Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

December Morning

How did I come to this late happiness 
as I wake into my remaining days
another morning in my life with Paula
taking me by surprise like the first one
I know it is rash to speak about happiness
with the Fates so near that I can hear them
but this morning even the old regrets 
seem to have lost their rancor
and to harbor shy hopes like the first grass
of spring appearing between paving stones
when I was a small child and I see
that each step has been leading me
to the present morning that I recognize
before daylight and I forget that
I am almost blind and I see the piles
of books I was going to read next
there they wait like statues of sitting dogs
faithful to someone they used to know 
but happiness has a shape made of air
it was never owned by anyone
it comes when it will in its own time

--W. S. Merwin 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Linda Pastan for the win

All poems found here.

NOTES TO MY MOTHER

1.
Your letters to me
are forwarded to my dreams
where you appear in snatches
of the past, wearing
appropriate clothes--
a thirties' shirtwaist or the long
seal coat you wintered in.
And since your gravestone
is shaped like the front
of our old mailbox,
I'll try to leave my messages
of flowers there.

2.
"Feeling fine, having a good time."
I had to stamp those words
on postcards home from camp,
though I was so homesick there
I'd read the nametapes on my socks
and handkerchiefs--scraps of my real self
you had sewn on by hand.
And so I write it now, though
I'm still homesick eight years after
you left me in my life for good:
feeling fine, having a good time.

3.
The roles of wife and mother
matched you with yourself

as perfectly as your shoes matched
your handbags. Therefore, for years

I couldn't understand my own failures
at order and optimism.

4.
How many autumns I've tried to pick my life up
like a dropped stitch and just get on with it,
tried to pretend the falling temperatures,
the emptying trees were not a synopsis:
so many losses behind me, so many
still ahead. The world is diminished leaf
by single leaf, person by person
and with excruciating slowness.
Sometimes I wish some wandering
comet would hit, as the newspaper
this morning warns or promises--some stray
pinball ricocheting through space.
Then we'd go up together in a lovely blast
of fireworks like the kind I watched
from our July 4th window light up
the sky with percussive neon ribbons.
And the dog, in his last month, hid
under the couch; and your great-grandchildren
couldn't decide whether to be frightened
or ecstatic, their laughter had that edge
of shrillness to it. They don't know
that danger is the shadow thrown
by every bright object; that even family love
can show this dull metallic underside,
as the leaves do which move in sudden gusts
of September wind all in the same direction,
like a school of panicked minnows
sensing a predator ahead.

5.
Though I learned to love
the woman you became
after the stroke,

I never quite forgave her
for hiding my real mother--you,
somewhere

in the drifted snows beyond
that unscalable
widow's peak.

6.
Everywhere
the stream
of life goes on,
and I try to
go with it,
non-swimmer,
paddler in a leaky
canoe.

7.
You taught me always
to write thank you notes, though
I never thanked you properly,
not even when you were dying. But
I thought our inarticulateness
in the face of love was as elemental
as the silence of stones
in the same streambed. I thought
you wanted it that way.

8.
As I grow older, I try
to draw the world in close
as if it were a shawl you had crocheted for me
from small indulgences--morning coffee
from the same cracked cup,
a stroll downhill past empty mailboxes
where only weather may be different
or the seasonal colors of the birds.
And I try to think of loss as a salt sea
I'll learn to swim in later;
getting closer to you
with every overarm stroke.

9.
Things I refuse to think about
also come back in dreams:
the way my fingers have started
to fail, as yours did, knuckle
by swollen knuckle. Last night
I dreamed of handcuffs,
amputation.
Or how even repented sins
are ours for good: they drift
down the exotic rivers
of medicinal sleep
mewling like kittens.

So in the last moments of wakefulness
I re-create that lost world
whose textures are like braille
beneath my fingertips: the enamel
of the forties' stove where you taught me
to cook; the floral wallpaper you chose
whose roses had no thorns;
the strictness of starch against skin.
And here sleep comes
with all its complicated gifts
and treacheries to gather me
in its arms.

--

BETWEEN GENERATIONS

I left my father in a wicker basket
on other people's doorsteps.
Now I wait to be adopted by children,
wait in a house far between generations
with night rising faster
than the moon.

I dream of Regan laughing on her father's lap
behind the castle.
I laughed once in my father's face,
and he laughed, and the two laughters
locked like bumpers 
that still rust away between us.

My children fill the house with departures.
Zippers close, trunks close, wire hangers jump
on the empty pole--ghosts without their sheets.
And I ask what strict gravity 
pushes love down the steep incline 
from father to child, always down?

--

JOURNEY'S END

How hard we try to reach death safely, 
luggage intact, each child accounted for, 
the wounds of passage quickly bandaged up. 
We treat the years like stops along the way 
of a long flight from the catastrophe 
we move to, thinking: home free all at last. 
Wave, wave your hanky towards journey's end; 
avert your eyes from windows grimed with twilight 
where landscapes rush by, terrible and lovely.

--

NIGHT SOUNDS

When the clock
like a moon shows
the dark side of its face
we reach
across cold expanses
of pillow
for speech.
In that silence
a fox barks
from the next field,
or a train drags its long syllable
over a hill,
or the baby
washed up again from sleep
sends its vowels
calling
for their lost
consonants.

--

OLD WOMAN

In the evening
my griefs come to me
one by one.
They tell me what I had hoped to forget.
They perch on my shoulders
like mourning doves.
They are the color
of light fading.

In the day
they come back
wearing disguises.
I rock and rock
in the warm amnesia of sun.
When my griefs sing to me 
from the bright throats of thrushes
I sing back.

--

TO A DAUGHTER LEAVING HOME

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a

handkerchief waving
goodbye.

--

AFTER AN ABSENCE

After an absence that was no one’s fault
we are shy with each other,
and our words seem younger than we are,
as if we must return to the time we met
and work ourselves back to the present,
the way you never read a story
from the place you stopped
but always start each book all over again.
Perhaps we should have stayed
tied like mountain climbers
by the safe cord of the phone,
its dial our own small prayer wheel,
our voices less ghostly across the miles,
less awkward than they are now.
I had forgotten the grey in your curls,
that splash of winter over your face,
remembering the younger man
you used to be.

And I feel myself turn old and ordinary,
having to think again of food for supper,
the animals to be tended, the whole riptide
of daily life hidden but perilous
pulling both of us under so fast.
I have dreamed of our bed
as if it were a shore where we would be washed up,
not this striped mattress
we must cover with sheets. I had forgotten
all the old business between us,
like mail unanswered so long that silence
becomes eloquent, a message of its own.
I had even forgotten how married love
is a territory more mysterious
the more it is explored, like one of those terrains
you read about, a garden in the desert
where you stoop to drink, never knowing

if your mouth will fill with water or sand.

--

THE WAY THE LEAVES KEEP FALLING

It is November 
and morning--time to get to work. 
I feel the little whip 
of my conscience flick 
as I stand at the window watching 
the great harvest of leaves. 
Across the street my neighbor, 
his leaf blower already roaring, 
tries to make order 
from the chaos of fading color. 
He seems brave and a bit foolish. 
It is almost tidal, the way 
the leaves keep falling 
wave after wave to earth.

In Eden there were 
no seasons, and sometimes 
I think it was the tidiness 
of that garden 
Eve hated, all the wooden tags 
with the new names of plants and trees. 
Still, I am Adam’s child too 
and I like order, though 
the margins of my poems 
are ragged, and I stand here 

all morning watching the leaves.

--

AN OLD SONG

How loyal our childhood demons are,
growing old with us in the same house
like servants who season the meat
with bitterness, like jailers
who rattle the keys
that lock us in or lock us out.

Though we go on with our lives,
though the years pile up
like snow against the door,
still our demons stare at us
from the depths of mirrors
or from the new faces across a table.

And no matter what voice they choose,
what language they speak,
the message is always the same.
They ask “Why can’t you do
anything right?” They say

“We just don’t love you anymore.”

--

HIGH SUMMER

The earth smells of flowers
and corruption--so many
shades of green
that caterpillar and leaf
are indistinguishable,
even as one obliterates
the other.

Aunt Ruth sits
on the back porch, rocking
towards her death.
The smallest cousin swims
into the future. Look
at the water, so beautiful 
in all that it conceals.

--

SOMETIMES

from the periphery
of the family
where I sit watching
my children and 
my children's children
in all their bright
cacophony,

I seem to leave
my body--
plump effigy
of a woman, upright
on a chair--
and as I float
willingly away

toward the chill
silence of my own future,
their voices break
into the syllables
of strangers, to whom
with this real hand
I wave goodbye.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From Time to Time

It is the moment just before that we
live over and over in its only time
and then recount to those who were not there
the beginning still echoes in laughter
but resounds unrecognized every time
and never comes back to begin again
there are no words for calling after it
and when it went it left no memory
but the sound of the running sheep calling
to the evening from the darkening hill
what they are calling as they run is Wait
what each one of them is calling is Wait

The Other House

I come back again to the old house
that I thought I knew for most of a lifetime
the house I reclaimed from abandon and ruin
and that I called my home at times when I was here
and at times when I was somewhere far from here
this time I have not come to reclaim anything 
but to move nothing and to touch nothing 
as though I were a ghost or here in a dream
and I know it is a dream that has no age
in this dream the same river is still here
the house is the old house and I am here in the morning
in the sunlight and the same bird is singing 

--W. S. Merwin

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Native Memory

River was my first word
after mama.
I grew up with the names of rivers
on my tongue: the Coosa,
the Tallapoosa, the Black Warrior;
the sound of their names
as native to me as my own.

I walked barefoot along the brow of Lookout Mountain
with my father, where the Little River
carves its name through the canyons
of sandstone and shale
above Shinbone Valley;
where the Cherokee
stood on these same stones
and cast their voices into the canyon below.

You are here, a red arrow
on the atlas tells me
at the edge of the bluff
where young fools have carved their initials
into giant oaks
and spray painted their names and dates
on the canyon rocks,
where human history is no more
than a layer of stardust, thin
as the fingernail of god.

What the canyon holds in its hands:
an old language spoken into the pines
and carried downstream
on wind and time, vanishing
like footprints in ash.
The mountain holds their sorrow
in the marrow of its bones.
The body remembers
the scars of massacres,
how the hawk ached to see
family after family
dragged by the roots
from the land of their fathers.

Someone survived to remember
beyond the weight of wagons and their thousands
of feet cutting a deep trail of grief.
Someone survived to tell the story of this
sorrow and where they left their homes
and how the trees wept to see them go
and where they crossed the river
and where they whispered a prayer into their grandmother’s eyes
before she died
and where it was along the road they buried her
and where the oak stood whose roots
grew around her bones
and where it was that the wild persimmons grow
and what it was she last said to her children
and which child was to keep her memory alive
and which child was to keep the language alive
and weave the stories of this journey into song
and when were the seasons of singing
and what were the stories that go with the seasons
that tell how to work and when to pray
that tell when to dance and who made the day.

You are here
where bloodlines and rivers
are woven together.
I followed the river until I forgot my name
and came here to the mouth of the canyon
to swim in the rain and remember
this, the most indigenous joy I know:
to wade into the river naked
among the moss and stones,
to drink water from my hands
and be alive in the river, the river saying,
You are here,
a daughter of stardust and time.

--Ansel Elkins

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath

Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says: My mother would never put up with that.
Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time

your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?
don’t waste your breath explaining, again,

how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.

Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice

given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don’t belabor

the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband’s release a year later, or
the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—

they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks: Do you think

your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy

with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told
by your famous professor, that you should

write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.

Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and
contend with what it means, the folk-saying

you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother’s body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—

you carry her corpse on your back.


--Natasha Trethewey, 1966

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Whiskey

I imagine our last happy days: a field
brimming with sunset-grass
the colour of whiskey
you and I are sipping.
And the children--whose
names are the tips of our tongues--
twirl about them the melting
ice of imaginations in that hot field
where we are sitting in some shady place
near sunset's charred oesophagus
looking on, sipping our whiskey 
washing ourselves away so shiningly.

--Vladimir Lucien