A Poem for a Thursday #99

Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

 E. E. Cummings' poetry is interesting. You read it and it doesn't seem to make sense but then again, maybe it does. So you read it again and then again. Somehow there is a core of sense that slips in and out of your grasp. The words flow over you and eventually, you just let them. Some inner ear knows what it is hearing even if your mind doesn't immediately understand. 

You are tired,

(I think)

Of the always puzzle of living and doing;

And so am I.

Come with me, then,

And we'll leave it far and far away--

(Only you and I, understand!)

You have played,

(I think)

And broke the toys you were fondest of,

And are a little tired now;

Tired of things that break, and--

Just tired.

So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,

And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of

your heart--

Open to me!

For I will show you the places Nobody knows,

And, if you like,

The perfect places of Sleep.

Ah, come with me!

I'll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,

That floats forever and a day

I'll sing you the jacinth song

Of the probable stars;

I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,

Until I find the Only Flower,

which shall keep (I think) your little heart

While the moon comes out of the sea. 

You are Tired (I think)

E. E. Cummings

A Poem for a Thursday #98

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 Joy Harjo is the incumbent United States Poet Laureate. She is the first Native American to hold this position and is from the Muscogee Nation. She is a poet, musician, playwright, and author. She says of her writing process "I no longer see the poem as an ending point, perhaps more the end of a journey, an often long journey that can begin years earlier, say with the blur of the memory of the sun on someone's cheek, a certain smell, an ache, and will culminate years later in a poem, sifted through a point, a lake in my heart through which language must come."

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter

   what we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set

   on the table. So it has been since creation,

   and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies

   teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees

   under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on 

   what it means to be human, We make men

   at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the

   ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put

   their arms around our children. They laugh

   with us at our poor falling-down selves and

   as we put ourselves back together once again

   at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an

   umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a 

   place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place

   to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have

   prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We 

   pray of suffering and remorse. We give


Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,

   while we are laughing and crying, eating of

   the last sweet bite.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Joy Harjo

Seeing Clearly


I met an old friend for lunch the other week. We have been friends for about twenty years and she views me, so she says, as the big sister she never had. We are both quiet introverts with a good bit of social anxiety though you would never believe that if you saw and heard us talking for three hours straight. Over the years, we have talked a lot about how to combat our inclination to stay home and avoid people and how to overcome our conviction that we always look as awkward as we feel. 

This time, as we were catching up on life during the year or so since we have seen each other, she told me that someone had recently told her she was intimidating. She was shaking her head in disbelief as she told me about it. He told her she had a good job, had recently bought a house, dealt with everything in her life on her own, and simply exuded self-confidence. He thought it was great and was definitely complimenting her but she was baffled because inside she is still the shy, insecure girl she feels she has always been. She still has to steel herself to join a conversation. She still has to convince herself to go to social events. But that isn't what other people see. They see someone who has it all together. 

I started thinking about how frequently our image of ourselves does not match how others perceive us. I know we always hear that saying about seeing ourselves as others see us but I always thought of that as maybe we are too hard on ourselves or maybe we are louder or quieter than we think we are. I never thought about how others can see a completely different person.  We learn coping mechanisms for our personality quirks and slowly these coping mechanisms become part of who we are. Or they become part of who we are to others but frequently we still think of ourselves as the same as we were years ago. We know we are still the person who worries the whole way to a party but other people see the person who walks in the door with confidence. 

My friend realized, and loved the realization, that she is a strong, independent woman. But she is a strong, independent woman who still has social anxiety and still wants to stay home more than is good for her. We are complex people but sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by freezing our self-perception at one stage in our lives. 

I have also been thinking about how since we know ourselves so well we sometimes think others will understand our actions and attitudes. My friend and I have come to the realization over the years that we can both appear distant and a bit unfriendly at times. This was a shock to both of us at different times in our lives. We felt our shyness and anxiety was so obvious that everyone must understand. But they didn't. They just saw someone who didn't mix in much and who frequently let other people approach them instead of being the one to initiate conversations. We knew why we were doing that (overthinking can kill a lot of spontaneity) but they didn't. What was clear to us wasn't clear to them. 

I am not sure what the point of this post is other than that I loved watching my shy, quiet friend revel in the realization that she is strong and independent. And aren't we all both in many ways? Maybe it would be a better world if we looked for the facets in each other instead of the one-dimensional viewpoint. We know we are complex. Let's give other people the benefit of the doubt and believe they are complex too. Maybe they aren't unfriendly, they are just shy. Maybe they talk too much because no one has listened before. Maybe they don't mean to be overbearing it is simply that they are enthusiastic. And maybe that confident woman walking in the door at the party is scared stiff and could use someone to talk to.

A Poem for a Thursday #97

Photo by Beto Galetto on Unsplash

 Derek Walcott was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright who lived from 1930-2017. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. Robert Graves said of him that he "handles English with a  closer understanding of its inner magic than most, if not any, of his contemporaries."

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Love After Love
Derek Walcott

Feeling Fancy

 On Sunday I had plans to meet up with a friend I haven't seen in a year or so. I walked into my living room, all ready to leave, and my daughter glanced up, stared, and told me I looked really fancy. 

I was wearing jeans, a nice shirt, and a little bit of makeup. I'll leave it to your imagination what I have been wearing lately that makes jeans and a shirt look fancy.

The sad thing is I felt a little bit fancy.

This is what a global pandemic has done to me. 

I am home now after meeting my friend and chatting like mad for three hours straight. I am back in my usual junky clothes and I am sitting on my couch surrounded my books. This is my usual happy place but today I was happy to leave it, feel fancy, and visit with a friend. I think that is what I like about the current world situation. Of course, I don't mean I like the actual pandemic but, like many people, I like some of the changes it has forced upon me. What I particularly appreciate is that little things feel like big treats now. Previously, meeting a friend for lunch would have been pleasant but not earth-shakingly interesting. Now, it was the highlight of my week. 

Our lives are smaller than they once were. They are circumscribed by what is allowed, what is safe, and what we feel comfortable doing. We don't travel as far or fill our days as much. We have been forced to slow down. Maybe we have learned that we enjoy time on our own or that we need people more than we thought. We have found new ways to keep in touch with our friends and family. Sometimes, we have found out who really cares about us. 

We have gone back to the basics. We aren't running from thing to thing and from person to person. We look forward to simple things. 

We take the time to put on jeans, a nice shirt, and a little bit of makeup.

We enjoy the little things that brighten our day. 

We feel fancy.

A Poem for a Thursday #96

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I have featured Tony Hoagland before here. I think I like his poetry because it creates such a clear mental picture of the scene he is describing. Maybe that is what I like about poetry in general. It is like a snapshot of an image or an emotion.

She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It's six-thirty in the morning
and she's standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she's trying to figure out 
how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it--the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
wasn't making
because it wasn't there.

No one, including me, especially believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving--
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands on the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth 
with the nail in it.

Tony Hoagland

A Poem for a Thursday #95

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
I have been puttering around for ages trying to pick a poem for today and all the ones that I like are by Mary Oliver. I know I have featured her poems many times before and I try to feature a variety of poets but today that does not seem to matter. Mary Oliver is the only acceptable choice for today.

I was sad all day, and why not. There I was, books piled
on both sides of the table, paper stacked up, words
falling off my tongue.

The robins had been a long time singing, and now it
was beginning to rain.

What are we sure of? Happiness isn't a town on a map,
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing. Which is not likely to be the trifling around
with a poem.

Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard
were full of lively fragrance.

You have had days like this, no doubt. And wasn't it
wonderful, finally, to leave the room? Ah, what a 

As for myself, I swung the door open. And there was 
the wordless, singing world. And I ran for my life. 

Work, Sometimes
Mary Oliver

Book Review//Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay tells of the Hilary family, the women in particular, and the dangerous ages they all face at different stages of their lives during the summer of 1920. The book opens on the morning of Neville's  (a woman despite the name) forty-third birthday. Quickly, you realize that the premise of the book is the hurry of time, the missed opportunities, the almost frantic need to do things before it is too late, and to find meaning in life no matter what age you are.

To think suddenly of Rodney, of Gerda and of Kay, sleeping in the still house beyond the singing wood and the silver garden, was to founder swiftly in the cold, dark seas, to be hurt again with the stabbing envy of the night. Not jealousy, for she loved them all too well for that. But envy of their chances, of their contacts with life. Having her own contacts, she wanted all kinds of others too. Not only Rodney's, Gerda's and Kay's, but those of all her family and friends. Conscious, as one is on birthdays, of intense life hurrying swiftly to annihilation, she strove desperately to dam it. It went too fast. She looked at the wet strands of hair now spread over her shoulders to dry in the sun, at her strong, supple, active limbs, and thought of the days to come, when the black hair should be grey and the supple limbs refuse to carry her up beech-trees, and when, if she bathed in the sunrise, she would get rheumatism. In those days, what did one do to keep from sinking in the black seas of regret? 

Neville's sister, Nan, is also facing a crisis in her life. Now in her thirties, should she settle down and marry the man who is deeply in love with her? She reaches a conclusion but it becomes more complicated when Neville's daughter, Gerda, becomes involved. Gerda realizes that,

Very certainly she loved Barry, with all her imagination and all her mind, and she would have given him more than all that was hers. Very surely and truly she loved him, even if after all he was to be her uncle by marriage, which would make their family life like that in one of Louis Couperus's books. But why unhappy like that? Was love unhappy? if she might see him sometimes, talk to him, if Nan wouldn't want all of him all the time--and it would be unlike Nan to do that--she could be happy. One could share, after all. Women must share, for there were a million more women in England than men. 

Nan, Gerda, Kay (Gerda's brother), and Barry all go on a biking holiday in Cornwall together and their love-lorn situation comes to a funny and pathetic conclusion. Or at least it seems to until Gerda has to confront the beliefs and worldview common to her age.

Mrs. Hilary, Neville and Nan's mother, might be my favorite character in the book. Not because she is particularly likable, she isn't, but because she is the most fully realized. Mrs. Hilary is sixty-three and doesn't know what to do with her life. She is insecure, pretends to an interest in intellectual things, and is very demanding. She loves her children but she wants to be the center of their worlds.

But Mrs. Hilary, though she felt the red-hot stabbing of an attack of rheumatism already beginning, stayed up. She was happier now, because the children were making a fuss of her, suggesting remedies and so on. She would stay up and show them she could be plucky and cheerful even with rheumatism. A definite thing, like illness or pain, always put her on her mettle; it was so easy to be brave when people knew you had something to be brave about, and so hard when they didn't.

Mrs. Hilary finds an interest in life in psychoanalysis and becomes deeply absorbed in it. She at first does not want to admit her interest because it was suggested by her daughter-in-law but eventually it starts to dominate her life.

The happiness Mrs. Hilary now enjoyed was of the religious type--a deep, warm glow, which did not lack excitement. She felt as those may be presumed to feel who have just been converted to some church--newly alive, and sunk in spiritual peace, and in profound harmony with life. Where were the old rubs, frets, jars, and ennuis? Vanished, melted like yesterday's snows in the sun of this new peace. It was as if she had cast her burden upon the Lord. That said her psycho-analyst doctor, was quite in order; that was what it ought to be like. That was, in effect, what she had, in  point of fact, done; only the place of the Lord was filled by himself. To put the matter briefly, transference of burden had been effected; Mrs. Hilary had laid all her cares, all her perplexitites, all her grief, upon this quiet, acute-looking man, who sat with her twice a week for an hour, drawing her out, arranging her symptoms for her, penetrating the hidden places of her soul, looking like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Henry Ainley. Her confidence in him was, he told her, the expression of father-imago, which surprised Mrs. Hilary a little, because he was twenty years her junior. 

There are a number of other characters. Grandmamma, Mrs. Hilary's mother, who seems to have achieved peace in her life and who observes the angst of the rest of her family with love and a bit of distance. Rosalind, Neville's other sister. Pamela, Mrs. Hilary's daughter-in-law. All of them appear and disappear throughout the novel. Their lives interweave to create a portrait of different ages and the pitfalls, outlook, and dangers that surround those ages.

This book is a part of the British Libary Women Writers series. I highly recommend all the books that have been published so far in the series. My thanks to the British Library for this review copy. I greatly enjoyed reading it.

A Poem for a Thursday #94

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Margaret Atwood is a Canadian novelist, poet, essayist, and inventor. That last one surprised me. She invented the LongPen device which makes it possible to remotely write using a tablet and a robotic arm. The list of her books is impressive. The Handmaid's Tale is probably the one most people are familiar with especially since it has been adapted for television. I haven't read much of her poetry but I like this.

This is the plum season, the nights
blue and distended, the moon
hazed, this is the season of peaches

with their lush lobed bulbs
that glow in the dusk, apples
that drop and rot
sweetly, their brown skins veined as glands

No more the shrill voices that cried Need Need
from the cold pond, bladed 
and urgent as new grass

Now it is the crickets 
that say Ripe Ripe
slurred in the darkness, while the plums

dripping on the lawn outside 
our window, bursts
with a sound like thick syrup
muffled and slow

The air is still
warm, flesh moves over 
flesh, there is no


Late August
Margaret Atwood

Dreaming of a Different Life

Have you ever heard of miniature cows? Go ahead and Google. You won't regret it. They are adorable. My daughter showed me photos of them and tried to convince me we needed one. Now, we live on half an acre in a residential section of a small town in Connecticut. It is not exactly the prime location for owning cows, miniature or otherwise. However, for one brief moment, I was seduced by the cuteness and very tempted. I quickly returned to reality but the thought did lead to me being happily occupied for the evening planning a totally imaginary, self-sufficient, mini-farm somewhere. Did you know you can buy 5 acres in upstate New York for about $10,000? So tempting.

I am not a gardener. I have mentioned that before. In my fantasy rural life, I have elected my husband to care for the garden. He is humoring me and has agreed. I want a huge vegetable garden with lots of stuff to can and freeze; tomatoes for sauce and salsa, cucumbers for pickles, onions and garlic to season everything. Plus, I insist on fruit trees and berry bushes so I can make jams and jellies.

At some point in these over-the-top plans I was making I remembered this book, Prairie Kitchen Sampler:  Sixty-six Years of a Midwestern Farm Kitchen. It is part memoir and part recipe book and I love it. It is the story of the life of a Nebraskan farm wife starting in the 1920s and going through the early 1980s, I believe. Her recipes are simple and hearty and sound very appealing, at least until you get to the 1970s. That was not a good era for food. There is a recipe for something called Salad Delight that contains lemon Jello, marshmallows, pineapple, bananas, and...cheddar cheese. The mind boggles. That is the exception though. There are so many things I want to make. Who can resist recipes for Tillie's Hardtimes Cake, Never Fail Noodles, Kolaches, Carrie's Damson Plum Jelly, or Overnight Coffee Cake?

I am seriously thinking of working my way through the cookbook though I don't think I would do it in order. My family doesn't need twelve cakes in a row or six different kinds of candy. All the recipes are very accessible and made out of simple, everyday ingredients so it would be relatively easy to do. Though I do think I will give Salad Delight a miss, or maybe not. Maybe I should fully commit to the experience.  I am particularly interested in all the different types of bread. I do like making bread.

This book is a picture of a time that is past and somehow, cooking the recipes feels like it can give me a connection to that past. I think we all feel as if we need a little grounding in this crazy world we live in and I say if making cake and bread can provide that then maybe I should do it.

And as for my mini-farm in upstate New York, I have decided it needs sheep. I could shear them and learn to spin and weave. Totally reasonable, right?

A Poem for a Thursday #93

 Leo Marks was an English writer and cryptographer. During WWII he worked for the SEO in their codes office. Famous poems were used to encrypt messages for the Resistance fighters but they were found not to be secure enough. Marks started writing and using his own poems. The Life That I Have is one of those poems. My favorite piece of information about Marks is that he is the son of Benjamin Marks, one of the owners of Marks & Co., the bookshop that was made famous in Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road. 

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have 
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

The Life That I Have
Leo Marks

Would You Like a New Book?

Well, hello again internet. Tropical Storm Isiasis hit the east coast of the U.S. last Tuesday and I have been without internet ever since. I know that is not much to complain about. Our home wasn't damaged and we are all fine. We didn't even lose power for more than a few minutes for which I am eternally grateful. If we lose power we lose water since we have a well and I hate being without water. There are still almost 150,000 people in Connecticut who are without power. But, our lives are so entwined with the internet these days that being without it for almost a week was difficult; not in any entertainment way but in a practical way. Bills still needed to be paid, emails needed to be answered, recipes needed to be looked up.  And blog posts needed to be published. So, here is the blog post that was supposed to go out last Wednesday. 

The British Library has kindly been sending me the novels from their Women Writers series. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, they got a little confused and sent me these books twice. I contacted them and they were more than happy for me to pass them on to one of you. I read, reviewed, and enjoyed both of them. My review of Chatterton Square is here and my review of My Husband Simon is here. I highly recommend both of them.

If you would be interested in one or both of these books then please leave a comment below or contact me through email, Twitter, etc. Tell me which of the books you would like. Please, if you are at all interested speak up. Last time I offered a book no one responded. That was A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair. It is still available.

So, free books! Those are words that should appeal to anyone that reads this blog. Get them while the getting is good.

*All three books have been claimed. 

A Poem for Thursday #92

Photo by Taylor Wright on Unsplash

Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet, essayist, and playwright. Alexander's poems concentrate on the subjects of race, politics, motherhood, and history. Alexander was asked to read one of her poems at Barack Obama's inauguration. She is only the fourth poet ever asked to read at an inauguration. One of her books was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and she has won many awards and honors.

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'"),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the counter,

overhearing on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Ars Poetica #100:  I Believe
Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for a Thursday #91

Photo by Arnaldo Aldana on Unsplash
I have featured a Wendy Cope poem before here. It was only the ninth in this series and here we are at the ninety-first. I enjoy her poems because they feel as if she is simply speaking to the reader. It is like having a conversation with a friend. They give the deceptive feeling that we could have written them ourselves. And then, of course, we realize that no, no we couldn't have.

If you asked me 'What's new', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion--I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover? 
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life:  I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

Being Boring
Wendy Cope

A Day Out//Wickham Park

My husband and I went to Wickham Park last week and, let me tell you, it was the most thrilling thing we have done in months. We are tired of the parks near our house. We are tired of the bike trail behind our house. We are tired of everything. So, we decided to drive to a park an hour away from us. We are fond of this park. I have gone there ever since I was a little kid, my husband proposed to me there, and we used to take our kids there when they were little. It was absolutely lovely. The weather cooperated and was only in the 80s and not as humid which was a welcome break. The park was busy but not crowded. We had a little bit of that thrill you get when you are on vacation. New! Different! Out and about! What a nice change.

Ever since I was a little kid I have "fed the lions" when I go to Wickham Park. I have no idea how it started but it is an ingrained tradition that I have now taught to my daughter. The lions used to be fed with the gravel on the ground all around. There wasn't any gravel so I fed him pine needles instead. Heaven forbid we break with tradition and not feed him!

We bypassed the areas we used to spend so much time in with our kids--the playground and the aviary--and wandered through all the little gardens and pretty areas that have been cultivated in recent years. There are benches dotted all around and we frequently stopped to admire the view, people watch, and simply enjoy being outside in a pretty place.

It was a lovely day in a lovely place and it was just what we needed. I'll have to see what other little excursions I can find to brighten our lives.

A Poem for a Thursday #90

Robert Cording has published eight collections of poetry and taught for thirty-eight years at Holy Cross College. He has received honors including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference.  He lives not too far from me in Woodstock, CT.

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves-

before November's drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June-

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of the rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters. 

Old Houses
Robert Cording

Little Plans

I am writing this on Monday, July 13, and thus it is the 5,246th day of the year. It took me multiple tries to write that sentence because I couldn't remember what day of the week or what month it is. But I know absolutely it is the 5,246th day of the year because there is no way it is only the 195th day of the year. Google tells me that is true and I don't believe it.  I think there are probably at least 5, 246 days to go before the end of the year too. I know, I am just a ball of optimism today.

In an effort to combat the gloom and doom currently hanging over my house-and the world at large-I am compiling a list of things I would like to do before the end of the year. These are all doable things. I obviously will not be traveling through Europe or traveling anywhere, to be honest. But what can I do?

I got this far in the post and must admit to hitting a roadblock. What do you do for fun when you can't do anything? However, onwards and upwards. There must be some fun left in the world.

I want to go to the shore one evening after everyone has left for the day and the beaches are quiet. I want to bring a picnic, search for sea glass, and listen to the waves.

My daughter and I came up with the entire plot to a children's book the other night. I want to work on it with her and see if we can actually turn out something that resembles a book.

Blueberries are ripe and crying out to be picked. I want enough to freeze and to make a luscious pie.

I haven't been to a bookstore in months and I feel a little less myself because of that. One of my favorites has reopened with all kinds of social distancing requirements in place. Maybe it will safe for me to visit. That would be lovely.

I want to go to Old Sturbridge Village. It is one of my happy places and they just reopened. (Posts here, here, here, and here. I told you I liked it.) I want to wander through the village, play Pooh sticks by the stream, and escape from the current world for a little while.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary this fall. We always said we would do something big and amazingly fun for our 30th. Somehow, I don't think that is going to happen but I would like to do something small and fun. If it is possible, maybe rent a little cottage somewhere for a few days?

I want, and I am dreaming big now, for my entire family to leave the house at the same time and leave me home alone. I haven't been in the house by myself in longer than I can remember. Doesn't it sound amazing? Silence. Time to waste in any way I want. Much as I love my family I do also love being alone sometimes. So, yes, my potential future happiness does involve getting rid of my family. But only for a little while. Then they can come home and demand food and leave their shoes in front of the door and do all the other things that drive me crazy. I shall be fortified by that time to myself.

What little plans do you have to get you through the next 5,246 days?

A Poem for a Thursday #89

Photo by Kübra ÇOLAK on Unsplash

Robert Hayden was an American poet, essayist, and educator. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and experienced a difficult and traumatic childhood. This pushed him to read as an escape from the violence and depression surrounding him. He was the first African-American to hold the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, now called the US Poet Laureate. He was criticized in the 1960s because he insisted that he be judged "as an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles." However, many readers feel his best poetry involves the Black experience and their history.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake up and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices? 

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

A Poem for a Thursday #88

Photo by Thomas Le on Unsplash

Alison Luterman is a poet, esssayist, and playwright. She says of her writing that she is willing "to be naked and vulnerable, and to connect my own small set of concerns to the larger questions and concerns of humanity."

I stalked her
in the grocery store:  her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,
beaming peach like the North Star.
I wanted to ask "What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth burn and turn on
its axis-"
but we don't request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, "I love your hair."

I Confess
Aliston Luterman

Book Review//A Woman in Berlin

World War II is one of the eras I am particularly interested in. I have read many books about life in the U.K. and the U.S. during the war. I especially enjoy diaries and letters. Recently, I thought it would be interesting to read about what life was like on the other side of the war. This led me to A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City. This diary was published anonymously in 1954 to huge acclaim. It was translated into many other languages and finally published in German in 1959. It is said that the book was either "ignored or reviled" in Germany. The author refused to have another edition published in her lifetime. A Woman in Berlin was finally published in Germany again in 2003. This time it was on the bestseller list for more than 19 weeks. The author was identified as a journalist named Marta Hiller. She died in 2001.

Hiller's diary is deeply upsetting and beautifully written. She kept a diary for the eight weeks in 1945 when the Russian army was taking over Berlin. She wrote about her life and the life of those who shared her apartment building. It is an honest and painful description of the violence, hunger, rape, and misery of war but also of the strength of the individuals.

The hunger is overwhelming and all-encompassing. Notice this passage:

Rummaging through the few books owned by the tenant of this apartment (where I also found the blank notebook I'm using to write this), I turned up a novel. The setting is English aristocratic, with sentences like:  "She cast a fleeting glance at her untouched meal, then rose and left the table." Ten lines later I found myself magnetically drawn back to that sentence. I must have read it a dozen times before I caught myself scratching my nails across the print, as if the untouched meal-which had just been described in detail-were really there and I could physcially scrape it out of the book. A sure sign of insanity. Onset of mild delusions brought on by lack of food.

The people who lived in Hiller's apartment building formed a community. They looked out for each other, for the most part, and comforted and supported each other. This was especially true of the women who had to deal with repeated rape by the Russian soldiers. Some of them chose to accept the protection of one soldier in the hopes of being able to avoid rape by many different men.

I look at the sixteen-year-old girl, up to now the only person I know who lost her viginity to the Russians. She has the same dumb, self-satisfied look she always had. I try to imagine how it would have been if my first experience had come in this way. But I stop myself-it's unimaginable. One thing is for sure;  if this were peacetime and a girl had been raped by some vagrant, there'd be the whole peacetime hoopla of reporting the crime, taking the statement, questioning witnesses, arrest and confrontation, news reports and neighborhood gossip-and the girl would have reacted differently, would have suffered a different kind of shock. But here we're dealing with a collective experience, something foreseen and feared many times in advance that happened to women right and left, all somehow part of the bargain. And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help each other by speaking about it, airing their pain, and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they've suffered. Which of course doesn't mean that creatures more delicate than this cheeky little Berlin girl won't fall apart or suffer for the rest of their lives. 

The author has an amazing ability to step outside herself and report on not only what is going on but also how she and others feel about it. It makes reading these diaries an intensely emotional experience.

What else can I do? I have to sit out and wait. Our days are accented by flak and artillary fire. Now and then I wish it were all over. These are strange times-history experienced firsthand, the stuff of tales yet untold and songs unsung. But seen up close, history is much more troublesome, nothing but burdens and fears.
Tomorrow I'll go look for nettles and get some coal. Small as it is, our new stock of provisions will keep us from starving. I fret over it the way rich people worry about their money. The food could be bombed or stolen, eaten by mice or looted by the enemy. Finally I have everything crammed into one more box for the basement. I can still carry all my earthly possessions up and down the stairs with hardly any effort. 

 The whole time I read this book the phrase about "man's inhumanity to man" kept running through my head. How do people do these things to each other? How do people survive such horrors? I would not say I enjoyed this book. It isn't a book you enjoy. It is a book you read with, figuratively speaking, your hand over your eyes yet peeking through your fingers because you are unable to look away. Really, we shouldn't look away because this is what people do to each other sometimes and that is truly terrible. The truly terrible needs to be acknowledged.

A Poem for a Thursday #87

Photo by Charlie Harutaka on Unsplash
This is what I appreciate about poetry. A few words can say so much more than they do on the surface. Poetry is the use of words to create images and emotion. All writing is, I suppose, but poetry frequently does it so concisely.  I love this.

In the end,
it was nothing more 
than the toy boat of a boy
on the local park's lake,
where I walked with you.

But I knelt down
to watch it arrive,
its white sail shy
with amber light,
the late sun 
bronzing the wave
that lifted it up,

my ship coming in
with its cargo of joy.

Carol Ann Duffy

Heat and (Un)Happiness

Spending time in nature is supposed to be peaceful, relaxing, and invigorating. It is supposed to be calming and good for the soul. A walk in the woods should provide quiet contemplation and refreshment.

This is all true unless you are hiking with me on a summer day when the temperature is climbing. I, sadly, do not provide a lot of peace and quiet as I moan and groan my way up the path complaining about summer and the fact that I will pass out from the heat before I reach the end of the trail. Why yes, I am a lot of fun in summer.

Last week we went for a hike at Old Furnace State Park. It is a frequent hike of ours since it is five minutes from our house. I love it in the fall when all the leaves are changing colors. We have even done it in the dead of winter and I was fine with that. Summer, though, is evil. However, last week the mountain laurel was in bloom and that was enough to make me stop complaining and enjoy the beauty around me.

The mountain laurel is scattered all through the forest and even though we were there just past its peak it was still beautiful. The views at the top of the cliffs were also a wonderful reward for hiking in the heat. I spent a good amount of time collapsed on top of the cliffs insisting I was going to die but eventually I cooled off and was able to appreciate how beautiful it was. We simply sat and soaked in the view for a long time.

Hiking down the trail is obviously much easier than hiking up and I was much cooler and happier. It really is a beautiful spot and we are fortunate to have it so close to home. We saw almost no one on the path and only one other family was at the top on the cliffs.

Every year I seriously consider moving somewhere where the temperatures never get out of the 70s. Doesn't that sound lovely? No more heat, just warm, comfortable summer days, and hopefully, cool nights. I don't even care if the winter is long; just promise me no more summer days in the 90s and I will pack my bags.

I have written about this park before here.

A Poem for a Thursday #86

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Denise Levertov was born in England in 1923. She decided from a young age to be a poet and when she was twelve she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot. He responded encouraging her to continue to write. After her marriage, she and her husband moved to the U. S. She went on to publish many volumes of poems and to teach at various universities. Her poems contain themes of religion, war, and politics.

To tell the truth,
I believe I could be happy
doing nothing but reading old diaries
morning to night. Silk and muslin
brush my hands like moths
passing by, the dancers
go up and down the room, no one
has learned the Valse as yet,
fiddle and flute and fortepiano
return to the older rhythms.
Birth and death, the fortunes of war,
fear and relief from fear
compel attention, yet
they're veiled in the mild Septembery
haze of time--blessedly present, blessedly
long gone by. Aware of the shame
I ought to feel--defecting
so willingly from my own century--
I stroll calmly through candlelit rooms
and down to the quay, to board
a waiting vessel that sails with the tide
into the finest clear night
possible, the Comet more beautiful
than anything I ever saw,
and the noise of the herrings,
which passed us
in immense shoals, glittering
in the Sea, like fire...

The Glittering Noise
Denise Levertov

Book Review//The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British & American English by Lynne Murphy

I have always been fascinated by language. I like words, I like the rhythm of language, I like different meanings and different accents. When I moved to the Midwest United States for a while in the early 90s I kept a list of the regional differences in words. I have always felt the same way about the differences between American English and British English. I like knowing that if I am in the U.K. an elevator is a lift and a truck is a lorry. I don't think of one as being better than the other, just different. However, one thing the internet has taught me is that not all people feel the same way. Specifically, there seems to be a number of vocal British people online who despise American English. Just today I stumbled across another rant about the evils of "candy" "mom" and "soccer." I have been a longtime reader of Lynne Murphy's blog, Separated by a Common Language, so when I realized she had written a book about the language differences I had to read it.

I loved it. If you take nothing else away from this review then know that I absolutely think if you are British, American, or have any interest in words then you need to read this book. My copy is littered with post-it notes highlighting sections I loved. There is no way I can use all of the references. I spent fifteen minutes paging through trying to pick which ones to feature and managed to get sidetracked by lots of other things I never even marked. Murphy talks about how "The American headlines encourage linguistic togetherness; the British ones hold American English at arm's length."
In contrast, British lists of Americanisms often have titles like "41 Things Americans Say Wrong" and include vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation differences. The greater British interest in (or horror of ) pronunciation stems from the fact that most British people hear a fair amount of American English and therefore get the chance to notice the more obscure pronunciation differences. But not only is there greater oppportunity to notice the differences, there's a greater disposition to notice. The British are conditoned to notice when others don't talk like they do because accent is an inescapable marker of social postition in Britain. This fact inspired George Bernard Shaw's observation:  "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him." Americans, on the other hand, are often a bit accent-deaf.

Murphy discusses in detail the differences in words themselves but she also discusses the way the language is used. I particularly enjoyed this section on the use of please. 

Americans add please to requests about half as much as Britons do - not because they're less polite, but often because they're trying to be polite. Adding please to something that's already a request doubly marks it as a request:  could you move? is already a request with the softening "could you" formulation (rather than an unsoftening Move!). Since it's already softened and clearly a request, the please seems redundant. Americans thus often interpret could you move, please? as a marker of urgency ('this request is really a request!') and that sense of urgency makes the request sound either bossy or desperate, rather than considerate. 

Isn't that interesting? It is not just the words used but the way in which they are used that changes the language.  All too often, we understand the obvious differences and miss the more subtle ones. Murphy also discusses how sometimes American English has more connections to the English of the past than many realize.

For people (and there are so many of them) who argue that change corrupts English, any evidence that Americans preserve the language should surely be a redeeming fact. By pronouncing the r's in farmer in and the a in secretary, by keeping the words closet and faucet in active use, America has saved the English language! It has preserved those bits of English that the British have been careless with. Alas, linguistic complainers are rarely so consistent. Many of them assume that if there are differences in the two countries, then the way things are said in the new country must be the new way. Then when it's shown that the American way is the older way, the British complainers often lack "the magnanimity to acknowledge their mistake", as New Yorker Romeyn Beck complained about this very issue in 1829. Old-fashioned American ways of talking are sometimes admired by traditionalists, but at least as often they are taken as a sign that Americans are a backward people who don't recognize that their ways of speaking are inelegant or illogical and in need of replacement. 

Here is another quote I liked. I am trying to restrain myself from making this post solely a mass of quotes from the book but it is hard to resist the temptation.

Today's Britons invented the language to an even lesser extent than the sports fans won the match last Sunday. The fans were at least alive when the match was won. If we can even talk of English being "invented" (which I'd advise against), who is this we (or you) who invented it? Sure, the history of the language is longest on a particular island, but that doesn't mean that the poeple on that island today have any greater connection to the language than people speaking the language on another landmass. The adjectives aren't sprouting from ancient stone circles. The verbs aren't in the water supply And the language isn't in anybody's genes. Growing up learning English involves exposure to the English of the immediate past - how your parents and grandparents talk - and making it into the language of our present. That makes anyone's English no more than four generations deep. The British of today are not more connected to the language of Chaucer than the people who grow  up speaking English in the US or South Africa or Hong Kong. Our Englishes aren't parent and child - they're grown-up siblings. 

Speaking of Chaucer, did you know he used I gesse the way Americans use I guess? (As a side point, this book was a revelation as to all the language quirks I use that many British people heartily disapprove of.)  Also, did you know that it was only in the mid-19th-century that the British started pronouncing the h in herb? The Prodigal Tongue is full of fascinating bits of information like this; all about how words change, migrate (in both directions), and are used. Any language is not static and the world we live in makes it even less so. As Murphy says:

While some people equate globalization with Americanization, there's a clue in the name:  it's global. It's not just that people around the world are eating American hamburgers and watching American films. We're eating Thai food and reading Scandinavian murder mysteries, collecting Japanes Pokémon, and drinking Italian coffees. People, things, and ideas are moving all over the world, not just to and from the US. And words are going in all directions. Some are more likely to spread out: some are more likely to stay home. It's an exciting time to be a word lover. 

It is an exciting time to be a word lover. This is especially true if you can read a fascinating book like The Prodigal Tongue. While, in some ways, it is a defense of American English it is also simply a celebration of the language itself in all its idiosyncratic glory. As Murphy says in the final sentences;

But our Englishes being different doesn't mean we have to be chauvinistic about them. We don't have to devalue one to value the other. We shouldn't guard them jealously from contamination. English deserves our love. But it doesn't deserve our worry. We should let it go and see where it takes us. It may be a small world, but English is a big language.