Poems for Mother’s Day

 Bshayer FR


The Gifts of Mothers

It’s a really hard Mother’s Day for me. Don’t want to get into why. Suffice it to say that it’s a continuation of my mental landslide . . .

What She Taught Me

She taught me linking verbs, predicate nouns,
long division, have a Kleenex ready, an apple
a day. She taught me three-quarter time, Greenwich

Mean Time. She taught me do re mi, Mexicali Rose,
Rose, Rose, my Rose of San Antone. She taught me
Peas Peas Peas Peas, Eating Goober Peas.
She taught me that a peanut is a goober pea

in certain parts of the world, that it is fine
for things to be different in different parts
of the world, no two goobers alike in their

dry red skins, their pock-marked pods,
that there are latitudes and longitudes we have
never seen, that she had seen some part,
and so would I, that I need not

forego either the swings or baseball, that spelling
is on Friday and it is OK to learn more
than one list, including the hard list; it is not

showing off—it is using what you have.
That using what you have will not please
everybody, that marrying a man of a different stripe

is not a popular thing in a small town in the fifties,
and divorcing and coming home with a child
is even worse, and that you
get up every morning anyway,
and do your work.

~ Marjorie Saiser 

                   

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I , in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

~ Billy Collins

Music by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, “Vapour”

 

 

“Fine words from a sailor’s son | Who’s always running away | I don’t want your sympathy” ~ Angus and Julia Stone, from “Choking”

Quotation-Billy-Collins-skin-Meetville-Quotes-119178


Two for Tuesday: Billy Collins

Tuesday evening. Sunny, 63 degrees.

I wish that I could say that the days have gotten better, but they have not. I wish that I could say that I have finally found the answers, but I have not. I wish that I could say that forgiveness was easy, but it is not.

Quotation-Billy-Collins-moon-Meetville-Quotes-67159

                   

Field Guide

No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.

I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas

and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the
roadside.

On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.

Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria.

                   

Quotation-Billy-Collins-day-time-Meetville-Quotes-117061

Water Table

It is on dry sunny days like this one that I find myself
thinking about the enormous body of water
that lies under this house,
cool, unseen reservoir,
silent except for the sounds of dripping
and the incalculable shifting
of all the heavy darkness that it holds.

This is the water that our well was dug to sip
and lift to where we live,
water drawn up and falling on our bare shoulders,
water filling the inlets of our mouths,
water in a pot on the stove.

The house is nothing now but a blueprint of pipes,
a network of faucets, nozzles, and spigots,
and even outdoors where light pierces the air
and clouds fly over the canopies of trees,
my thoughts flow underground
trying to imagine the cavernous scene.

Surely it is no pool with a colored ball
floating on the blue surface.
No grotto where a king would have
his guests rowed around in swan-shaped boats.
Between the dark lakes where the dark rivers flow
there is no ferry waiting on the shore of rock
and no man holding a long oar,
ready to take your last coin.
This is the real earth and the real water it contains.

But some nights, I must tell you,
I go down there after everyone has fallen asleep.
I swim back and forth in the echoing blackness.
I sing a love song as well as I can,
lost for a while in the home of the rain.

                   

Music by Angus and Julia Stone, “Choking”

Lyrics:

Choking on these words
You can leave now
Oh haven’t you heard
You can leave now

We stand there like statues from different cities
Both warriors of the same war
Both victors of our territories
Why do I feel so small?
Oh you’ve got it all figured out
What will be will be

Fine work from a sailor’s hand
Who’s always running away
In between all your complex ideas
Found out how love should be
When you get the time to feel anything
Anything real for me
Oh you’ve got it all figured out
What will be will be

Fine words from a sailor’s son
Who’s always running away
I don’t want your sympathy
Don’t quote me another phrase
I understand all your philosophies
But it hurts me just the same

Choking on these words
You can leave now
Oh haven’t you heard
You can leave now

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut by craigfinlay fcc

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut by craigfinlay (FCC)


“APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

Sunday evening, the 19th of April. Cool.

Seems I spend more time lately apologizing for not being here than actually being here. I have posts sitting in my draft box for the first week of April, never going from draft to publish. Too much involved, too much thinking necessary to finesse and push all of the right buttons.

My health? Not the best. In addition to the usual pain, I may or may not have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder, the pain of which has prevented much in the way of my discourse on this computer. Then there were the nights of chills and sweat, awaking freezing in soaking wet clothes. Changing my shirt four times in as many hours.

It has not been pretty.

Not that I have not thought of all of the words I could say here, all of the words backlogged and stuck in my craw, all of the words that have been unable to move past this . . . this what? This fugue state? This state of being completely at odds with the world, with everyone, with myself? What does one call being completely lost in so many ways, but just too tired to even begin to mull over the ways in which to extract the self from a general sense of malaise?

So what do I have for you today, my far away companions in the ether? Not much, other than a feeble attempt to raise my head for a few moments and let you know that I am still here.

“Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

So here, as I am, I offer you this compendium, three words that at times can mean everything, nothing and something . . .

  • It won’t hurt
  • I’m so sorry
  • You should stop
  • What is happening
  • Don’t worry so
  • Calm down now
  • Take a breath
  • It wasn’t me
  • I didn’t know
  • I don’t know
  • I couldn’t know
  • I should’ve known
  • Please tell me
  • Don’t tell lies
  • I’m really sorry
  • No you’re not
  • I don’t remember
  • It doesn’t matter
  • It all matters
  • It’s all good
  • Nothing is good
  • You should go
  • Let go now
  • Is he okay
  • Is she okay
  • Are they okay
  • Are we okay
  • Nothing is okay
  • Speak to me
  • Talk to me
  • Don’t say anything
  • You’ve said enough
  • Believe the lie

“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
I never know what you are thinking. Think.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from The Wast Land: II. A Game of Chess

Yes, April is cruel indeed, but then, so are the other months and days of the year. In cruelty, I somehow always go back to Eliot, whose words seem to have been written by a ghost of me, so close to home are they.

I apologize if this post seems lost somewhere far beyond the pale, as it were. But my life, my lines, my words are in fragments alone. I cannot connect all of the varying lines and make a whole. I have neither the strength nor the wherewithal. Forgive the seeming self-pity; it is more of a muted self-examination, one conducted with exigence in the hopes of finding something “not loud nor long” to hold dear.

As old Tom said, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

“Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from The Wast Land: II. A Game of Chess

                    

For the complete text of “The Wast Land,” click here.

Leah in NC, are you out there?

                     

Music by William Fitzsimmons, “After Afterall”

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #15

Backpost.

Tax day. Taxes have been slaying me, which hasn’t helped with the whole issue of life in general. I had planned to stop backposting these Knopf Poem-A-Day entries, but this particular one by Tracy K. Smith is too, too beautiful to forego, and I need a permanent record of sorts somewhere, at least until I can buy the book.


 

Poem-a-Day

The poet Tracy K. Smith (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 collection Life on Mars) tells a rich coming-of-age story in her new memoir and first book of prose, Ordinary Light. The youngest of five children, raised in suburban California by Alabama-born, African-American parents, Smith in this book looks back at herself as a growing girl: at her dawning understanding of her parents’ youth, so different from her own, during the Civil Rights movement; at her mother’s devout Christianity, which allows her to accept her cancer diagnosis as part of God’s plan; at the pain of losing her mother too early; at her first moments of independence at Harvard and her desire to become a writer. In this passage, we meet Smith in the college library, where she makes a connection between her mother’s faith and language, and her development as a poet.

To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

From Ordinary Light:

My mother’s language was always the language of the soul. But it grew clearer, more telegraphic, once the cancer began to accelerate her sense that she was on her way elsewhere. So much of the time, living with such knowledge, her mind must have been tuned to the idea of what awaited her: I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, I would have told you. In some strange way, the return to the soul state might simply be the answer to the prayer that sits behind every prayer: Deliver me. Is there another dialect of the soul, a way it speaks in those who don’t possess the vocabulary of belief? A way it stirs and surges as if to say Here I am, something we don’t hear but that we feel and, feeling, know.

I liked to sit in the leather armchairs facing the tall windows in Lamont Library. The windows looked out onto Mass Ave. at the intersection of Quincy Street, and when I’d glance up from my page, I’d see people I knew and people I didn’t know moving back and forth along the axes of their lives. The reading room silence would obliterate all the outside traffic noises, and the daylight would baptize the pedestrians, it seemed to me, in a kind of transparent splendor, as if for the few moments they appeared in frame, they were resplendent in the inviolable promise we were all of us born into. It didn’t matter if they were in a rush or a daze, if they coughed into their fists or if smoke streamed from their mouths. Each wore, for an instant if not more, a mantle of eminent belonging, as if the moment that held them was not a mistake, as if they were not lost or alone or under a heap of insurmountable dread. Here I am, something in them seemed to be saying to the pavement, the fallen leaves, to no one in particular.

I was taking a poetry workshop, my third so far at Harvard. In it, I had discovered that sitting down with an idea and letting it unfold in words and sounds offered me not just pleasure but an indescribable comfort. I wanted to write the kind of poetry that people read and remembered, that they lived by — the kinds of lines that I carried with me from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to. Back out of all this now too much for us, said Robert Frost, and when I heard his words in my ears, they gave weight and purpose to my footsteps, to the breath going in and out of my lungs; they gave me terms with which to consider bits and pieces of the things I otherwise didn’t know how to acknowledge. Frost’s voice telling me to retreat (at least that’s part of what I heard in that line, hovering in space on its own, apart from the rest of the poem or even the rest of its sentence) emboldened me to admit that, yes, I was overwhelmed. My mother’s cancer overwhelmed me. Her death, waiting out there in the distance, overwhelmed me. So did the loneliness I still sometimes felt, even amid the chatter and bustle of friends and classes.

Perhaps without realizing it, I, like my mother long before she belonged to me, had been seeking something. I was searching. Not for any one thing in particular, and not as a result of a single glaring lack, but seeking — searching — nonetheless.

Poetry met my particular sense of need. Writing a poem, I sometimes felt like I was building a house from scratch, raising the walls, hanging the doors, laying out the rooms. It felt at times like backbreaking work. Other times, it seemed that what I was trying to evoke or encounter in a poem was already alive somewhere and that my job was merely to listen. The language of each of the poetry workshops I’d taken was built upon the assumption that there really was something else at play. My teachers talked about our poems as if they were sentient beings with plans and wishes of their own, wishes it was up to us to carry into language. “Your poem seems to be leading you in one direction, but you insist upon going in another.” Or, “Try and cut out all this noise so you can hear what the poem is trying to tell you.” It sounded quite nearly mystical, like we were playing at divination, but it also rang true. Wasn’t it strange that a poem, written in my vocabulary and as a result of my own thoughts or observations, could, when it was finished, manage to show me something I hadn’t already known? Sometimes, when I tried very hard to listen to what the poem I was writing was trying to tell me, I felt the way I imagined godly people felt when they were trying to discern God’s will. “Write this,” the poem would sometimes consent to say, and I’d revel in a joy to rival the saints’ that Poetry — this mysterious presence I talked about and professed belief in — might truly be real.

Often, that spring, I found myself sitting in a reading room window with a book I ought to have been reading for class, but I also always had a black sketchbook into which I’d begun writing lines of my own. Sometimes, I wrote the same stanza over and over until something was unlocked and I could move forward. Once or twice, I’d stopped mid-poem, altogether stumped, and started a letter to myself in which I’d describe whatever it was I was having trouble getting into language: What does it mean to slog through the weight of the everyday, to wake to anxiety, to spend the day straining to hear what they must be saying now that you’re out of earshot, to have to put on the boots, though you’re tired, always tired, and just keep going? Sometimes all of the watching and listening and waiting finally gave way to a poem:

The Ordinary Life

To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,

dress. Another day of what we bring to it-
matters unfinished from days before,

regret over matters we’ve finished poorly.
Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone

but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,

no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.

 

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #3

Backpost

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Dinner in the twenty-first century, from Marge Piercy, whose poetic kitchen has produced well-spiced recipes and vital human conversation for nearly half a century now.

To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

Let’s meet in a restaurant

Is food the enemy?
Giving a dinner party has become
an ordeal. I lie awake the night
before figuring how to produce

a feast that is vegan, gluten free,
macrobiotic, avoiding all acidic
fruit and tomatoes, wine, all nuts,
low carb and still edible.

Are beetles okay for vegans?
Probably not. Forget chocolate
ants or fried grasshoppers.
Now my brains are cooked.

Finally seven o’clock arrives
and I produce the perfect meal.
At each plate for supper, a bowl
of cleanly washed pebbles. Enjoy!

~ Marge Piercy

Two for Tuesday: Personal Histories

Gertrude Hermes The Cuckoo 1958 woodblock and linocut

“The Cuckoo” (1958, woodblock and linocut)
by Gertrude Hermes


“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford, as found on Writer’s Almanac

Tuesday evening. Clear and cold, 24 degrees.

Yes, I’m still here. Let’s just call February a wash, shall we? It was a horrible month for so many reasons, and yet this surprises me not at all because my Februaries are almost always horrible; this one just happened to be a record for physical and mental pain. My rebound migraine finally seems to be breaking—after four weeks. It’s a good thing Corey and I didn’t try to fit in a trip to Ohio in the past few weeks, as I would have been miserable company.

The headache is still here, just not nearly as acute as before. The snow is supposed to melt tomorrow as the temperatures are supposed to hit the 60s. Of course on Thursday, we’re supposed to have freezing rain again. I have left the house twice in the past two weeks, once for the doctor, and once to make a trip to campus with Brett.

Cabin fever anyone?

                   

“Pine Branch” (1951)
by Eyvind Earle

The Phone Call

She calls Chicago, but no one
is home. The operator asks
for another number but still
no one answers. Together
they try twenty-one numbers,
and at each no one is ever home.
“Can I call Baltimore?” she asks.
She can, but she knows no one
in Baltimore, no one in
St Louis, Boston, Washington.
She imagines herself standing
before the glass wall high
over Lake Shore Drive, the cars
below fanning into the city.
East she can see all the way
to Gary and the great gray clouds
of exhaustion rolling over
the lake where her vision ends.
This is where her brother lives.
At such height there’s nothing,
no birds, no growing, no noise.
She leans her sweating forehead
against the cold glass, shudders,
and puts down the receiver.

~ William Stafford

                   

Igor Grabar Winter Rooks Nest 1904

“Winter Rook’s Nest” (1904)
by Igor Grabar

Solstice

Remember how the city looked from the harbor
in early evening: its brutal gaze
averted, its poised and certain countenance
wavering with lights?

Remember how we sat in swaybacked chairs
and marvelled at the brush fires
of dusk clear in the distance, the flames
scrawled across the skyline

like a signature while currents shifted
inside us? Ecstasy of fire—
works rising in midsummer, of fulvous sails
flashing in the heat

And orange life buoys bobbing on the water;
ecstasy of flares and secrets
and two bodies held aloft by desire…
judge us as you will,

but remember that we, too, lived once
in the fullness of a moment
before the darkness took its turn with us
and the night clamped shut.

~ Edward Hirsch

                   

Music by Dustin Kensrue, “This Good Night Is Still Everywhere”