Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Perspective and Relativity of Age

The perspective and relativity of age

While viewing the feature about Stalin’s summer house,  one of the interviewed Russians was a woman who might have been forty. She was a bit partial to Stalin.  “He wasn’t so bad,” I believe she said. “He did some good things for our country.”  Welllllll….  It occurred to me that her education was flawed, to say the least.  It also occurred to me that the fall of the Soviet Union happened a little more than twenty years ago.  There’s a generation of young adults now who either don’t remember it, or weren’t born yet.

When I taught Mod Civ in 2010, very few students knew about the opening of East Berlin and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most of them were BORN in 1989 or 1990!
That reality goes for many things in our world.  In my world.  At age 65, going on 66, I am realizing that my time of “power and influence” is over.  What little power and influence I had, anyway.  But even in the poetry world… the odds of my ever moving on to a larger stage than the one I am on  are slim to none.  Then I also curse myself for my temptation to hanker after fame.  Saint Emily Dickinson, help me!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stalin Residence a tourist attraction at the side of Sochi

The Sochi Winter Olympics have come to a close. I watched some of the events each day, and rejoiced that no terrorists disrupted them. I loved the gorgeous closing ceremonies.

But somewhere ,on one of the newscasts, it was mentioned that Stalin's summer residence was close by Sochi, and tourists were visiting it.  There's even a YouTube film of this.  The blurb from that states:

Tourists flocked to the summer house of late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin near Sochi Wednesday, where the former Soviet leader's residence has come to be a main side attraction for people attending this year's Winter Olympics.

Zelenaya Rosha, or the 'Green Grove,' was a vacation home Stalin built in 1936 that he used for three to four months every year. Rumours of the residence include enormous couches allegedly stuffed with horsehair to stop bullets, wood floors so that Stalin could always hear intruders, and a pool table at which he supposedly would only play against staff members he knew he could beat.

I read that and thought about what I had learned about Stalin when I taught Mod Civ.  This was a course I taught in the Spring semesters of 2010, 2011, and 2012.  It was the history and poetry of Europe ( including Russia and Eastern Europe) of the twentieth century.  The course has now been eliminated in the reshuffling of our Core Curriculum.  It will be replaced by one called "Modernity," in which History will be taught as a separate course from sections of Literature and Fine Arts.

I loved teaching that course.  I may have learned more than the students.  In my own education, "World History" never reached beyond 1945... so when I taught Mod Civ, I learned about Post WWII Europe and Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, and, ultimately, the fall of the Soviet Union.
In learning about those times, I learned how truly terrible Stalin was. I think he was worse than Hitler because he had more time to enact his murderous plans.

While educating myself about this, I purchased and listened to four podcasts by Dan Carlin of Hardcore History. It was a four part series called "Ghosts of the Ostfront." These detailed the War in the East , particularly Hitler's invasion of Russia and all that came after.  I hadn't known any of that.

I really don't want to go into any more detail today - maybe I'll return to this topic another day.

It just really appalled me when I saw photos of Stalin's summer home - a palace in itself. What he put his people through, and he wanted for nothing. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sick as a Dog

This is Chester, an almost three month old Great Dane, at the Great Dane Service Project in Ipswich Massachusetts:

He actually has been sick for a day or so.  But I really don't know the origin of the phrase "sick as a dog."

I have been sick as a dog for the past 30 or so hours.  Bad stomach bug.  Violent vomiting. 

I am on the other side of it now, I hope, but still feeling bad.  Very sore muscles from the heaving.

Apparently I am in good company. Garrison Keillor has had it, and wrote this on his Facebook page yesterday:

Never puked in Dubuque,
Or yorked in Grand Forks,
Or hugged the throne in San Antone,
Never hurled in MOST of the world,
But I got sick something silly in Picadilly.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Flock of Robins

have arrived in our courtyard... there must be sixty or seventy of them.  Wonderful sight, with at least a foot of snow still on the ground.  They are eating the berries from the flowering crabapple trees.

These are not my photos, but this is what I am seeing:

(photo by Lisa Rainsong)

( photo by Laurie Minor)

( photo by Paula Tracey)

Aren't these wonderful shots?

I've just spent  amost an hour trying to find a poem online to go with these photos, but none of them works.   I'll eventually have to write  my own.  But not right now.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Two Feet from a Flicker

New poem this morning; well, a first draft... 

(picture by Edward Peterson)

Two Feet from a Flicker

Two feet from my seat at my desk
To the windowsill where
On the other side of the glass
A flicker is feasting on the seed and nut bar
I have provided for my entertainment
And his nourishment.
If he sees me, he doesn’t care.
I try not to move too much.
I can see his ears
A slight bulge under his feathers
I can see the sun shining off his black eyes that are all pupil
His left hand clutches the seed bar
His long beak, longer than a red belly’s
Pokes into the block of seed and nuts and raisins
His tongue fine as a hairpin
Touches it.
He wears a cherry red cap on the nape of his neck,
black raindrop shapes on his cheeks,
And a black necklace on his throat and  gold ermine on his chest
And as he fends off  an approaching Bluejay,
His gold shafts flare out on the inside of his wings.
Oh, fifteen whole minutes I’ve had with you,
My beautiful customer!

(photo by Seabrooke Leckie)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Loving the Wren on my Windowsill

I don't have a photo of this bird on my windowsill, but on snowy days like today, she's there. She looks just like this one:

(photo by Wendy Luther Dickey)

I wrote one short poem about a wren a while back:

The Wren

is foreign to the wren.
She is all present in her garbling song,
She is all knowing as she carries thin sticks to her nest box
She is all loving in the dawn
She is powerful in clover to the tiny bug
but the crow could swallow her,
and she would fit into my hand.
She is eager, not tense.
She is present, not passed,
She is perfect, not single,
and no helping verbs accompany her.
Her song is a breathtaking flood,
lilting , unlikely OM
to the wrenmother

And here is one by Gary Snyder. The wren in this poem is not a Carolina Wren, but close enough for what he says:

The Canyon Wren

I look up at the cliffs
But we’re swept on by                   downriver
the rafts
Wobble and slide over roils of water
boulders shimmer
under the arching stream
Rock walls straight up on both sides.
A hawk cuts across that narrow sky
hit by the sun,
We paddle forward, backstroke, turn,
Spinning through eddies and waves
Stairsteps of churning whitewater.
above the roar
hear the song of a Canyon Wren.
A smooth stretch, drifting and resting.
Hear it again, delicate downward song
Descending through ancient beds. . . .
These songs that are here and gone,
Here and gone,
To purify our ears.

Friday, February 14, 2014


( photo from National Wildlife Federation)

I'm not sure how the verb "to grouse" came to mean  "to complain about"  but it did.  The above photo of a Ruffed Grouse looks pretty serene.  On the other hand, a grouse can ruffle up all its feathers, fan out its tail, and look pretty threatening.

Anyway... this morning I am grousing about chain letters, no matter how well-meaning.  Usually I ignore invitations, but I was a sucker for this one, from my sisters:

"We're starting a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange. It's a one-time thing and we hope you will participate. We have picked those we think would be faithful, and make it fun. Please send an encouraging quote or verse to the person whose name is below in position 1 (even if you don't know him or her). It should be a favorite text verse/motivational poem/prayer/meditation that has lifted you when you were experiencing challenging times. Don't agonize over it—it’s one you reach for when you need it or the one that you always turn to.
1.     Sister X
2.     Sister Y
After you've sent the short poem/verse/meditation/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1. and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show when you email. Send to 20 friends BCC (blind copy). If you cannot do this in five days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating. It's fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas and inspiration. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once."
It sounded easy to me.  It was easy for me to find an inspirational quote.  I used a very short poem by Wendell Berry from the blog  A Year of Being Here:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. 
But then, I had to figure out how to send blind copies over Outlook.  Had never done that. That took a while.  Then, I had to find twenty people . That took quite a while.  Many Facebook friends would have been appropriate, but I didn't have their email addresses. Then, I have many friends who would refuse to do this... I just know them.  So I must have spent an hour on this activity.
I'm waiting for the "sorry, but"  emails to come in.
Remind me not to get involved in something like this again, even on a snowy morning when I don't have to rush to Mass and school.
On the joyful side, here's a photo of a Dark-eyed Junco hopping in the snow, taken by Diane Porter:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This time, I am serious.

I have posted a number of photos from this view.  Today we are in the midst of the fourth? fifth? "snow event" of this winter.  The National Weather Service has begun naming the winter storms, and this one is  Pax.  They are calling for 12-18 inches of snow in this area, and I think they are right.
The snow began about 8PM last night, and is still coming at 9:30AM.  It seems that everything in our area is closed. The blizzard force winds have not yet come, but they are predicted.

I wrote a poem about a similar storm that occurred here in mid February of 1979. It seems appropriate to reprint it here :


The deaf snow speaks
in sign
like a prophet.
His fingers remark the landscape
swiftly, stolidly.
They say
This time I am serious.
He cups his thick hand
on the birdsnest,
levels the driveways,
leans on the trees,
pulls the sky down
to the earth - nebulae swirl
by the second story windows.
This time I am serious.
This time
you will hear me.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Born in 1914

If he were alive, my father would have turned 100 this week.  He died at age 93.  Up until age 86, he was of sound mind and body, but then Alzheimers' set in, and the prostate cancer we thought he had beaten in 1997 came back and got him.

He was a very bright man who didn't go any further than high school, which was par for the course for someone born on a iittle farm to Irish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. In those days, it seems to me, the only people who went to college were children of parents who had gone to college, or who had wealth.

He was a lifelong reader who married a lifelong reader who both gave me their love of reading. He's the one who introduced me to poetry, too.

One of my favorite memories is a trip he and my mother and I and one of my college classmates made to England and Scotland in 1972.  My parents had never been on a plane, much less out of the country, but I managed to talk them into it.  I can still see them, as we lifted off from Philadelphia, looking out of the window of the plane at the city, shimmering in the night lights below.  I can still see them as we emerged from the London Underground to the sight of Big Ben.  I could go on and on, but enough. 

He worked his whole life at gas stations.  By the time I was 9, he had his own station, where he stayed until he retired at 65.  People loved him.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

The wonderful poet Maxine Kumin has died.  She was 88.

This morning on "The Writer's Almanac," Garrison Keillor read this very appropriate poem by her:

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief
Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we're going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we're coming from
is Mother's lap.
On the cloud-pack above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children's children's
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather. 

"Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief" by Maxine Kumin from Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief. © Penguin, 1989. Reprinted with permission. 

 image from ShutterStock

Here are two more of her poems:


In the Park
You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park.He laid on me not doing anything.I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them.For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels.Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there's a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot.In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

 photo by Owen Slater

We ride up softly to the hidden
oval in the woods, a plateau rimmed
with wavy stands of gray birch and white pine,
my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
in the October dapple, and I thinking
mine-and-his, which is my prerogative,

both of us just in time to see a big doe
loft up over the four-foot fence, her white scut
catching the sun and then releasing it,
soundlessly clapping our reveries shut.
The pine grove shudders as she passes.
The red squirrels thrill, announcing her departure.

Come back! I want to call to her,
we mean you no harm. Come back and show us
who stand pinned in stopped time to the track
how you can go from a standing start
up and over. We on our side, pulses racing,
are synchronized with you racing heart.

I want to tell her, Watch me
mornings when I fill the cylinders
with sunflower seeds, see how the chickadees
and lesser redbreasted nuthatches crowd
onto my arm, permitting me briefly
to stand in for a tree,

and how the vixen in the bottom meadow
I ride across allows me under cover
of horse scent to observe the education
of her kits, how they dive for the burrow
on command, how they re-emerge at another
word she uses, a word I am searching for.

Copyright © 1994 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.The Atlantic Monthly; March 1994; The Word; Volume 273, No. 3; page 96.  Online Source

 photo by Greg Hensel