I’m so glad many of us enjoyed the very succinct and on-topic poem yesterday. I was glad I’d come across it. Amos Russel Wells is actually a new-to-me poet as well; he was a professor of Greek and geology at for the first part of his professional career, and ended it as editor of a religious magazine. He was also a fairly dedicated Sunday School teacher, and apparently loved children. His book, Rollicking Rhymes for Youngsters, first published in 1902, is where today’s poem comes from. You can see the Sunday School teacher/hymn writer in this verse.
Many words are lightly tossed,
Only cowards mind them,
Opportunities are “lost” –
Rouse yourself, and find them!
Some are lost for aye and aye,
But the most are hiding –
*Cars the switch has found are they
Take them from the siding!*
Past is past, the chance is gone? –
Up, and follow after!
Many a noble race is run
Despite sneers and laughter.
Opportunities are “lost”?
Aren’t there legs behind them?
Boldly run, nor count the cost,
Speed until you find them!
*”Cars the switch has lost” refers to train cars that are shunted to a different track when the switch is thrown.
This is a sort of bracing hope that is really old-fashioned and brought to you by people who lived through wars and upheaval and didn’t have time for self-pity. No such thing as opportunities “lost,” to them… just a need to be up and doing. Here’s to that bracing, gingery, spit and vinegar.
I’ve run out of words.
Fortunately, there’s poetry.
Poetry Friday today is hosted by Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Thank you, Sylvia.
Country of Freedom
Country of freedom, be free in thy heart:
Free from the shackles of poisoning pride,
Free from the liar’s contemptible art,
Free from allurements that tempt thee aside,
Free from the crafty and treacherous guide,
Free from the ravening greed of the mart,
Free from the snares that in opulence hide, —
Country of freedom be free in thy heart.
— Amos Russel Wells (1863-1933)
I found it just a bit ironic that I blogged yesterday about anger before I got on social media or read the paper, or heard anything about the attempted coup at the nation’s Capitol. After hearing nineteen million politicians blurt, “This isn’t who we are!” I feel like it’s a good day to resurrect a poem I wrote in 2017… after the first nineteen million times I heard politicians say this phrase, in defense of this indefensible presidency. Enjoy.
“…this is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, THE FARTHEST SHORE, Ch. 8
“you may experience feelings of momentary discomfort”
“This is not who we are,” good souls profess.
“This brief discomfort heralds changing views.”
The dream, America, is dispossessed.
And politicians wallow in the mess
Eyes rolling wild, while looking for their cues —
“This is not who we are.” Good souls profess
To understand the needs of the oppressed,
Who are not newly pressured, but eschew
The “dream America.” We, dispossessed.
“Just rhetoric and chatter,” pundits stress.
“A bigot’s dreams could never here come true.”
This IS. Not who we are? Good souls, profess!
Resist. Support, with dogged faithfulness
Those who, with courage march. We must push through
the dream and wake our country, in distress.
Distracted by your grieving? Reassess
Comfort you proffered those who are not you…
This. Is. Not. Who. We. Are. Good souls, protect
The dreamer, wakening, and dispossessed.
I’ve blogged before about how many times girls are taught that anger is “being ugly,” thus setting anger as antithetical to being somehow properly attractive/womanly or whatnot. It’s always so bizarre when you don’t think you’ve been raised with any slant in particular, and then hear yourself prevaricating when someone asks you if you’re angry. “No, I’m not mad, I’m just upset. I’m a little vexed, yes. I’m frustrated. I’m aggravated.” Yeah. I’m also pretty torqued, ticked off, peeved, furious and properly raging as well – but it’s not nice to say so, apparently.
It’s always a little breath-taking to realize that you are mad about something when it’s deep-seated, private, almost even from yourself, and catches you off-guard. You stumble out of a conversation, panting like a marathon-runner, and wonder, bewildered, “Where did all this rage come from?”
I suspect the rage is a more common epiphany than one might think.
Who Said It Was Simple
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear.
Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in color
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
– Audre Lourde
Real life is distracting, contradictory, full of issues of competing importance, and thoroughly messy. This messy, conflicting ball of emotions is also worth examination, if one is to live well.
Good luck with that.
I love the National Cathedral, though I’ve only been there once. I’ve spent much more times in the cathedrals of Europe – and its small parish churches, and its village halls. I love old church architecture and interesting new twists on it. And it’s all equally, genuinely lovely first thing in the morning. That’s one of the best things – to be on a trip somewhere and to get up before the traffic snarls and the commuters are hurrying with their coffee, and just… look up. Look around. And see how the light changes things.
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
Read the rest here.
Good morning! May the light of the day put you in the proper mood to begin anew.
Last Thursday, I stood in a driveway – properly masked and distanced – with my mother and a couple of sisters, my brother, and nephews for the first time since March of last year. We all have different distancing protocols and needs, and it’s safest for us to be away from each other, or outside for fifteen or twenty minutes – but it was lovely to see them not on a screen. And it was still so hard not to hug… which is one of the other reasons we don’t meet often. Somehow, I ended up in a family of huggers.
I’d forgotten how fast boy-children grow, and was slightly horrified to see my youngest nephew the same height as his mother. I’d forgotten my mother’s penchant for wearing Ugg-adjacent boots, and laughed at the furry Muppet-style vibe she was giving. I’d forgotten how long my sister was growing out her hair – and that my youngest sister had stopped dyeing hers for a minute. It’s weird, what you forget when you’re not seeing each other every week. But, what we remember, of course, is obvious.
I forget these things –
where a trail begins,
where a trail ends.
I forget these things –
white of dawn,
and sun-going down.
I forget these things –
hunger for piki,
thirst for the springs ….
But I forget not you,
with the night.
– William Haskell Simpson
This is going to be a year absolutely packed with literature.
It’s going to be a year of taking risks with writing, including no longer dipping a toe into fantasy and fairy tales, but diving in, and also… taking my poetry writing seriously. I’m not fond of calling myself a writer, much less a poet… somehow the idea of A Poet seems much more deep and knowledgeable and serious than my iamb-counting, form-conforming, rule-bound, doggerel scribbling self. How do people become poets, anyway? In the same way that we become writers – by doing the thing, I’m told. So, I will be doing the thing, taking serious study with a textbook and instructors and all, and with scheduled practice time.
It’s… a little terrifying, honestly. But, it’s also very hopeful and anticipatory – much like the 365 neat, blank squares marching importantly through our calendars. So many things cluster close to our imaginations, tugging on our fine hairs, breathing into our ears, “Maybe this year! Maybe this year!”
Well? Maybe it is all going to happen this year. But, how will we find out if we don’t start?
Poetry Friday is hosted by Ruth, all the way from Haiti, at There Is No Such Thing As A God-Forsaken Town. Have a lovely, restful weekend – because Monday’s the day we jump in and make it all happen!
I know that the title to this poem specifies that these are exercises for a nature writer, but I think they’re worth being revisited in this liminal space at the New Year. Dress for the weather. Ruminate. Hold your boundaries and walk your fence lines. Work through what is troubling you through serving something else. Make space for life to slip through.
I don’t bother with many things – making resolutions being one of them, as it tends to be about making myself “better” based on a set of external guidelines rather than the interior work of self-investment which pays dividends that the world cannot always see. Yes, one could always make better habits, take up decluttering, eat more veg, or lose a pound or two, perhaps, but I categorically refuse to allow that to be your business when it’s my own, and certainly not during the month of January when people demanding others change are most obstreperous and vocal. I believe it a useful exercise to anticipate growth – not to pretzel oneself into growing into the expectations of others’ – so I will set my mind on that tomorrow, perhaps. However you complete this page of the calendar, I hope you do it warmly ensconced and centered in your own heart. Happy New Year.
I have an older friend whose somewhat disorganized chaos of an orderly life by turns astounds and horrifies me. She is on too many committees, does too much volunteering, and works too many hours – and puts up with too much. In this year of abrupt reversals and sudden losses, what I have learned at least faintly is how ludicrous it is to keep on living that way, when so much is lost so soon. I want to tell her “Choose what you love, and walk away from the rest!”, but the things we do are nine-tenths habit, and one-tenth cement, and change is hard. So, I gentle my words, and bite my tongue. But this poem made me think of her – and all of us – walking in circles this year. May this coming year we wend a path through the year, out walking only regrets and hurrying toward what makes us shine.
In her nineties and afraid
of weather and of falling if
she wandered far outside her door,
my mother took to strolling in
the house. Around and round she’d go,
stalking into corners, backtrack,
then turn and speed down hallway, stop
almost at doorways, skirt a table,
march up to the kitchen sink and
wheel to left, then swing into
the bathroom, almost stumble on
a carpet there. She must have walked
a hundred miles or more among
her furniture and family pics,
mementos of her late husband.
Exercising heart and limb,
outwalking stroke, attack, she strode,
not restless like a lion in zoo,
but with a purpose and a gait,
and kept her eyes on heaven’s gate.
– Robert Morgan
There’s something about the end of a year that makes me think… about all manner of things. I know people who have made it habit and tradition to do a major clearing out – of clothing, of photographs and possessions, and I think it’s also useful to do a major clearing out of the mind. We always have two or three opportunities per year – there’s the Lunar New Year, there’s Rosh Hashanah, for some, there’s Shab-e-Barat, or National Day of Forgiveness, which seems as good a day as any to begin again… but as with many things, renewals and new beginnings first require distance.
The world is large, when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide;
But the world is small, when when your enemy is loose on the other side.
– John Boyle O’Reilly
The mushrooms in the photo are so teensy-tiny that it took a high-powered lens to capture them… and you can’t really tell, can you? When we’ve stepped away from something, it’s sometimes easier to see – and other times, a lot harder. I’m intrigued by how such small things can be mistaken for something large. I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of object lesson in that, but… I’ll just leave you with the pretty picture instead of belaboring it, hm?