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”

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“they swing over buildings, / dipping and rising; / they float like one stippled star / that opens, / becomes for a moment fragmented, / then closes again; / and you watch / and you try / but you simply can’t imagine / how they do it” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

Kayama Matazo Frozen Forest 1960
“Frozen Forest” (1960)
by Kayama Matazo

                   

“Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

The murmuring of starlings is foremost in my mind. Their beautiful blackness, the harmony of their dips and sways. To have that ability, to move like that. Untethered. Wheeling to and fro. Sky and air, and nothing in between. Someday, I will see this. Someday.

Julio Barello Swoop Installation 1007 mri film and steel
“Swoop” Installation (1007 mri film and steel)
by Julio Barello

And as it’s going

And as it’s going often at love’s breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.

~ Anna Akhmatova

                   

Gertrude Hermes, Starlings 1965, woodcut on wove
“Starlings” (1965, woodcut on wove)
by Gertrude Hermes

Against Starlings

1
Their song is almost painful the way it
penetrates the air—above the haze and
level of the fields a thin line drawn. A
wire. Where the birdcall goes to ground. But I’d
stand anyway under the oaks lining
the road and whistle, tireless with chances,
tossing, by the handful, the crushed stone.
All of them answered, none of them came down.
By evening there’d be hundreds filling the
trees past hearing, black along the branches.
They’d go off with the guns like buckshot, black,
filling the sky, falling. I held my ears.
The holes in the air closed quickly, then healed.
Birds were bloodless, like smoke, wind in a fleld—

2
But not to be confused with the cowbird,
its brown head, its conical sparrow’s bill,
nor with the red-wing, which is obvious,
even showy, blood or birthmark, nor with
the boat-tailed grackle—though at dusk, when they
gathered from the north, they were all blackbirds.
They were what the night brought, and the blown leaves,
and the cloud come down in the rain. The ease
of it, the way summer could be ending.
When I found one one morning it was the
color of oil in a pool of water,
bronze, blue-green, still shining. The parts that were
missing were throwaway, breast and belly
and the small ink and eye-ring of the eye—

3
Not to be compared with the last native
wild pigeon, trap shot high in Pike County,
Ohio, the fourth day of spring, nineteen
hundred—thirty years after the harvest
of millions fllled the buffalo trains east.
They were, by report, “the most numerous
bird ever to exist on earth,” what the
Narragansett called Wuskowhan, the blue
dove, the wanderer, whose flight is silent.
Not to be compared with the smaller, wild
mourning dove, which haunted the afternoon,
which you heard all day till dark. They
were the sound in my sleep those long naps home,
the last train calling down the line in time—

4
Sometimes, at the far end of a pasture,
the burdock and buckwheat thick as the grass
along the hedgework, you could still find nests,
some fallen, some you had to climb to. They
were a kind of evidence, a kind of
science, sticks, straw, and brilliant bits of glass.
My mother had a hat like that, feathered
flawed—she’d bought it used. It was intricate
and jewelled, the feathers scuffed like a jay’s,
and so stiff you could’ve carried water.
The millinery species is over.
Those nests had nothing in them. Still, sometimes
I’d wait until the autumn light was gone,
the sky half eggshell, half a starling’s wing—

5
Not to be compared with the fluted voice,
the five phrases in different pitches
of the thrush, the one Whitman heard, and Keats.
Stumus vulgaris vulgaris—not to
be confused with the soft talk and music.
the voice that calls the spirit from the wood.
Those that stayed the winter sat the chimney
to keep warm, and cried down the snow to fly
against the cold. They were impossible.
They’d be dead before spring, or disappear
into the white air.—Not to be confused
with the black leaves whirling up the windward
side of the house, caught in the chimney smoke,
the higher the more invisible—

6
Black.
I saw them cover the sky over a
building once, and storm an alley. They were
a gathering, whole. Yet on the window
sill, individual, stealing the grain
I put there, they’d almost look at me through
the glass. Something magical, practical.
They’d even graze the ground for what had dropped.
I wished for one to come into the house,
and left the window open just enough.
None ever did. That was another year.
What is to be feared is emptiness and
nothing to fill it. I threw a stone or
I didn’t throw a stone is one language—
the vowel is a small leaf on the tongue.

~ Stanley Plumly

                     

Music by Agnes Obel, “Falling, Catching”