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.

Winter Walk

Frozen moon through grey trees

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.

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

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

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: Winter can be dreary in the Northwest. The days are as short as they are long in summer. It rains incessantly. Storms roll in from the Pacific and wreak havoc with trees and electrical power grids.

I know. I know. This may sound wimpy when my friends back in Minnesota are staring at temperatures in the 20s below zero Fahrenheit this week. It’s true that we enjoy a Marine climate here on the Puget Sound. It doesn’t get that cold, and I’ve shoveled snow exactly one time since I moved here 25 years ago.

But winter is long, and  I’m eager for the page to turn and the return of the crocus and the robins.

I’ve noticed that walking without earphones or music stimulates the poetry center of the brain.  I think it’s because I hear what’s going on around me.  As I walked this past week on a windy evening, I noticed the tall evergreens making a perceptible swishing sound, back and forth, back and forth.

Read the second stanza aloud and see if you can hear it, too.

Independence Day Love Poem

Minneapolis Independence Day fireworks

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.


(1982)

NOTES: We have our communal holiday traditions, and then we have our own, personal traditions.

I celebrate the Fourth of July as a double holiday. I’m proud and happy to honor our exceptional America and call it home.

And, it also warms my heart to remember the night I discovered my role in an on-going love story.

My personal affection for July Fourth goes back to 1982, when a young couple snuck to the roof of the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis to watch the fireworks. This perch, high above Lake Calhoun, offered a 360 degree view of the entire Twin Cities area. You could see several fireworks displays from there, both near and far away.

Not gonna lie … best fireworks ever.

 

Full Moon Haiku

The Super Moon of 2017

Autumn’s last full moon
illuminates my night walk.
No fear of stumbling.


Notes:  The only supermoon of 2017 just happened Sunday night.  We had a bit of fog that — instead of obscuring the light of the moon — only amplified it.  It was so bright you could detect some colors.

Night walk poem

I have walked now and then in rain.
EXPERIENCE

I have walked now and then in rain,
Walked until the road gave way to stones.
I have known a thing or two of pain.

I’ve returned home alone at night
To rooms that don’t speak back to me at all.
I have stayed up late without a light.

I have watched the half-moon disappear,
Watched until the frost benumbed my face.
I have seen the seasons of the year.

I have left warm, pleasant rooms for plain,
Left without a word explaining why.
I have known a thing or two of pain.


NOTES:  It’s a cold, rainy night in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m stuck miles away from my honey.  It seemed like a good occasion to dust off this old poem.

Love poem for the Fourth of July

July 4th fireworks in Minneapolis, Minnesota
INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.


Notes

July Fourth holds special meaning for me.  I’m patriotic in the old fashioned way.  I still believe that America is exceptional, and has been an exceptional blessing to the world.

Our founding documents are exceptional in the history of mankind, and the men who wrote them were inspired by truly great ideas.

The big idea: That rights are given by God, and not some king or the government. That’s important, because what government gives, government can take away.  But the genius of the Founding Fathers was to see that our rights are granted by God, and thus “inalienable.”

I still get a lump in the throat when the national anthem is played.

But beyond this, my personal affection for July Fourth goes back to 1982, when a young couple snuck to the roof of the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis to watch the fireworks.  This perch, high above Lake Calhoun, offered a 360 degree view of the entire Twin Cities area.  You could see several fireworks displays from there, both near and far away.

It was rather romantic.

Independence Day Love Poem

Independence Day fireworks
A nation’s liberty was meant

The Fourth of July has special meaning for me.

Of course, it represents the founding of the my country, which has been a remarkable blessing to he world. Although America has not always lived up to its ideals, those ideals make it unique among nations.

And those ideals have made it a magnet for untold millions who seek freedom and opportunity.

I still get a little lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I hear the national anthem or “America the Beautiful.”

But, for me, the Fourth holds personal significance. That’s because it marks the anniversary of my certainty that I had found the love of my life.

It goes back many, many years ago to a particular Fourth of July night in Minneapolis.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.

Digging Issa, haiku master

Haiku master Issa self portrait
Issa self portrait. The poem reads: Even considered/in the most favorable light/he looks cold

Dropped my wife off at the airport this morning before dawn. The moon was full, and I was reminded why I like Issa most of all the old Japanese haiku masters.

Issa was so human and compassionate, despite the many losses and disappointments he experienced.

He certainly endured his share of suffering. He mother died when he was a young boy. His stepmother was manipulative and cruel. After his father died, his stepmother refused to recognize the will, which would have given Issa part of the estate. He saw all of his children die before him. And he outlived his beloved wife Kiku, who died giving birth.

At the risk of being misunderstood, I’ll quote one of his most touching poems, written after his wife’s death. By Issa:

The moon tonight —
I even miss
her grumbling.

There’s something so honest and sweet and human about that. He loved her and he loved even her imperfections. The sight of the moon brought it all back and stirred up his intense memories. He missed her and he missed all of her.

One other poem by Issa on this theme of loss:

Outliving them
Outliving them all —
Ah, the cold!

I cannot claim to comprehend Issa’s pain. My wife is still very much alive–just out of town for a few days. I’ve never lost a child. But having lost both parents and all my brothers, I have caught a glimpse of what Issa is saying about “outliving them all.” Just a faint glimpse.

I think of Issa’s poem. I think of that old Tom Waits song, “The last leaf on the tree.” I think of the oak trees from my Missouri youth. And all of this made me think of — and write — a new poem:

Late Winter Haiku

One grey leaf still clings
to the branch, curled up and dry.
Could fall any day.