For thousands of years
others have walked this grey shore,
crows scolding them, too.
For thousands of years
others have walked this grey shore,
crows scolding them, too.
We come now to the winter of our years
(Where did the autumn with its pleasures go?)
Our roof will all too soon be cloaked with snow,
So, come, let’s stoke our fire against the fears.
It seems another life ago, my dear,
That full of grace you pilgrim sat aglow
Enkindled so this prodigal would know
That grace was free and grace was very near.
Midsummer’s eve brought more epiphanies
Of spotless bride adorned, redeemed, in white,
Too ill for customary liberties,
So wan, yet still for these sore eyes a sight.
Then! Over Lake Champlain the full moon sees
A railway sleeper car rock through the night.
When love is good and it lasts, it can be tempting to idealize its beginnings.
But, the very first time I saw my wife, she was glowing. I kid you not. Sitting in the second row of a darkened auditorium listening to the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, there she was — surrounded by a golden aura.
At the time, I was a reporter for a small suburban weekly paper, and was there on assignment. I had a camera, but was so befuddled I failed to get the shot. (Of the Glowing Girl, that is.) You might argue I was imagining things, but I don’t think so. I’m not given to visions nor hallucinations. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.
I kept my eye on her while I got my story. But at the end of the program, she went right up to the speaker. I figured she must be with the group of important people who had accompanied him from Washington, D.C.
So, I put The Glowing Girl out of mind and tried to forget about her.
Fortunately for me, she turned up again a couple of weeks later at church. It turns out she was a friend of a friend, who introduced us and immediately left us alone. I didn’t let her get away a second time.
I think the whole experience was a special gift for a fellow a bit slow on the uptake, who needed a sign to notice a good thing right under my nose.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
We were married three years later at Midsummer. She was sick and only made it through the festivities with the help of cold medicine. The next morning we flew out of town to New York, and the very next night, took an overnight train to Montreal.
I’ve been a fan of railway travel ever since.
THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE
Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.
How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.
I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.
We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.
In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.
Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.
And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.
Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.
Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.
If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.
Thankfully, sometimes love DOES work out.
After some bump and bruises, I finally found the love of my life. Thirty-three years ago I wrote her a poem. Not leaving anything to chance, I shameless ripped off the first line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.” The rest was mine.
It may not have been wholly original poetry, but it did the trick. She said “yes.”
The funny thing is … soon after that I wound up practicing direct marketing copywriting as my day job.
After my experience with this poem, I should have known I was destined for direct marketing. The poem was my very first direct marketing letter.
I got a 100% response rate. Retention has been solid, and long-term value excellent.
Thank you, Christopher Marlowe.
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.
Notes: Summer-ish weather has come to the Pacific Northwest. It seems fitting to haul out this old sonnet.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate material comforts and modern conveniences. Probably even more than most of my friends and colleagues.
I was born in the middle of the last century, and started out life on a farm that was primitive, even for that time.
How primitive? Well, we milked our own cow, raised our own chickens for eggs, butchered our own hogs, and raised our own vegetables in the garden.
For special occasions and Sunday dinners, Mother would grab one of the slower chickens, chop off its head, and fry it up.
When we sold our farm to the Amish, they took one look at the house, and commenced on an immediate upgrading and remodeling project.
As for me, I was delighted in my new home in a Missouri farm town of 12 thousand souls. For the first time in my life I had my own room, central heat, and indoor plumbing.
I could finally take a bath in something that wasn’t a galvanized wash tub in the middle of the kitchen floor. In freshly drawn water that hadn’t been previously used by other members of the family.
I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I didn’t even notice that we didn’t have air conditioning, even when the Missouri summer visited its oppressive humidity and triple-digit heat upon us.
So, I am thankful for many things. I am certainly grateful for indoor plumbing and running water. I am so thankful I can enjoy sardines from Norway and wine from France.
I am grateful for antibiotics, and the miracles of modern medicine. I missed the polio epidemic, but just barely. Had I been just a couple of years older, I could have suffered withered limbs or worse, like the older brothers and sisters of some of my friends who were not so fortunate.
All of my ancestors as far back as I can research were dirt farmers. I am grateful for a professional job in a meaningful enterprise. (Inside work. No heavy lifting.)
Many years ago, when I moved out to Seattle, we settled in the suburbs because — even then — the city was too expensive. We made a serendipitous choice, because our little suburb has become a highly desirable place for Microsoft employees coming here to live from all over the world.
Heck, in one of those specious magazine “Top 15” lists, our little suburb was once ranked the “Most Friendly Town in America.”
Crime is low. Violent crime is virtually non-existent. The weather is temperate. People take care of their property. Unemployment is not really an issue. People of seemingly every tribe and tongue live side-by-side here in peace. You can walk or jog without fear.
Pinch me because sometimes I start to fool myself into thinking we live in paradise.
Yet, it is good to remember that even heaven on earth is not really heaven.
Though I am not a bearded man nor burly,
I love you with a lumberjack-type love.
The only axe I take in hand securely,
This meager pen across the page I shove.
Please treat me not so fickle nor so surly,
Don’t shield your limbs below nor lips above.
I aim to fell you skillfully and purely;
Each word’s to chip the bark around your love.
NOTES: Van Morrison said, “I got hit by a bow and arrow, got me down to the very marrow.” John Lee Hooker said, “Baby please don’t go.” The Bee Gees, said, “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”
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.
Notes: June is a big month for weddings. I know I’ve got an anniversary coming up soon. When people ask me how long I’ve been married, I have to stop and do the math. In the early years it was easy. We took in a young cat a month after our wedding, and so for 20 years I knew we were as married as the cat was old.
But when the cat died I was forced to use other memory tools.
As I was working on this sonnet a couple of years ago, I was reminded of a story poet John Ciardi related about Robert Frost, who at a lecture was asked by a woman in the audience: “Mr. Frost, surely when you write one of your beautiful poems, you are not thinking of technical tricks!”
Frost looked at the woman a while and replied, “I revel in them!”
Ciardi says Frost was like a horse trader who “would pick up an idea and whittle at it until he either wound up with a little whittled shape or a pile of shavings on the floor.”
I felt a little like a horse trader as I was writing this poem. It started with a simple, little idea. I can’t remember ever “whittling” more on a poem before. At first, this one seemed like it just never wanted to happen. I just kept whittling and whittling until something very different began to emerge from where I started.
After what seemed like an eternity, I began to see the tricks of the trade — namely rhythm, diction, image and form — coming together to embody the simple little idea.
This one did not plop, fully formed, into my lap. It was written, re-written, and re-written again. I wrote in on my phone. I copied it out by hand in a notebook. I typed it in Microsoft Word on my laptop. I read it aloud and even recorded a reading of it to hear how it sounded.
I found myself being keenly aware of assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme like never before.
I found myself unconsciously using the same sounds and rhymes over and over again as if I was consciously reinforcing the central idea. Then, I found myself breaking the pattern with lavish, flamboyant word choices in the middle of the poem to demonstrate the message.
I found myself coming around to embracing a metaphor in the final part of the poem. It was an idea that emerged only after the first part of the poem was written.
It may be a pile of shavings. Or it might be a little whittled shape.
You can be the judge.
This whimsical scene at Seattle’s Ballard Market the other day made me smile. This pair of poetical hustlers are bittersweet reminders of the plight of poets everywhere.
They brought to mind the funny (but not-too-funny) little poem by Hayden Carruth, written when he was studying and writing about the Japanese haiku master, Basho, who lived and wrote in the late 1600s.
Basho, you made
a living writing haiku?
Wow! Way to go, man.
This pair at the market did not appear to be doing much business, but they were earnest and eager, and I wish them the best.