Monday, February 11, 2019

They are Still There

In the Dark Dark Woods      by Robert Sanker

I love this haunting poem by Matthew Buckley Smith:

The Dark Woods, by Matthew Buckley Smith
They are still there, the dark woods from the dream,
While everything they symbolize is gone,
While the wireless speakers unwind their tidy theme,
And the tiki torches stutter on the lawn,
While the dishwasher rattles dishes left in the sink,
And the dog worries his tiny rubber man,
And the blinking clocks aren’t certain what to think,
And the fruit fly circles back to where it began,
And the interest keeps the credit cards awake,
Collecting in a server states apart,
And the siren cries out for a stranger’s sake,
And the smartphone mutes its obsolescent heart,
While the box fan turns a bedroomful of breath,
And the network brings the software up to date,
And the skim milk dies a timely, painless death,
And the woods, the woods you’ve dreamed about, they wait



Dark Woods   by Graham Keith






Sunday, February 10, 2019

Opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air

February Crow Moon  Shawnee Tribe by Ethel Vrana

Here's a poem  by Thomas Kinsella:

Mirror in February
The day dawns, with scent of must and rain,
Of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed - my brain
Idling on some compulsive fantasy -
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
Riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
A dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
And little more; for they are not made whole
That reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the wakening trees,
Hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
Suffering their brute necessities;
And how should the flesh not quail, that span for span
Is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
Not young, and not renewable, but man.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Time for Home

Breakfast of the Birds     Gabriele Munter

Here are two very different views of February:

"February is a suitable month for dying.  Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long."
-  Anna Quindlen, One True Thing
Picasso      Cassagemas in his coffin

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home." 
-  Edith Sitwell

Matt Chinian      Studio Fire with Ollie

Friday, February 8, 2019

Alicia Stallings and refugees

Last evening I went to Baltimore to hear Alicia Stallings read her poems and talk about the refugee situation in Greece.  She lives in Greece with her husband and children.
I have known Alicia for probably 15 years from the West Chester Poetry Conference meetings. So glad to hear her again on one of her infrequent trips to the US.
Here is one of her poems as well as her comments about the poem.
 Photographer John Psaropoulos about this picture: "The poet in a Skyrian cap handing out crayons and drawing pads to refugee children is Alicia E Stallings. This takes place at the Peiraieus passenger terminal at gate E1, which the port authority has handed over to Peiraieus Solidarity, a citizens' movement co-founded during the crisis by Sotiris Alexopoulos to help destitute Greeks. The network has repurposed itself to help refugees as well, and serves as a partner and organiser for many volunteers."


My love, I’m grateful tonight
Our listing bed isn’t a raft
Precariously adrift
As we dodge the coast-guard light,

And clasp hold of a girl and a boy.
I’m glad that we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,

And we didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap lifejackets
No better than bright orange trash

And less buoyant. I’m glad that the dark
Above us, is not deeply twinned
Beneath us, and moiled with wind,
And we don’t scan the sky for a mark,

Any mark, that demarcates a shore
As the dinghy starts taking on water.
I’m glad that our six-year old daughter,
Who can’t swim, is a foot off the floor

In the bottom bunk, and our son
With his broken arm’s high and dry,
That the ceiling is not seeping sky,
With our journey but hardly begun.

Empathy isn’t generous,
It’s selfish. It’s not being nice
To say I would pay any price
Not to be those who’d die to be us.

First appeared in Literary Matters, here. Copyright 2006 by A. E. Stallings. All rights reserved. Ms. Stallings’s most recent book, Olives (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press 2012) can be ordered here.

Alicia wrote these comments about her poem for Literary Matters:

"I am trying to remember exactly when I wrote this—it seems to have been published in September of 2015 but must have been written in the summer. My son did indeed have a broken arm, and my daughter was a six-year old who was fearless on the beach but with little in the way of swimming skills. The civil war in Syria was starting to become more visible in Athens—there had been a number of people, mainly families camped and protesting in the main square, Syntagma, until the police whisked them off one night. My husband is a journalist and had gone on Coast Guard patrols in the Eastern Aegean as these flimsy dinghies started coming in greater numbers. He had interviewed people who had been in the water for hours. (In one case, a woman had managed to save a baby, but not another child, who slipped her grasp.) That famous photo of the drowned toddler (Alan Kurdi) was shared widely in September of that year, but that was only one image, and this poem would have been written before that, I believe. Local news and social media sites often showed images of the drowned—kids my own kids’ ages, in similar clothes.
By January of 2016, an average of ten people a day were drowning—again, often children, with one day seeing thirty-nine deaths. And of course not everyone was even found or declared missing. That was after this poem was written, but this sense that children were drowning in the same water we swam in haunted me all summer, the sense of the Aegean as dangerous and full of death as well as wine-dark or Santorini blue, and that the same element that caressed my children pulled others under. I had dreams about making that crossing. It was maybe that heightened sense of vigilance and danger you just have as a parent of young children, the way you can’t avoid reading terrible news stories about mishaps and accidents.
But I did not want to write from the point of view of people undergoing this—that felt false to me; in a way I felt it was unimaginable and I wanted to keep that sense—and I wanted to engage with the very difficulty of writing about it. Empathy is derived from the Greek, of course, but it has almost the opposite meaning in Modern Greek to its English denotation—to feel in or towards someone and thus perhaps to feel against them. (The English word is itself a relatively recent coinage, with a pseudo-Greek lineage out of the German translation—before that, I suppose we had only “sympathy”—to feel or suffer “with” someone.) The poem was written relatively quickly, and I wanted to make sure in revision not to smooth the rough edges, the odd off-rhyme or rhythmic off-kilterness. I don’t normally end a poem so flatly, on such a bald statement, but I wanted that gambit here. And I wanted the poem to be published and distributed quickly—it spoke to the moment—which was why I was very glad it was taken by the (then-new) online magazine, Literary Matters."

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Accident Prone

not me!

I am not accident prone. No broken bones for the first 63 years of my life, until I fell down some wet concrete stairs at school in 2011.

However, I have lived with many sisters who had many falls; I mean, many falls each. 

As my sisters and college classmates and I have reached our seventieth year, we've had more and more incidents of falling.  I actually wrote a blog about this a few years ago.

Anyway, here's a poem from my book  How the Hand Behaves:

   Accident Prone



See the teeth of grinning Fate.

See the ax before it falls.

The mischance wins the throw,

and she falls,

flattened by her haste,

her  inattention.

Over and over again

she lies down before the unexpected ,

undesirable event,

mischance, contingency.


Like a vole in the field lying open

to the swooping hawk,

she’s always surprised by the talons of the accidents.


Waves of the Atlantic knock her down,

 break her collar bone. Next, she

Falls off the bike, leg with splinter of bone protruding .Next,she

Falls on the icy playground, wrist bolted back together.

Through the years,

Falls on the church steps, funeral parlor entrance, front stoop,

Finally a blood clot to the brain from a fall in the bathtub,

And she’s safe.




not me!




Wednesday, February 6, 2019

It's only polite to clap

Here is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, offering applause to the President of the United States after he delivers the traditional State of the Union message in Congress last night.

People are having a lot of fun commenting on her clap.  Contemptuous  and condescending, I think.

I agree.  This man is a danger to our country.

Steve Benen of MSNBC writes:  
"The early months of Donald Trump’s presidency featured constant turmoil in the White House. On a near-daily basis, Americans were confronted with reports of chaos, in-fighting, distrust, and behind-the-scenes leaks intended to boost one faction over another..."
  Now that Chief of Staff John Kelly has come and gone, the chaos and impulsive decision-making is back.

I hold myself back from saying any more.

I am praying for his resignation.

Dreaming of Spring

On this sunny morning.  I know the snow will follow.

This time next week I will be having surgery. 

Here's a poem from my book  How the Hand Behaves:

 Garden gloves huddled


in a paper bag hanging on a hook

by the window where the ice clotted

bare branches quiver

and the sun sends their gnarled shadows on the snow below.


Garden gloves clean, soft, bleachy perfume,

stained brown and green,

some holy fingers clutch each other

while they wait.






Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Dandelion thoughts

I believe I have written before about my admiration for Jennifer Heath's book The Echoing Green: The Garden in Myth and Memory. For me it is a goldmine of information and inspiration.

She begins with November, and moves through the winter. On Friday I began to read her chapter on February. She calls February a Liminal Month, the seasonal gate between winter and spring.

The temperatures are fluctuating wildly here, from very low last week to almost sixty today.

I love what she observes about dandelions:
"Dandelion is the Flower of Brigit, bearnan Bride, little notched of Bride. Its uses range far beyond its reputation as a weed. … The dente de lion - lion's tooth, the white, incisor-like taproot - has been used by herbalists for centuries to treat diabetes, cure anemia... Blowing on the dandelion seed head fulfills wishes, tells the time, calls spirits, or answers questions about the future."

I loved Ray Bradbury's novel  Dandelion Wine when I read it years ago...  I remember the line
"Dandelion Wine for dreaming". Have never tasted it, but remember hearing that my Irish grandmother used to make it.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Time to eat fat and watch hockey

February Moon   by Betty Albert

"The word February is believed to have derived from the name 'Februa' taken from the Roman 'Festival of Purification'.  The root 'februo' meaning to 'I purify by sacrifice'.  As part of the seasonal calendar February is the time of the 'Ice Moon' according to Pagan beliefs, and the period described as the 'Moon of the Dark Red Calf' by Black Elk.  February has also been known as 'Sprout-kale' by the Anglo-Saxons in relation to the time the kale and cabbage was edible."
Mystical WWW

February Full Moon over Wasatch Front  by Jeffrey Favero


even though it's not late February, this observation applies today:

"Late February, and the air's so balmy snowdrops and crocuses might be fooled into early blooming. Then, the inevitable blizzard will come, blighting our harbingers of spring, and the numbed yards will go back undercover.  In Florida, it's strawberry season— shortcake, waffles, berries and cream will be penciled on the coffeeshop menus."
-  Gail Mazur, The Idea of Florida During a Winter Thaw

Cardinal   by Alex Grey

I love this poem by Margaret Atwood:

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Margaret Atwood, “February” from Morning in the Burned House. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. 


Sunday, February 3, 2019

I ask the faithful light

Photo by Pamela Canne Moore

For some reason, the Cat Stevens song "Moonshadow" is playing in my head today.

Here are the lyrics:

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land
Oh if I ever lose my hands, oh if.... I won’t have to work no more
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, oh if.... I won’t have to cry no more
Yes, I am being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Leapin' and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg
Oh if I ever lose my legs, oh if.... I won’t have to walk no more
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, oh if.... I won’t have to talk...
Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?
I am being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Leapin' and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow



It sounds to me like the words to a long-ago children's song.  Don't know.
I have sung it over the years.
I ask the faithful light...
photo   Martha Lind

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Brigid of Kildare

Yesterday, February 1, was her feast day.  Here are some interesting words and pictures, taken mostly from the website of the Brigidine nuns in Australia.

Sr. Aloysius McVeigh rsm
I am haunted by this icon of Brigid, and rightly so,since  "an icon seeks to reveal spiritual messages and meaning that lie beneath the surface reality."
Sr. Aloysius explains some of the symbols she chose to include in the icon:  "   The sword reminds us of Brigid giving away her father’s precious sword to a poor person so that he could barter it for food for his family. Brigid’s foot on the sword signifies her renunciation of wealth and her abhorrence of violence.
A perpetual flame burned in Kildare in pre-Christian times and was kept alight by Brigid and her nuns until the 16th century. In the Christian tradition the flame is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Brigid had a deep respect for all creation. Animals played a significant role in many of her legends, cows and sheep being particularly associated with her. Perhaps most encouraging for us among all the legends, is the parable of her cloak spreading over the Curragh of Kildare. "

Brigid's Cloak       - painting by Barry Maguire

In honour of St. Brigid (composed by Rev. Liam Lawton for the Brigidine Bicentenary Mass, 1st February, 2007.)
In hearts we wonder where love is found.
We keep on searching, our quest abounds.
From darkest valleys to brightest skies,
Through all of creation we are inspired.
For God is near us, and never far,
God’s place of resting is every heart.
So let us journey to the end,
With hands now open to foe and friend.
To light the darkness and seek for hope,
To fight for justice as prophets spoke,
And in creation your wisdom know,
Your sign and symbol,
The acorn and the oak
In places darkened by fear and war.
We speak forgiveness to every heart.
The poor, the lonely, the ones who mourn,
Will find us waiting with open doors,
For God is near us and all who weep,
Our Lord and Shepherd who never sleeps
There is no future that we can build,
Without love’s presence and be fulfilled
To build a new world where hope is born
Where lives once broken will watch the dawn,
For God is with us to hold and heal,
No longer strangers, our God is near.
The God of history calls us to be
The voice of freedom so all can see
The flame of Brigid to light the way,
The words of Daniel echo in prayer,
So may they guide us as Saint and Friend,
Our own companions till journey’s end

Friday, February 1, 2019

In honor of February 1

I have mailed an order to this Connecticut seed catalog today:
Queen Anne's Lace

I hope to see these in my dreams tonight.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Polar Vortex

I have been either sick or busy with out of town company, and so I haven't written here for ten days.

Getting better now, and trying to get in my best physical health for upcoming surgery on February 13.

No Valentine's candy for me this year.

In the meantime, a large part of the United States is suffering from a bad winter blast of the polar vortex;  below zero temperatures at record levels, and killing snow and wind.  Here in Maryland it's cold but nothing like Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, and other mid-country areas.

Here are some appropriate lines from John Keats:

"O thou whose face hath felt the Winter's wind,
       Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist
       And the black elm tops 'mong the freezing stars
        To thee the spring will be harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
       Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
       Night after night when PhÅ“bus was away,
       To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge - I have none,
       And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge - I have none,
       And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he's awake who thinks himself asleep."

-  John Keats, O Thou Whose Face Hath Felt the Winter's Wind  



Hagerstown Maryland  City Park   photo by Piotr Zielinski


Sunday, January 20, 2019

How long until the weather clears?

After that terrible scene in Washington yesterday when a bunch of Catholic high school boys from Kentucky ( who were in town for the March for Life!) jeered and mocked a Native American Elder ( and a Vietnam War vet!),  I found this poem heartbreaking and appropriate:

On a Phrase of Thomas Merton's
. . . .the dank weather of Nazism         by Bill Coyle
It has been raining for a thousand years.
Mold and moss and mushrooms fructify.
How long, we wonder, till the weather clears?
Nobody in authority appears
to know, nor will they speculate as to why
it has been raining for a thousand years.
Underground sources, though, say these are tears
the ghosts of other, long-dead races cry.
How long, we wonder, till the weather clears?
Not that we worry, really. Our engineers
have raised up walls unfathomably high.
It has been raining for a thousand years,
a steady drizzle, a whisper in our ears
bidding us despair, despair and die.
How long, we wonder, till the weather clears?
Panicked reports come in from the frontiers.
The walls are crumbling, they say. The end is nigh.
It has been raining for a thousand years.
How long, we wonder, till the weather clears?
Thanks to Maryann Corbett, who shared it on Facebook.
Those boys were wearing Trump hats.  He is having a terrible influence.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

RIP Mary Oliver

I have loved many of her poems.  Her words reach people and touch their hearts with her truth.

Here are two that I like - I didn't include the most well-known ones:

The Moths


There’s a kind of white moth, I don’t know

what kind, that glimmers

by mid-May

in the forest, just

as the pink moccasin flowers

are rising.


If you notice anything,

It leads you to notice


and more.


And anyway

I was so full of energy.

I was always running around, looking

at this and that.


If I stopped

the pain

was unbearable.


If I stopped and thought, maybe

the world

can’t be saved,

the pain

was unbearable.







A Dream of Trees


There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,

 A quiet house, some green and modest acres

 A little way from every troubling town,

 A little way from factories, schools, laments.

 I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

 With only streams and birds for company,

 To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

 And then it came to me, that so was death,

 A little way away from everywhere.


There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.

 But let it go. Homesick for moderation,

 Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.

 If any find solution, let him tell it.

 Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation

 Where, as the times implore our true involvement,

 The blades of every crisis point the way.


I would it were not so, but so it is.

 Who ever made music of a mild day?



When I am among trees


When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.




I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”


The light flows from their branches.

 And they call again, “It’s simple,”

they say, “and you, too, have come

 into the world to do this, to go easy,

to be filled with light, and to shine.”
The poem about moths led me to look for a good photo, which then led me to find this other photo, and learn that some moths drink the tears of sleeping birds.  That stays with me.