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...

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Labor Day Weekend

September Sky - Photo from Cape May   by Linda McLintock

How I yearn to be at Cape May as the Fall Migration swings into gear!

It's not the end of summer for 18 more days, but as the evenings lengthen, and school is back in session, I feel it.

My garden in the courtyard is even more beautiful in its late summer glory.

On the national scene, we are all worrying over and praying for the people of Houston Texas and surroundings, who are just emerging from the historic flooding rains of Hurricane Harvey.

And we're getting warnings of another big hurricane looming over the East Coast - don't know how that will unfold.

And North Korea has just detonated what appears to be a Hydrogen Bomb in its underground test site. 

Between those two spoiled and reckless leaders - North Korea's and our own -  I keep waiting for this game of chicken to result in the end of the world.   I'm serious.   I am enjoying every "normal" day of this end of the summer.  Enjoying every glass of water.  Enjoying every normal meal. Enjoying the regular air. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Praying with Poetry

The Chapel at DePaul House, Menands New York

I am presently leading a guided retreat with some of our sisters here.

Here's one of the poems we are praying with:

Radical Hospitality


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

[S]he may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.




Saturday, July 8, 2017

One of those California songs...

A place I have never been:   the Ventura Highway in Southern California.

I'm reading an old Jonathan Kellerman murder mystery: When the Bough Breaks.These Alex Delaware mysteries are all set in Los Angeles or its environs.

Besides the Kellerman novels, I have read all of the Michael Connelly mysteries whose detective is Harry Bosch. These also are set in LA. 

I finally got to visit LA in February of 2015, when I went to a conference at USC.  Even though I only travelled from the airport to USC, and walked around down there,  I saw so many familiar street names.   These novels are filled with details about the roads of LA city and county.

Anyway, today the name of the Ventura Highway came up, and my mind played the tape of the song by the Eagles,  "Ventura Highway."  It's always been a song through which I have visualized summer in California:

Ventura Highway


Chewing on a piece of grass
Walking down the road
Tell me, how long you gonna stay here Joe?
Some people say this town don't look
Good in snow
You don't care, I know


Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger
Than moonshine
You're gonna go I know

'Cause the free wind is blowin' through
Your hair
And the days surround your daylight
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air


Wishin' on a falling star
Watchin' for the early train
Sorry boy, but I've been hit by
Purple rain
Aw, come on Joe, you can always
Change your name
Thanks a…

Did di di di dit ...

Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger than moonshine
You're gonna go I know

'Cause the free wind is blowin' through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air, in the air

Did di di di dit ...


So different from the East Coast, from my familiar landscapes, but so alluring.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Who makes much of a miracle?

photo: sunrise, Cape May Harbor, by Joe Evangelista

Here's a poem by Walt Whitman:


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
        with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
        quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?


Monday, July 3, 2017

What has borne up so long

Here's a poem by my poet friend  Maryann Corbett:

Colors come as a shock.
Pink garnet, hematite, green epidote.
Agate, the jewels’ blood.
What’s underfoot
is gemstone, not dumb rock,
and what we took for dun-
dusted utility—construction grade,
anonymous as mud—
is scaled-down jade.
Like reliquary stone,
it venerates remains:
foraminifera in starch-stiff curls,
puff-bodied, spiculed rays,
whorled shells.
Silly to call them grains
as if a summer acre
busheled them, cut and dried, the season’s yield.
These need the ocean’s pace—
decades laid down like nacre,
time pearled.
Drawn to this intimate view,
we’re pressed to think in eons: glacial crush
that ground scree and moraine,
and river rush
boiling the stone stew
down to a settled thing.
So brokenness, shivered from what it was,
reduced again, again,
till it seemed to us
not worth our focusing,
falls into focus, strong,
million-powered beneath the microscope.
A child with a paper cup
builds on the sand. What has borne up so long
will bear her up.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


painting by Shirley Nachtrieb

I don't have any zinnias in the garden; they are annuals and I concentrated on perennials. But I love them and vow to plant them next summer.

Here's another poem by Mary Szybist:

In the Glare of the Garden


Yes, the open mouth

 of your watering can, it

 reminds me of you, of

 rushing toward

 smallness, toward

 a bright and yellowish

 color. Its mouth is smaller

 than any part of it,

 smaller than any of those red

 or yellow petals. It

 reminds me of me, of

 smallness that seems

 closable, but isn’t. Go ahead

 and tilt it, keep it

 up over the zinnias—it

 isn’t empty. The zinnias

 have their tongues out now almost

 completely, let's have it

 go to them. I don't think it has

 ever seen them before,

 let's have it

 hold in the air a little

 longer—it doesn't know

 the smell yet, yes,

 I think you want emptiness

 also, let's have it. And the zinnias

 open and spark and unregarding it goes

 out to them.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

At What Point is Something Gone Completely?

In my search for poems for the upcoming poetry retreat, I came across the poetry of Mary Szybist.

I didn't use any of her poems for the retreat- thought they might be too complicated for that occasion.

However, I was really struck by many of them.

Here is one:

The Troubadours Etc.

Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.

Not their curtsies or cross-garters

or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens

promising, promising.


At least they had ideas about love.


All day we’ve driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads

through metal contraptions to eat.

We’ve followed West 84, and what else?

Irrigation sprinklers fly past us, huge wooden spools in the fields,

lounging sheep, telephone wires,

yellowing flowering shrubs.


Before us, above us, the clouds swell, layers of them,

the violet underneath of clouds.

Every idea I have is nostalgia. Look up:

there is the sky that passenger pigeons darkened and filled—

darkened for days, eclipsing sun, eclipsing all other sound

with the thunder of their wings.

After a while, it must have seemed that they followed

not instinct or pattern but only

one another.


When they stopped, Audubon observed,

they broke the limbs of stout trees by the weight of the numbers.


And when we stop we’ll follow—what?

Our hearts?


The Puritans thought that we are granted the ability to love

only through miracle,

but the troubadours knew how to burn themselves through,

how to make themselves shrines to their own longing.

The spectacular was never behind them.


Think of days of those scarlet-breasted, blue-winged birds above you.

Think of me in the garden, humming

quietly to myself in my blue dress,

a blue darker than the sky above us, a blue dark enough for storms,

though cloudless.


At what point is something gone completely?

The last of the sunlight is disappearing

even as it swells—


Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you

until I’m far enough away you can

believe in me?


Then try, try to come closer—

my wonderful and less than.