Moon in morning sky
Long shadows drape dawn’s pasture
Long travels ahead.
I went running in a short sleeve shirt this morning. I mowed the lawn in a tank top and shorts yesterday. As I ran, looking out across mist shrouded fields, passing my neighbor’s colonial breed of cows grazing with their bells gently ringing, I thought about another poem from The Truth About Death. While this poem was written five years ago next month, I thought it fitting for this morning. It was published the following year in The Sun. If you’ve never read The Sun, I strongly suggest you check it out. It’s a fabulous magazine, not just because they took four poems from my manuscript, but also because the writing is excellent, the politics are proudly humanistic and focused on the worth and potential of every individual, and all of us as a community of connected people, and there is a wonderful section each month full of short pieces by readers.
Some days I don’t have enough time to cry,
and then I miss it. A beaded curtain of rain
hangs from the porch roof; the Johnsons
have Christmas lights up. This week
I’ve been seeing you in the waiting room
in a wheelchair: exhausted, willing your blood
to behave, to qualify for a clinical trial,
any guinea pig treatment. By then
you were a withered man. If you were alive
we would go kayaking this weekend,
just to say we’d done it in December.
Last November we calculated how many times
we’d made love. Now there is thunder.
We’re entering the season of winter bareness, as the last of the leaves turn russet and dark yellow, and just plain brown, on the oaks. The maple leaves are long gone. Most bushes have lost their leaves now too, including the winterberry bushes that flourish in wet spots around my house. After dropping their glossy summer leaves, the bush is a great swath of color in an otherwise quickly-becoming-dim landscape. We passed a bush this morning while walking, which made me think of this poem, from my manuscript The Truth About Death. Noticing brilliance was part of how I made each day work for me, in that numbing first year of grief. It still helps, a spark of color on a grey morning.
Sunlight through the kitchen window
catches my glass of juice and fires
a moment of brilliance in my hand,
moving to my mouth, my lips. I drive
to work, I drive too fast, accelerating hard
up the hill from the traffic circle
a bright November morning, bushes
of winterberry red and red and red
against bare trees shiny with sunlight.
The evening after I’d talked to Sharon Olds about getting together to write poetry, there was a meeting of my poetry group, the Yogurt Poets, or YoPos. Only Nancy and I were there and so had plenty of time to chat. I told her about the poetry gathering I was planning and asked if she could join us, as Sharon had invited me to invite someone. Nancy couldn’t make it, but I told her I’d let her know about it.
A week ago, I sent her the link to the Poetry Play post and she used the list of words to generate her own poem, before reading my poem.
like a pumpjack
my head rocks
on the back
of my neck
and my sun visor
no longer blocks
of one blueberry
a gibbous orb
provokes a closer
as I step from dry
cobble to cobble
through marshy land
at the low end
of this oblong field
and pick and eat
— Nancy Stewart
“Isn’t it remarkable how different our use of the word-list is?” she wrote, after reading my poem, after writing hers. Yes, indeed.
PS The blog formatting isn’t taking the indentation of every other line that Nancy did in her poem. Sorry — it really adds something to the poem, so you’ll just have to imagine it.
Two weekends ago Sam, Marianna, Adrienne, Matt, Emilio, and David’s brother Doug were all here for the weekend. When David and I got up on Saturday morning, Sam and Marianna were up with Emilio, letting Adrienne and Matt get some extra morning sleep. David and I were both still under the spell of the poetry play we’d done the day before, and asked Sam and Marianna to help us generate a list of words to serve as writing prompts for the day. The list: green, lush, blue, constitutional monarchy (that’s Sam), stare, oar, amble. I was too busy cooking and playing with Emilio and being in the middle of day full of family to write a poem, but David did, and here it is.
The Laws of Nature
There are equations for the road’s convergence,
edges crossing the height of land to have
the last word before leaving the scene.
Those rules of perspective were worked out long ago
when people could still stare at things without moving.
Once there was one world,
a ruler came straight from the sun
and measurement was by the monarch’s foot.
Now lush governance has overgrown the arch.
The seen is changed by being seen.
No thing is any one thing and time has no place.
The wind sweeps oars through the grasses,
their bending reeds,
the light greening gold
then bruising the shadows blue,
darting for the bait beneath
the arc of a shallow sun.
A turkey can fly,
but tonight it falls out of the tree.
David hadn’t yet sent his poem from the morning with Sharon Olds to the others who were there, and when he did send that poem, he included this one. Bill wrote back to David, with the following comments on this poem.
I really like The Laws of Nature. You’ve captured something essential about what feels to me like the shift from the Newtonian universe to the relativistic world that came with Einstein and Heldelberg and modern physics and art.
What I find even more intriguing is that last part, with the imagery of the grasses and the shadows, because for me it opens a door to a third possibility–the world that indigenous people knew, before abstract language, where there was one world but a much different kind of physics, much more fluid and connected. I’ve come across some work in the shamanic traditions that tries to convey what that world was like, and how to revive it in some ways for putting our broken world together again.
So your piece has invited me to look deeper in that third realm. I’ll let you know what I find there.
I love what Bill says about David’s poem and take it as confirmation of what I’ve thought about David as a poet since I met him. He’s a natural. He’s spent very little of his adult life writing poetry, yet he has a true ear and great sense of detail, movement and how to make surprising shifts and turns. What fun for me.
First, today has been a total 10 on a 1 – 10 scale of perfection. The sun is clear, hot and sparkling on the water of the bay, the air is cool with a light breeze, and I’m in a waterfront house with only a tiny bit of work to do. And there was an earthquake today! Sitting on the deck eating lunch, I felt everything start to move back and forth. For a minute, I thought there was something wrong with me, some inner balance suddenly gone so that the world was now a shifting quiver. I looked up at David in the kitchen and said, “Is there an earthquake going on?” “I think so,” he answered, and then the quaking stopped. Thankfully, it appears to have done little damage, even near the epicenter.
So, here is the poem David wrote almost two weeks ago, during our morning of poetry play. The word prompts were the same that gave me the poem I posted two days ago: ruffle, marshy, sun visor, visible, tenuous, waiting, cobble, gibbous, orb, oblong. Tomorrow will be another poem from David, using words we had our family generate following day. Lots of poetry in my life right now, which is a very good thing.
Sargent and the Four Daughters
There must have been a gibbous moon unmasked
the feathering of the Earth
softening the chill edge into that curtain
drawn deep across the shadows of the painting.
One is barely visible in the darker folds,
her sister more forward in the brushed light
before the bright one in ruffles
who draws the eye naturally.
I cannot see the fourth I know is there
searching for words in the road.
Last week we came home from swimming and there was a message on the answering machine. “Hi, Grace,” a cheery voice said. “This is (too blurry to understand) and I have an idea. Give me a call,” and the voice left a number. I was about to play the message again when David came in the room and said, “That was Sharon Olds.”
Sharon Olds is a poet David and I have both greatly admired for years. She’s now a neighbor of mine, living with Carl, a farmer I’ve known for decades (our children went to Temple School together), who owns an old camp on Wild Goose Pond and has turned a few of the cabins into lovely, rural retreats. Carl is deeply involved with land conservation and local implementation of the “land ethic” first described by Aldo Leopold, a pioneer of conservation. David and I have crossed paths with Sharon and Carl numerous times in the last year or more — at poetry readings, at a screening of Green Fire, a movie about Aldo Leopold, at Yom Kippur services — and have talked about getting together.
I called Sharon back. “I have an idea,” Sharon said, and went on to describe her recent week at the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop. The intent is to generate new work using word prompts, and with a guest at one of the Graylag cabins who writes poetry, Sharon wondered if David and I would like to be part of a morning poetry gathering. Oh yes, we certainly would!
Bill, the Graylag guest, his friend Sharon (yes, two Sharons), David, Sharon Olds and I met at 9:00 a.m. in the community cabin at Graylag. Sharon Olds’ deep connection with art and poetry creation was evident. She talked about making space for poetry, about inviting in the spirit of others, such as Aldo Leopold, and then asked us each to contribute two or three words to serve as prompts for our writing. Our words: ruffle, marshy, sun visor, visible, tenuous, waiting, cobble, gibbous, orb, oblong. We then all went outside and picked up an object that spoke to us in some way. When we gathered again in the cabin, we passed our objects to the person on our right. Then we went off for a half hour to write.
We came back a bit later than a half hour and took turns reading our poems. Sharon asked us to “share what is most alive to us,” in each poem. “We’re too new together to offer critiques,” she said. We talked about the poems, about poetry, about the spell we each worked under with an awareness of our chosen woods and objects from the piney woods and pondside. “We are a tribe of five, and this is our language,” Sharon said. Here is the poem I wrote, with no editing yet. Tomorrow, David’s poem.
The fallen branch becomes complex
in her hands, white orbs of fungus
sucking the bark, trapping old brown
ash leaves, the plucked vine of fresh green
shot with white veins passed
to the next person in the circle.
Last night we discussed the origins
of gibbous, loving the moon
for just how it wavered, tenuous
chill coming into the evening,
the corner of another season unmasked,
visible in the one read leaf
I find floating no matter how summer
the day. This wild pond wears
its marshy crown of reeds and lilies
without desire for fealty, tiny wind
ruffles painting the water black
and blue that hurries into each flicker,
the cliché of sparkle. Oblong
passion rests in our words,
the trees and tumble of forest
reminding us that today is today
the unvisored sun before us
as we sit beside each other.