3 meditations on a magnifying glass iii
around her neck, scrutiny
watching for the light
By Robert Herrick 1591–1674
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Until the hasting day
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
conflict. plague. World Wars.
long nights of grief and fire
mais, voir – the smoke clears
The news is a bit easier to bear today for the Parisians of our acquaintance. Knowing how often Paris has had to rebuild heartens; they know how to do it and doubtless had all the plans in the world in place. But what a horror for those who had to execute them.
No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.
—for Walter Aikens
-from Bringing the Shovel Down. Copyright © 2011 by Ross Gay.
On the four weeks and five days before the Equinox, my plum tree gave to me… a surprising number of blooms, which I tried vainly to tell it to hang onto until temps got above the thirties at night and the wind slowed from 30 mph gusts.
It did not listen.
This honestly should be no surprise; the starlings did not listen when I explained to them last year that a nest over the front door was not really the most advantageous spot, the little cat from the house behind us does not listen when I beg him or her not to sleep on top of the plant in the walkway — the ladybug horde that has moved in does not listen when I gently try to entice them with the advantages of the great outdoors. I don’t know why I expected anything different from my tree. Spring comes whether it is pouring or dry, whether I think it is way early or no, whether it is convenient to the sinuses or not (it is NOT. Ever). And so, it is coming, a dive-bombing bird of prey, screaming across the sky, with talons extended, and with no brakes. Um, welcome Spring.
For reasons made clear in the previous paragraph (just call me Dolly Dramatica), this month’s poetry challenge was a good match for my particular brain. Mask poems are poems in which the reader slips into the soul of an inanimate object or an animal, and looks out through its eyes, answering questions of what it sees, what it thinks, or how it reacts to what’s going on around it – or with the poet. What does a snowflake want to say about itself, before it’s gone? A pair of gloves, a cell phone, a turtle? The poet takes the opportunity to embody another – an excellent excuse to pretend – and to consider a question in a voice that isn’t quite one’s own.
Because Laura initiated our challenge this month, I set myself the additional challenge of writing a poem that might suit a child. Laura is very good at consistently using our challenges to write poems for children and teachers, who are her readers, so however successfully/unsuccessfully, I’ve tried to take an animal-and-upbeat page from her book today. I’d say it was unsuccessfully, but hey – I was mindful not to be depressive, at least! I call that PROGRESS.
You might wonder if you’ve ever met a black phoebe. They’re a variant of flycatcher, and they’re they hardest darned things to photograph, ever. They’re tiny, smaller than a sparrow – more finch-sized, really, and ALWAYS moving, flicking their tail, abruptly leaping up or diving, and zipping all over, deeply unconcerned with what you’d like them to do – much like all of my other backyard neighbors.
Black phoebe sits and sings near me
Concerned with only my gnat pests
He could care less that I’m a tree
With Damson blossom buds as guests.
Just bugs for him. His whistled call
Says mostly that it’s “time to eat!”
My branches reach for Sunlight’s fall.
(My leaves are waiting ’til there’s heat.)
My human comes to fuss at me
And gently touch a blossom guest.
She worries there’s no guarantee
That frost won’t make my branches stressed.
But phoebe flits, and doesn’t know
If flies tomorrow he will find –
“But look,” he tweets, “the lily grows!”
(Birds worry less than people-kind.)
Black phoebe, dining on the fly
Nabs lacewing here, a moth elsewhere –
Aerial antics amplify
The birdkind version of a prayer
To Spring. To flight, to frigid wind
As blossoms shimmy in the breeze –
Sing, even if the world should end
Use beauty’s balm your mind to ease.
There are more masks hiding and revealing all sorts of things amongst the poetry sibs this month. Laura’s enlightening us, while Sara’s sharing treasures. Liz is in the kitchen, while Rebecca is using windows as eyes. Tricia was gluing the last bits of her mask together as she also leapt a tall building in a single bound, while Kelly and Andi have hung up their masks for today, so we’ll see them next time.
Poetry Friday is graciously hosted today @TeacherDance. Thank you, Linda B!
Ah, friends, I’ve heard it in the chillest land (which is where it feels like most of us live just now) -/ And on the strangest Sea (also what we live in now on the West Coast, despite this bright blue picture on a briefly dry afternoon)-/ Yet – never – in Extremity,/ It asked a crumb – of me.
Miss Emily reminds us that no matter where we are, we must listen for it… Singing, I mean. Get out and listen to things with feathers this weekend. And if you can’t hear the hope, sing it aloud for someone else. Tough times for many of us just now, but holding each other up, we’re going to make it. Keep singing.
Welcome, February, that shortest month, which is crammed with celebrations of African Americans, romance, presidents, and, oddly, pie. And cherries – though I am afraid the blossoms will this year be somewhat delayed. Nevertheless, we celebrate – and please join us in welcoming scientist and fellow word nerd, Rebecca Holmes as she joins the poet-ing this month.
The first time I read Marilyn Nelson’s “Minor Miracle” I thought to myself that this was her “Incident” poem. “Incident,” by Countee Cullen, is a short, and unemotional rendering of a small child’s trip to Baltimore, and the emotional stab at the end is not worse than the first, but somehow more painful for the lack of bleeding. In Nelson’s poem, the unemotional accounting persists and allows the reader space to take in both the offense and the conclusion from the same distance. It is a small moment, writ large emotionally. Our task this month was to write a poem “in the style of” Marilyn Nelson’s work, and identify and acknowledge a minor miracle of our own.
Part of the fun this month was our return to collaborative poetry. One of the gifts of writing in a group is observing processes, asking questions, and helping to illuminate the areas in which we are struggling. Oh, and yeah: we struggled. As always. Many of us wanted to grapple with a much bigger topic and make more of a compelling statement, but Nelson’s genius is in crystallizing little moments. So, we step back, dug a little deeper, and tried again.
Poetry’s very brevity makes writing about the nuances of mental states much more accessible, and Marilyn Nelson’s unemotional style helps me to center the reader in my mental space – an infinitesimal speck in a suddenly too-big world, at a loss both individual and commonly held. We have all of us, at one time or another, been lost and found:
Which reminds me of another road
four ribbons of sun-bright black unspooling and I,
On some needful errand, motored on, serene,
The highway my wheels touched, at once
the same as all other roads, both known and
wildly unfamiliar. I slowed, crept, edged
toward its rigid graveled margins, blinking
eyes gone wide and stinging,
Lost is a path with criss-crossing tracks.
Lost is a tall tree in a quiet clearing,
And ten thousand acres of green.
A road, going somewhere,
An exit, and a faded service station.
Big trucks and diesel, hard-faced men in trucker hats
And a neutral beige efficiency car,
lost in the middle of too close to be too far gone.
Embarrassment tangled my fingers as I sought my phone –
No coverage in my area, no money for a map.
Pride swallowed, I called my Compass. Collect.
Static on the payphone line, as I recited
The words to shape the world: my street, my city, my state.
Landmarks affixed in the jumble of my universe.
With help, it doesn’t take long to rewind the world.
Heard over my heartbeat, words of direction
A moment of grace, and the panic receded.
Finding the onramp took more time than the call:
Get back on the highway, pass two more exits, take the third.
Inaudible breath, and the world regains focus.
Found is a mesa set over a valley.
Found is a boulder, feet kissed by the surf
A place to climb out of the sea.
The Poetry Sisters Write: Brace for a rough landing with Liz, discover a mystery poem from Tricia, visit Andi, whose poem has both claws and skitter; read Sara’s poem, which made us wince; see Laura’s poem, which reveals our inadequacies, and enjoy Kelly’s poem, written in the throes of aunt-ing.
Wait, there’s more! Poetry Friday today is at Tabatha Yeatts’ blog, The Opposite of Indifference. Happy February – happy weekend, and happy poetry. Stay warm and dry!