Encounter by Czeslaw Milosz

 

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.

A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.

One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,

Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going

The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.

I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

 

1936

 

 

 

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Try To Praise the Mutilated World

By Adam Zagajewski         

 Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way: A Poem by Mary Oliver

Enjoy the simplicity and beauty of the splendid Mary Oliver….

If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among.

If you’re Emily, a garden

will do.

Try to find the right place for yourself.

If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.

When one is alone and lonely, the body

gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,

or splashes into the cold river, or

pushes through the ice-crusted snow.

Anything that touches.

God, or the gods are invisible, quite

understandable. But holiness is visible,

entirely.

Some words will never leave God’s mouth,

no matter how hard you listen.

In all the works of Beethoven, you will

not find a single lie.

All important ideas must include the trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

To understand many things you must reach out

of your own condition.

For how many years did I wander slowly

through the forest. What wonder and

glory I would have missed had I ever been

in a hurry!

Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still

it explains nothing.

The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

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Leave Her to Heaven

I’m hoping this poem still works if you haven’t seen Leave Her to Heaven the super Technicolor Noir masterpiece from 1945.  But if you haven’t, here’s the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

Gene Tierney portrays a beautiful but unstable woman who marries successful novelist Cornel Wilde. Tierney wants to spend all her time with her new husband, but finds it impossible to do so thanks to his work and the frequent visits of family and friends. When Wilde’s crippled younger brother (Darryl Hickman) comes to the couple’s summer house to stay, Ms. Tierney indirectly causes the boy to drown. Later, upon discovering that she’s pregnant, Tierney deliberately falls down the stairs, choosing to miscarry rather than share her husband’s affections with an infant. When it becomes clear that family friend Jeanne Crain is attracted to her husband, Ms. Tierney commits suicide, making her death appear to be murder and framing Crain for the “crime.” In court, Ms. Crain is mercilessly grilled by prosecuting attorney Vincent Price, who happens to be Tierney’s ex-lover! Filmed in lush Technicolor, Leave Her to Heaven is based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams.

Leave Her To Heaven

Oh, to be beautiful and deeply disturbed

Like Gene Tierney’s Ellen rowing across the cold lake

In her white robe and sunglasses.

Is Ellen’s sexy overbite

the first sign of her illness?

A menacing pout over homemade soup with Cornel Wilde?

No. You can see madness in her shoulders, in short sleeves,

as she rides her horse through the half lit New Mexican prairie,

expertly distributing her father’s ashes from a large urn.

To be crazy is to be indestructible (“Nothing ever happens to Ellen”),

to ride fearlessly along the bony ridge in the coming darkness,

to eat wild turkey sandwiches, enumerating the pleasures of the hunt.

So many dressing gowns! In Maine, the deep sleeves of a monk

Maternity robes, oriental fastenings. Ellen wears blue shoes to her miscarriage,

One heel wedged in the carpet marks her fall down the stairs.

In Maine, in mourning, on the train,

Ellen wears a variety of hats,

a series of festive deceptions.

She is most diabolical in white satin,

shortly after her epiphany in the dressing table mirror,

arsenic in the bath salts, to frame Ruth, the good girl

She does not dig happily in the earth like Ruth.

She does not want a baby.

She does not want a sister.

She wants her family to go back across the water

She wants her husband to throw away his chapters.

She prefers the laboratory to the nursery, the voluminous to the sheer.

‘If only the boy would drown.

If only I could swim through these ashes.

If I could only wear the right shade of green.’

Green cactus shadows.

Green as the Maine sea.

Green train in the brown desert.

Completely green, a stately pine.

A loon call across the lake.

Green inside, the girl surfacing.

While Richard, the poolside novelist types

& good Ruth trims the flower ceiling

above his head.

Ellen glides away, laughing muse in a bathing cap,

raises her hand above the dark water

‘You see, I’m no longer engaged.’

Her lips do not fade in water.

Her lips do not fade when she sleeps.

Her lips do not fade when she reads the dedication of his book.

In the ache beneath the ribs,

in the fresh water hunger,

where the swimmer struggles then sinks,

The woman in the boat

removes her glasses, shouts his name,

dives beneath sound—lake, air, and loon

to the place where

her love is limitless.

The desert’s fluid immensity fills Ellen’s limbs.

Richard hears the anguished shout,

swims in his clothes

as his young wife rises, exhausted in the wake.

Coughing up sun and pine needles,

Ellen struggles to hold the stillness

inside her, cold & emerald,

a serene, breathless depth

where she remains the eager bride,

destroyer of obstacles.

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Exposed: The Truth about Fruit Cocktail

So glad that one of our great American poets has finally tackled the mystery of that sweet American horror….

Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup

Amy Gerstler

Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.

Day 349 6/19/14: “Ghosts” by Mary Oliver

“Ghosts” is the most eloquent poem I have ever read about vanishing things.  She also gives great dignity to cows–one of those “invisible” animals whose suffering we’d rather not know much about.

1

Have you noticed?

2

Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts

lay down on the earth and died

it’s hard to tell now

what’s bone, and what merely

was once.

The golden eagle, for instance,

has a bit of heaviness in him;

moreover the huge barns

seem ready, sometimes, to ramble off

toward deeper grass.

3

1805

near the Bitterroot Mountains:

a man named Lewis kneels down

on the prairie watching

a sparrow’s nest cleverly concealed in the wild hyssop

and lined with buffalo hair. The chicks,

not more than a day hatched, lean

quietly into the thick wool as if

content, after all,

to have left the perfect world and fallen,

helpless and blind,

into the flowered fields and the perils

of this one.

4

In the book of the earth it is written:

nothing can die.

In the book of the Sioux it is written:

they have gone away into the earth to hide.

Nothing will coax them out again

but the people dancing.

5

Said the old-timers:

the tongue

is the sweetest meat

Passengers shooting from train windows

could hardly miss, they were

that many.

Afterward the carcasses

stank unbelievably, and sang with flies, ribboned

with slopes of white fat,

black ropes of blood—hellhunks

in the prairie heat.

6

Have you noticed? how the rainimages-10

falls soft as the fall

of moccasins. Have you noticed?

how the immense circles still,

stubbornly, after a hundred years,

mark the grass where the rich droppings

from the roaring bulls

fell to earth as the herd stood

day after day, moon after moon

in their tribal circle, outwaiting

the packed of yellow-eyed wolves that are also

have you noticed? gone now.

7

Once only, and then in a dream,

I watched while, secretly

and with the tenderness of any caring woman,

a cow gave birth

to a red calf, tongued him dry and nursed him

in a warm corner

of the clear night

in the fragrant grass

in the wild domains

of the prairie spring, and I asked them

in my dream I knelt down and asked them

to make room for me.

 

Day 328 5/19/14: 58 TV Commercials from 1977

The flu + youtube= a melancholy meditation on pop culture

58 TV Commercials from 1977

When did sagging, bulbous bologna become happy baloney:

slang sung by children peeling sweaty circles from the lunch bag’s caress

Who in the schoolyard knew of crazed pigs chewing each other’s tails off?

Who had heard that the runts were slammed to death against the slaughterhouse floor?

Or that a pig that met such a fate was known by another childhood name: Thumper.

We loved the oblivion of mayonnaise.

We learned to laugh off those surreal familiars: leg, shoulder, breast, wing

as we forgot our longing for an ecstatic father

who ate Golden Grahams in a tent

or drank Nescafe from a transparent globe.

I trace the inception of pre-adolescent dread

to my inability to reconcile disco and earthiness,

transparent lip gloss and false ferns

I blame the crackling aftermath,

the lingering shot of the silent game board

or cake mix in lengthening shadow.

That tension between ultra-sheer understatement

and memory yarn,

the shame of instant milk.

Day 320 5/11/14: The Marvels of BeeKeeping 101

a“Any volunteers? It’s full of protein,” said the beekeeper, holding up two small globs of larvae on something that looked like an exotic fork or comb.

 

“I’ll try it.” A woman raised her gloved hand and unzipped her bee hood.

 

A murmur rippled through the similarly suited crowd at the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping 101 class.

 

We fell silent as she chewed.

 

“It’s…not very good…it tastes like leaves,” she said.

The larvae looked alien and white and we looked alien and white. It’s impossible not to channel a lonely B-movie robot when stepping inside the bee suit, with its strange square veil stretched over a “Dr. Livingston I presume” style hat and Jackie-O inaugural-length gloves that are heavy leather, not satin.

My dear friend Lisa is starting her very own hive and needs a friend to help her, so I travel to a beautiful rambling spread beneath the Wildlife Way Station once a month and learn about smokers and drones and excluders.

There’s no more useless feeling sometimes than being a poet. I space out while the master beekeeper explains how to clean the smoker without lighting oneself on fire, but will take up these weird fragments of trivia to my grave:

“Do NOT use powdered sugar and water in your feeder. The bees will become constipated. Use C&H cane sugar.”

That a bee might become constipated is almost as wild as a bee having mites. Today the beekeeper pulled the frames out of the bee box and held them up to the light to check the swarming brown bodies for parasites the size of half a rice grain. Passing a couple frames to a pair of eager students he exclaimed, “Get some sun in those cells!”

The students held the frames toward the sky, like weird amber mirrors. I imagined that his command involved some impossible scientific feat, that we had to allow the sun into the most forgotten, hidden and most obscure parts of ourselves.

I hoped he might say it again.

It’s easy to lose someone in a crowd of net-headed beekeepers, but I found Lisa and we crowded close to watch a drone birth: a single antennae waving from a plugged up cell.

I learned that the living bees eat the dead—another marvelous protein source.

A few weeks ago, I’d been deathly afraid of being stung when I finally donned the bee suit. Although every “I’m afraid” experience is preparation for the shark cage, I still remember getting stung when I was 12 years old, reading “A Catcher in the Rye” on our screened in front porch in Massachusetts. I remember the pain and then the cold. The ache in the arms and back. But today the bees swarmed around me. The sound is really sort of mesmerizing and wearing the bee suit  gave me some odd power of invisibility, as if I lived in a cone of silent strength.  And besides, I’d been told that these were polite bees with good, gentle, decent bee genes. And they were slightly loopy still from being “smoked out” of their hive, which dulls their aggressive hormones. The hormones smell like bananas.

The beekeeper who wore a hood but no gloves, opened the pollen drawer at the bottom of the hive, a tray overflowing with gold nuggets of dust and a few marauding ants. (Ant invasion can be stopped with repellent called Tanglefoot–a word I liked).

The pollen drawer!  Nature doesn’t have to try. It’s gorgeous and practical, functional and mysterious.

I felt sad when I had to leave early, change out of the bee suit Lisa had loaned me and drive all the way across the city to a workshop on “Ulysses” and the stream of consciousness technique. As I drove through the green, pollen-rich canyon, on my way to experience another kind of richness, I felt that being a poet was a pretty good thing, a way to inhabit a lot of worlds. As the great poet Frank O’Hara once said:

“Grace to be born and live

as variously as possible.”