Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

5 years

Monday, September 11th, 2006

It was grey and drizzling in DC today.  I told one of my colleagues that I was glad it was overcast and, without hesitation, she said "not another perfect blue sky."   Moxie says the sky was bright blue in New York, just like five years ago.

Some links:

I hope no one is offended by the inclusion of the Onion piece.  After September 11, for a long time I had this poem taped to my office door.


A Man Doesn’t Have Time In His Life

A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn't have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn't learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there's time for everything.
-- Yehuda Amichai

The Place Where We Are Right

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Someone shared this poem with me recently, and it resonated on a lot of levels.  Because of the author, the immediate connection is with the middle east, but it applies just as well to person-to-person relationships.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

–  Yehuda Amichai

Passover Links

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

I’m not the only one for whom "For we were strangers in the land of Egypt" is resonating particularly loudly this year.

Jews in America are not as solidly left as they once were, but most are pro-immigration, both because many of us are not that many generations removed from the immigrant experience (both my grandmothers came to this country as children), and because we know that thousands — maybe tens of thousands, maybe more — of the six million might have survived if America and other countries had been willing to let them in.

Or as Marge Piercy writes in a poem that was read at many seders tonight:

"We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,

who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves."

Shel Silverstein on marriage

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

Tomorrow, I’ll have a serious post responding to the widespread blog discussion of this post about post-marriage weight gain and tying it to Jen’s post about wifestyles.  But for tonight, I just want to share this poem by Shel Silverstein.

My Rules

If you want to marry me, here’s what you’ll have to do:
You must learn how to make a perfect chicken-dumpling stew.
And you must sew my holey socks,
And soothe my troubled mind,
And develop the knack for scratching my back,
And keep my shoes spotlessly shined.
And while I rest you must rake up the leaves,
And when it is hailing and snowing
You must shovel the walk… and be still when I talk,
And — hey — where are you going?

From Where The Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.

Your cats are your children

Friday, February 17th, 2006

To go with the Barbara Crooker poem that we were discussing earlier in the week, I want to share this one by Marge Piercy.

Your cats are your children

Certain friends come in, they say
Your cats are your children.
hey smile from a great height on down.
Clouds roll in around their hair.
have real children, they mean,
while you have imitation.

My cats are not my children.
I gave Morgaine away yesterday
to a little boy she liked.
I’m not saving to send them to Harvard.
When they stay out overnight, I don’t call the police.

I like the way they don’t talk
The way they do, eyes shining
or narrowed, tails bannering,
paws kneading, cats with private
lives and passions sharp as their claws,
hunters, lovers, great sulkers.

No, my children are my friends,
my lover, my dependents on whom
I depend, those few for whom
I will rise in the middle of the night to give
comfort, massage, medicine
whose calls I always take.

My children are my books
that I gestate for years,
a slow-witted elephant
eternally pregnant, books
that I sit on for eras like the great
auk on a vast marble egg.

I raise them with loving care,
I groom and educate them,
I chastise, reward and adore.
I exercise them lean and fatten them up.
I roll them about my mind all night
and fuss over them in the mornings.

Then they march off into the world
to be misunderstood, mistreated, stolen,
to be loved for the wrong reasons,
to be fondled, beaten, lost.
Now and then I get a postcard
from Topeka Kansas, doing just fine.

People take them in and devour them.
People marry them for love.
People write me letters and tell me
how they are my children too.
I have children whose languages
rattle dumbly in my ears like gravel,

children born of the wind that blows
through me from the graves of the poor
and brave who struggled all their short
throttled lives to free people
whose faces they could not imagine.
Such are the children of my words.

Marge Piercy, from My Mother’s Body

I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m charmed by Piercy’s imagining of her books as children, growing up to have lives of their own, but am slightly alarmed by Crooker’s vision of her child as a poem, something she created.

Obedience

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

My clock radio is set to 90.9, so if I set my alarm for 6:30 am, I wake up to the purring voice of Garrison Keillor and The Writer’s Almanac.  Every weekday, he talks about a few writers who were born on that day, and reads a poem.  Today’s poem was Casabianca, by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, better known by its first line "The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck."

It’s a very 19th century poem, lauding the obedience and courage of the young son of an admiral, burning to death rather than leave without permission:

The flames rolled on – he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

My understanding is that schoolchildren used to memorize this poem and recite it.  (I know I read a children’s book in which the main character recites it.  One of the Little House books?  The Great Brain?  Anyone have a guess?)

Over the weekend, while my parents were visiting, at one point my mother praised N for his obedience, and my father commented that probably wasn’t something he was especially proud of.  I see obedience in children as mostly an instrumental virtue — if I can trust my son to stop when I shout stop, I can let him go further than an arm’s length away.  I find the glorification of obedience for its own sake in Casabianca pointless and more than a little horrifying. 

Annette Lareau has suggested that obedience has become largely a value of the poor and working-class in the US.  She argues that middle-class families in the US typically place higher value on independence of thought, reasoning, and self-confidence rather than obedience.  I was reminded of this reading Cecily’s post today, in which she writes "I will, most likely, never ask my kids to call me “Ma’am.” " as a marker of the cultural differences between her and her siblings.

Any thoughts?  Is it possible to raise kids to be both obedient and to trust their own judgement?  Do you find yourself saying "Because I’m the mother, that’s why"?

Gravy

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

This is my favorite poem about giving thanks:

Gravy
Raymond Carver

No other word will do.  For that’s what it was.
Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman.  Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going.  And he was going
nowhere but down.  So he changed his ways
somehow.  He quit drinking!  And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head.  "Don’t weep for me,"
he said to his friends.  "I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected.  Pure Gravy.  And don’t forget it."

Happy Thanksgiving.

A poem for Yom Kippur

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

How Divine is Forgiving?

by Marge Piercy

It’s a nice concept
but what’s under the sculptured draperies?
We forgive when we don’t really care
because what was done to us brought unexpected
harvest, as I always try to explain
to the peach trees as I prune them hard,
to the cats when I shove pills against
the Gothic vaults of their mouths

We forgive those who betrayed us
years later because memory has rotted
through like something left out in the weather
battered clean then littered dirty
in the rain, chewed by mice and beetles,
frozen and baked and stripped by the wind
til it is unrecognizable, corpse
or broken machine, something long useless.

We forgive those whom their own machinations
have sufficiently tangled, enshrouded,
the fly who bit us to draw blood and who
hangs now a gutted trophy in a spider’s
airy larder; more exactly, the friend
whose habit of lying has immobilized him
at last like a dog trapped in a cocoon
of fishing line and barbed hooks.

We forgive those we firmly love
because anger hurts, a coal that burns
and smolders still scorching the tissues
inside, blistering wherever it touches
so that we bury the hot clinkers in a mound
of caring, suffocate the sparks with promises,
drown them in tears, reconciling.

We forgive mostly not from strength
but through imperfections, for memory
wears transparent as a glass with the pattern
washed off, till we stare past what injured us,
We forgive because we too have done
the same to others easy as a mudslide;
or because anger is a fire that must be fed
and we are too tired to rise and haul a log.

From Available Light

Two poems

Monday, April 18th, 2005

I’ve been enjoying all the poems that people have been sharing as part of National Poetry Month.  I’ve run across some old favorites, as well as some ones that are new to me.

A friend shared with me this poem from Alfred E. Knopf’s poem a day email:

A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert, from his new collection, REFUSING HEAVEN.

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

This poem reminded me of a poem by Yehuda Amechai that I tacked onto my wall after September 11.

A man doesn’t have time in his life

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.

From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translations by Chana
Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.

Hummingbird

Monday, February 14th, 2005

For Tess

Suppose I say summer,
write the word "hummingbird,"
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

Raymond Carver, All of Us.