurs to her now,
more memory than thought,
that reading Gerard Manley
Hopkins as a teenager
opened a previously
undisclosed chamber in
You can do that with
language? Light can
bend at baseboard
and be celebrated and in
Why does one element
mimicking another thrill
the senses? Light like
water. Sedimentary rock
like ripples of corduroy.
Memory like glass.
As a priest, he told
himself to shut up.
Figures an early hero of
mine would go to such extremes
and for all the wrong
reasons. Virginia Woolf with
rocks in her pockets.
Heroes, heroines, perhaps
best not to have them —
but how else learn how
to write, how not to panic,
how to pick at a scab and
Just once, she’d like the column
to soberly reveal an author
that didn’t read until she
was seventeen or so. Too busy
mucking about in creeks and
negotiating with terror. Why
Music floods the chest.
A good reason for silence,
she thinks, a single window
at a time being enough,
the light passing through
glass from the east,
inching toward the center of the hall.
You mean to tell me
the rhombuses of light float down the wall
and not up as morning progresses?
of observation. What motes?
What barn? Memory like glass.
Eliza’s daughter was about to
turn eleven when he died. Eliza’s
husband. Harriett’s father.
The dates are there for the finding.
July 12, 1758 and August 7, 1758.
What I make of turning
eleven just after the death of
a parent is not what you will
make of the same.
Even Harriett, poor dear,
would have made several
things of a singular devastation.
She had wanted to read
“Pied Beauty” at her father’s
funeral. The altar boy
turned atheist would have
appreciated its point, even
if Longfellow and Poe were
his favored fare.
Her sister overruled the selection.
of bullying that can’t even
be attributed to grief.
“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a tree,” he
wrote in my autograph
book — remember those? —
“But with his help, I’ve
made a Dee.”
“He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.”
Swapping out an altar
in the Catholic Church for the
Kinderhook Creek doesn’t mean
one has no god.
Trout fishing as sacrament.
Harriett was ten about to turn
eleven. I was 24 or 26 and the fact that I can
never remember without adding age-at-death to
one birth year and then subtracting another
birth year speaks to loss.
Wendell Barry’s lines: “make a poem that does not disturb / the silence from which it came,” served as a writing prompt this week. Tall order, that! In fact, those lines would make a useful weekly prompt for the rest of my life (the full Berry poem, below).
SoulCollage : Solstice
Here’s a version of what I wrote on Tuesday.
Even when lids shut, the tissue aquiver — the scroll of light rolling on, a form of damnation.
I want to go through my days, my nights, like a rib cage. Each curving spear connected at a central pole. Sure in form, sure in purpose, protecting the two wind lobes and the single beating fist — lungs and heart safer for the bony embrace.
Instead, a vibrato of uncertainty.
How has the non-tactile flow of damage gained ascendancy over sinew and nerve, crowding out all the places in the body that crave silence?
One day those ribs will spear dirt and crumble. Shouldn’t the body being Hand Maiden to Death wake us out of stupor now and then?
Let me eat a cracker with a smidge of butter. Let me sweep the steps free of snow and then sleep under a blanket that whispers ‘hallelujah.’
Let the sun falling on tabletops
The Solstice is here. Let ‘standing still’ mean something.
Wendell Berry’s poem, “How to Be a Poet,” from “Given:”
Make a place to sit down Sit down. Be quiet. [ . . .]
Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditional air. Shun electric wire. Communicate slowly. Live a three-dimensional life; stay away from screens. Stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in. There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence. Make the best you can of it. Of the little words that come out of the silence, like prayers prayed back to the one who prays, make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.
So many lines there to use as springboards!
I made my crack of day (not quite dawn) run to Wegman’s. Shallots, greens, prosciutto, corn meal, dill and sage, oranges and oyster mushrooms. Tonight: a Solstice Party at a neighbor’s (see last year’s post on ‘the Irish Goodbye’). I’ll bring an onion tart. Christmas Eve, dinner for eight. Ham, smashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cukes in vinegar. Slight variation on a meal I’ve made many times.
Any nice ideas for dessert?
With the boys and now my niece living so far away (LA, Boulder, San Fran), I’m really looking forward to this.
Happy Solstice to you!
May the richness of the dark touch you, nourish you,
and bring us all forward into the light.
PS I went to see if my first blog post was December 2009 so as to mention TEN YEARS of blogging. Turns out the first came December 2008. Imagine that! Eleven years here.
Mail from Michelle. More on that to come.
Also, have to post this. It goes to season, darkness, and the hope for cycling into light, after all.
After lunch with a friend, Finn and I made the figure eight: Jackson to Maplewood to Dudley, then home. It was almost three, so cars lined up on Cypress in front of the school and mothers with babies in slings and dogs on leashes walked past. Being so near the solstice, the sky was heavy with twilight. It will be dark long before five.
The mechanics of Tuesday writing class continue to be challenging — time and weather and whatnot, but the coalescing around words is powerful, so it all seems worthwhile. Zoom came to the rescue again.
Here is one of two poems that provided a writing prompt yesterday. From a publication (unknown) dated May 1981. Found in the clip file.
MAGIC WORDS (after Nalungiaq)
In the earliest time, / when both people and animals lived on earth, / a person could become an animal if he wanted to / and an animal could become a human being. / Sometimes they were people / and sometimes animals / and there was no difference. / All spoke the same language. / That was the time when words were like magic. / The human mind had mysterious powers. / A word spoken by chance / might have strange consequences. / It would suddenly come alive / and what people wanted to happen could happen — / all you had to do was say it. / Nobody could explain this: / That’s the way it was.
* * *
Just found this online (not including the link because it’s not secure):
Nalungiaq, an Inuit (Eskimo) woman, reported that she learned the song “Magic Words” from an elderly uncle named Unaraluk. Unaraluk was a shaman, a kind of sorcerer or priest. The song was first written down by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who was part Inuit and spoke the Inuit language, lived for some time with the Netsilik people during his expedition across arctic America, known as the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924). He collected many Netsilik legends and tales in the desire to learn about the unique view such an isolated people had developed of their world and the universe. Poet Edward Field translated many of these stories. “Magic Words” is also included in Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of traditional Native American poetry,Shaking the Pumpkin.
You can also find the poem in Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos, edited by Edward Field. Published by Education Development Center (1968).
Oooh boy, am I in for a treat with the novel, “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers! Abandoned another piece of fiction in order to begin. Since that disqualifies me from airing any opinion about said abandoned book: My Lips are Sealed (but maybe I don’t like farce all that much?)
“The Overstory” is already blowing the top of my head off, in much the way that “Lincoln in the Bardo” did. Grace, Mo, Alden, Maureen, and Deb have all led me to it.
One of the prompts at the AWA writing retreat in August came from the opening page. I think you’ll swoon to read the lines, too:
… The tree is saying things, in words before words. It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.
When I find what I wrote, I’ll post it, even though as I recall it was a bit opaque. In the meantime, scroll down for a response to another prompt that mentions the 250+ year old copper beech that dwells next door.
I’ve probably photographed this tree more than any other feature of our built or natural landscape. It towers over the houses with a reach nothing short of spectacular. The trunk, muscular and sturdy, mediates between sky and earth, while beneath the soil? A downward fractalling mirror of the canopy, unseen and necessary.
A story I’m submitting to literary magazines describes it. My son featured it in a third grade project.
My neighbors steward the being with utmost care: cables strung for support, twice annual feedings.
Can you imagine all that this beech has witnessed? The household secrets, the stirring of war and war again, the native people who may have honored it and perhaps also drank at the spring which once (supposedly) offered cool respite nearby. People with pox, barn fires (our house and its charred beams), orphans and the enslaved, tavern owners and farmers (the Bartletts at the corner).
The Jacksons who built the house in the 1700’s witnessed the early, young days of the tree’s life. Maybe it was the tree that inspired one owner to bequeath the house to an illegitimate daughter. Such things were not done!
Ghosts have been noted. A smithy and a soldier hanging in a closet. Not here but next door.
This little untitled poem by me mentions the tree.
She flipped the french toast, vanilla fumed, and twisted to a morning made of thread and diary, made of weeds along the road — dandelion and chickweed — and a sun that glared hot mystery through the copper beech.
This time of year leafery, cotillion, cockswaddle, and steak. We could be made of spores and engineered lumber, but find ache and patchwork inside instead.
How his back moves down the road. She, off with the dog down another. Was there no plan to map the distances, to cloud handshakes and rollovers with sleep or with taking out the trash?
And how about Yellow? Primroses flat, then yarrow, regal. Soon the pansies made of sugar and sunlight bought by the flat will land while the dog pulls away, scents of cow dung and denim rot irresistible.
She left the dowels at the store. The quilt unhung for another week. Made of forgetfulness, inclined toward suspense, turning away not gathering up, and a scold or two.
If only the oceans lingered near the driveway, instead of maple tree detritus and scum bubbles of tar.
Meanwhile, an unintended consequence of a rheumatologist’s advice last week to “be active like you were ten years ago,” led to bravado in the garden and a back with more pain than I’ve ever experienced. Chiropractor at three. PT beginning within the week. K even stayed home today because yesterday I could barely get up the stairs or into bed. I’m much better now.
In other news: it looks like I have enough people for my first writing class. I’m so excited!
What do you think of my name: “Page by Page?” It’s a little bit like Annie Lamont’s “Bird by Bird,” but not critically enough to foreclose my usage.