Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Autumn Rain Covers it with blessing

Finally, the drought is over. We're having days of rain.  My garden is so thirsty. It seems like weeks that I have been watering it, one pitcher at a time, morning and night.

Here are some rain poems by others much more gifted ( or hard working) than I.

Autumn Rain         by D.H. Lawrence

The plane leaves
fall black and wet
on the lawn;

the cloud sheaves
in heaven’s fields set
droop and are drawn

in falling seeds of rain;
the seed of heaven
on my face

falling — I hear again
like echoes even
that softly pace

heaven’s muffled floor,
the winds that tread
out all the grain

of tears, the store
in the sheaves of pain

caught up aloft:
the sheaves of dead
men that are slain

now winnowed soft
on the floor of heaven;
manna invisible

of all the pain
here to us given;
finely divisible
falling as rain.
and from Psalm 84
As they go through the bitter valley,
they make it a place of springs.
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength
They will see the God of Gods in Zion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why Google?

Tonight when I should be reading my students' work, or when I should be packing for the weekend ahead, or when I should be doing my laundary, or taking a shower,  I catch myself staring at the screen, searching for people I knew almost fifty years ago.

One of my Facebook friends posted something about the Drama group "Sock n' Buskin" which was active at Mt. St. Mary's fifty years ago, and to which I belonged.  I then found myself looking at Wilbur Wills' ( another old Sock n Buskin player) Facebook page, and then searching for Rick Scanlon on Google.  It looks like he has his own theater company in New York City now, with its own website, but no photo of him.  And would I recognize the 70 year old face? My own boyfriend at the time was a friend of Rick Scanlon's and we went to Rick's wedding in Connecticut all those years ago.  It was the same weekend as Woodstock.

I've been sucked into these aimless Google searches many times.  I wonder if other people my age do this.  

What am I really searching for?

One of the first plays I saw Sock n Buskin produce was "The Fantastiks"  in which Rick Scanlon played the young man lead.  I don't remember the young woman!   One of my favorite all-time songs is from that musical:

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a young and a callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender
When love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow
Deep in December it's nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow
Deep in December it's nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December
It's nice to remember
The fire of September that made you mellow
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stumped by Physics

The word for today's Daily Prompt was "Stump."   I decided to use it in reference to the tragic events of Sept.11, 2001.

In school, I was intimidated by Math and Science. To escape Science, I took German instead of Chemistry and Physics.  Now I am still stumped by Science, but Physics fascinates me.
I found a book called Physics for Poets, by Robert March.  I tried to read it, with great difficulty, but still it haunted me.

On this day, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center , I post this poem that I wrote a while back and recently edited:

Physics for Poets


The realm of quantum theory is the very small-

Relativity deals with the very large or the very fast-

Gravity is the central mystery of our created universe.


I see the man falling the falling man  from the World Trade Center.

Terminal velocity-

I don’t  understand it, but

I hear his body hit the roof of the Atrium,

 hear the shocked cries of the people there that day.


I think of Acceleration in terms of objects… my car, hurtling down Route 95…

In the absence of resistance,

all falling bodies experience

the same constant acceleration.

That falling man,

that man falling head first, arms close at his sides

in his business suit,

from the World Trade Center

in the absence of resistance.


The buildings fell as the man fell,

Straight down,

Floors like dominos

Surrendering to the jet fueled fire,

an engineer’s nightmare.


Temperature is not the same as heat.

Temperature is intensive –

it does not vary with the quantity of material.

 Heat , however, is extensive –

it does vary with the amount of material.



No time here for anything but soot.


The falling man did not have time for fragrance…

Within the hour he was vaporized.



Monday, September 5, 2016

Why my Pere Lachaise poem doesn't work

I'm teaching Creative Writing this semester.  The man who usually teaches it is off on sabbatical, so I get to teach it, which I thoroughly enjoy.

I have a delightful group of students- 17 of them- and they are enthusiastic and engaged in the class.

I am learning as much as I hope they are.

The assignment for tomorrow's class is to read and discuss Chapter  2 and Chapter 8 of our text,
The Making of a Story.

I am using Tom's syllabus and texts, and this is a great one.  It's loaded with wonderful stories as models as well as evocative prompts and exercises.
Anyhow...  In reading Chapter 2, titled "The Splendid Gift of Not Knowing,"  I was reminded of Richard Hugo's great book  The Triggering Towns, which I own and read about twenty years ago.
So the author of our text quotes Hugo's observation that in poetry there is a "triggering subject" and then there is the "real subject."
I knew that.
But it hit me tonight.  I thought of my poem  "October in Pere Lachaise" and knew I had never been satisfied with it, although I included it in my book  Vexed Questions.
It hit me that the poem describes the triggering subject, but never touches the real subject... and what is the real subject?  Death?  Death and Fame?  Death and Memory?  Something there that I must think about more.
Here is the poem.  I have a feeling that I will be revising it extensively.
October in Pere Lachaise
“Like all true stories, it begins and ends in a cemetery”
  The Shadow of the Wind
Walk through the wide gateway
on an October afternoon. Notice
golden  dust motes  rise from cobblestones,
 dry leaves underfoot, faded green overhead
in slant afternoon light.
The living visitors unfold their maps.
Stand above the concrete slab where
Simone Signoret and Yves Montand lie together-
Try to say goodbye. Everywhere, stone
men with handlebar mustaches guard
crowded city of the dead,
tombs like row houses.
Black iron bat spreads wings on somebody’s gate.
Move  living lips as you recite
the names of artists and  writers
under these cobblestones,
litany of pens and brushes:
Balzac ( head on a platter)
Saint Saenz
Colette, Corot, Callas,
Gustav Dore over there,
whose specters haunt the pages of the Inferno-
Dante and Virgil, like the
Black and White Magpies, big as crows,
complain and flap away, startled, as you
approach the chapel gazebo
where Abelard and Heloise
 lie side by side ,  stone effigies like medieval monarchs
in Westminster Abbey.
Remember her words to him:
We fluctuate long between love and hatred
before we can arrive at tranquillity,
 and we always flatter ourselves
 with some forlorn hope
that we shall not be utterly forgotten.
Is that Theodore Gericault, that
 prone stone  man with brush and palette
reclining on top of the tomb, young, swirling shirt,
 staring out over the headstones
 thinking of what to put next
on the canvas,
what color to apply to the roiling grim
Raft of the Medusa?
Contemplate the concrete context of
Raspail: veiled figure reaching up
to grasp the grille of the mausoleum,
his widow, yearning to join him…
urns upheld by angel faces, while winged skulls
 bolster the four corners.
Bronze Victor Noir,
killed in a duel,
laid out in his best suit,
boots with square toes,
top hat by his side,
prostrate on top of the slab that
contains him.
Sunday wind busies itself,
searches among the crunching leaves,
clusters of trees,
evergreen shrubs,
layers and hills throughout this largest public park in Paris
and its narrow sidewalks.
You come across a
boy with dog stretching forepaws into his lap, another
boy with laced up shoes, hair in ringlets like Fauntleroy,
young nude man and woman lying on their backs
side by side, heads inclined to each other,
while another woman
kneels above them on one knee,
one step above them.
She stretches out her arms like wings.
Trip on an oak tree
growing out of tomb,
roots crack the concrete slabs. Lift your eyes to the
monumentally casual man whose huge toes
curl around the edges of his platform.
Tread the tangle of streets and alleys:
Who named them?
Avenue lateral du Nord,
Branches of Chemin Bourget,
Avenue du Puits,
Chemin du Coq,
Chemin du Pere Eternel,
Chemin Moliere et La Fontaine,
Chemin du Dragon…

Despondent cherub
elbow on stone, hand holding up his chin
regards the early deaths:
stone baby, stone pillow under curly head,
left arm bent at elbow and pudgy hand curled
round a rattle,
right arm at side –
someone has put a living red rose there…
his left leg bent at knee,
head turned a bit,
sleeping in stone.

There’s more of this:
Concrete young mother reclining
with her baby in her arms,
baby at her breast,
Smile on her face,
Buried together

Who still gets flowers?
Sarah Bernhardt
Rosa Bonheur
Edith Piaf
Oscar Wilde
Gertrude Stein
Chopin, with seated girl, head bowed,
holding a cross and stone flowers in her lap.
Living pink begonias bloom on Modigliani.
Jim Morrison, awash in roses,
daily visited by aging Yanks.

You see originals and copies:
Angel models from Chartres and Notre Dame
Angels from the vision of a 19th century carver
One concrete slab with two black bronze arms
punching through the lid, hands clasped,
begging for escape.

With the flapping Magpies,
squawk your eulogies
Into the warm golden air.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Vice and Villains

I’m thinking of the vice of greed.  It’s a key characteristic of so many villains in both literature and real life.


Sartre’s play about bad faith, where so much of it is about the lust for power over the other.  One character says “Hell is other people.”

Then, there’s the greed for money that drives one person to embezzle and impoverish many others:

This is Bernie Madoff, the face of much financial disaster in the US, and at least partially/indirectly to blame for the economic meltdown of 2008.
Then, there’s the greed for land,


added to the greed for power.  This drawing comes from the era of the Irish Potato Famine, when Irish people were evicted from their land by the British landlords.  The starving refugees could just as easily be the people in Aleppo today.
Enough said.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In the Frame

This week's  DAILY POST picture prompt was  FRAME.
The noun "frame" made me think of the murder mystery by Dick Francis, IN THE FRAME.
As it's described in GOODREADS,
"Charles Todd—a renowned painter of horses—is shocked when he turns up at his cousin Donald’s house for a weekend visit to find his cousin’s young wife dead on the floor—and Donald the police’s prime suspect. Determined to prove Donald’s innocence, Todd trails a set of clues from England to Australia to New Zealand, only to realize that someone is trailing him. Someone with every intention of taking him out of the picture for good… "
All of Dick Francis' novels have something to do with horses. In this one, it's a painting of a horse.
and that made me think of other great detective novels which have something to do with paintings.
One of my favorites is an old one: A CLUTCH OF CONSTABLES by Ngaio Marsh.  The Constables in the title are paintings by the 19th century British painter John Constable.

GOODREADS describes it by quoting from the novel:
"Five Days Out of Time...that was how the ad had described the Zodiac cruise on the “weirdly misted” English river. The passengers were the usual, unusual lot: a couple of unpleasantly hygienic Americans, an aloof Ethiopian doctor, a snooping cleric with a wall-eye, an artist running away from her success… But they were not all what they seemed. For Inspector Alleyn knew that one of them was the faceless “Jampot”—the ruthless killer who could take on any personality, whose thumb was a deadly weapon. The problem was, which one? Alleyn had five days to trap him, or the other passengers would pay with their lives—and one of those passengers was Alleyn’s wife! "

A Clutch of Constables was Marsh's 25th novel.  Amazing!

School has started, and I should not be continuing to read murder mysteries.  However,  this semester I am teaching Creative Writing, so somehow that gives me an excuse!

Right now I am reading the wonderful Henning Mankell.  It seems that I read his   Firewall  at some time in the past, but now I don't remember it at all. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning to Read

A good meditation as school begins.


I teach “Freshman Comp” to first year college students. One of the readings with which we begin the year is the passage from The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, when he describes how he learned to read, and how important it was to him. Douglass was a slave; the wife of his master began to teach him, and then her husband stopped her.  He said that slaves should not learn how to read; reading gave them too many ideas! There’s much more to this narrative – you should read it!

I believe that most of us take our ability to read for granted.  We shouldn’t; it’s one of the keys to freedom – freedom on all levels.

I grew up in a household where both parents were readers. I remember how eager I was to learn to read. I would pester my mother to read to me until one day she said “I can’t wait for you to learn to read, so you can read these books yourself!”   I totally agreed.



Here’s a poem I wrote about learning to read. It’s not philosophical at all!



Pick it up and read,

sang the child’s voice beyond the wall.

The first word was SAID.

Three children –

a boy and two girls,

played with a dog and a cat.

White children with brown hair

whose plain names excited me

to hear in the air from my own mouth.


I had trouble telling

through from thought,

though from thorough.


My father picked me up at school.

We walked by the statue of Saint Agnes,

through the cement arch

from schoolyard to street.

I thought about knowing how to read SAID

though, by itself, it was lying alone in a corner,

but put it behind someone,

and it opens its mouth to a thorough coverage

of the news of the day.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Julie Zickefoose and the Bobcat

Julie took this photo in her back yard in Whipple, Ohio.

I have been following her blog for several years.  She's a wildlife painter and a poet and a naturalist and a bird/bat rehabber. She's also married and the mother of two teenagers and a loveable Boston Terrier named Chet Baker.

Her blog is so interesting!   The latest entry is about the appearance of this bobcat in her back yard.
Her narrative, and her photography of this event just enchanted me.

You can find it here:

About a month ago, she had some great entries about rehabbing a fledgling Black-billed Cuckoo.

Here he/she sits, just ready to fly back into the wild:

Anyway... I highly recommend this delightful woman and her blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

In the Heaven of Hopscotch

The Daily Prompt for today, which sometimes gets me writing, is Youth.  So much to say! 
What came to me to post about was one of those childhood games: Hopscotch.
Seems that it has been around for centuries.

Anyway, here's a poem I wrote about my memory of playing it :
  In the Heaven of Hopscotch
It is always two o’clock on a June afternoon
School is out
And I’m standing in the middle of Gay Street in the broad shade
Under a large full,
never pruned maple tree,
Gay Street near Everhart,
in front of a large lawn
where Kathy Corcoran
draws the hopscotch map
in chalk
on the macadam street.
I’m wearing the cotton sleeveless blouse my favorite – white with vertical stripes in rainbow colors.
I know that at home my mother, off from work for the summer,
 energetic and serene, is making peach cobbler for supper,
and my father will be home at 6.
They are always 42 years old,my parents,
and that a box of Whitman’s floral mints
– my favorite candy –
sits on the dining room table.
No verb exists in its own moment

Friday, August 19, 2016


These Hostas are burning up.  Last year I had them planted in the courtyard in full sun.  They looked beautiful this year until the heat and direct sun got to them.

Then, there's this Lupine which barely grows and won't bloom. It's not getting enough sun.

Then, there's this Pineapple Sage, which is lovely and bushy but won't bloom. It's too much in the shade.

Then , there's this Liatris ( otherwise known as Gayfeather) which has barely grown and not bloomed. It too needs more sun.


I am in the process of switching:  moving the Hostas from the full-sun center of the courtyard to the shadier sides, and moving the sun-hungry plants to their place:

They all look very shocked by the transplanting but hopefully they will establish themselves and thrive.  I'm not done yet.  Nine more Hostas to move.

transplanted Pineapple Sage  and Agapanthus, next to sunburned Hosta

Transplanted Lupine and Balloon Flower

Transplanted Shasta Daisies and Liatris ( these two weren't in the courtyard garden before)

I'm working from 6:30AM- 7:30AM and from 6:30PM to 8PM each day.

Will try to post more after I'm finished.

School has started. The Freshmen came today.  I meet with my group of them tomorrow.  The upperclassmen arrive on Sunday.  First full day of classes for everyone is Monday, August 22.

Three full months of summer vacation gone!  The days went peacefully, but they went.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What else happened in July? ( the last installment of this series)

Werenskiold, "The Funeral"
Three Funerals


The first funeral , July 29,was for a woman named Joyce, a coworker whose husband is also a friend. Joyce died at age 70 of a brain tumor that was first diagnosed in January. She probably had it longer than that, but the dizziness she experienced  kept being misdiagnosed as other things. I actually went to her wake, not her funeral, because the second funeral took place the same day as Joyce’s; both persons died the same day.

And the second person was a man named Louie, who was my cousin’s husband. Louie died at age 72 after  years of living with Multiple Sclerosis.  Louie had been a star athlete in his youth, and was diagnosed with MS when he was 40.

The third funeral took place the following week, August 6. This was for a man named Ron, the husband of one of my college classmates. Ron died at age 75 of pancreatic cancer. He had survived this cancer for 13 years – much longer than the usual survival rate, due to the skill of his surgeons and oncologists at Hopkins, and to the wonderful, vigilant care of his wife. In those 13 years, he got to see his only daughter marry and give him two grandchildren.


All three of these funerals were graced occasions for me to see friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a while, and to pray for the consolation of the grieving loved ones.  I believe all three of the deceased are in heaven; not so much a need to pray for them.

 I came to the realization of how close to my own age these three people were.

It made me more aware of my own age of 68 as “ready for retirement” or as on the way to the great beyond. Really, how much longer on earth do I have? I have said a number of times that I don’t want to live to be 90, as my parents did, when I would be blind, demented, and incontinent. Even though my legs and feet and back and hands and arms still work well and work without pain, and I can still read and drive and climb stairs and week the garden on my hands and knees, I am partly blind and occasionally incontinent already.  And a “brain test” I took on Facebook showed me that my reaction time is already below normal. So maybe I have twenty more years, or ten more years. That’s all in the mind of God.

Do I have a poem to end these ramblings?


The Future                   by   Rainer Marie Rilke


  The future: time's excuse

to frighten us; too vast

a project, too large a morsel

for the heart's mouth.


Future, who won't wait for you?

Everyone is going there.

It suffices you to deepen

the absence that we are.                 (Translated by A. Poulin)


 Kathryn Stemwedel    "Funeral Procession"

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August Already : what else happened in July?

from July 20-22, my old friends Debbie and Barbara came to visit me in Emmitsburg.  They do this every summer, and we call the time our "Excellent Adventure."

This year we visited Surreybrooke Gardens, a privately owned garden near Middletown Maryland.

I chose this spot selfishly, because I wanted to see those gardens, and hoped my friends would like the visit as well.  It seems that they did.

Here are some photos:

for some reason, I am thinking today of Louis MacNeice's wonderful poem:

The Sunlight in the Garden


The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.


Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.



Friday, August 12, 2016

August Already - Poetry Retreat

What else happened between July 1 and August 11?

From July 7-15,

I gave a poetry retreat to our sisters in Evansville Indiana.  It was not  “writing poetry;” it was “praying with poetry.”

The process?  I used the scriptures that the Church set for each day, found a theme each day which emerged from them, and linked poems with that theme.

I picked three poems each day, gave them out to my retreatants.  I picked one of the poems each day, and we did a group Lectio Divina on that poem.   They liked it very much, from the responses they gave me.

Here is one of the poems:

Flickering Mind    by Denise Levertov


Lord, not you
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away -- and back,
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn.  Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?




Thursday, August 11, 2016

August Already; some reflections on politics

More apologies.  What happened between July 1 and now?

The American political conventions

Up front, I confess that I have voted Democratic in every election since 1972, win or lose.  There are always policies I oppose, but on the whole I still feel that the Democrats don't favor the rich the way the Republicans do.    And this time around, we have the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

I am going to post a few memes related to Trump and Christianity:

I am also cutting and pasting a Facebook post shared by one of my high school classmates:

"I don’t see it as voting for Clinton.

I see it as voting for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights Act, Food Stamps, Minimum Wage, Union Rights, The Affordable Act, the Department of Education , National and Community Services Act, union activities by federal employees, environmental research at the the Department of Energy, USAID, intercity and hhigh-speed rail grants, Community Development Fund, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanites, a liberal majority on the Supremem Court for the next 30 years that will overturn Citizens United, plus whatever Senator Sanders can get done with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President.

If Trump is elected, all that is gone.

It’s not about Clinton. It’s about over 80 years of the progressive movement we’re in danger of losing because we’re not looking at the bigger picture."