Thursday, June 28, 2018

Farewell, Donald Hall

Donald Hall died recently -  another one of that wonderful generation of poets who include Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht.

Here is one of his poems:


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Back in the USA

I had a marvelous almost four weeks in Paris!

I posted a photo each day on Facebook. Here are some of them:

I did make it to the Musee d'Orsay:

on March 1, I went to the church of Saint Sulpice, to the Sainte Chapelle, and to the Pompidou Center.  I loved this painting in the Pompidou Center:

I feel a poem will come from that one.
On March 2, I slept quite a long time, recovering from the intense touring/walking of the previous two days.   But I did visit the Bon Marche, which is literally next door to the Motherhouse. Outrageously expensive, but a gorgeous department store.

and the bread department!

too much to put in one post.  More tomorrow, I hope.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Catching Up #4

I am not sure if I will be able to post on this blog while I'm in Paris; all I will have is my iPhone.

During the days when I am not in the silent retreat ( March 7-15), I will be touring.

I have been pouring over Rick Steve's Paris:

and among other places, these are some I am aiming to visit:

Musee d'Orsay, the Impressionists museum

L'Orangerie,  home of Monet's waterlilies

The Pompidou Center, the contemporary art museum

La Sainte-Chapelle, for the stained glass

the church of Saint Sulpice, hopefully, for an organ concert

and then, just for fun,

the flower and bird market. Maybe I'll be able to bring home a birdhouse.

Catching up #3

Here is where I will be in Paris, this time tomorrow!   It's the street entrance to the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity, at 140 rue du bac.

The chapel is open to the public: it's the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Catherine Laboure in 1830, and where Catherine received the design for the Miraculous Medal:

I'll be praying here .

Here's a view of the Motherhouse, behind the chapel - not open to the public:

Catching Up #2

I am using this neat "app" called Duo Lingo to brush up on my French!   I studied French for five years, but that was fifty years ago!   This very interactive app is game-like and fun, and I am stumbling and occasionally sailing through it. Why am I doing this?

I am not teaching this semester; my one class was cancelled due to no enrollment! It was a section of Modernity, and it was scheduled from 2-3:15 T-Th. Other years I have taught it from 11-12:15, and it was always full to overflowing. The other afternoon session was cancelled too. Apparently the seniors who needed to take it got there first to register, and the juniors decided to wait until the fall. Athletes can’t do those afternoon sections… who knows? ( I will be back in the Fall, teaching two courses) Adjuncts don’t get sabbaticals, even though I’ve been teaching at the Mount for 18 years.

 But I am glad for this one. The cancelled class has turned out to be providential for me. For several years the community has invited me to make the annual International Retreat, but they ask so late that I had always already committed myself to teaching. Not so this time around! I’m taking extra time there, too, before and after the eight day silent retreat, which runs from March 7-15. The Motherhouse in Paris is at 140 Rue du Bac, around the corner from le Bonne Marche. It’s a huge old complex; once the chateau sized mansion of some aristocrat, after the Revolution, the Daughters moved in in 1810. So I plan to see the museums and neighborhoods of Paris, and do some writing as well. I hope to post some notes about this trip on either my blog or here.

So I have been working on DuoLingo pretty religiously.  I'll be staying at our Motherhouse.  People have told me "Don't worry: everybody over there speaks English!"  I reply:  "Not the French Daughters of Charity who live at our Motherhouse!"

Catching Up #1

On January 6 and January 13, I spent 8 hours each time in training to be a tutor with the Literacy Council of Frederick County, Maryland. Here is the photo of all the new tutors.  Now I am certified to teach someone how to read, and also to work with someone who is learning English as a second language.  The training and trainers were excellent; however, I know I need a good deal more practice before I am any good at it.  

I won't be able to start tutoring until April, though.  Other things have happened!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve

This poem doesn't have anything to do with New Year's Eve, but it is a poem I love:

The poet is Robert Morgan:

Living Tree

It’s said they planted trees by graves
to soak up spirits of the dead
through roots into the growing wood.
The favorite in the burial yards
I knew was common juniper.
One could do worse than pass into
such a species. I like to think
that when I’m gone the chemicals
and yes the spirit that was me
might be searched out by subtle roots
and raised with sap through capillaries
into an upright, fragrant trunk,
and aromatic twigs and bark,
through needles bright as hoarfrost to
the sunlight for a century
or more, in wood repelling rot
and standing tall with monuments
and statues there on the far hill,
erect as truth, a testimony,
in ground that’s dignified by loss,
around a melancholy tree
that’s pointing toward infinity.
I am hoping that 2018 will be better than 2017.   2017 wasn't bad for me, but for the United States, my country, it was really bad.  We now have a president who doesn't care about anyone but himself, and who I think is running a criminal enterprise from the White House.
God protect us from this man.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Books Have I Read This Year?

Snowy Day   by Lorraine Rimmelin

It's colder than normal, and we had an inch or two of snow today.  That's not much, considering what people are experiencing in Erie Pennsylvania right now:  five feet and more coming.

I've stayed in and slept.  I've also tried to remember the books I have read this year. So many of them were audiobooks, since I have some eye problems and save my "serious reading" for school.

But I did read a few books on Jessica Powers for my panel in New York last April, and many articles and chapters on the poetry of Stevie Smith, as well as the large book of her poems, for the seminar in West Chester in June.

Just recently, I read three of the five books I planned to read - the ones we were assigned when we went away to college fifty years ago:

Erich Fromm     The Art of Loving

Carl Jung         The Undiscovered Self

Mortimer Adler   How to Read a Book   ( I am on page 30 of 200 pages right now!)

I hope to talk about them at length in another entry.

The audiobooks were generally murder mysteries and thrillers: my escape reading:

I tend to get on one author and read everything I can of that person.

Lee Child     Night School

Louise Penny   - Glass Houses


Val MacDermid:

The Wire in the Blood

The Last Temptation

The Torment of Others

Beneath the Bleeding

Fever of the Bone

The Retribution

Splinter The Silence


Ruth Rendell: 

From Doon with Death ·

 A New Lease of Death ·

 Wolf to the Slaughter ·

 The Best Man to Die ·

 A Guilty Thing Surprised ·



Michael Connolly

The Burning Room

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Two Kinds of Truth


Deborah Crombie     The Sound of Broken Glass


Jonathan Kellerman:






Heartbreak Hotel

In a category all by itself is  Lincoln in the Bardo,  by George Saunders,  to which I am currently listening.  It may be the most weird book I have ever encountered.


Monday, December 25, 2017

On Christmas Day in the morning

Here's a wonderful poem by James Merrill:

Christmas Tree by James Merrill

          To be
     Brought down at last
From the cold sighing mountain
Where I and the others
Had been fed, looked after, kept still,
Meant, I knew--of course I knew--
That it would be only a matter of weeks,
That there was nothing more to do.
Warmly they took me in, made much of me,
The point from the start was to keep  my spirits up.
I could assent to that. For honestly,
It did help to be wound in jewels, to send
Their colors flashing forth from vents in the deep
Fragrant sable that cloaked me head to foot.
Over me then they wove a spell of shining--
Purple and silver chains, eavesdripping tinsel,
Amulets, milagros: software of silver,
A heart, a little girl, a Model T,
Two staring eyes. The angels, trumpets, BUD and BEA
(The children's names) in clownlike capitals,
Somewhere a music box whose tiny song
Played and replayed I ended before long
By loving. And in shadow behind me, a primitive IV
To keep the show going. Yes, yes, what lay ahead
Was clear: the stripping, the cold street, my chemicals
Plowed back into Earth for lives to come--
No doubt a blessing, a harvest, but one that doesn't bear,
Now or ever, dwelling upon. To have grown so thin.
Needles and bone. The little boy's hands meeting 
About my spine. The mother's voice: Holding up wonderfully!
No dread. No bitterness. The end beginning. Today's
    Dusk room aglow
    For the last time
    With candlelight.
    Faces love lit,
    Gifts underfoot.
Still to be so poised, so
Receptive. Still to recall, to praise.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

To Drive the Dark Away

I love this poem by Susan Cooper:

The Shortest Day


And so the Shortest Day came and the year died

 And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

 Came people singing, dancing,

 To drive the dark away.

 They lighted candles in the winter trees;

 They hung their homes with evergreen;

 They burned beseeching fires all night long

 To keep the year alive.

 And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

 They shouted, reveling.

 Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

 Echoing behind us – listen!

 All the long echoes, sing the same delight,

 This Shortest Day,

 As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

 They carol, feast, give thanks,

 And dearly love their friends,

 And hope for peace.

 And now so do we, here, now,

 This year and every year.

 Welcome Yule!



Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas poems and pictures

I love some of these photos of Cape May houses at Christmas.  They were posted on the "Cool Cape May"  Facebook page:


and here's a Christmas poem by Louisa May Alcott:

Cold and wintry is the sky,
   Bitter winds go whistling by,
   Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
   Household fairies kind and dear,
   With loving magic none need fear,
   Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.

   Come and gather as they fall,
   Shining gifts for great and small;
   Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
   Corn and candy, apples red,
   Sugar horses, gingerbread,
   Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.

   Shake the boughs and down they come,
   Better fruit than peach or plum,
   'T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
   Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
   Though snows may gather cold and deep,
   Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.

   Gathered in a smiling ring,
   Lightly dance and gayly sing,
   Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
   Of the little Child whose birth
   Has made this day throughout the earth
   A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Darkest Evening of the Year

So many haunting poems connected to this day:

Winter Solstice Chant     by Annie Finch

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.

 Art: Winter Solstice    by Lucy Campbell

Processional at the Winter Solstice         by Gerry Cambridge
He has gone down into darkness at the wrecked end of the year
And is lying, gaberlunzie, in the needled nest of frost.
The arctic thrushes call for him although he cannot hear,

And the worm too understands him in the chilled grip of its dark,
And the ptarmigan in blizzards where no thought is worth a crumb,
And treecreepers in shivering puffs in Wellingtonias’ bark.

Shop windows glint in city lights like ice and sky, but still
No tinsel gifts can touch him, freed to silence like a stone’s;
His face is white as paper’s white in miles-high midnight chill.

He lies as plain as frost-dust where those starving thrushes call,
And his lime and ray-struck armoury could hardly be less small
On the anvil of beginnings in the sun’s gate on the wall.

Gerry Cambridge
It's dark so early and so long, but it is also magical and hopeful.
After tonight, the light begins to return.
That's why we Christians celebrate Christmas at this time of year.
It's the celebration of the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World.
However, the ancient Celtic religions celebrated it too. 

The ancient Celts had spirit animals.  Here is a lovely painting of one of them, clearly connected with the Winter Solstice:

One website says this:

The Hare:
Amongst the animals held to have spiritual significance for the Celts was the Hare, (known to some in America as jackrabbits). The scientific name for the family group of rabbits and hares is Leporidae. Although hares and rabbits are in the same family they are different species. Generally hares are larger than rabbits, with longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. In the British Isles and Ireland there are three types of hares: the Irish Hare, the Common or Brown Hare and the Mountain or Blue Hare. They are generally herbivorous, have long-ears, are fast runners, and normally live alone or in pairs. Unlike rabbits hares do not bear their young below ground in Burrows, but in what is known as a form, which can be a nest of grass or a shallow depression.
...In Celtic mythology and folklore the hare has links to the mysterious Otherworld of the supernatural. The Irish hare is native to Ireland and carbon dating of fossils show they were present in Ireland as far back as 28,000BC. In Irish folklore the hare is also often associated with the Otherworld (Aos Si) community whose world was reached through mists, hills, lakes, ponds, wetland areas, caves, ancient burial sites, cairns and mounds. Those entities were seen as very powerful and the hares link to them sent a warning that those who harm them could suffer dreadful consequences. Shapeshifters were often said to take the form of the hare.

Another sacred animal was the Stag:

In Celtic myth and lore, the stag is an honorable symbol. This animal sign stands for nobility. Celts appreciated the regal stature of the stag. In fact, one of the prime Celtic gods, Cernunnos, is called the 'horned one'. He bears the antlers of the stag. Cernunnos is a fertility god. But more than that, the horns of Cernunnos symbolize powerful elements like: Strength, Assertion, Dominion, Excellence.

I laughed when I came across this sardonic meme from the pagans:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cleaning Out

another wonderful painting  by Christian Schloe... I believe it's titled "Annabelle Lee"

Besides schoolwork,  my time away from this blog has , as usual, been frittered away with listening to audiobooks, none of them inspirational.

The only TV programs  I watch are the 6:30PM National News, the 9PM MSNBC Rachel Maddow,
and, when it's on,  PBS'  "Midsomer Murders."

What else has transpired is that the students signed up for their Spring semester courses at the beginning of November.
The only course I was scheduled to teach was Modernity In Literature, Tuesdays and Thursdays 2-3:15 PM.   No one signed up for it.
Last year I had a full class and a wait list, but then the class was scheduled for 11-12:15.
Athletes can't take a course at 2PM.... practices and games and all.  And most of the students took the course in the Fall.   The early scheduled sections are all full, but mine, and my colleague who was going to teach from 3-4:15,  have no  one. So it goes.
First time in 18 years that I haven't had a course in the Spring.
I'm already on for a Theology elective in the Fall, but for now...

So I am planning to do volunteer work in the Spring at the Frederick Literacy Center. I've signed up for the training sessions for early January.

But what I think will happen is I might lose my office, or at least have to share it with another professor.  Or, that newly hired tenure track person will have to share it with me. I'm the contingent one.
So I've been cleaning it out.
Not that I have even 1% of the number of books and papers that my tenured colleagues - scholars that they are-  have.  But I had about twelve feet of bookcase space filled.  So now it's down to two feet.

Which means I had to reshuffle the books and papers I had at home.  So I have filled four large black trash bags with "stuff" -  not generally books.  And I have given away many books.

Those trash bags have received about six photograph albums, too.... photos of all the places Mom and Dad had visited, mostly, and plenty of not-so-great snapshots of the three of us, too. I have been sorting through and plan to give all the Kauffman family photos to my cousins on that side, and the same with the Higgins family photos.

It's a real detachment, but not a wrenching one.  My pathological  numbness helps.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Newly Cloaked in Purpose

Which picture is more frightening:   this one

or  this one:

or this poem by Rae Armantrout:

By Rae Armantrout
The old
is newly cloaked
in purpose.
There’s a jumble
of hair and teeth
under the bedclothes
in the forest.
“The better to eat you with,”
it says,
and nibbles us
until we laugh.
An axeman
comes to help.
“To, to,”
birds cheep
to greet
whatever has come up.
“To, to”

In any case, as the days creep close to Halloween, I am drawn to ghost stories and haunting poems.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I leave to the various futures ( but not all) my garden of forking paths


Today I read in the Washington Post an editorial by J. Peter Scoblic called "Seeing so much of the present through Watergate makes it harder to see the future."

Scoblic says this is a mistake. He says "Analogy encourages us to see the past as static, when it was in fact a dynamic collection of possible futures that just happened to gel into the present we know. That mistake blinds us to our own potential futures - and what we might learn from them. In trying to reduce uncertainty, we may have ensured that Trump will surprise us even more than he already has."

Scoblic continues on in this vein, saying that we take our experience of time for granted.  He says "the past - like our present - was a froth of potential futures."

The entire essay fascinated me, and not just on a political level.

It reminded me of Borges' short story "The Garden of Forking Paths."  One of the characters constructs a labyrinth that is actually a virtually indecipherable novel, and in it he says

 "I leave to  the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths."
We have no idea of the outcome of Donald Trump's presidency.  I am expecting a nuclear war with North Korea that will destroy our country and perhaps the whole world.  But I tend to "catastrophize."

Then I think about some of the words of an old Carly Simon song:

"We can never know about the days to come,
but we think about them anyway..."

The Scoblic essay is actually more hopeful than my forecast.
He says "Our expectations of the future are central to the concept of choice .... We can envision different versions of the future and work backward to discover what conditions would produce them. In that process, we forge new beliefs about causal relationships, new mental models...
"that, then, is how we may learn from the future... to see time as a stream in which the future is constantly on the verge of becoming the past. Amid the chaos of the present... we must pause to 'ponder possible futures."

I want to think about this more.


Where Did September Go?

My courtyard garden on September 20.  The rose bushes predominate in this overview, but all along the sides and in the center, those pollinator attracting perennials are blooming.

Anise Hyssop

Pineapple Sage
Ice Plant
These are only a few. 
Last year, the first frost arrived on October 22, so I am hoping I have a week or two of bloom.
I was making my Annual Retreat from August 8-16,  and then school started. The first day of classes was August 21.   This semester I am teaching three classes:  First Year Symposium, Introduction to Poetry, and Christian Spirituality.
It's already the end of the first quarter.  The classes have been quite wonderful. The freshman comp class in particular has been the most engaged and engaging group I've had in a long time.
The weeks have sped by with classes each day and many weekend activities as well as my garden -tending.
I also have had another medical misfortune.  On September 6, I began to bleed from the bladder.
It's not continuous and it's not copious, but it is still happening.  So the weeks after September 6 were also filled with Doctor appointments, CAT Scans, blood work , and urinalysis.  I don't go to the Urologist until November 7, and I am glad of it, for I know that after the "in the office" appointment, he is surely going to schedule me for a cystoscopic exam, which I dread. 
Of course I have been Googling the symptoms and lab results.  I think it will turn out to be another sort of radiation damage from 2009.  Radiation: the gift that keeps on giving.  But so far I am living a somewhat normal life and not minding it.
Our country has suffered three major hurricanes:  Harvey, in Texas; Irma, in Florida; and Maria, in Puerto Rico. These have been devastating.  Right now Number 4, Nate, though a little less ferocious, is flooding and battering Alabama.  Here in Maryland, we haven't had rain for 24 days until some arrived today.
The other catastrophe in the United States is the mass murder/shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, with 58 people killed and 500 more injured.  These episodes just get worse and worse, and still a strong majority of our citizens want the gun laws to stay as they are.  To me, it seems that so many of us are glad that so many others of us are killing each other off. 

Which will bring me to my next post...