A Poem for a Thursday #83

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of my favorite poets. I have loved her poems from long before I started this poetry series. She has been featured at least three times before (here, here, and here) and I am sure I will feature her again in the future.

Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
                          Yet onward!
                                     Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,--sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs--
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine:  blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ups and Downs

It is a strange life I am living these days. I am with people all the time but I never see anyone. I have all the time in the world and no time at all. I want life to go back to normal and I dread the return to a frantically busy reality. I love my family and love the time with them and I occasionally dream of running far away from them. I read all the news and scare myself with what is going on in the world and I, at the same time, feel like I am living in my own little bubble. I am content and I am bored. I am happy and I am anxious.

It is a life of ups and downs.

I have little to complain about. No one in my family and no one I know has gotten sick. We can pay our bills. Our lives are inconvenienced but not difficult. However, as is the case with many, we want the things we can't have. I want to putter through a bookshop, walk by the ocean, go out to dinner with my husband, and search for treasures in a consignment shop. I want to go on vacation, but then, I always want to go on vacation.

For now we have to be happy with the little things; the ups in our day-to-day lives. We have been for a few hikes and spent the afternoon sitting by the stream in a state park. We went kayaking on a friend's pond and were even able to wave hello to our friends as we arrived. We have gardened and finished a few projects around the house and planned a few more projects.

Things could be worse and they are for many people around the world. For now, I shall be content with my life of little ups and downs. As my husband frequently reminds me, excitement is not always a good thing and a nice, long stretch of boredom can be quite refreshing.

A Poem for a Thursday #82

Photo by Andrea Zignin on Unsplash

Shel Silverstein was an award-winning children's writer and cartoonist. His books The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends are viewed as classics of children's literature. His poems are described as "darkly humorous and irreverent." I also found out, while looking up his life, that he was a songwriter and wrote "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash. Today's poem may have been originally written for children but I think we can all see the appeal.

Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
Sew me a sail
To catch me the wind.

Sew me a sail
Strong as the gale,
Carpenter, bring out your
Hammers and nails.

Hammers and nails,
Hammers and nails,
Build me a boat
To go chasing the whales.

Chasing the whales,
Sailing the blue,
Find me a captain
And sign me a crew.

Captain and crew,
Captian and crew,
Take me, oh take me
to anywhere new.

Needles and Pins
Shel Silverstein

A Day Out//Mashamoquet Brook State Park

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we all were a little stir-crazy. We needed to get outside and pretend that life is normal. We packed up some snacks, water, and my book (never go anywhere without a book) and headed to Mashamoquet Brook State Park. I used to take my kids here when they were little so they could swim in the pond and play in the stream. It is still one of our favorite local hiking spots. Thankfully, it was not particularly busy. We only ran into a few people on the trails and only a few more wandered past as we sat by the stream. Well, we sat; Celia went wading. If it had been only a few degrees warmer I am sure she would have been completely soaked. What is it about water that makes teenagers forget they are teenagers? Whatever it is, I love it.

We saw crayfish and minnows and my husband saw a big turtle on the trail. We listened to the sound of the running water. We wandered and chatted and did nothing in particular. It was lovely. For a little while, we forgot the stressful world we live in. We forgot until we ran into some friends of ours and had to carefully stand six feet apart while chatting with them. It was still nice to see them. It has been ages since we have interacted with anyone in person and not just on Zoom.

I brought my book but never opened it. Maybe I will read next time we go when we plan to bring folding chairs, flasks of tea and coffee, and more snacks. We found a lovely little section of the park that few people visit where we can set up our chairs right by the stream and pretend we are on vacation. A little imagination goes a long way.

A walk in the woods and running water can mitigate almost all of life's ills. We are fortunate to have uncrowded parks right near our house. They provide a bit of peace in a stressful world.

A Poem for a Thursday #81

Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash
May Sarton was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Her work is described as "inspirational, touching, honest, and thought-provoking." At the time of her death, Sarton had written 53 books.

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word 
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poems, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

Now I Become Myself
May Sarton

A Poem for a Thursday #80

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Billy Collins writes such readable, relatable poetry. I spent a happy hour or so trying to choose which one to feature today. I finally picked this because it is about books and reading and what could be more appropriate?

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
I f I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive-
'Nonsense.' 'Please!' 'HA!'-
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints 
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' ' My man!' 
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature' 
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.'

Billy Collins

Book Review//My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes

Are you ever afraid to read a book because you love everything you have read by that author and what if this is the one to break the streak? What if it is just...all right? I know it is silly. After all, you will still love the other books, but somehow that is how I felt about My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. She is a relatively recent discovery for me and the fact that there are not very many of her books in print has made the ones I have read feel even more special. One Fine Day is beautifully written and London War Notes fits exactly into my interest in WWII social history. Her short stories are also a joy. When The British Library sent me a copy of My Husband Simon I set it aside for a bit just in case the anticipation was better than the fact. Last weekend I finally read it.

In My Husband Simon Nevis Falconer (what a name!) tells the story of her short marriage to Simon Quinn. Nevis and Simon are very different but they fall in love almost instantly, mostly based on wild physical attraction. Nevis is a writer and bases her opinion of people on intellectual criteria.

Simon, I discovered almost at once, was the most baffling person to deal with, because he had any amount of intuition and no intelligence, as I understood the word. But Simon argued once that I understood the word all wrong. He said that I damned anyone as unintelligent who (a) had not seen the latest play and read the latest novel; (b) did not know who Virginia Woolf was; (c) could not look at a dress and say, "My dear, is it Molyneux?" Well, Simon certainly failed in (a), (b), and (c). He never read books; he didn't give a damn who Virginia Woolf was; he thought a dress either a bad dress or a good dress; and that was that.

 Nevis and Simon settle into married life and are alternately wildly happy and wildly argumentative. Nevis does not like Simon's family, especially his mother who expects her to produce children and make a happy home. Nevis needs to write and is intensely frustrated because since she married it has become harder and harder for her to do so. She is not happy with her latest book even though it is admired and feels she can do better. But how, with no peace and no time to herself? A publisher from the U.S. arranges a meeting with Nevis. They become friends and he tells her what no one else has; that her writing is not as good as it was.

I felt the queerest mixture of anger and misery and relief. It was the kind of feeling you might have if you said to a doctor: "Tell me the worst," and he answered: "Six months to live." It was as though, after a lot of evasive probing round a mortal wound, one swift thrust had laid it bare. A wrench of supreme pain and then a queer sort of peace. Now I know the worst. Now nothing can hurt me any more.It was what I had been wanting all the time, subconsciously. Someone with guts enough to say "You're a flop, and you know it." Not Simon coming back from the office with his tales of awful nice chaps who had thought Vulcan's Harvest damn good. I didn't want a comforting salve of lies and good-nature. I wanted a hard, surgical slash-slash; an incisive cutting agony that would either cure or kill. Only that morning I had been sobbing angrily under the Flemish flower picture for want of someone like Marcus Chard. 

Marcus Chard and his presence in Nevis' life becomes more and more of a catalyst for change in her relationship with Simon. I started the book thinking it was going to be the story of a marriage gone wrong and the man who broke it up (which is not my favorite kind of book which is possibly another reason I hesitated to read it.) It is the story of a marriage gone wrong but it is also the story of two people who love each other deeply and don't want their marriage to fail.  They are two flawed people but neither is presented as the villain. They are just people who make mistakes and love each other and break each other's hearts. I must admit, I did frequently want to shake both of them and bang their heads together until they came to their senses and worked out their relatively minor problems. The beauty of Panter-Downes' writing is that she makes you believe in all the fraught emotions while you are reading them.

Mollie Panter-Downes writes with the seemingly effortless grace that I have love in her other books. Her writing has a hint of nostalgic melancholy, for lack of a better phrase, that I particularly enjoy.

It poured with rain. The Michaelmas daisies in Frank's garden stood in sodden stacks, their watery mauve plumes bowed down to the earth with moisure; the plummy red of the brick wall against the fruit-trees were nailed with fluttering bits of rag, the dead gold of the dripping woods were blurred and softened by a veil of rain. The earth was sweet and rotten with decay. In the evening a white vapour rose from the ground; in it the familiar shapes of trees disappeared, the lawn became a steaming lake; slow wisps of mist curled menacingly round the house. And as though by magic, fires appeared and lamps glowed in the rooms. We sat secure in a little citadel of summer while autumn prowled outside, shaking the window-panes with gusts of irritable fury. 

I enjoyed this and would reread it at some point which is my totally arbitrary way of judging a book. I don't think it is as good as her later writings but then, of course it isn't. There are over a dozen years between the publication of My Husband Simon and One Fine Day. She had a lot of time to grow and develop her talent.

My thanks to The British Library for the review copy. I reviewed a previous book in this series, The Tree of Heaven, here.

A Poem for a Thursday #79

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Jane Kenyon was an American poet and translator. I featured one of her poems before. You can find it here.

My head was heavy, heavy;
so was the atmosphere.
I had to ask two times 
before my hand would scratch my ear.
I thought I should be out
and doing! The grass, for one thing,
needed mowing.

Just then a centipede
reared from the spine
of my open dictionary. It tried
the air with enterprising feelers,
then made its way along the gorge
between 202 and 203. The valley 
of the shadow of death came to mind

It can't be easy for the left hand
to know what the right is doing.
And how, on such a day, when the sky
is hazy and perfunctory, how
does a centipede get started
without feeling muddled and heavy-hearted?

Well, it had its fill of etymology.
I watched it pull its tail
over the edge of the page, and vanish
in a pile of mail. 

Jane Kenyon

This and That

My daughter has decided she wants to plant a garden. I blame Earth Day. Her science class is requiring her to do some Earth Day activities and she thinks gardening will be fun. I agree, in theory gardening is fun. You plant seeds, watch them grow, and harvest delicious tomatoes, peppers, and way too much zucchini. In actuality, you plant seeds, watch a few of them come up, battle the weeds, fight the rabbits, and melt in the 95-degree heat as your plants wither around you.

Can you tell I am not a gardener? After a lot of painful effort, I have a couple of fairly decent flowerbeds in my front yard. That is a generous assessment. They only look good from a distance and then only at the right time of year. I haven't figured out how to have blooms all summer long. However, it looks like I will be forced to once again cultivate a green thumb. Or not. Probably not.

My husband and I went for a walk last week and made friends with a baby squirrel. He wasn't scared of us at all. We walked right by this guardrail and he just sat there and looked at us. I do hope he managed to cross the road safely.

I am currently reading five books. That is a little ridiculous. I keep starting books, reading the first few chapters and enjoying them, and then moving on to another book. My reading is very flighty these days. I can't seem to settle to anything and I have a horror of wasting a good book on a distracted day. I will probably temporarily abandon all five books and read yet another Georgette Heyer novel. That is what I consistently do. I start books and then just read Georgette Heyer again. They are perfect escapism, guaranteed amusement, and a bit of joy in a basically boring life. I am thinking that I need to buy the few I don't already own. This is the perfect time to complete my collection.

Celia and I have been baking cookies and giving them to friends in our congregation. It is something nice for Celia and me to do together and who doesn't love fresh-baked cookies. The only problem was that we were running out of flour and I couldn't find any. However, a friend of ours found flour and dropped it off at our house. It was two tiny bags of flour but that is enough for a few more batches of cookies. Celia has a list of people she wants to deliver cookies to so we had better get baking.

I feel slightly guilty about all the things I am not getting done these days. Theoretically, I should have plenty of time to catch up on the projects that need to be done around the house. In actuality, I finish most days wondering what on earth I have done with my time. How have I managed to fill an entire day with nothing in particular? It is okay though. Life is stressful enough without feeling guilty about not making the best use of this time. If you are feeling guilty I give you permission to bake cookies and sit on your couch reading another Georgette Heyer novel. That is what I will be doing and really, that is not a bad way to spend my days for a little while.

A Poem for a Thursday #78

Photo by Charlotte on Unsplash

Nâzim Hikmet was a Turkish poet, playwright, director, and novelist. His poems have been translated into more than 50 languages. He spent much of his life in prison for his political beliefs.

it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin 
night is falling 
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smokey 
wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before 
                       and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times 
                      and will be said after me

I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn't know I loved trees
bare beaches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beaches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves...
they call me The Knife...
                      lover like a young tree...
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Iglaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered 
            linen handkerchief 
                                         to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from 
             Moscow to the Crimea 
                                      formerly "Goketepé ili" in 
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and 
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between
          Bolu and Geredé
                                    when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the
            wagon they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going
       to the shadow play
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old
                                       going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his
          grandfather's hand
his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the 
      fur coat 
    with a sable collar over his robe
  and there's a lantern in the servant's hand
   and I can't contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I
         kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
 friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet  
                                or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek
         magazines now don't
   be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we
         say or abstract
well some of them looked just like such 
     paintings which is to
say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not
         feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry
        whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard
but you aren't about to paint it that way
I didn't know I loved the sea
                       except the Sea of Azov
or how much

I didn't know I loved the clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most 
strikes me
I like it

I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or spatters
        against the glass my
  heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped 
         inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't 
         know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these 
         passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette 
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about
           someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black
 I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had
         to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the 
          Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a 
          journey of no return

Things I Didn't Know I Loved
Nâzim Hikmet

A Poem for a Thursday #77

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash
Peter Everwine was an American poet (1930-2018) who won many awards including the Lamont Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize. He published eight collections of poetry. Philip Levine said of his poetry that "each moment is recorded, laid bare, and sanctified, which is to say the poems possess a quality one finds only in the greatest poetry." Everwine also translated poems in the Hebrew and Aztec languages.

Toward evening, as the light failed
and the pear tree at my window darkened,
I put down my book and stood at the open door,
the first raindrops gusting in the eves,
a smell of wet clay in the wind.
Sixty years ago, lying beside my father,
half asleep, on a bed of pine boughs as rain
drummed against our tent, I heard
for the first time a loon's sudden wail
drifting across that remote lake-
a loneliness like no other,
though what I heard as inconsolable
may have been only the sound of something
untamed and nameless
singing itself to the wilderness around it
and to us until we slept. And thinking of my father
and of good companions gone
into oblivion, I heard the steady sound of rain
and the soft lapping of water, and did not know
whether it was grief or joy or something other 
that surged against my heart 
and held me listening there so long and late. 

Peter Everwine

Book Review//The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair

The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair is the story of growth and change within a family and within a world. It takes place in the early years of the last century, up to and including the first years of World War I. Frances and Anthony Harrison have three sons and one daughter and Frances knows from the beginning that things never stay the same.

For the awful thing about your children was that they were always dying. Yes, dying. The baby Nicky was dead. The child Dorothy was dead and in her place was a strange big girl. The child Michael was dead and in his place was a strange big boy. And Frances mourned over the passing of each age. You could no more bring back that unique loveliness of two years old, of five years old, of seven, than you could bring back the dead. Even John-John was not a baby any more, he spoke another language and had other feelings; he had no particular affection for his mother's knee. Frances knew that all this dying was to give place to a more wonderful and a stronger life. But it was not the same life; and she wanted to have all their lives about her, enduring, going on, at the same time. She did not yet know that the mother of babies and the mother of boys and girls must die if the mother of men and women is to be born. 

The Tree of Heaven follows the children as they grow and encounter their own particular "vortex".  Sinclair uses that term regularly throughout her novel in regard to being pulled into attitudes and ways that can seem to take away your own identity. Notice how Dorothy, the daughter, feels about the suffragette movement.

For Dorothy was afraid of the Feminist Vortex, as her brother Michael had been afraid of the little vortex of school. She was afraid of the herded women. She disliked the excited faces, and the high voices skirling their battle-cries, and the silly business of committees, and the platform slang. She was sick and shy before the tremor and the surge of collective feeling; swaying and heaving and rushing forward of the many as one. She would not be carried away by it; she would keep the clearness and the hardness of her soul. It was her soul they wanted, these women of the Union, the Blathwaites, and the Palmerson-Swetes, and Rosalind, and the Blackadder girl and the Gilchrist woman; they ran out after her like a hungry pack yelping for her soul; and she was not going to throw it to them. She would fight for freedom, but not in their way and not at their bidding.  

 The book culminates in the early years of WWI. Nicky, the second son, enters the war with what is pictured as enthusiasm and joy. In a letter to his wife he describes how war feels and he says:

...when you're up first out of the trench and stand alone on the parapet, it's absolute happiness. And the charge is-well, it's simply heaven. It's as if you'd never really lived till then; I certainly hadn't, not up to the top-notch, barring those three days we had together.

Michael, the oldest son, does not want to join up. He feels the war is a "vortex" he does not want to be part of.

From his very first encounters with the collective soul and its emotions they had seemed to Michael as dangerous as they were loathsome. Collective emotion might be on the side of the archangels or on the side of devils and swine; its mass was what made it dangerous, a thing that challenged the resistance of the private soul. But in his worst dreams of what it could do to him Michael had never imagined anything more appalling than the collective patriotism of the British and their Allies, this rushing together of the souls of four countries to make one monstrous soul. 

 Michael's family does not understand why he will not fight for his country and they are disappointed in him. The battle between what he feels he should do and what the world tells him he should do takes up much of the end of the book. I struggled with this section. The feeling of patriotic fervor and the happiness Nicky, and eventually Michael, found in fighting for their country is not something I can relate to.

This was an interesting book. It portrayed a time and the feelings of that time very clearly.  I found it interesting that Dorothy's conflict around her support of women's suffrage was pictured so clearly especially since May Sinclair herself was pro-suffrage. While I found the war sections difficult I do know they accurately portrayed the attitudes of the day toward those who were not quick to enlist. After all, women used to hand out white feathers to men who were not in uniform.

The Tree of Heaven was recently reprinted in the British Library Women Writers series. My thanks to them for the review copy.

Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book is writing the afterwords for the British Library Women Writers series if you need an added inducement to buy them.

A Poem for a Thursday #76

Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

Louise Glück is an American poet and essayist. She has won many awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003 to 2004. Her poems are described as emotionally intense and dark.

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I'm looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always 
to continue without a sign?

Louise Glück

A Visit to the James L. Goodwin State Forest

Thank goodness for fresh air, blue skies, and a bit of exercise. Last week my husband and I had to run an errand so on the way home we stopped at a state forest for a hike. It was lovely to be out of the house. Plus, after the last few weeks, it felt downright indulgent to go for a walk somewhere new and different.

We have been to this state forest a few times before when we had first moved into the area but it has been years. That is probably because my main memory of the walk is being eaten alive by mosquitos. However, obviously there are no mosquitos in March so last week was the perfect time to revisit it. The path was waterlogged in places but we picked our way through on the rocks. Connecticut is extremely rocky. These are a few photos of the path in one section.

The forest is crisscrossed with old drystone walls from years ago when the land was cleared. I love seeing the walls meandering their way through the trees. Every now and then we come across an old stone foundation.

We followed the trail up the lake until we came to an island with a causeway out to it. At the head of the little island, there was an overlook with benches used by birdwatchers. Unfortunately, a couple was taking up the whole overlook while they were having their lunch and there wasn't room for us to walk up too without getting too close. We headed back along a different trail through the woods. However, once we walked a good way along it we came to a crossroads where most of the converging trails were blocked off. We had a horrible gypsy moth caterpillar infestation a few years ago that has killed off a lot of trees and the notice said the paths were dangerous because of that.

We tried going down the only open trail but eventually, that was blocked too. We ended up walking in circles but we didn't really mind. It was a gorgeous day and we had nowhere we needed to be.

Finally, after about an extra hour of walking we ended up by the lake again. We had only encountered a handful of people and we had basically managed to forget for a few hours that the world is falling apart around us. All in all, a successful afternoon.

We are going to make it a weekly habit to go a little further afield for our walks. The bike trail by the river behind our house is nice but we might as well visit a few of the state forests as long as they are open and we have the time.

A Poem for a Thursday #75

Photo by Martin Sepion on Unsplash
It has been a while since I have featured a Mary Oliver poem. Her poems are some of my absolute favorites. I enjoy the way her words and the mental picture they create go together so perfectly. In this poem, she talks about just that.

You don't ever know where
a sentence will take you, depending 
on its roll and fold. I was walking
over the dunes when I saw
the red fox asleep under the green 
branches of the pine. It flared up
in the sweet order of its being,
the tail that was over the muzzle
lifting in airy amazement
and the fire of the eyes followed
and the pricked ears and the thin
barrel body and the four
athletic legs in their black stockings and it
came to me how the polish of the world changes
everything, I was hot I was cold I was almost
dead of delight. Of course the mind keeps 
cool in its hidden palace-yes, the mind takes
a long time, is otherwise occupied than by 
happiness, and deep breathing. Still,
at last, it comes too, running
like a wild thing, to be taken
with its twin sister, breath. So I stood
on the pale, peach-colored sand, watching the fox
as it opened like a flower, and I began
softly, to pick among the vast assortment of words
that it should run again and again across the page
that you again and again should shiver with praise. 

Mary Oliver

Visit Brona for more poetry.

A Poem for a Thursday #74

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash
Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. She was known for her very personal poems that addressed her suicidal tendencies, depression, and relationships with family members. She was encouraged to take up poetry by her therapist after a breakdown. She quickly became well-known for her writing. Sadly, she took her own life in 1974.

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren't good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care 
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible 
things to repair. 

Anne Sexton

Brona has shared a poem this week.

Things That Happened This Week

I have spent way too long refreshing the news.

 I have been pulled into a nostalgic vortex composed of baby clothes, photographs, and stuffed animals. Cleaning an attic is not for the faint of heart or the overly emotional.

We have been for a few walks by the river. Unfortunately, too many of those walks have been ended with a stop for ice cream at the convenience store down the street.

I have decided quarantine calories do not count.

I have decided to start an exercise program. Yes, that does contradict the previous statement.

I have started using Zoom. This is slightly anxiety-inducing for the socially awkward among us. When do I talk? What do I look like? Why? Why do we all have to communicate? But what if no one wants to communicate with me? It is an endless circle.

I baked an apple pie and oatmeal raisin cookies. See above about quarantine calories not counting. Also, see above about that exercise program.

My daughter and I have started growing our hair long. She wanted to. I didn't but have no choice. She has a mullet now. I put a headband in to keep it out of my face and looked like a 1950s housewife. Not the look I was going for and it really doesn't go with my pajama pants and ratty sweater.

I have started five million books and have only managed to finish the comfort reads I have read many times before. One day I will read something new, different, and worthy of a review. This is not that day.

The volunteer work I do several days a week has been suspended. The meetings I go to twice a week are on Zoom now. My little part-time job has been expanded but still doesn't take up much of my time. I have a lot of free time. I want to be productive with it but sometimes the day ends and I have refreshed the news and reread books and baked a pie.

As with so many of us, it is not the life I want but it is the life that is necessary. I hope you all have books to read and the strength of mind not to refresh the news too often.

A Poem for a Thursday #73

Photo by Solaiman Hossen on Unsplash
William Stafford was an American poet who lived from 1914-1993. His poetry career got off to a late start with his first volume of poetry being published when he was 46. His style has been compared to that of Robert Frost. His poems are described as "accessible, sometimes deceptively so, with a conversational manner that is close to everyday speech."

Just lying on the couch and being happy,
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't 
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can 
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

Any Morning
William Stafford

I Bought Too Many Books

I didn't really because any of you reading this blog post know that there is no such thing as too many books. However, some people in my life think I bought too many books. I view that as a challenge. Can I top my number of books purchased next time I am in the U.K.? Something to aim for.

I came across this quote in In Search of London by H. V. Morton. I liked the quote even though he went on to talk about how only men can be true book lovers. I think that is pure nonsense. This quote isn't nonsense though. It is just lovely.

The man who has never in his life become lost to all thoughts of time and food in the Charing Cross Road, and at the end of the day has not found himself hugging beneath his arm some book, or books, which he is proud and happy to possess, does not know one of the purest joys which London can afford. The road is a busy one. The traffic rushes one way to Oxford Street and the other to Trafalgar Square. The pavements are always filled with hurrying crowds, and with their backs to the world stand the bookmen, the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs-for books, lik drink can affect the brain-completely oblivious that they are not standing in an empty street. 

I bought a few Penguins. Who could resist? This display was in Skoob Books but the ones I bought came from several different shops including an Oxfam Bookshop where they were under a pound each and I bought them despite knowing absolutely nothing about the authors. Resistance was futile. I bought:

The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley
Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis
The English Miss by R. H. Mottram
The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot by Angus Wilson

The first three were deliberate choices and the last three were the impulse buys. But tell me, who could leave those last two titles on the shelf?

I bought three British Library Crime Classics. They were 3 for 2 so obviously I had to. I bought them at the British Library shop after wandering through their treasures room and gazing upon Jane Austen's writing desk. A good day. I bought:

Murder at the Manor:  Country House Mysteries 
Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert

I went to the Persephone Bookshop which is always a joy and a pleasure. I spent ages trying to decide what to buy. The lovely lady working then was so friendly and gave me a few recommendations for other bookshops in the area. I bought The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories. 

I went in and out of so many lovely secondhand bookshops that I can't always remember what I bought in which shop. I love browsing through cluttered shops and looking for treasures. I found quite a few.

The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons
Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin
Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon
Company Parade by Storm Jameson
The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
A Country Parson: James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802

Most of my book purchases were from secondhand shops. As I mentioned, I love rummaging around in them and besides, I just could not afford to buy so many books brand new. However, I do love Waterstones and Foyles and I did buy a book in each. I bought:

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes:  The Story of Women in the 1950s by Virginia Nicholson

I did buy one other book. I found a secondhand copy of a Persephone book for next to nothing. It is A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair. It even has the matching bookmark. If anyone would like to have it comment or send me an email and I will be happy to mail it to you. The Persephone joy should be shared.

I sit at home surrounded by my books and wishing I was back in the U.K. I would be happy to spend another day or three or four wandering through book shops and having tea and cake. One day I will return.

A Poem for a Thursday #72

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Ada Limón is an American poet. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. In one interview, she talked about people who come to her readings and tell her that they don't like poetry but they do like her poems. She said she supposes that makes her the gateway drug for poetry and that is not a bad thing to be.

Say tomorrow doesn't come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.
Say we never get to see it:  bright
future, stuck like a burn star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
say, It doesn't matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you'd still want this:  us alive
right here, feeling lucky.

The Conditional
Ada Limón