That day we lay …

Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis
Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis

More than 40 years ago I read a poem by my friend and childhood schoolmate John Marquand that stuck with me all these years. It had something to do with love and a town in Colorado.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think it started, “Remember the way we lay in Ouray ….” There was something about that repeated internal rhyme that knocked me out.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember any more of the poem. Years later I asked John about it and he couldn’t remember it either. Sadly, it may be lost forever.

That rhyme was kicking around in my brain recently and it inspired a poem about another experience in another place. It was Minneapolis, and it involved rediscovering love against all odds.

That Day We Lay Upon the Grass

That day we lay upon the grass,
A luminescent green.
The sparks that arced from arm to arm
Across the space between.

Our bodies quickened by the sun,
The willow leaves aflush,
The sunlight sparkling on the lake,
Our blood bestirred to rush.

Up and down the parkway, flowers
Enticing with their blooms,
Our loveless winter ended there,
Emerging from our tombs

For we had slept as sleepers sleep,
Unmindful of the world,
Astonishingly we awoke,
Much like a rose unfurled.

Advertisements

“When the dizzy petal peak is past …”

Spring blossoms
 Spring comes early to the Pacific Northwest.

Spring does indeed come early here in western Washington.  Two weeks ago, we were enjoying summer-like weather in early March. Which is unusual, even for here.

The ornamental flowering trees were bursting with blooms, the sun was warm, and I walked for miles in shirtsleeves.  Life was good.

Two weeks and several rainstorms later, and the blossoms are much worse for wear.  In some places the fallen petals cover the sidewalks like snow.  The weather is back to normal — cool and wet, and occasionally windy.

As I walked tonight, I saw the fallen flower petals and was reminded of an old poem, written more than 30 years ago.

PASSION LIKE A FLOWER

Passion like a flower must expire.
Nothing can be rigged to spare desire
From life’s rigors — magic nor petitions.
Petals fall to various conditions.

When the dizzy petal-peak is past,
Some folks act as if the bloom could last,
Pick some wilting lilacs for their table,
Haul them homeward just to show they’re able,

Plunk them in a fruit jar lately washed
Clean of last fall’s bounty, cooked and squashed —
Like they thought the glass itself had power
To delay the spoiling of the flower.

It may work a day, two days, or so,
Then the smell and color start to go.
Nothing glassy can preserve desire;
Passion like a flower must expire.

Crow haiku

Japanese Woodblock Print by Kyosai (1831-1889)
Japanese Woodblock Print by Kyosai (1831-1889)

Crows show up in some of the most poignant haiku. They are such marvelous creatures, it is not surprising they captured the notice of the haiku masters.

My favorite guy, Issa, wrote this:

The crow
walks along there
as if it were tilling the field.

Perhaps the most famous crow haiku is Basho’s Autumn Crow:

A crow
has settled on a bare branch —
autumn evening.

Spring came early to western Washington this year. On a recent walk, I encountered some crows who were very upset about my presence.

Relax, noisy crows,
I mean your babies no harm.
The cat, however …

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Back in college, I had a poetry professor who believed William Butler Yeats was the greatest poet the world had ever seen.

Dr. John A. Bernstein was one of those rare teachers who could instill a passion for the subject matter in the hearts of his students. And that suited me just fine because I was not taking the class to fulfill a major requirement or to get into grad school.

It was the early 70s. I was seeking truth, beauty and love. I was taking Dr. Bernstein’s class to immerse myself in the great poets of the English language.

We spent a lot of time with Dylan Thomas, with Yeats and with Robert Frost. I was familiar with Frost from my childhood. But Yeats was a new discovery.

Frankly, I did not share my teacher’s unbridled enthusiasm for this Irish poet. I was a spiritually promiscuous as anyone in those days, but Yeats’s forays into spiritualism and automatic writing freaked me out.

Besides that, his poetry simply did not resonate with me. Mostly. Except for his poignant poem, When You Are Old.

Almost certainly written for his lover Maud Gonne, who had rejected his proposal of marriage at least three times. It’s a fairly straightforward poem, but touching and one of my favorites.

When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Poets on poetry

George Herbert
George Herbert (1593-1633)

By all accounts, George Herbert was a cool guy. Our knowledge is limited because he lived long ago … more than 400 years ago. He only lived to the age of 39, but that was in the days before antibiotics and indoor plumbing.

I’ve chosen to write about this poetic champion because of how he expresses his art as a means of worship.

Born into a wealthy artistic family in Wales, he enrolled in Cambridge with the intention of becoming a priest. He seems to have gotten sidetracked by politics, became a supporter of King James, and served in Parliament.

But King James died, Herbert’s secular prospects dimmed, and he became an Anglican priest in his mid-30s. He was reportedly an attentive parish priest. He cared for his parishioners, looking out for the poor and ill. He was only to live a few more years before dying of tuberculosis.

When I recently asked my Anglican son for suggestions he suggested Herbert. Coincidentally, I already had him on my list. His poem The Quiddity has been one of my favorites for some time.

Quiddity is a Latin word for “the essence,” or “what the thing really is.” The poem is a poet writing about poetry. It starts out with a litany of things that a poem is isn’t.

But, at the end of the poem, Herbert gets to the point about what a poem really is. And for him, poetry is the thing that brings him close to God.

The Quiddity
by George Herbert

My God, a verse is not a crown,
No point of honour, or gay suit,
No hawk, or banquet, or renown,
Nor a good sword, nor yet a lute.

It cannot vault, or dance, or play ;
It never was in France or Spain ;
Nor can it entertain the day
With a great stable or domain.

It is no office, art, or news ;
Nor the Exchange, or busy Hall :
But it is that which, while I use,
I am with Thee : and Most take all.

Haiku, with feeling

Mother and father
Father cared for Mother through her decade-long ordeal with Alzheimer’s. After her death, he went downhill very quickly.

My recent infatuation with haiku master Issa, has led me to his poems about his family. Sad story. His mother died very early. His father remarried, but the new wife was not a warm, nurturing stepmom.

So, Issa leaves home early to wander and find his fortune.

Later, as his father was dying of typhus, Issa returns home to care for his father in his dying days. His verse about his father’s last days is a heartbreaker.

Last time, I think
I’ll brush the flies
from my father’s face.

I was reminded of my last contact with my father.  This is a different time and a different age.  Instead of being in the same room brushing away flies, I was 2,000 miles away.  I attempted to reach my father by telephone.

Last call to my dad.
Nurses wheeled him to the phone.

Couldn’t hear a thing.

 

 

Early spring haiku

Early spring -- a great day for a walk ... and poetry
Early spring and a great day for a walk

It is with great humility that I attempt haiku. I suspect I’m only scratching the surface.  Just barely.

When I consider the old masters, there seems to be so much more to it than just 5/7/5. For one thing, the lettering and drawings were part of the art of haiku. That pretty much eliminates me. My fine motor skills being what they are eliminated brain surgeon and artist from my career choices long ago.

Then there is the way the old masters looked at the world. They came from such a different culture, steeped in Zen. Like I said in an earlier post, I’m not sure I actually “get” haiku.

But then, from time to time, I catch that glimpse of beauty and truth, and I’m back in. Just when I think I’m committing fraud trying to compose haiku, I read something by Issa and I am reminded of this: He was just a human being. I’m just a human being. We’ve got a lot more in common than is apparent on the surface.

So, with that disclaimer, here are a few meager offerings:

Spring Haiku

Great day to walk, dog.
You poop, I’ll write some verse.
We’ll both be happy.

Old dog so blind and deaf
We’ll never finish our walk …
Sniffs every tree!

Plum trees bloomed early
For us old dog. I don’t mind
If we walk all day.

Pink trees everywhere,
So perfect, what could go wrong?
Uh oh … wait … a-choo!