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

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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

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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

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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.