Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Poetry”

The Dogs on the Rez Speak Lakota

IMG_5773

Indian Reservation dogs
Are teenagers run wild,
Hanging around gas stations
And grocery stores;
Dozing in shadows
Or gathered on corners,
Staying out after dark,
No one calling them home.

Sore-pawed
Tourist-hustlers,
Patch-furred
Trash-rustlers,
Whip-tailed and hungry,
Long-legged and lean;
Teeth sharpened on pine cones,
Surviving
The ticks, fleas,
And porcupine quills.

They roam invisible spaces
Between American highways,
In their eyes, the secret landmarks
Of legend’s terrain;
Four-footed emblems
Of ancestral nomads,
In liminal places
Ignoring defeat,
They remain.

– Jean Kavanagh

Remembering Lot’s Wife

image

Here is a poem I shared with my class yesterday after we discussed Jewish Midrash and modern poetry.  The poem by Wislawa Szymborska is an allusion to a text in Genesis about nameless “Lot’s wife” who turned into a pillar of salt for looking back upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:26).  The destroying angel said run fast and do not look back or stop.  Nameless Lot’s wife looked back.  Interestingly, Jesus is reported as saying in the Gospel accounts, “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32), suggesting not to look back at the life you are about to lose.  Szymborska gives voice to nameless Lot’s wife and suggests she may have had plenty of reasons for looking back.

They say I looked back out of curiosity.
But I could have had other reasons.
I looked back mourning my silver bowl.
Carelessly, while tying my sandal strap.
So I wouldn’t have to keep staring at the righteous nape
of my husband Lot’s neck.
From the sudden conviction that if I dropped dead
he wouldn’t so much as hesitate.
From the disobedience of the meek.
Checking for pursuers.
Struck by the silence, hoping God had changed his mind.
Our two daughters were already vanishing over the hilltop.
I felt age within me. Distance.
The futility of wandering. Torpor.
I looked back setting my bundle down.
I looked back not knowing where to set my foot.
Serpents appeared on my path,
spiders, field mice, baby vultures.
They were neither good nor evil now–every living thing
was simply creeping or hopping along in the mass panic.
I looked back in desolation.
In shame because we had stolen away.
Wanting to cry out, to go home.
Or only when a sudden gust of wind
unbound my hair and lifted up my robe.
It seemed to me that they were watching from the walls of Sodom
and bursting into thunderous laughter again and again.
I looked back in anger.
To savor their terrible fate.
I looked back for all the reasons given above.
I looked back involuntarily.
It was only a rock that turned underfoot, growling at me.
It was a sudden crack that stopped me in my tracks.
A hamster on its hind paws tottered on the edge.
It was then we both glanced back.
No, no. I ran on,
I crept, I flew upward
until darkness fell from the heavens
and with it scorching gravel and dead birds.
I couldn’t breathe and spun around and around.
Anyone who saw me must have thought I was dancing.
It’s not inconceivable that my eyes were open.
It’s possible I fell facing the city.

Playing on the Shores of Profundity

IMG_6638

Hilton Head, South Carolina, 2011

For Alexander there was no Far East,
because he thought the Asian continent
ended with India.
Free Cathay at least
did not contribute to his discontent.

But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more serene.
To him it seemed that he’d but played
With a few shells and pebbles on the shore
Of that profundity he had not made.

– Richard Wilbur

Painting Heaven

image

The painter Harlan Hubbard said
that he was painting Heaven when
the places he painted merely were
the Campbell or the Trimble County
banks of the Ohio, or farms
and hills where he had worked or roamed:
a house’s gable and roofline
rising from a fold in the hills,
trees bearing snow, two shanty boats
at dawn, immortal light upon
the flowing river in its bends.
And these were Heavenly because
he never saw them clear enough
to satisfy his love, his need
to see them all again, again.

Wendell Berry, Leavings

Birthday Girl!

IMG_0222[1]

Yesterday was Elizabeth’s birthday.  In her honor, last night I reread some of Shel Silverstein’s poems, including a couple of Elly’s favorites.  Here are a couple of ones we especially like.  The first is “Whatif” from A Light in the Attic and the second is “Spaghetti” from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Whatif

Last night while I lay thinking here,
Some whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime whatifs strike again!

Spaghetti

Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place,
Up to my elbows—up to my face,
Over the carpet and under the chairs,
Into the hammock and wound round the stairs,
Filling the bathtub and covering the desk,
Making the sofa a mad mushy mess.
The party is ruined, I’m terribly worried,
The guests have all left (unless they’re all buried).
I told them, “Bring presents.” I said, “Throw confetti.”
I guess they heard wrong
‘Cause they all threw spaghetti!

IMG_0226[2]

IMG_0237[1]

IMG_0275[1]

IMG_0269[2]

IMG_0571[1]

IMG_0526[1]

Wage Peace

by Judyth Hill

Wage Peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and fresh mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in 3 languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the word seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

For the Falling Man by Annie Farnsworth

image

– Annie Farnsworth

I see you again and again
tumbling out of the sky,
in your slate-grey suit and pressed white shirt.
At first I thought you were debris
from the explosion, maybe gray plaster wall
or fuselage but then I realized
that people were leaping.
I know who you are, I know
there’s more to you than just this image
on the news, this ragdoll plummeting—
I know you were someone’s lover, husband,
daddy. Last night you read stories
to your children, tucked them in, then curled into sleep
next to your wife. Perhaps there was small
sleepy talk of the future. Then,
before your morning coffee had cooled
you’d come to this; a choice between fire
or falling.
How feeble these words, billowing
in this aftermath, how ineffectual
this utterance of sorrow. We can see plainly
it’s hopeless, even as the words trail from our mouths
—but we can’t help ourselves—how I wish
we could trade them for something
that could really have caught you.

The Summer Day

Saturday felt like summer and Sunday felt like fall.  Contemplating the end of another summer, and the changing season upon us, here’s a phone picture from dinner on the lake, showing “the dimming of the day”.  And here’s a poem from Mary Oliver that asks, “what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

photo(11)

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets

— Thomas Lynch

It came to him that he could nearly count
How many Octobers he had left to him
In increments of ten or, say, eleven
Thus: sixty-three, seventy-four, eighty-five.
He couldn’t see himself at ninety-six —
Humanity’s advances notwithstanding
In health-care, self-help, or new-age regimens —
What with his habits and family history,

The end, he thought, is nearer than you think.
The future, thus confined to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance —
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.

Life-While-You-Wait

A few months ago, I was given a book of poems written by Wistawa Szymborska, a Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1996.  Here is one I like, especially the concluding lines: “and whatever I do will become forever what I’ve done”. The poem, “Life-While-You-Wait”, recognizes the improvisational character of our lives.

Life While-You-Wait

Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine, I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
Just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for hammy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me even more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
Stars you’ll never get counted,
Your character like a raincoat you button on the run –
The pitful results of all this unexpectedness.

If I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
Or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
Since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
Taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.

The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
Will become forever what I’ve done.

image

Post Navigation