Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At the end of the day

All day I have been trying to get to words--but haven't done the practice sheets --- I had planned on doing.  Seems like writing--like life--- is a practice sheet itself--that I never get to practice--but must do like an improvisation act.

I often wonder how writers--who have to work a full day for money--- motivate themselves when they get home to do the real work of their lives--in family and housework. And after these matters are taken care of --- I can't see where they find the time to read in order to improve their writing or read just for pleasure--if they must use the after family---spare change work hours--- to write.

When do they do this writing---as well--just before sleep?  I am freshest in the morning This matter of practice--is something I do early in the morning because the evening is eaten up by the many minute matters of daily life and is dynamited all to hell by the time supper is done. Evening writing is a gift --like dandelions on a lawn-that pop up randomly.

At the end of the day--all I really want to do is ----put reading to bed, take the satchel with the nature journal and just go for a walk. Outside the day is winding down its clock, folks are walking down the street, some young kids are playing soccer in the field and as far as I know, no one down our street is sitting in her or his room writing poems.  Heck, no one I know --is even reading.

So I'm off.  Leave the writing and reading for another day.  I'll just go chase butterflies like Mr. Nabokov and again, wonder to myself how on earth people who have to work for money and then work for words--how on earth they make a book out of scraps of time.  Perhaps it is rather like patches sewn together to make a summary as a quilt.  Perhaps it is the longest gestation.  Perhaps it is weed-like--dandelions popping out of a green field of other work to eventually overtake the green field.  Perhaps I am going for a walk.

"THE AVOCET" by William Nichols in "Fallacies of Motion"

I like this poem as well. I don't know what an avocet is--some sort of bird--but what kind? --- so I have to go look.

av·o·cet  (v-st)
Any of several long-legged shore birds of the genus Recurvirostra, characterized by a long, slender, upturned beak.

[French avocette, from Italian avocetta.]

 The poet introduces the shore bird--the avocet--first. In between the lyric about this bird, is a dying episode he experiences with his mother at the hospice.  Let's start with the first pair of stanzas:

I saw the avocet the night she arrived
dropping down from a darkening sky
and into the invisible power wire.

            the night I stepped by the old place
            after visiting my mother in the hospice


So here is the return of the shore bird, that he sees--probably out in the country--maybe at a farm ---"the old place"  ---at night----where he is about some business--only after visiting his dying mother. I like that line-"dropping down from a darkening sky"--the alliteration there and the sweetness of the following line--where the bird settles into wires hidden by the dark.

The next two stanzas are all about the bird --and so are the two final stanzas--and yet there are echoes of the dying mother--in the bird's broken wing--in the fact that the bird is going to face winter just as his mother will as well.

Saw her early, hunting the small slough
and in the last bright threads of days
her broken wing held low to the water.

            the elaborate calligraphy
            of her mirrored silhouette.

So the days are passing--as indicated by the "last bright threads of days" and she is writing on water --"the elaborate calligraphy" of her final days with the "broken wing held low to the water. Very nice.
I'm not sure the "mirrored silhouette" is useful--but perhaps she is a copy of his mother's state?

Now note how clean these last two stanzas are:

She stays as the others move north.
The slough becomes smaller, the days hotter
with each load I haul to the auctioneer.

            by the time I am done she has vanished
            and the slough blooms red dock all over

Indirectly--slant--this poet tells us his mother--whose stuff he is hauling off to the auctioneer for disposal has died--for the bird with the broken wing ---is the symbolic representation of his mother and the bird's disappearance coincides with his mother's death.  For both of them --there is the wreath on the slough of the "red dock" blooming "all over".

I had to go look up on Wiki what dock was--and it seems to be some sort of herb plant.  It would make a nice simple wreath.

"MY MOTHER TRIES TO PUT EVERYTHING AWAY BEFORE SHE DIES" by William Nichols in "Fallacies of Motion"

This poem speaks cleanly and calmly of a mother's dying with ordinary images to make it real. I liked it a great deal. No sentimental wince at all.

In the first stanza the poet introduces the useless motions made against death--the "flapping arms flapping" --already he has insinuated an image of laundry on the line that he will use later. I liked his next line as well--"bones making grand gestures"--trying to hold everything up that in the elderly is frail, loose, unstable and "flapping". In this case, the bones are rising up to reach for the "hospital ceiling"--perhaps to do some invisible task?  Then the kite image is put in--"skin trailing behind".    Behind the kite of the body is the kite tail--this loose skin emptying itself of life.  Finally he puts into the first stanza a "prayer flag" --which I'm not sure about.  How does it fit here? But I do get a sense from the two last lines---that the poet is waiting besides his mother --"for hours and for days".

flapping arms flapping
bones making grand gestures
to the hospital ceiling
skin trailing behind
like cloth prayer flags
for hours and for days

as the last wild lily
picked on the last spring day
on the last scrap of the old prairie
turns to paper in the vase
In this second stanza, the lily that was brought from the prairie--is turning to dust beside the bed.

reaching reaching for
the cupboard doors
only she can see
skin on the arms like washing
on the line flapping flapping

Here the poet sees his mother reaching for something only she can see and I can visualize her doing this--lying in her bed--perhaps lost in a happy past--about to do some work. And the poet shows us her arms moving--as skin on bones--the skin loose and flowing --like laundry on a line--"flapping flapping". Very effective stanza. Sad and believable.

I'll think of this when I see sunflowers
when as high summer turns
their long supple reach
becomes stiff and dry
sepals like flowers curled out
to the retreating sun
twisting in the hot prairie wind
clattering together

This last stanza is very observant and good. Sunflowers --at dying--do stand stiff and reaching --their petal fingers--so to speak--reach --for the missing sun; they clatter like teeth loose in a jaw of soil---they turn in the "hot prairie wind" as they dry out. And yes, you can see their stems as long arms of an old woman dying and reaching for one last memory.

"MOTHS" by Eavan Boland in "in a Time of Violence"

I was reading this poem and did like it---but did not really wake up until the last two stanzas.  The poem starts out speaking of moths in summer---for it "has been a summer of moths" and they are all about.  The poet has been reading about them.  They seem to carry the weight of stories with them.  There are a few details given about "courtship swarms' and how they navigate flight "by / the moon". The poet  admires their abundance and nature---and it must be late summer for "Apples rust on the branches"--ripening and "Already summer is / a place mislaid between expectation and memory"--already we have expected heat and growth---gotten it--and stored these memories away of this summer.The concept of summer being"mislaid" or being lost--is a neat one--as if summer turning to fall--goes missing --which is in one way it does---into the past.

Tonight the air smells of cut grass.
Apples rust on the branches.  Already summer is
a place mislaid between expectation and memory.
Then the poet, speaks of how the moths --have multiplied--and this evidence is given "well after dark" when "Their moment of truth" occurs and they swarm out.  They show up at windows "ledges and sills"--they shine.  They are very vibrant in their tiny presences.  Very pretty stanza.

This has been a summer of moths.
Their moment of truth comes well after dark.
Then they reveal themselves at our window --
ledges and sills as a pinpoint.  A glimmer.
I like the spareness of this poet's lines. Each line is functional, ordinary but like Shaker works--beautiful. Just the fit of the words to make "summer of moths"--is fresh.  I'd never thought of summer in terms of moths--perhaps in terms of butterflies--but never in moths. Then to speak of their appearance as "Their moment of truth" --that was new too.

The next stanza, talks about curiosity. The poet's curiosity.  This is the beauty of being a poet--you can indulge every silly question that pops up in your head and appease the critic inside by saying --It is all research for a poem--silly! I'm not wasting time entertaining myself or answering putrid questions about insect life cycles--I'm working! Really, the poet is not working--she's having fun---learning new useless stuff--and sometimes this fun translates into fun in language--in the shape and seizure of music that is a poem.

The books I look up about them are full of legends:
Ghost-swift moths with their dancing assemblies at dusk.
Their courtship swarms.  How some kinds may steer by
    the moon.
Such details that were obtained by the poet in the appeasement of her insatiable curiosity --well--these bodies----floated up out of the lake of information gleaned from reading--and show up in the specific details that are here in this stanza--"dancing assemblies at dusk"; "courtships swarms"; and the moon as compass.  I like how she has dressed up this research as "legends"  as if she were looking at their ghostly folklore.

The moon is up. The back windows are wide open.
Mid-July light fills the neighbourhood.  I stand by the

So now we are given season and time accurately --now --so we are to be ready for what is to come.  How we come to the end of a life cycle--is determined in an insect--by month and perhaps time of day. I once came upon a dragonfly sitting on an outside ledge of a window.  He was still and balanced like a living brooch on the wood. Snow fell on him. It was September.  This small encounter shivered me.  Why?  I am always seeing death everywhere and of course--it is not the poor dragonfly I was thinking about --and nor is this poet as she speaks next of the moths and their fate:

Once again they are near the windowsill---
fluttering past the fuchsia and the lavender,
which is knee-high, and too blue to warn them

they will fall down without knowing how
or why what they steered by became, suddenly
what they crackled and burned around. They will perish---

I am perishing -- on the edge and at the threshold of
the moment all nature fears and tends toward:
The stealing of the light. Ingenious facsimile.

So in these three stanzas, Ms. Boland has cleverly shown the false moon of the interior light being used by the uncomprehending moths--to steer their flight to death.  I like how she has used the blue of the lavender ("knee-high"--such a good detail) to be the preliminary light that is "too blue to warn them" of danger to come.  I like how she uses the insect's death--how they "perish" to immediately think of her own death --"I am perishing"--here she is saying that she is still in life but she --like the moths is steering uncomprehendingly towards her own death as well.

And indeed it is a moment "all nature fears and tends towards"--simply because our cells' clockworks determine the minute we fry in the light--we are regulated by cell biology and we are given many such pre-deaths by insects and beloveds--to show us our own deaths to come.   I'm not sure if she is referring to the interior light bulb--as the "Ingenious facsimile" of the moon; or the deaths of the moths as the preliminary copy of her own death to come.

And the kitchen bulb which beckons them makes
my child's shadow longer than my own.
I think she is saying --in this final stanza---that her child has more time than she has left--"my child's shadow longer than my own". 

A good poem. Showcases this writer's ability to use language in a very restrained but beautiful way and provides the tingle up the spine necessary to remember time is brief----the summer months especially so--- and how much time we have left is to be sipped slow and pleasurably.  I like how the poet uses a small opportunity --such as an bumper season for moths---a small matter ---to reflect on the matters of her mortality--a much bigger matter.

"THIS MOMENT" by Eavan Boland in "In a Time of Violence"

I like to be reminded to stop and linger rather than bolt and hurry.  So much of the day is spent pushing through words, I forget that it is really "This moment" --that counts.

Does it matter that a book doesn't get read?  Does it matter that things are not the way you want them to be?  Does it matter if your lot in life is not free of problems?  It is not ever going to be perfect.  Best to accept this fact of human life and get on with noting this moment with the hard tire tracks of what is fresh, vivid and ordinary impressed on your mind.

A neighbourhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

So how did Ms. Boland work this poem's tensions?--for there are tensions in this poem.  She gives a sense that there is trouble coming--in stanza 2--but not right away, and maybe at a distance.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.
In the here and now, a child is being picked up by his mother--all is safe, calm and ordinary in this place.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.
The moment she is speaking of has black things in it--night, the black tree, moths (things of the night); but also things of light--the stars, the yellow window,  the rind of a fruit.

The last stanza, solves the tension between far off troubles and present calm by putting in a sense of hope into this poem--for things like stars are rising, moths are still doing their flutter-dance and there is always sweetness --even "in the dark"  --if only in apples:

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

"Old Song" by Dorothy Livesay from "The Unquiet Bed"

This poem speaks of an ordinary fact of life--which is that we try to hold each other --but we can't of course because we will all be toast sooner or later.

What you will learn
             is this
you cannot hold
             what vanishes

Even in love --we are unable to secure our beloveds:

my arching brow
             mouth's bliss
are temporary,
             as leaf, grass
I like how she has  paired physical features -"arching brow" and body sensations--"mouth's bliss" with other temporary things--"leaf, grass"  to emphasize we are also like them in dying.

your bones may melt
             in me
or in another woman
the essence is
             to catch the bird in season
And here she is saying in a calm, realistic fashion --that she cannot control whether he will love her or "another woman" --what matters is not control --but to experience what comes when it does--fully---in its own ripe time--"to catch the bird in season"---is everything.

hold, hold a snowdrop
            capped and cool
in the cold snow ---
then let it go.
In this stanza, she advises--to hold the flower of its season "in the cold snow" when you can--and then give it up --"let it go."

Hard to do unfortunately.  But what choice are we given?  We must learn to do this all our lives--so that we are decent at the final relinquishments.

"To A Younger Poet" by Dorothy Livesay from "The Unquiet Bed"

The first book of Dorothy Livesay's that I bought was "The Unquiet Bed" where her spare, clean writing was evident to me right from the start in her poems --such as "To A Younger Poet" where she reminds a newbie poet that she is using up her precious time to help him on the road to proficiency. She also reminds the starting poet, that unlike him--she is a V.I.P. --and he'd better not forget this. But what kind of V.I.P work does this established poet do?

You may not know it? but I am doing you an honour
reading your poems!   My time is precious and I
keep morning minutes hidden in a drawer
for safety-sake; count seconds like an announcer
'one eye on the clock'
and t'other on his navel.
In this first stanza, Ms. Livesay-who sounds like a very efficient poet to me --tells the younger poet that she is being generous --giving up her frugally used time to help the new poet out. I like the way she has said " I/ keep morning minutes hidden in a drawer / for safety-sake" --for I like to do this as well--use early morning to write--or it never gets begun or enough writing never gets done. 

You may not like to be reminded
that I am a V.I.P. ---at least in this household!
cleaning sinks and bath tubs is my specialty,
vacuuming rugs my pastime.
In between the everyday bread of doing
your meat is sandwiched, your ruddy verse.
Please be properly pleased.
I am glad she has made this clear to the new poet--that she is so important --but not with matters of poetry--but with matters of household chores--it makes me feel --that female poets have always had to write in between their other important jobs of being a wife and mother.   I also like that she is being humorous and self-deprecating here--defining her V.I.P. status--not as a very good poet--which she was--but in terms of ordinary mundane but significant work she did on the home front.

The last part of the stanza--reminds the new poet--that "In between the everyday bread of doing"--between all her tasks of the day--she is somehow fitting in the poet's not so great "ruddy verse" which is what all established poets tend to get from enthusiastic born again human beings who decide they must become poets and they must send their disgusting worms of poems to good poets.  She asks the new poet to be "properly pleased" but I doubt he will be.  New poets never understand what effort it is required to read their bad poems---because like me----they don't think their poems are bad!

The next two stanzas of the poem are the hardest parts --in these parts the poet is saying that she is facing herself in the poems of the new poet.

(What I do not tell him is that I
eavesdrop, I search for secrets
in the bare bald verbs and the pile of nouns
on his shelf, I ferret for hidden structure.
What I do not tell him is that I
lose count of knives and forks
looking for silver spoons.
And in the old trunk left in the hallway
I seek the photo of himself, the features
of his boy  look, the scar
where the hand hit.

What I do not tell him
is how his nakedness
awkwardly visible behind the shining suit
and his eyes, wrestling

       are mine also.)

What the poet is saying here (I think) is that under the language there are secrets.  We can't enter language virginal--as babes without suffering. There is always history, drama, and "the scar/ where the hand hit" and this experienced poet knew this and poetry--although it undergoes a sort of cleansing process to fit onto the sterile body of each era's poetical standards --well, it still carries the "hidden structure" of the poet's character and life.   It carries his secrets that he might not want to express but come out anyway.  And every poet does this--well he does do it if he wants to be a good poet-- for it is this "nakedness" that is essential for clear human expression in song---which ---coupled with restraint and intelligent thinking--results in great poems for the reader.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Garden Shopping

I have been garden shopping. The gardens nearby are all fitted out and ready to be seen. In the same way that others go to West Edmonton Mall to window shop, I go to the gardens in every suburb around my own to find out the newest fashions in gardens. 

In one front garden the clematis blues and purples over the fence and has reached up to extend feelers towards heaven.  There was  a row of five red apple trees linking branches along the curve of a driveway and this was not all; on the other side of the driveway two more red apple trees were entwined and embracing –their cheeks flushed with flowers.  A few gardens had been trimmed, brushed and fitted out with their annuals already and looked smart. A burst of daffodils and tulips could still be found to remind me that it was still May—and there were no peonies in bloom-for they only arrive in the hot months.  My purple iris have no competition –or at least none that I have been able to detect but lots of pinks are showing up ---for the many rock gardens around here warm up the ground for Dianthus clumps so much that it must be almost tropical times for them and they almost burst into flames with flowers. 

A few houses have these enormous vases stuck on the sides of their front driveways and I assume these families have well behaved children for I would not like to imagine a push and a shove and the tall vases going  down on the driveway on top of a child.  They are taller than I am. Clay pots are everywhere in smaller sizes filled with their electric pink geraniums while blue lilacs seem to pleasingly go with the popular pinks.  A host of raised beds simply carried greens—green Hosta, green Bergenia, green lilies—and no flowers.  The  neighborhood I visited today is a well established one and so the trees there were beautiful and I lusted after them without any inhibition. The firs are taller than the houses, the mountain ash trees are fulsome and high; the poplars and aspens shook their upper turrets making a pleasing busy sound as I passed by.  Then all down the ravine area –there was a long passageway of aspens and Saskatoon bushes and poplar and firs—part of the Whitemud Ravine Nature Trail.  Very quiet area.  I met no one on the road.  It was almost like being in the forest.  I’m going to go garden shopping on a regular basis and see how the gardens I liked change over time.  My garden may not look like these pretty ones but at least I have some references to look up when I am lost pulling up bi-colored grasses from the raised beds.

"The Dangerous Wind" by Naomi Replansky in "poems between women four centuries of love, romantic friendship, and desire"

The way to understand if you love someone is to imagine him in the world and understand the risks of this business.  You understand this best as a parent.  The first time you send your child off to school to navigate streets by himself--you see him first as your son walking along but you also see him as your heart moving down the street--liable to be torn to pieces.  This poem is echoing this feeling -in its two ways of seeing the same beloved.

I watched you walk across the street,
Slightly stooped, not seeing me,
And smiled to see that mixture of 
Clumsiness, grace, intensity.

So this is the first way she sees the beloved--in a classification sort of way --recognizing details of shape and movement. 

Then suddenly I feared the cars,
The streets you cross, the days you pass.
You hold me as a glass holds water.
You can be shattered like a glass.
Such a neat image--she now sees her beloved --at  risk at any time of being hurt. And what would happen to the speaker if her beloved is hurt?  She explains her fate--in that neat image. The beloved is the glass --the beloved is holding the speaker in her --like water.  And the beloved--this speaker realizes--"can be shattered like a glass." And therefore, the speaker-- will be spilled simultaneously.

"Love" by May Sarton in "poems between women four centuries of love, romantic friendship, and desire"

There were three poems by May Sarton in this book.  I liked this one the best.  It is self-exploratory but I will go through it to remind myself of what Ms. Sarton is saying here. Good advice.

Fragile as a spider's web
Hanging in space
Between tall grasses, 
It is torn again and again.

This particular web is therefore the most fragile concoction--erected between the moving towers of blades of grass--susceptible to any passing movement, pressure or shearing force.

A passing dog
Or simply the wind can do it.
Several times a day
I gather myself together
And spin it again.

So are lovers --then web makers?  Are we continually to fix and mend and repair the web that is love? Or is love renewed automatically---by each ---even in the absence of disasters such as "A passing dog" or a cutting "wind"?  And are we to do this work --as Ms. Sarton says--"Several times a day"?  This frequently?

Spiders are patient weavers.
They never give up.
And who knows
What keeps them at it?
Hunger, no doubt,
And hope.
And I suppose this "Hunger" and "hope" is what keeps us mending the small fragile webs of love that feed us all.

Walking in the forest

It has been a while since I'd been in the forest.  It felt awkward --like I was on a first date.  And so different! The snow pack was gone.  The trail was swaddled in green diapers. Now that I am reading Nabokov, I seem to see butterflies every two seconds and there were some great big handprints of yellow butterflies, that were outlined in black so that they stood out vividly in the sky as they danced and twirled around each other like airborne ballerinas.  Very energetic dancers.  A few small blues doing their erratic swings through the trees. A white butterfly now and then.  Strange isn't it how one writer's passionate interest, can smear into my walks-and strange how I was alert for the smallest sign of a butterfly.  The walk was cut short at the marsh where the blackbirds were serenading the little brown females who were ignoring them.  It was windy but warm, the blackbirds were stapled to the willows-hardly even moving--the geese remembered their honks as they passed overhead, and as I sat on the bench by the marsh, I wondered why I had not been out and about doing my regular communion with the trees.  It felt somehow dishonest to be a nature poet and not be in nature.

I am going to go for another walk after I have read a little more of chapter 6 of "Speak, Memory" and written a few poems. There is such a glut of time now--well there is ---because I have simply swept everything off my table and decided to make time for walking in the forest.  There is always time to do what I really want to do--even if other things do not get done.  This is the only way I think I will ever return to the forest and do the long walks that started me writing. This is the only way I'll be able to push out tentacles of interest and write down in my nature notebooks the ordinary but lovely matters of the world: the grasshopper doing his magnificent leaps of joy; a cloudburst of white plush being released from pussy willows in small dots of fluff; the scuttling of mice in the brown leaf rag rug of the forest floor, the sparrow stuck on a twig as brown as herself; dogwood beating their red veined arms against the green walls of leaves; a single blue wild clematis flower, drooping over the arms of a Saskatoon bush where she has climbed and prostrated her body on a tree-house aerie.  This is the only way back into the world.

"Poem 122" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

Younger boy seemed sick. Took his temperature. No temperature. Went to Sobeys for Halls for his sore throat. But he has no temperature and rather hardheartedly I told he had to go to school.  He spent breakfast crying into his bowl of milk and cornflakes. 

Most mornings are not this traumatic.  But where younger boy is concerned, school is not the place of higher learning or any learning at all ---but a place where he does his time--unhappily. I suppose I felt this way --as a child---as well--- for I remember coming from school in Kuwait, grabbing my bike and going to the ocean. I knew that being by the ocean was where I was happiest.

It is a splatter bright day outside which makes it all so much harder for him. The mechanisms of indoctrination are more difficult when you want to be free.  And he does.

Freedom for children means two months per year of holidays. Unless you home-school.  Do I have the temperament to home-school?  Do I even have the temperament to be a mother? Nope. So he had to go to school. Older boy has made some sort of peace with his jail sentence, already thinking of a future penthouse suite he will buy---with  all the stuff his parents do not buy--- to make him a suitably fashionable creature.  Younger boy hasn’t made this sort of materialistic peace with schooling.  And when it is a warm day outside, with the iris appointing themselves purple emperors of the world, the alliums waving their competing purple scepters and a Bergenia pinkly glowing--dressed in a pearl strand of blooms, I feel for him.  It is just too bad to have to go to school on a day like this. 

Despite my sympathy, I dropped off both boys--- like stones into the calm pools of junior and high school-life.  The lilacs were  blooming in their purples and blues all the way down the road to school like a crowd of onlookers to some ghastly ritual—ghastly that is for the boys but not for a mother escaped from school.  All about ---the leaves were pouring out of the outstretched hands of willows like money being offered for a touch.  They are particularly beautiful by older boy’s school where they are all thin wrists and long green bills.  There is a spinning feel in the head when I am surrounded by so much green after all the erasure of color in winter; I feel giddy.

How to come in?  Two years ago, I would have been ---at this time of the day-- in the forest tramping around----avoiding writing.  I no longer do this.  I have learned to use the freshest, earliest part of the day to do my work.  Then—with whatever energy is left, with whatever scraps of time are given to me later in the day —I do circumference work--- the housekeeping, the cooking and matter of being a gatekeeper of the universe—at least the microcosm of the universe that my family and extended family occupy. I have learned to do the essential work first. So let me go do the essential work --let me go to Emily.

In this poem, Emily is reluctant to believe that winter is over and yet there are signs and premonitions—harbingers of what is to come—for some birds have made themselves notable and some have taken “a backward look” at the world they had left behind--- in Florida perhaps. So --these are the first signs.  Genesis of summer is imminent.

These are the days when Birds come back
A very few – a Bird or two
To take a backward look.

Perhaps this is earliest part of May for Emily—and just a few of her feathered friends have arrived in her garden.

In my case, it is the latest part of May and I live by a man-made marsh and the blackbirds are a hard fling of many raisins on this cake surface of land.  They are just beginning to come to the bird feeder that has been waiting all winter---for their curiosity and hunger.  Robins are becoming chummy and they like to sift through the weedy sections of my garden where we still have not put down a garden shed.They especially like to arrive when I am watering the garden as I was yesterday and plunk down their bodies in payment for the false rain showers.

By the compost heap, a few lost wind-scattered seeds have made statements of their presence.  There --a small Johnny Jump Up ----purples up a tiny section  of gravel road. He is about the size of a thumb print–I try to remember him (so I do not step on him) ---when I go to the compost heap and I try to pour whatever water  is in the scrap pail on him--- to keep him going.  It is a hard life for a solitary soul --always---and he is lost in the desert besides--- without his brethren above him in the raised beds.  He is a miniature blot among the many disastrous dandelions ---that are the near and close relatives of the golden hordes----that are warring it out on the soccer field next to my house; and the golden barbarians appear to be winning the sword and root battle with the sickly soldiers of the grasses.

These are the days when skies resume
The old –old sophistries of June
A blue and gold mistake.
I’m not sure what the “old sophistries of June” could be nor the “blue and gold mistake” unless she is speaking of the sophisticated make-up of blue hues and gold lip-colour of the sun----being applied to the face of the morning skies?  For this is what is happening outside my house--–all the washed out grays of the winter world and its pallid glow of pinpoint sun are gone—there is only the shock electric of that Alberta blue sky that is always such a ski hill of blue powder!  And then the wide sunflower head of sun!  You only need to see these two tracings put up on the wall of the world outside ---and know you are in Alberta—with perhaps a canola bright skirt on the fields to make it all decent.

Oh fraud that cannot clear the Bee.
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.
Now what is this stanza saying –that the June appearance is so believable a facade of summer coming---that she believes?  But not quite yet ---even though the bee is convinced it is that time of the year?  

Till ranks of seeds their witness  bear
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.
Now, at last--- she is beginning to believe that summer is back—for there is hard proof.

Seeds are giving themselves to seedlings to bear “witness” to summer’s coming—then more evidence is provided by the “altered air” and the “timid leaf” that "Hurries" forth.
We are no longer in the timid stage with our leafing out in Alberta. The columnar aspens that form my backyard neighbor’s contribution to the trees of the world—have made their Slinky toy lengths --shake green froth coils everywhere I look.  Down the corridor of our street---the apple trees are burnt into reddest fire.  Even the softest of the trees—the Russian Olive –in its muted greens and thin finger leaves –is humming softly to itself--and tuning into summer's musical green growth and my small Russian Olive tree that stands as tall as I do now--- is just putting on her underskirts of green--getting ready for the ball that is to come.  She will be putting on her earrings of olives and her nail spike bracelets soon.

Oh sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion of the Haze –
Permit a child to join
And so this is the part where I am in love.  Both with summer and with Emily. There is a religious feeling to summer isn’t there?  And don’t we all become children in its heat and “Haze”?   

In  summer, the world forgets itself.  It turns from the matter of death and becomes life itself. And we –too—are seduced into what the Bee cannot be cheated of—the warmth of the best part of the year—and belief in summer's presence.  So pure is this season that we even enter into the forgetting of our own deaths.   

Soon corn will poke through the underlay of earth to form the new green and gold shag carpeting of the world.  Soon there will be raspberries like golden beads on my golden raspberry canes that will rat-a-tat machine gun fire from those guns to fall in spent bullets to the floor.  Soon there will be boxes of peaches in the stores.  Each peach will be slipcovered in the thin fur of summer and a knife slit of this covering coat—will bleed out the sweet juices of a summer caught in the cells of that delectable fruit.  Soon the grasses will sway and shrug in the wings of green as they try to lift off from the marsh’s brown cattail runways and they will fail to rise up to the sugar scatter of clouds above.  They will lay themselves down--- in prostration at their failures to be swimming in air ---and will show they are not vanquished by rising up again to try flight again.  Soon it will be deepest summer.

The sacred emblems to partake –
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!
Yes, let us all take part in the breaking of the bread and in the drinking of the golden wine of summer.  Let us break the hard green glass marbles of watermelons, scoop out the pink flesh and drink the juice.  Let us make --for our children--- triple scoop ice cream cones and --give ourselves---generous scoops in wide glass bowls----and pretend we are them.  Let us wear silly childish floppy rubber sandals, oversized cloth hats and skimpy summer gear.  Let us go in our summer exodus to the countryside and wade into the lake by Lac la Biche and collect Saskatoons in empty ice cream pails---with the bears there.  Let us run to Jasper and go up the Icefields mountains and count the wildflowers and remember every summer of our lives—as if we were immortal—as if would never die.  Let us begin today. For Emily has said it in this poem--and we are to believe.  It is summer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Evening. The day spirals down to the ground like a kite smashing down. Puffs of light still smoke out of the skies where the light that is typical of Alberta skies ---in summer---breaks and cracks and crumbles down in the last throws of scatter-feed to the marsh that brownly sinks under this last heavy weight of light. 

Everywhere shadows are shaping themselves in the invisible hands of night. Where the light has fled--- in my garden--- the greens drip their leaves free of the water I have given them ---in the first baptism of the year. I have watered them because my sister dropped by and insisted that all the snow that that had intravenously supplied the plants with enough water to fill a Maligne Canyon –was still not sufficient to bunt them out of the fog of winter hibernation--- and they needed a boost of water from a hose to shock them back to spring life. 

So I watered them. She was not too complimentary about the state of the garden ---despite my feeble excuses about the bicoloured grasses taking over the world.  She seemed to think I was just being plain lazy leaving the plants to fend for themselves while I spent all my time writing indoors.  I meekly subsided in my bicoloured-grasses-taking-over-the-world argument. The fact is she is right about the garden neglect.

When I write, and I try to write-- day after day, in some sort of obsessive insane manner---every chance I get----as if I would die if I did not make a continuous line of consanguineous words---- in some endless cardiac rhythm print out of words---well, everything else goes-- all to hell.  I do not clean house, I do not cook, and I do not garden.  My husband and kids get sadly neglected. It is a bad business.  

I must learn to be more balanced. Tomorrow.  I will drop the boys off and I will go for a walk in the forest.  I will take my nature journal with me. I will spray myself liberally with bug spray so that the feasting mosquitoes will be deterred from making me a blood donor in motion.  I will come home and then I will dig up more bicoloured grass out of the bed that is strangulating every adjacent plant in some sort of perversely affectionate bonding of its roots with theirs—the intimate entanglements of these grasses is very promiscuous and debilitating for this gardener---but I must not be repelled  by their power hungry invasions of my lands and fork them out.  I will try to do the laundry that is staggering around in the mudroom –like some almost alive bundle of garments. 

My sister is wrong. I am not lazy. It is just that I would rather be writing than doing nearly anything else. I would rather be in a room locked up with the cellmates of books--reading their stories--- than outside with human beings.  I would rather occupy print city than the tent city of my struggling plants. But balance.  I need to have balance.  I have even given up Saturday morning yoga with my yoga teacher Catherine--to be with my books.  How to return to the half normal human being I was before I decide to become a stupid poet? How to return to sanity?

I look at the marsh.  It burbles happily under the spring assault of blackbirds impervious to their rioting crowds. It endures the restless attentions of an ornery goose couple that appears—obstinately--- to set up house every year but never have any goslings to show for all their efforts.  Married couples of Mallard ducks harvest the marsh for their excessive broods of children (family planning is obviously not high on their lists of things they must do) and there are always stacks of muskrats or beavers-- sitting like Buddhas on the twiggy woody parts-- staring the ducks down.  It is a busy place—that marsh—almost as busy as my home.

The marsh is even a mouth from which ten thousand frogs broadcast their availability to each other.  Then--- let me not forget the zippers of dragonflies that go about making sure the world about them has been closed tight with their pulling along of the open zippers of air to close the invisible gaping holes.  The marsh is just there, puddling along.  Maybe this is what I am going to have to do as well—not listen to any one—even my sister’s  yapping about “plant cruelty” and be like that marsh—just keep puddling along. I must be like the marsh that is calmly letting the activities of the world push-pull about it and just sitting brownly there –impervious to it all—but obviously-- in its sweet spot nevertheless.

Maybe I need to be just doing all this writing –for whatever insane reason I am doing it—and at the edges of this writing life-I am to do all the matters of real life.  Maybe I should just marsh my way through this matter of learning how to use words –how to prune their branches, how to shape their form, then how to grow them to bloom and then when there is fruit—see if all this labor was worth this insane amount of life-and decide then—whether I should be doing all the other things I could be doing rather than this work. Maybe tomorrow, I will just come back to this room, open a book and without any compunction at all,  I will ignore my sister’s insistence to rejoin the happy flocks of human beings birding it around  in the real world, shut the door again, disappear from the real world and read my books.  And then write about them. The garden can wait. Why should I listen to my sister’s admonishments anyway?  She is much younger than me—what does she know?

"Her Gift" by Annie Hindle in "poems between women four centuries of love, romantic friendship, and desire"

So here's the deal.  Men work like dogs to be top dog and to get the cream of the power girls for their trophy wives and what do women really want?  Do they want rich men and stuff? Yes, I suppose we do. But more than that--what do women want? I like this poem for its simplicity of an answer.  Perhaps women just want visible signs of attachment from their men--those small caresses on waking, the hands held as you walk together, the side by side bump and touch in the kitchen as you chop veggies for the brats, the sordid tumble in the car away in the mountains where you both look like hell and don't give a damn. Maybe this is what men don't get about women and what women don't understand about themselves.  All the junk is nice and useful so you don't become a bag person on the streets, but really we live in Canada. We won't starve. Why not give to each other what is really precious? Now where is my sweetie?

  Let me go do what this sweetheart in this poem is doing.  He is asking for proof of his sweetheart --that he really possesses her heart--and the junk just won't do it for him. He won't take an amulet with sentimental feelings attached to it just in case it made his lovely sad; he won't take a ring that is not valuable --because it is not the bliss --that money can purchase that he wants.  His clueless sweetie finally understands and gives him real bliss.  Smart man.

'Oh give me that you prize the most,
   To prove your love sincere;
Whate'er is precious to your heart;
Something with which you would not part
  Except to one most dear.'

I looked upon her glowing face,
   And proffered this request;
'Twas but a passing whim of mine,
That she should give the sweetest sign,
  That I her heart possessed.

She drew the bracelet from her arm;
  'Take this, my love,' she said;
'It is the richest thing I own,
Though valued not for gold alone;
  'Twas worn by one now dead.'

I shook my head, and would not take
  The glittering amulet;
But clasped it on her arm again;
'Oh love, such gift would cause me pain,
  In causing you regret.'

'Then, here's a ring,' she murmured soft,
' 'Tis neither rich nor new;
Oh, prithee, this dear token take,
And wear it for the giver's sake,
  Who gives her heart to you.'

'Nay, dearest, all these trifles keep,
   And grant me, I beseech,
Some bliss that wealth could never buy,
Some bliss that love would not deny
  To my imploring speech.'

She raised her face, until her eyes
  Were level with my own;
And with a blush, and roguish smile,
That said: -'I meant to all the while,'
Her loving arms were thrown

About my neck; the while her face
  Was in a brief eclipse;
And then, and there she gave, I know
The sweetest gift she could bestow: -
  Her heart was on her lips!

Now isn't that so neat?  To stretch out the giving of a kiss in this way?  To use a "blush and roguish smile" to delay consummation?  Why are we all in such a hurry always? It was more fun to be in love in the times of Annie Hindle.  Just a kiss, folks. That's all a guy really needs to get a girl or this little sweetie to get her sweetheart.

"On the Road to the Sea" by Charlotte Mew in "poems between women four centuries of love, romantic friendship, and desire"

The day is swimming in light. I stayed in bed as long as I could, with my eyes shut against the red brilliance hovering around me like chrysanthemum flames---but finally, knowing it was unforgivable to stay in bed for no good reason except to waste time (which was no good reason at all) –I got out to look down at the garden, which ---thanks to the sullen amount of work I did yesterday, looks half civilized (the other half is full of dead plant matter and I will not open the window overlooking the compost heap that looks like an Egyptian pyramid made of dead plant parts to see that mess).    It is Sunday and more grass is to be ripped out of the beds; they have made plaited cities of roots under each desirable plant and stuck out rude fingers of green everywhere and I am determined to root them out (pun intended). But not just right now.

Nope. Right now, I would rather look upon beauty than upon mess.  I have sent my husband outside in the garden with the two whiny boys so they can tidy up the mess while I look at them working. 

So let me look down on beauty.  I am looking down upon the purple pen nibs of my iris dripping ink, the Catalpa tree is beginning its first spring writings in green scribble of buds, the flocks of Solomon Seals in their priestly garb, are making solemn processions of Sunday worshipers throughout the raised beds, the peonies have laid plumage down like green feathers in homage to that religious group and the roses ---spring forth their sudden fists of nails and beating canes;  it is all very lovely but I am not there. Instead, I am at the writing place, and instead of spading out bi-coloured grasses ---- I am going to blab about this poem. 

I read it quite a long time ago and finding it in this book, was caught again by the tenderness and difference---- in its viewpoint of love. It is a poem in a female poet’s restrained feelings –therefore they are ---not over the top ---like the overwrought, overdone messes of some poets ---who –when they enter the arena of passionate feelings--- –lose all good sense and just spurt arteries of muck—instead of realizing that the slow drops of blood from a finger poke------is just as good as a jugular vein stab---to show the heart’s good work of making us all—in the matters of love –idiots. But lovable idiots.

So here is this poem—spoken from a man’s point of view—to a woman and this was neat enough.   I mean I know this is done by female poets--- but I do not believe that it is done this well.  In this poem, I think Ms. Mew is able to say  overdone lines like “But first I want your life: - before I die I want to see”—because she couples this line with something real and honest and right like “The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,”  which is what I think love is really about--some sort of scientific investigation engaged in by our species that involves intimate experiments designed to remake both the scientist and the subject---for the better.

In this poem the scientist--the speaker wants to find out--what lies in the far country behind the surface facade--and wants to see if the beloved is all interesting new mind, heart and soul  as in the “haunting purple bloom” found on dead fields ; or nothing as the speaker says here “There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be” . 

In this poem Ms. Mew describes interestingly--- the scope and purpose of the research project---why we enter into curiosity about the subject in the first place (partly challenge—“So this hard thing is yet to do”-to make the beloved love us back; and partly the deliciousness of learning everything about the beloved –“Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the garden wall,” );   and then delves into all the experiments that will be conducted to hopefully obtain the results of this particular research project-whatever they may be.

These experiments will determine ---why this speaker feels something for someone –(“The child in you” I like that best”); how he goes about trying to make her his own  (“I will not stare into the early world beyond the eyes, / Or vex or scare what I love best.”); and show the pure bloody minded terror of entering into intimate relationship that essentially fries the brain and makes over the participants into new beings. 

Ms. Mew even discourses on the waiting period—where  the one who would love---is like a force on the beloved; and seeing the beloved resist; can voluntarily--- take a step back in  the avid pursuit of the beloved--to allow the beloved a chance to catch up with him in his harebrained scheme of love—("To-night, tomorrow morning or next year. / Still I will let you keep your life a little while").  I love this poem for the facets of the diamond  of love ---exposed--- in its fresh clean lines—it is an intelligent poem on love that does not give me a whole pile of silly compliments to a dumb goddess figure ---that men seem to think that women are (at least some women) when in reality women are the most cunning little Eve-creatures around.

I hate a love poem that squeaks  of surface details—where the poet admires the surface of the table he is about to lay—portraying it as glossy, smooth perfection and gives us nothing of the magnetic human being under the bark—the rings and rings of character---hidden within that wood.

For what use--- is an exploration of love in terms of surface—for the discerning reader?  We already know enough about love already from painful experiences and pleasurable ones.  What more can we learn? And certainly we won't learn about love from the whittlings of the wood that goddess poems slice off for us.

Far better to do what Ms. Mew does here –which is go into an investigation of one man's war tactics on the battleground of love.  In this poem, we have a man about to overcome the enemy---this woman who he wants to conquer—whether now or later; and we are to understand what lies between a man and a woman—curiosity, tenderness, passion—real emotions—beautifully and precisely---laid out before us like a clinical dissection of a human body does of its anatomical features. It is worth reading--if only for seeing a mature man about his business of wooing a sensible woman.

It has many stanzas and I will go over each lovingly –sitting down--often on a bench of a stanza--along this garden path to just be in the prettiness and scents of this garden--to enjoy it fully.

In the first stanza, the male speaker –has meet his beloved, turned away from her, and gone back to visit with her. He talked with her “for half an hour,” before loping off. He is a patient man but not too patient.  He wants for now at least–only to make her smile but is not able to accomplish this feat--at this time. So he is to wait –for sometime in the future where he expects to get a smiling response from her as he has from all the other sweeties, he has flirted with.   

 I like this rare woman ---who hasn’t smiled at him--who is shown to be "grave" and perhaps intelligent. She probably knows he is an incorrigible flirt and will linger with every flower like an overwrought butterfly and she –upon seeing him—is perhaps instinctively closing her petal flowers to rebud shut to assume a sensible stance of self-protection.  She won't risk her emotional health for a butterfly but for a  man---perhaps she might.  I feel the same way myself among such men—as if they are always seeking honey ---and why would they be always wanting to be filled---unless they are always empty?

We passed each other, turned and stopped for half an hour,
                        then went our way,
   I who can make other women smile did not make you –
But no man can move mountains in a day.
   So this hard thing is yet to do.

In general, I find men prefer to have an anthill to move rather than a mountain; but if they do come across a mountain --–this does not seem impede them any---and they continue in their determined pursuit of their goal—especially ---where women are concerned.  Now this may just be nonsense on my part but it does seem to me --that the more impossible the woman is to attain—the harder a man tries to win her;  and invariably---- when he scales the mountain—he descends posthaste and runs off to the next mountain.  But perhaps I am merely being my usual horrid, cynical self here --and I am mistaken about the force and longevity of a man’s affections for a mountain.  For some men scale mountains and are stuck on them and are unable to vacate them ---as my own husband would attest; he would much rather prefer--to be in some fertile valley enjoying the insipid leisure pastimes therein but he can't do this. I won't let him. He is stuck on this particular craggy, immovable mountain---doing the hard labor of relationship ---with a life force equal to a Tsunami; and unable to descend to freedom ---well not until I decide he can go, which I don’t think will happen until I am dead—and until then he is in his self described "torture". Too bad, so sad. He should have stayed in Quebec instead of going west--to Calgary and its peaks.

Now note the confidence of the speaker in this poem—the lethal womanizer!   He is pretty confident but he is stalled on the highway of love temporarily.  He says right out he “can make other women smile” –as if he knew all the tricks of the door to door sales trade and was successful each time in getting a sale! Who were these silly creatures that yielded all to him upon receipt of his sallies?  Why women give themselves up--for a few cents of a  smile ---when they could get the whole estate and the man as well--- is beyond me.  Far better to take hold of a man in the same way as you do your children during gestation –with an essential umbilical cord of love and sustenance ---and never let it be cut.

The second stanza.  Let us get going or else I will never get to the bi-colored grasses that are wearisomely spreading in the garden ----that need to be pulled out ---before they take over the garden-world.

But first I want your life – before I die I want to see
   The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,
 There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be,
        Yet on brown fields there lies
A haunting purple bloom: is there not something in grey skies
             And in grey sea?
     I want what world there is behind your eyes,
     I want your life and you will not give it me.

There is always a matter of curiosity when we fall in love—as if we have a template in our brains that upon meeting the beloved—makes for pleasurable fit--as if  there is a happy coincidence in the congruence of parts.   We want to know--as does this speaker--- what indeed lies “behind the strangeness” of the eyes, the face, the body, the exterior surfaces. 

And this man --- has some interest in these matters--despite the fact he might come up empty in his explorations. He knows that the odds are that ---he may find that there is a great void of nothingness under the cover lid of this pot—that the eyes may be just a lure.  He may indeed find “There is nothing gay or green there” –that this matter of query and desire—will end in disappointment. 

But he says to himself—well there might be something of value there—for even on a dead field—there are flowers that are beautiful—“Yet on brown fields there lies / A haunting purple bloom:”  and so he persists.  He asks “is there something in grey skies/  And in grey sea? “—is there something of this sort of worth behind her grey eyes?

He reiterates his insistent desire to know the beloved:  “I want what world there is behind your eyes,” and yet she refuses to give it to him.

I suppose this is the most interesting part of love—the finding out time.  When you do find what “world there is behind” the skin and hair and flesh---it is this world that keeps you in thrall.  The body is a nice toy to play with but all flesh toys have some sort of inbuilt obsolescence factor and eventually the winding up and winding down of the toy is not going to keep you stuck to the beloved forever. What is most amusing is the mental clockworks that sit inside –that creates its own distinctive individual world that cannot be replicated because it is born of that individual’s genes, experiences and mental processings.  You can make a clone of yourself—perhaps sometime in the future--but will the clone be you?  Nope. I doubt this very much. So the fun part of love is finding this special difference in each of us.

In this stanza, the beloved is still not giving it up to him.  I would that this woman not give it up to him--at least not until he has latched on to her like a babe to breast—until in fact, he understands that this woman is not another coin in a stack that he is building for himself—as proof of manhood.  I want him –this speaker to see this woman as something more than a boost for his ego, more than another plate to break in a high spirited fling, more than the experience men seem to think they need to prove their worth in the herd of men that deliberate and consider among themselves of relative values of each man based upon individual demonstrations of performance, power and “success” in all the arenas of war, work and women.  I want this speaker to see this woman as a human being.  Is he going to?

Stanza three. 

    To-day is not enough or yesterday : God sees it all
Your length on sunny lawns, the wakeful rainy nights --; tell
                     me --; (how vain to ask), but it is not a question –
                    just a call --;
Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the
                    garden wall.
           I like you best when you are small.
So in this poem, the speaker is saying that he wants to see all of her everywhere ---just as God—who “sees it all” and he isn’t picky—he’d see her “on sunny lawns,” or “wakeful rainy nights”; or even as a child ---whose growth--is proved by “notched inches climbing up  the garden wall.”   

So he would see her every day, everywhere and yet he would settle for just seeing her throughout her childhood --seeing her grow ---as attested by the increasing height of the notches marking her growth on the wall of the garden—for –and this is sweet—he likes her “best” when she was a small girl.  

 I like men best too—when I imagine them as youngsters—into all sorts of mischief and this is a very neat thing for this man to think and say.  I'm a sucker for baby pictures. I had one of my husband that I was gaga about that showed him as a sort of choir boy--angelic blond child with dimples---that I believed for years was him as a six year old until his mum told me that was her other son --and somehow the pictures had got muddled and I had been moony over my brother in law as a boy. Since then I have avoided men in baby pictures.

Stanza 4 is a doozy.  Let me write it out so we can look at it together and first take a deep breath --before we start this long journey into a man’s heart.

        Is this a stupid thing to say
        Not having spent with you one day?
No matter; I shall never touch your hair
Or hear the little tick behind your breast,
        Still it is there,
        And as a flying bird
Brushes the branches where it may not rest
       I have brushed your hand and heard
The child in you: I like that best
So small, so dark, so sweet; and were you also then too grave
                      and wise?
   Always, I think.  Then put your far off little hand in mine, --
                      Oh! let it rest;
I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,
    Or vex or scare what I love best.
    But I want your life before mine bleeds away  --
         Here  -- not  in heavenly hereafters –soon
         I want your smile this very afternoon,
  (The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,
         I wanted and I sometimes got – the Moon!)

In this pleasant stanza, the speaker is dreaming the lovely dream where the lover thinks of the beloved (who in this case –has gone off into the distance) and speaks to his imaginary beloved—asking her if she would think it “stupid” and irrational for him to speak in this intimate manner –after just “one day” of knowing.  I don’t actually think she would think it “stupid” ----I think we know our beloveds ---as soon as we meet them—as if there is something about their faces and bodies –that calls forth an instantaneous response of love on our parts.  This is all very unscientific but I think we are enzyme and receptors in love and if the fit isn’t there on first contact---this means there won’t be the cascade of reactions that follow the hormone attaching to receptor—to give that metabolic fire that is necessary for the burning of each of the pair to make the fused coupled one. Just my regular non-scientific hunch here.

After asking his imaginary beloved—if she considers him stupid for his rashness—he tells himself—well it doesn’t really matter does it?  For he won’t ever have her—“I shall never touch your hair/  Or hear the little tick behind your breast,” and yet—“Still it is there” this feeling and at least---he has felt her hand in passing--- as a bird has gone through branches of trees in passing. This is a lovely sequence of lines that I repeat here again---so you can see the way Ms. Mew has stammered together beautifully----the bird and the man’s hand-- through the pairing of the images of the branches of a tree and the fingers of a hand:

        Still it is there,
        And as a flying bird
Brushes the branches where it may not rest
       I have brushed your hand
So the bird is not to rest in the branches of the tree—as his hand is not able to rest in the clasp of her hands—so sweet—isn’t it?  Just the brushing of a hand against her hand.  Why can’t men talk like this in real life?   

Rather than asking for stupid things like sex and beer—all items---as commonplace as the gravel on a garden road –why can't men  ---be discoursing intelligently, and in this fertile fashion ---with their beloveds?  Now do you understand why mankind is in trouble?  It is all because of male poets who do not talk like this.  If we had more poets like Charlotte Mew showing men ----what women really want ----then men wouldn’t be off plundering and raping and making a mess of the world because they would be yapping at their spouses in this delightful way. Happy marriages and good chatter make for less war.

So now that he has arrived at brushing her hand, he goes back to his earlier idea where he loves her best when she was an infant—and he makes a spreadsheet of what her attributes were at this earlier stage –and I must admit –she sounds as if she was a cute little button of a mushroom-girl—“So small, so dark, so sweet” and were you also "then too grave/  and wise”—the perfect precursor to this young woman who refuses to smile in demand to this suave man’s blandishments.

Then he tells his imaginary sweetheart –that he won’t “vex or scare" her; and won’t push too hard --- to enter that “world that lies behind the strangeness” of her eyes—but instead –he will pause at the outer doorway of that interior land that lies in each of us—and not even “stare into the early world” which is--- I assume –at doorstep of her interior mansion --before he can enter the most private sanctuary inside her.

I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,
    Or vex or scare what I love best.

Then of course, he repeats his desire—for her –to give it all up to him before he conks out:

    But I want your life before mine bleeds away  --
         Here  -- not  in heavenly hereafters –soon –
         I want your smile this very afternoon,
  (The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,
         I wanted and I sometimes got – the Moon!)
He says he wants her now—in life and not “in heavenly hereafters”  and that even—he would have her smile back at him “this very afternoon”. This is said in a deprecating fashion for he says that this impulsive nature of his –in matters of love—is sometimes answered productively  with the gaining of an impossible target (“the Moon!”) .

Stanza 5. Home stretch.

    You know, at dusk, the last bird’s cry,
And round the house the flap of the bat’s low flight,
    Trees that go black against the sky
And then how soon the night!

We are given here --at the speed of light ---of the passing of a day ----and perhaps similarly-of death as well --for “how soon the night!” --- such a neat flow of images. Such pretty images are pasted together to give us a feeling of sadness—at evening —“the last bird’s cry” as it silences down to nothing; then the “flap of the bat’s low flight” as it remembers its night fruit flight routes about the house; then looking out of the house, the light is still faintly there and the black bones of trees puncture the flesh of sky—so pretty and all these matters---make harder the ending of the day—and night’s arrival---swift and inevitable—“And then how soon the night!” This stanza prepares us for the next stanza which is a renunciation of the beloved --for he accepts his fate as leftover lover.

Stanza 6. Departing theme is stretched out here in this before the last stanza goodbye.

   No shadow of you on any bright road again,
And at the darkening end of this – what voice?  whose kiss? As
                      if you’d say!
It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take
    Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner’s grain
    From your reaped fields at the shut of day.

Such a beautiful passage of acceptance and sorrow.  The speaker understands he is not the one who will “take away” or harvest this pretty field—nor get anything more than the residue found on the stubble lands –the “little handful of the gleaner’s grain” for his hunger. 

He knows that is is unlikely that he will get a kiss from her and he wonders “what voice?” –what man’s voice will speak with her in the end—as he describes it sadly  “the darkening end of this”—and I have to admit I feel sorry for him--rogue though he may be. 

We have all loved someone who didn’t care beans for us and it is a very hard thing to accept and we must accept it---because that is just the way it is and unfortunately---we can’t expect everyone to love us ----even though we fully deserve to be loved by everybody. Besides it isn't practical.  Think about it.  If everybody loved you -what a mess that would make for you!  

It just gets too messy in terms of molecular interactions if there are too many different atoms trying to engage in pair bondings.  Unfortunately.  For as this speaker amply proves we are all so adorable and lovable and it is just our plain bad luck that we cannot have everyone we love and the best thing to do is just give up. So has he given up?  He has already told us there  will be no “Peace, peace” –but just this feeling.  So is he done? 

Last stanza-# 7

      Peace! Would you not rather die
   Reeling, -with all the cannons at your ear?
     So, at least, would I,
   And I may not be here
  To-night ,tomorrow morning or next year.
  Still will I let you keep your life a little while,
          See dear?
      I have made you smile.

In this stanza the speaker disavows himself from any position of peace (he is going back to the war he had started in stanza #1). He  says in this stanza-- that he would rather go out of life--- in this war of love--- amid  the noise of “the cannons”  and “Reeling,” from the battle to win her than to quit like a sensible man. And would she not also prefer this?   Also, mortal as he is—he knows he may not be here for long—“And  I may not be here/ To-night, tomorrow morning  or next year”---and so –he will continue in his rashness—letting her be fey for now  –“Still I will let you keep your life a little while”  but he will continue  his hard pursuit. In response, his imaginary beloved smiles back at him –and he says “See dear?  / I have made you smile.”

Too pretty.  This poet is just as deep and intense in her feelings as Emily.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Collection of Photographs" by Brian Henderson in "prairie fire A Canadian Magazine Of New Writing" Volume 30, No. 1

This is the last poem in the series of five poems in this magazine and it was the best of the lot.  I liked it a great deal because it was simple and had some elements of pushing through the matter of being in this world --and into the other world --intangible and unknowable that we are occupying as if in a dimension we can't quite articulate to make real.

There are three stanzas in this poem. The first stanza speaks of the last parent dying (his mum) and then his having being altered by it so that he is now fully in his life--he can't now for example pretend he isn't going to die.  We all --I think --believe that so long as we have parents in the world--we can't die--we're too young, we're insulated by their amniotic sac of love--and we just know the natural sequence of things is that the older generation must die before the younger generation does. But when we lose our parents --we can't maintain this fictive device anymore and we are -as Brian Henderson is --by the passage of "this last and final and / irrevocable of parental deaths" --he is flung into the reality of his own mortality.  What does this realization do to him? It makes him come awake. He realizes he must live fully--he is "thrown, not so much / into life"  but more "into the abandonment of being in it"--which I think he means joyous exhilaration in the time left.

Strangely--the less time you have left to live the far more precious it is --and you want to live it fully--at least I do--and joyfully--with "abandonment of being" --which I think means --at least to me --without bothering about all the things that do not work--and focusing on what does work.

Mr. Henderson wants to concentrate on remaking his memories of his father --"the loss / of my father for instance, consciously / constructed with those of us left behind" ; and he wants to be present--"photographing" --what is ---"flotsam"  --"in the unfinished heat."

And so with this last and final and
irrevocable of parental deaths I come to the end 
of not being thrown, not so much
into life, or even really the living of it,
but into the abandonment of being in it,
holding on as long as possible
to the rituals of remembering, the loss
of my father for instance, consciously
constructed with those of us left behind,
or the rituals of presence: photographing
flotsam on the scythe of beach
in the unfinished heat.

The second stanza is lovely. It goes into the "invisible purity" that dresses up each moment of life --"that is in Mr. Henderson's mind " a space around"  every event--that can be "easily transgressed."   I'm not sure if I understand the space or its imprint --what are we to make of this? Is the space a halo or a vacuum?  Or what?

Everything has a space around it,
a kind of invisible purity
that's easily transgressed, every
moment, and each stays
remembered or not, mutilated
or not, as if now I were made of forgetting.

So what is he saying here?  In the first stanza--he is all about remembering; in the second stanza--he seems to be saying that the moment--each moment--and therefore each event--has a space around it--like a bubble -that is naturally present---that can be easily disrupted ---"transgressed".   Each moment can be remembered or forgotten -and for him --it seems that there is nothing left for him to remember --"as if (he) were made of forgetting."  So is the space for Mr. Henderson--an emptiness?  Is he being erased of his memories?  My head hurts.

In the last stanza--he says he wants to be "a friend of this thinking" --where perhaps he is thinking that every event will be forgotten?  I am not sure. You look at it.

And I would want to be a friend of this thinking
that would put me beyond the pale
because that's the most interior moment
the moment most intimate
like the fold of family.

I'm a bit lost.  So he wants to be in the fog? Where he feels that he is "made of forgetting" --rather than the more acceptable remembering?  And yes, forgetting would put him "beyond the pale" --for we are to remember our dead and not shove them into the pure space around each death. But he says that for him--such a way is "most intimate" --that it is where he feels he is tightest with his loved ones--and it is for him --"the most interior moment".

Why would forgetting --entering the "space around" a death--that space that has "a kind of invisible purity" be better than the reconstruction of a dead person by "those of us left behind"?  Well perhaps because he alone is doing it -alone in his head?  It is indeed more intimate than the public chatter and remakings of dead family members --they often become people who we no longer recognize and perhaps it is better to have this type of "interior moment" that is "the moment most intimate" even if it fills you with a feeling that you were "made of forgetting."

"Dry Spring" by Robyn Sarah in "The Fiddlehead volume 234 Winter 2008"

This matter of the Muse disappearing is often written in poems and you begin to wonder if this is the reason the Muse disappears--to get you to write about him disappearing.  In this poem, Robyn Sarah succinctly describes, how in the month of April, when spring is hatching its green eggs, there are no words:

No words, no will to words.
April days are bright.
My hopes in hiding.
So even though there is finally light outside --and hopeful things are happening in the world--she --unfortunately lacks hope-since it is "in hiding" and she also hasn't got a will to write--"no will to words."  This is an incredibly sucky feeling that I avoid by writing every day --any old junk so that I never get to this paralyzed feeling of not being able to write.

A whistling among the bare twigs.
Nothing wants to ignite.

So in the second stanza, even the damn bare twigs are singing with music (robins? sparks?) and yet inside the poet -nada--"Nothing wants to ignite."  You can appreciate how tardy the Muse is being here --is he just with another lovely?

Third stanza slowly pulls out the teeth from this aching jaw:

Drawing my sadness over me
like a thin blanket, what
shall I fasten on?  or let me unhook.
So she has this "thin blanket" of "sadness"   ---I tend to use my comforter--to tent under and be miserable and make everyone else miserable by whining under it---and she is asking herself ---what should she do next? I would tell her to buck up and get back to the writing place and write crap but she is thinking about what to hook on to her or unhook from her--as if she were wool and being crocheted. Why try to unhook your own self? Why try to fasten on something to get you to write?  It won't work. I'll tell you that. Nor will strong drink (although I haven't tried that).  Nor will men. Nor will money.  Nor will beauty. Nor will ugliness.  Nor will....anything work ---except the damn Muse. You just have to wait it out.

Wind chasing sand along the curb?
Blind sparrow chirp?

April days are bright.
I do not like what life has scribbled 
in my blank book.

So there you go.  You see the silly things poets write when they are desperate?  "Blind sparrow chirp?" I would not like this type of chatter in my head much less in my writing book.  But this is the type of mumbo jumbo we accept when we have a "blank book" when all about you April is writing out tomes of literature on the fields outside.  The contrast--- in production ---is terrifying.