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.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tending the Fire

Here's another poem from my 2007 book  Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky:

Tending the Fire


Still I am in the hands of the unknown God; he is breaking me down to his new oblivion...


Don’t you love a good fire?


About every ten minutes,

add a small log.

Keep feeding it.

The heat must be intense enough,

constant enough,

steady enough

to set a husky arm of oak to

 burning from its core.


It’s messy work.

Grit from the twigs on the polished floor,

black soot from the poker

on my hands.


My father told me how to keep a fire burning.

Now he sits in the cold winter sunlight

at the Home,

when the sooty darkness

catches the twigs of day,



I sit before the fire in the dark living room,

on the floor before the fire,

feeding it,

watching it like a TV show about my

still burning, though crumbling love.

The flames orange my face.

Roaring silence

issues from their hunger.





Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Shelley said that.   Yes.  Yes.    I was searching for this poem for someone else today, and when I found it again, I remember how I loved it.  I have probably posted it here before, but here it is again:

Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch — the smaller bird
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase — when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their own business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

by Eamon Grennan

When a terrible truth strikes.

Three Inaugurations

Here's a poem from my book Vexed Questions.

 I read it now and think about the inaugurations since then:  Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama, and now, Trump. Eight, counting the two-termers-  about 30 years.  If you had told me six years ago, when I wrote that poem, how things would be in 2019, I would have laughed in your face.  Irony is bitter sometimes.

Three Inaugurations


On Nixon’s second ,

we migrated to the living room

of our crowded row house in Baltimore

on January 20, 1973,

all of us young, in our first or second jobs

after college, living like hippies with paychecks

and phone bills,

friends, lovers, hangers-on

with us, sitting on the worn grey rug

from someone’s family attic.

We sat on the floor in front of the TV

as we did when we were children

watching Howdy Doody.

We smoked and laughed at Nixon

as we did when we were children

watching Howdy Doody,

laughed like defeated Democrats.


 On Carter’s only,

snow barricaded the curbs

on January 20, 1977.

We rode the bus across Washington

in the frigid night, our evening gowns

under our coats.

When we walked over to Union Station

for Carter’s Inaugural Party, in the knee-deep snow.

In the light from taxis and cars

the snow was lilac, and we laughed,

single and joyous Democrats,

carried our own bottles of champagne.


On Reagan’s first,

Election Day started with pouring rain,

drenching me on the way to the polls

in Petersburg Virginia

to vote Democratic.

On January 20, 1981,in the Washington Post,

an editorial writer sounded the warning:

poor people, watch out.

The limousines rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The rich, back in town.

Thus was the inauguration of

Homelessness in America.



Monday, January 14, 2019


Here's another poem from my 2007 book, Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky.

It's sort of a sonnet I wrote for my old friend Dorothy Mabey, who taught across the hall from me in Petersburg Virginia in the 1980's. 



The clothing did not fall from you in tatters,

nor did your feet swell these 40 years.

The Goodwill store sells everything that matters.

Forget the Lord and Taylor, all your fears

are smothered in the well worn corduroy

The warm grey sweater sent to you with love

Each time you wear it I can feel your joy.

Reject stiff clothing, that which does not give,

the labels biting back into the neck.

the slippery polyester you once wore.

Embrace the blouse so fine it feels like silk.

The cotton blouse whose ironing was a chore.

Choose vibrant reds and purples from the rack.

Discover cashmere that the rich gave back.





Sunday, January 13, 2019


Here's a poem from my 2007 book  Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky:



An iceberg holds secrets

that nobody knows

but the dead whose ships

have encountered

those frozen mountains

in the sea.


Surely the mouse knows,

with her folded brown body,

who's wintered with her

small cocoa children

in plastic flowerpots

stacked in the garden shed

stuffed with soft

shredded lawn and leaf bags....

surely her closet-like

palace by the garden in the woods

appears like a corrugated

iceberg to the grass

which slants like waves

around its edge.





Saturday, January 12, 2019

Waiting for Snow

Red-Tail Hawk in the tree outside my window, on a snowy day in another year.

All day long the air has been full of the promise of snow. It's just twilight and it's not here yet, but any time now.
I have hunkered down, slept, gone out for the groceries early in the morning, prayed, listened to an audiobook  ( Over Sea, Under Stone  by Susan Cooper) and finally , finished a poem I've been struggling with.  I sent it, and five others, to the New Yorker just now.  Always hoping!

Here is a song I like very much, by John McCutcheon.  It's a love song, so it doesn't apply to me particularly, but I still like it.

Waiting For Snow

  Wintersongs            by John McCutcheon 

The nights are so long
They shorten the day
Over the mountains
The sky's turning gray
The geese all fly southward
As homeward they go
I'm sitting here waiting
And waiting for snow

Waiting for snow
The first of the year
I just can't believe
That it almost is here
Like cousins and Christmas
And places to go
Nothing takes longer
Than waiting for snow

Waiting for sledding
Waiting for fun
Piled high around me
Bright mountains of sun
Waiting for snowballs
For shouting and laughter
For sliding down hillsides
With hot chocolate after


The longer I'm waiting
The longer it takes
`Til I stick out my tongue
To catch the first flakes
Wash your face in the snow
You'll be pretty all year
Look out the window
It's finally here

Waiting for snow
Waiting for you
To bundle me up
Like you always do
Your glove in my mitten
Together we'll go
To make footprints and angels
In our brand new snow

Friday, January 11, 2019

Poem published

Bearings Online, a publication from the Collegeville Institute, published my poem "Ten Thousand Garden Questions Answered"  this week!
Here it is:

Ten Thousand Garden Questions Answered

Brick of a book my uncle Ernie gave me
in the days when I didn’t know shade from sun.
Now I ask it plaintively:
what is that white rice which coats the bachelor’s button?
How do I keep the mice from eating the tulip bulbs?
Why can’t my lavender live through the frost?
Why does my skin make cancer in the sun?
Why did the warbler fly into the window?
How do I prevent the Sudanese from starving?
How do I keep the Syrians from dying of war?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

On the Cusp of Change

I have decided to undergo the surgery that will repair my radiation damaged guts.
It might not  work.  The surgeon won't know ,until he gets inside, whether that friable radiated tissue will hold stitches.  I'm hoping.  I'm also considering that this might change my life, and not for the better.

In any case, it will be a long recovery. So I backed out of teaching this semester.  I hope to return to teaching in the Fall, but in the meantime, months stretch ahead full of mystery.

I have begun to re-read Mary Catherine Bateson's wonderful book  Composing a Life. I'm reading it in order to join in a discussion of it with several other women of about my age. Several of them are wives of  colleagues, women I thoroughly like.  I read this book about twenty years ago , but I remember almost nothing about it.  Maybe this time , more will stay with me. It's about how women of this age have lived lives of improvisation and creation even in the midst of stable situations.

I will try to write more of my thoughts down as I go.

art:  Yuko Hosaka

Saturday, January 5, 2019

I've kept a rein on my life

On this feast of the Epiphany, here's a poem by George Seferis:

Epiphany, 1937
Translated by Edmund Keeley 
The flowering sea and the mountains in the moon’s waning
the great stone close to the Barbary figs and the asphodels
the jar that refused to go dry at the end of day
and the closed bed by the cypress trees and your hair
golden; the stars of the Swan and that other star, Aldebaran.

I’ve kept a rein on my life, kept a rein on my life, travelling
among yellow trees in driving rain
on silent slopes loaded with beech leaves,
no fire on their peaks; it’s getting dark.
I’ve kept a rein on my life; on your left hand a line
a scar at your knee, perhaps they exist
on the sand of the past summer perhaps
they remain there where the north wind blew as I hear
an alien voice around the frozen lake.
The faces I see do not ask questions nor does the woman
bent as she walks giving her child the breast.
I climb the mountains; dark ravines; the snow-covered
plain, into the distance stretches the snow-covered plain, they ask nothing
neither time shut up in dumb chapels nor
hands outstretched to beg, nor the roads.
I’ve kept a rein on my life whispering in a boundless silence
I no longer know how to speak nor how to think; whispers
like the breathing of the cypress tree that night
like the human voice of the night sea on pebbles
like the memory of your voice saying ‘happiness’.

I close my eyes looking for the secret meeting-place of the waters
under the ice the sea’s smile, the closed wells
groping with my veins for those veins that escape me
there where the water-lilies end and that man
who walks blindly across the snows of silence.
I’ve kept a rein on my life, with him, looking for the water that touches you
heavy drops on green leaves, on your face
in the empty garden, drops in the motionless reservoir
striking a swan dead in its white wings
living trees and your eyes riveted.

This road has no end, has no relief, however hard you try
to recall your childhood years, those who left, those
lost in sleep, in the graves of the sea,
however much you ask bodies you’ve loved to stoop
under the harsh branches of the plane trees there
where a ray of the sun, naked, stood still
and a dog leapt and your heart shuddered,
the road has no relief; I’ve kept a rein on my life.

                                                                        The snow
and the water frozen in the hoofmarks of the horses.

George Seferis, "Epiphany, 1937" from Collected Poems (George Seferis). Translated, edited, and introduced by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Copyright © 1995 by George Seferis.  Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.
Source: George Seferis: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1995)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Shadow Man

Here's a haunting poem by J.R.R. Tolkien:
The Shadow Man
There was a man who dwelt alone
beneath the moon in shadow,
He sat as long as lasting stone,
and yet he had no shadow.
The owls, they perched upon his head
beneath the moon in summer;
They wiped their beaks and thought him dead,
who sat there dumb all summer.

There came a lady clad in grey
beneath the moon a-shining.
One moment did she stand and stay
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
beneath the moon in shadow,
And clasped her fast, both flesh and bone;
and they were clad in shadow.

And never more she walked in light,
or over moonlit mountain,
But dwelt within the hill, where night
is lit but with a fountain-
Save once a year when caverns yawn,
and hills are clad in shadow,
They dance together then till dawn
and cast a single shadow.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~
The Shadow Man

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

There is your world within

art  Henri Magritte   Beautiful World

Happy and hopeful New Year!

Here's a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

"The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help.
Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.
Or what is else?
There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…"

-  Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Times Are Nightfall, Look, Their Light Grows Less