Sonnet in May

When May bursts forth

When May Bursts Forth

When May bursts forth all moisture and mirth,
And birds bestir while you are still abed,
With everything bent on fostering birth,
And balmy blossoms like a banquet spread
Call to the wanderer weary and wan,
“Close your eyes and breathe and remember nights
When you lay upon the redolent lawn,
And took your bashful taste of love’s delights.”
For though that time is but a glimmer now,
And keenness of the night is now subdued,
A fragrant echo still awakes somehow,
And stirs again a near forgotten mood.
One kiss with wonder could the world endow.
In one embrace you found all you pursued.

(2017)


Tennyson said, “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to love.” Robert Frost said that the beginning of every poem is a certain mood.

And there you have it.

A mood, a memory in springtime, and even an old man’s fancy can be stirred a bit.

 

One More for Poetry Month

Obviously destined to write poetry

I Sing Not for Glory

I sing not for glory nor for bread,
Nor for the praise of the credentialed clique.
But for hire more valuable instead,
To touch the honest kindred heart I seek.

I sing for lovers when love is green,
When time stops for a solitary kiss.
When light shines anew as with new eyes seen,
I celebrate your fey and fragile bliss.

I sing for the lonely, lovelorn heart,
When light grows cold and aching will not cease,
When your enchanted world falls all apart,
I offer modest salve to give you peace.

I sing for the pilgrim searching soul
Pursuing the heart’s true cause and treasure.
May Heaven’s Hound, you hasten to your goal,
And propel you to your proper pleasure.

I sing for the wise who see their end,
And, too, for those who have not yet awoke.
For to a common home we all descend,
With common dirt for all our common cloak.

I sing not for money nor for art,
Nor to amuse curators of our trade.
The simple wages of the simple heart
Will satisfy when my accounts are weighed.

(2017)


A few years ago a friend asked me, “Why poetry?”

I didn’t really have a snappy answer. Actually, I hadn’t analyzed it very much. I’d grown up reading poetry.  Some of my earliest memories of nursery thymes, and a bit later later the delightful poems of Eugene Field and the stirring tales of Longfellow. My mother loved Frost. In high school, our teachers introduced us to Shakespeare, Whitman, and William Cullen Bryant, and many others.

A few years later, when I hit a patch where life didn’t seem to make sense, it only seemed natural to express the distress in poetry. It was if putting things in order with some sort of design helped achieve a measure of equilibrium, if only for a little while.

And I’ve been doing that off and on ever sense.

That question from my friend set me to wondering. And the result was this modest poem.

The photo is from a time when I fancied myself wise, but still didn’t have enough experience to know very much at all.

Poem for Poetry Month

Oyster shell and books of poetry

As the Oyster Forms the Pearl

As the oyster forms the pearl,
So the poet pens the verse
As balm for the current ache
Born out of the ancient curse.

As the oyster feels compelled
To shellac the sandy grain,
So the poet feels the urge
To transmogrify the pain.

So the pearl grows rich and round
As its luster covers the sand.
So the verse unseen takes form
In its way, designed unplanned.

Sad the pearl that lies unseen
In the depths of the murky sea.
Sad the verse that dies unheard
In the heart clandestinely.

So the diver frees the pearl,
Breaks the stony shell apart.
So the poet frees the verse
Ripped out of his broken heart.

(2015)


What could be more appropriate for Poetry Month than a poem about writing poetry?

Just this morning I reread Robert Frost’s “Mowing,” which I believe to be one of his sneaky poems that seems, on the surface, seems to be a simple description of the everyday task of a farmer, but on another level is an exploration of writing poems.

Frost is subtle, but I think I can make out him saying that for him poetry is not handed to him in dreams by fairies or elves. It’s hard work.

I almost see his rows of mown grass as lines of poetry left for others to figure out, “leaving hay to make.”

My little poem is not so subtle.

Sonnet composed before corona

Flowering tree in April

Our Paradise

Wafting comes the mower’s comforting hum,
Assuring all is just as it should be.
Our gates and fences all are rightly plumb,
We celebrate our capability.

New curbs and gutters sluice away wild rain,
Alarms and locks protect our doors from breach,
Our lives arranged to minimize our pain,
Designed to keep us safely out of reach.

But wreaking roots upheave the sidewalk path,
And worms devour our precious woolen thread,
The black and red mold creep into our bath,
Insomnia disturbs our peace in bed.
Despite our engineering and our math,
Our paradise is something less instead.

(2016)


Today was almost perfect in our little suburb. The spring sun was shining, the flowering trees were peaking, it was not too hot and not too cool. The night before, the moon was still almost full and it was splendid.

This afternoon few cars were out in the streets. Homeowners were gardening and mowing and washing their windows. Couples were out walking their dogs.  When you met a neighbor you nodded and smiled.

Yet all was not well.

When you met that neighbor you veered several feet away so as not to breathe any air they may have exhaled from their lungs. There were no close or extended conversations. Some walkers are wearing face masks.

You see so many people in the neighborhood because their schools and businesses are closed. We are home bound and quarantined.

There is a plague in the land.

So much of what filled our time just four weeks ago is now unavailable. It’s been unlike any Lenten period in my lifetime. We have given up, albeit involuntarily, all gatherings for entertainment, sports, parties, dining, drinking or carousing. I’m unsure if I’m any wiser or if my heart is any softer for it.

I didn’t have anything like our current pandemic in mind when I wrote this a few years ago. But I thought of it today on my walk.

(Yet Another) Poem Against Alzheimer’s

justin-docanto-q-i_sxORsqw-unsplash

End of a Monarchy

A simple story that I yearned to tell,
Just two, a boy and orange butterfly,
Enchanted by the lavish summer flush
Of lark and lilac, hollyhock and thrush.
+++He did not really know just why he wept.

At first it seemed a game of innocence
To chase the dainty kite around the yard.
Its random flight impossible to track,
Just as it drew in range it fluttered back.
+++He laughed as if this day would never end.

In time the butterfly would come to rest
Upon the sweet and fragrant purple bloom.
The boy would seize at last that prize he sought,
But saw at once he’d ruined what he had caught.
+++Tears dropped upon an orange, broken wing.

You brought, dear friend, all this to life on film,
The first production of your long career.
Quite primitive, for sure, it was, and raw.
We were not ones to dwell on any flaw.
+++For we were making art and we were glad.

We ventured forth for beauty, truth and love.
We vowed we’d float the Mississippi’s length.
We’d plumb our nation’s soul and sing its song.
We were so young and casual and strong.
+++And confident our time was all our own.

But life’s vicissitudes drew us apart.
There’d be no sequel to our maiden work.
We’d never float that river on a raft,
Nor join to sharpen one another’s craft.
+++No use to wonder now what might have been.

For time has caught up with your mind too soon.
The wings on which you soared are broken now.
Your free and fancy flight has turned to stone.
You’ve gone and left us lonesome and alone.
+++Too late I realized just why I wept.

(2020)


(Butterfly Photo by Justin DoCanto on Unsplash)

NOTES: In 1968, my friend and classmate Gene Marksbury played his new album for me, Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. The duo’s album Sounds of Silence had been my very first record purchase a couple of years earlier. I was already a fan.

There had always been heartache, poignancy and disappointment in their music, but this new album took it further. It seemed to cover the whole span of life. Youth and young love, breakdowns of relationships, and — finally — the losses that come with old age.

The album ended with the admonition that has haunted me ever since:

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence. A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you.

I have a photograph from that era long ago:

Gene Marksbury, Bobby Ball and Clyde Smith
From left to right: Gene Marksbury, me, and Clyde Smith

The shot shows us as we prepared for a camping trip on the banks of the Missouri River a few miles from our home. Gene is the one on the left and our friend Clyde Smith is on the right holding the rifle. Years before, we were members of the same slot car racing club and spent a lot of time together. In the insanity of adolescence, we had once tried to hold our own 24-hour Le Mans slot car race.

But by time of this photo we were all probably about 16 or 17, and primed for more challenging adventures. It was also about this time that Clyde somehow got access to a movie camera. He was already a talented photographer and he was eager to make a movie.

I had written a very short story for an English class and he decided that this would be the basis for his first film. The story was about a boy chasing a butterfly, catching it and then instantly regretting that he had damaged it beyond repair. I had called the story “End of a Monarchy.”

It was the most basic of plots, but Clyde recruited a younger friend to be the star and somehow wrangled an unfortunate butterfly to play the supporting role. And, to his credit, Clyde made it happen. It was shot on primitive, grainy, 8mm film, but when he was finished, he had himself a movie.

I was delighted, of course.

After high school graduation, Clyde and I came very close to going to the same college. We dreamed big about a future of artistic collaboration. But I received a scholarship from a different school with an offer I couldn’t refuse, and we went our separate directions.

I emerged from college a few years later armed with a B.A in philosophy and classics, and no serious plan for the future. What followed was a checkered career. Bouncing from fry cook to restaurant manager to salesman to journalist to copy writer to creative director … most of the time earning a living to support my family and my poetry habit.

Gene’s life took a circuitous route, but he ended up teaching college back in our hometown for a few years. He now owns a winery and operates a tasting room in nearby Glasgow, MO, overlooking the Missouri River. His Bushwhacker Bend Norton Dry Red is pretty tasty.

Clyde, meanwhile, headed out to Hollywood and forged a successful career as a cinematographer and director of photography. He made some real movies and several really cool music videos for Weird Al Yankovic. Clyde even won an Emmy at one point.

Clyde and I had not seen each other for decades. But three years ago my wife and I were in Los Angeles and I made a point of reconnecting with him. We spend a delightful lunch with him and had a wonderful time making up for lost time. We reminisced for more than two hours, and he reminded me of details about our youthful escapades that I had forgotten.

I did notice that Clyde repeated a couple of stories during the course of our conversation but didn’t think too much of it.

After we returned home, Clyde and I exchanged a few messages. But he soon stopped replying and I got busy. Sometime later I realized I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time. I remembered his seemingly insignificant forgetfulness during out lunch and began to worry.

Late last year I went to his Facebook page and my fears were confirmed. From information posted there, I learned that Clyde was suffering from Alzheimer’s and had declined rapidly. He was already in the later stages and had reached the point where his wife was no longer able to care for him at home and keep him safe.

Since then she has been able to move him into a care facility that specializes in such patients, but she reports that he no longer recognizes her, their daughter, their dog, or anyone elseIn 1968, my friend and classmate Gene Marksbury played his new album for me, Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. The duo’s album Sounds of Silence had been my very first record purchase a couple of years earlier. I was already a fan.
There had always been heartache, poignancy and disappointment in their music, but this new album took it further. It seemed to cover the whole span of life. Youth and young love, breakdowns of relationships, and — finally — the losses that come with old age.
The album ended with the admonition that has haunted me ever since:
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence. A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you.
I have a photograph from that era long ago:.

I lost my mother to dementia many years ago, and this news about my friend has dredged up all sorts of grief and regret. I’ve been thinking of all the questions I wish I could have asked my mother when she still was able to answer.

I’ve been wishing that Clyde and I had stayed in closer touch since we left our Missouri hometown. I’ve been wishing we had had the opportunity to work together again.

I’ve been thinking of my past, my family, my friends, trying to preserve as many many memories as I possibly can.

I’ve been repeating Paul Simon’s lyrics in my head and wondering, when you lose your memories, what do you have left?

Love in the time of corona

Spring blossoms on our well-worn path

Familiar Ways

I choose to walk the old familiar ways,
To wend ways where I’ve put my foot before,
To gaze anew on views seen other days,
Which, though familiar, never seem to bore.

The changing light and seasons have their ways
Of making old things new: The light-laced hoar,
The first-flush, green-glow, bursting-forth spring days,
The growing tinge of gold we can’t ignore.

Each day, my dear, I choose afresh our trail,
The one we blazed so many years ago,
Eschewing other routes that might avail,
And hewing to the well-worn way we know.
Forsaking novelty need be no jail
With your face bathed in sunset’s golden glow.

(2016)


NOTES: March is arguable the most beautiful time in the Pacific Northwest. The days are growing longer. Yellow daffodils are rampant. And the ornamental plum and pear and cherry trees are exploding with pink blossoms.

In normal times, my only quibble with March is that it also brings on the dusting of alder pollen, which makes me sneeze. (Has anyone ever established a good reason for alder trees to have been created? I am skeptical.)

But these are not normal times. As with the rest of America and most of the world, we are in the grip of the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, most of us have been largely confined to our homes, venturing out on only the most urgent matters. We are taking shelter in our homes like characters in some post-apocalyptic movie, waiting for the worst to pass.

We can still get out and take walks (as long as we observe the proper “social distancing” by moving 10 feet away when we meet passers-by.) Given our current semi-quarantined status, I don’t care how high the pollen count. I’m going for a walk to look at the scenery!

As I walk, I almost always take the same routes through our semi-rural suburban neighborhood making sure to include as many hills as possible. I’ve been walking it for years but it never gets boring.

In times like this, you take stock of what’s really important.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

 

January Lament

The path gives way to stone

Winter Walk

The Yuletide lights are packed away,
+++++Grey leaves creep down the street.
The trees at dusk are shades of grey,
+++++Grey sky makes grey complete.

The old man mutters as he scrapes
+++++His trash can to the curb.
The trees complain and sway their shapes
+++++As gusts their peace disturb.

A solitary sparrow picks
+++++A solitary seed
Out from the desiccated sticks
+++++To slake its piercing need.

Thin clouds scud past the frozen moon,
+++++The distant highway drones,
Debris from windy storms lies strewn,
+++++The path gives way to stones.

We’ve reached the nadir of the year,
+++++The time when flowers sleep.
No wish can make them reappear
+++++From their repose so deep.


(2019)

NOTES: We had one of those exciting winter storms last week in the Pacific Northwest, complete with snow and strong winds. The lights flickered, but thankfully, this time the power did not go off. The walking paths were littered with the branches and boughs of many an evergreen. A few weaker trees in the woods were blown completely over. The consolation was that for a few days afterwards, my walks were suffused with the most pleasant fragrance of cedar and pine.