Irish Grandfather

When I was a baby, my paternal grandfather looked at me and said, “She’s been here before. A changeling child.” That’s what you get with an Irish grandfather, I guess. I never knew the man. He died when I was five. But my memories of him are all a little odd. At one point, after my family had flown from Denver to Billings on a DC 3 (my dad and I air-sick the whole way) my grandfather took my little brother (aged 3?) and me (age 5?) to Hart Albins (department store) to buy clothes. Story tells it that I led my grandparents RIGHT to the white, frothy dress I wanted, and I’d never been there before. The changeling thing came out again. “How did she know where it was?”

My life is full of strange things like that, including living here and not somewhere else. Of writing the story of my family before I even knew they were my family. Twillight Zone stuff all over the place, inexplicable except by my Irish grandfather whom I never knew. Still, I walk around with his sticking-out ears, his droopy left eye and the small divot in the chin.

A changeling is not a good thing. They’re not fully human — being fairy folk — and are always dangerous to humans. The often appear when a fairy steals a human child and replaces it with a fairy — a changeling. OH well…


The Stolen Child

W. B. Yeats – 1865-1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

A chapbook?

I expect this to be live April 7. I’ll post the link when it is!

I decided to collect my little poems into a chapbook. I didn’t even know for sure what a chapbook was even though, back in the day, all the poetry MFA “kids” in my graduate program in English at the University of Denver went on about them at potluck dinners saying things like, “Yes, I hope to have a chapbook ready by the end of the quarter.” It all sounded very precious, so I ignored them reverse-snob that I am. Basically it’s just a small book that holds one chapter of a longer work or enough poems to fill 40 pages. I guess it was the way they said it… Oh well…

I put the poems together for my dad who died 50 years ago and wanted me to be a poet when I grew up. So… I guess this means I’ve grown up. 😄 Most of the poems are about nature and dogs (who knew?) The title is also explained in the book.

It will be for sale on Amazon April 6 or 7 for $5.25. I will make a whole dollar in royalties. Silver dollars would be cool, but I don’t think it’ll work that way.

It was a fun project to design. It has a couple of photos but that wasn’t my first idea, just as I worked today to finish it up I thought, “Hmmm this needs a picture and so does this,” so there are two photos.

For the Birds

Clouds shield the sun that shines with faint interest
On a confused March morning. “What is it today?”
“Spring or winter?” Earth asks. “Clouds, you know this
is up to you, not me, but I must grow hay.”
The same questions pass through my mind as I
Watch the sun push dimly against the clouds,
“We need rain, friend Sol. The fields are so dry.”
The clouds wrap old Sol in a shallow shroud.
Not much I can do talking to the sky,
Though I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, it won’t help.
“Make the best of it,” sings brother sparrow
From the birdbath I often forget to fill.
“It’s all just a matter of scale,” I think
unwinding the hose to give the birds a drink.

Another Shakespearean sonnet. I couldn’t find any inspiration in the cavernous vacuum of my post-migraine morning brain to use the RDP word of the day which is, uh, cavern. It’s a good word for a poem, but as is always the case, some days are better than others. Maybe I’ll try tomorrow.

Poetry?

On my blog yesterday a short discussion of poetry emerged in the comments. I’m not all that comfortable talking about the impulses that lead to poetry vs. prose for a writer (I think they are infinitely varied and personal), but the conversation got me thinking about it (again).

I seldom write poetry, but I went through a spell last year during the “lock down” because I had nothing to say that wasn’t weirder or more interesting than the reality we were all living in to greater and lesser extents. I wrote a bunch of sonnets, inspired by Val from A Different Perspective. She often writes poetry on her blog and was, I think, responding to some challenge and had posted a sonnet. I thought, “Why not?” and Shakespearean sonnets filled this space for a short time.

As I wrote, I remembered the wise words of my 10th grade English teacher who said, “If you want to be a writer, write sonnets. That will teach you about language.” One thing I know for sure about poetry is that it will teach you about language whether you write poetry or read it. The next year my 11th grade English teacher entered one of my poems in a contest and it won. That was cool. I got disenchanted with it all at some point — much later, during grad school. I don’t remember why, but it might have been because I wrote a reflective piece about riding my ten speed up Waterton Canyon, a common thing to do now but not back in 1978.

I love poetry and I know a lot of poems. I owe that to my mom and dad. They had memorized many poems and loved many more. That’s a major thing, I think, not just the parental influence, but that poems are memorable. Old-school, highly structured poetry that rhymes easily stays with us. I think of blind Homer sitting on a stone or bench telling everyone the stories of the man who sacked the city of Troy.

In my mind is a little file box of poems and lines from poems I can return to when I need something. Lately it’s been William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “Thanatopsis” (A look at death).

To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware…

Not only this lovely opening which has always spoken directly to me, but now? ALL of it. I’m not young any more, and, am approaching that age when humans turn the page from “I’m not that old YET” to “OK, now what do I do? Yikes. Right. THAT! OK, but???” The poem has good solid answers. I have always loved it. I love it more now.

That’s just one of the poems in my mental file box. When I see a hawk, Gerard Manley Hopkins calls out,

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

(The Windhover)

It’s pretty hard to hold a novel or even a short story in our minds like that.

I went to a little poetry-writing class a couple of decades ago with a friend, and the “teacher” said, “There are no rules with poetry. It’s just sentences written down differently.”

I wanted to jump up and run her through with my rapier, but I don’t have a rapier, and such behavior is frowned upon in our time (shooting is OK, though). Poetry is a LOT more than sentences written in sloppy grammar. A LOT more. We never went back. We already knew how to write bad sentences. I despise the word “craft” applied to art. A better word to me is “discipline” or “surrender.” I think if a thing is really going to happen (painting, narrative, poem) somewhere along the line the will of the artist has to step back and serve the creation. The artist is not God over his/her oeuvre but its servant. That can be scary at first — what if you actually LET GO and surrender to the work you’re doing? OH MY GOD!!! But that’s when the dance begins. ❤

This morning I woke up with the idea that writing is (for me, anyway) an act of seeing. I learn a lot from writing, not just about writing but about my thoughts, the world around me, stuff I’m studying. Maybe poetry is a chance to look at life and the world through another person’s eyes, or focus our own eyes more clearly. All the magical poetic devices help us do that — both show and tell. I straddle a fence between thinking that poetry is completely irrelevant and that poetry is the ONLY relevant thing we humans have to offer each other.

All About My Dog

“It’s raining, Martha,” says the weather dog
bright eyes, damp coat, and hope on every fur
filament. “Do you think it…?” her head cocks.
Before snow, it rains. She’s no amateur.
“A few months more, Bear,” I tell her, gently
“Then we’ll have all the snow and cold we want.”
She nods, shakes, and shuffles out intently
To lie in wait for future’s snowy jaunt.
Summer is inevitable, winter is too
I tell my dog (and myself) every year
Nurturing plants and fighting mosquitoes
We watch summer go with nary a tear.
Patiently we wait for the cold snow kisses
and the sweet deep snow moment of Bear’s bliss.


This is a Shakespearean sonnet which follows an ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme. In a perfect world they are also in iambic pentameter which is ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM which happens, also, to be the fundamental cadence of English. I’m not a fanatic about that. If I weren’t so lazy I might try other poetic forms, but…

Thoughts on a Walk Today With Bear

Pastel spring breaks through shyly, hesitant,
“What if?” Knowing snow could fall on the land
before white winter’s determined, rampant
cycle fades toward fecund summer’s grand
promises. Ambivalent, spring pauses, slow
to leave in this high valley. Soft showers
yield to summer’s green trees and fruitful show
of barley in the fields, potato flowers.
Then, come September, summer surrenders
Weary. Its moment too short for many,
Fine with me. Among season’s contenders,
Winter season is better than any.
Nature rests in winter’s patient freeze,
Ice crystals in the air, hoar frost on trees.

~~~

This is a Shakespearean sonnet, more or less. 14 lines, ababcdcdefefgg. Iambic pentameter (10 syllable lines with the stress on every other syllable, but I’m not a fetishist about that). The final six lines are supposed to set up a situation established by or counter to the first 8 lines. I’m not big on rules, though, other than the rhyme and syllable thing. I’m writing sonnets as a mental challenge, mostly, but once in a while one might be good. I started writing sonnets when I realized I just don’t have much more to say in one of my customary blog posts at the moment.

P.S. I never imagined writing 2 in a day but it was so pretty out there at the Refuge in the rain, what could I do? Now I have to go cover the beans. Freeze and snow in the forecast. 🙂

Slept In

My parents loved poetry and read it to my bro and me all the while we were growing up. Then, in school we studied even MORE poetry. In high school we read a LOT of poetry, so much that I graduated with the belief that poetry was a big thing for everyone in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

I know now that what we studied says a lot about the generation to which my teachers belonged. Some of the poetry was called “experimental” because of the use of language, the way it looked on a page, and probably a bunch of stuff I don’t remember.

The three main guys from that group who found their way into these distant strands of my life are William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings and Theodore Roethke. I know there were others, but they didn’t “stick,” and among the three who have? Williams and cummings “stuck” because I couldn’t forget them (even though I wanted to). Williams proffered that infernal red wheel-barrow glazed with rain water beside the stupid white chicken, and cummings inflicted my life with a little lame balloon man who whistles far and wee (???).

But Theodore Roethke stuck because a couple of his poems informed my life (and are beautiful).

There were other poets, of course, the main guys, Frost, Sandburg. On my own I found the Beats, but Roethke has remained a different kind of voice.

So there we were, a bunch of kids, analyzing poetry written by this very, very, very complicated man. The poem that my teacher thought was most important was “The Waking.” I did not know when I was 17 how true it is, but I know now. And she was right. It is important.

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

Featured photo: Me, Mr. Nichols, D. Ballard, Miss Decou looking at a drawing for our literary magazine which was very grandly named The Empyrean. And that’s how we dressed in high school until sometime my senior year.

In other news, WP just informed me that I’m on “a streak” and have posted “8 days in a row.” Huh? Seriously, “encouragement” from WP creeps me out.

Other Lives and Other Times

I used to come across the word of the day, “moue,” pretty often back when I was reading Victorian fiction. I never looked it up. I guess, even as a kid reading Little Women, I understood its meaning in a general sense. It seemed to happen to the faces of the female characters when they didn’t get their way. In Little Women Amy was alway “pulling a moue” when she didn’t get her way. Of course Beth, the good sister, NEVER “pulled a moue” though she had more to endure than the other three sisters. It was an object lesson in putting a brave face on things. The message came through pretty clearly that it was far more noble (and therefore better) to be like Beth than to be like Amy.

I like Victorian fiction or maybe, more accurately, 19th century fiction. I’m not sure that we’ve ever done better in English than the novels of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. This was also era in which American fiction began to blossom and that, right there, is pretty amazing. Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and a plethora (since I’m writing about literature just like an English teacher) of female (they were called that back in the day) writers whose names have been forgotten but whose books were read more than those by male writers. Whatever the natal genitalia of the writers, the 19th century gave us great stories with three-dimensional characters involving themselves in realistic and complicated situations.

Wow. I remember feeling bereft the day I finished the last of the Thomas Hardy novels from the library at the University of Colorado. At that very time I was working on my senior paper which was about Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey’s Lady’s Book, a project that later evolved into my thesis.

In the process of writing my thesis I learned that when we look at history we don’t see very much. We see less of the iceberg than did the captain and crew of the Titanic.

My first encounter with Mrs. Hale or the 19th century happened when I was a little girl, so little that when I sat on a sofa my legs still stuck out straight in front of me. My dad had acquired a book at the University of Denver library book sale and he brought it home for me. It was A Poet’s Offering one of the coffee table books of the 19th century, a compilation of poetry organized according to topic.

Of course I couldn’t read it, but I could look at the beautiful engravings.

Immediately inside the embossed cardboard cover was an engraving of the woman who’d sponsored the compilation, Sarah Josepha Hale.

I have imagined the book being given as a Christmas gift back in 1850 and sitting on a velvet or lace covered table, thumbed through on rainy days and used as a reference in times when a certain thought, a certain poetic line, could turn around the course of a day. Most of the names in this book would be unfamiliar to people alive today, but they were famous in their time. Women were always “Mrs. Whoever” unless they were unmarried and then, chances are, they wrote under a nom de plume.

I gave the book my dad gave me to a Chinese professor from the University of Chengdu. I have a partial copy here that I scored on Etsy some time ago. He was struggling to compile a poetic lexicon of English and that’s essentially what A Poet’s Offering is. We knew each other in Denver the year after I had returned from China. He was a sweet, intelligent, kind and sincere man who’d been redeemed from the shit he’d endured in the Cultural Revolution and put at the head of an English department, then, miracle of miracles (to him) sent to America to study.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/rdp-wednesday-moue/

Time and Tide Wait for No Bean

Frost took Tu Fu early Tuesday morning even even though I had covered him (and the others). Li Bai had some damage, but not bad, Li Ho and Bai Juyi suffered nothing. Scarlet Emperor Beans ARE very susceptible to frost. I cut Tu Fu down to the original little 6 inch plant I set in the ground in June. It will go, too.

A few more beans were ready to harvest for next year.

In other climes Scarlet Emperor Beans are perennials, but not in this high valley. In other places, they’re just fodder for cows. After cutting him down yesterday, I pulled the tomatoes. A couple of days ago I cleared up a small bed and planted 16 Leper Bells — fritillaria that’s more often called “Snakes Head.” They don’t do great here, either, but…

There’s no way to escape the fury of nature, even when that “fury” is as quiet as the settling of frost on a clear September night.

Sunset
Tu Fu

Cows and sheep walk slowly down,
Each villager has shut his wicker gate.
The wind disturbs the clear, moonlit night,
These rivers and hills are not my homeland.
A spring flows from the dark cliff,
Autumn dew drips on the roots.
In the lamp light I sit, white-haired.
Why do the flowers continue to bloom?

For anyone who might be interested in the structure of a Chinese poem, here it is in Chinese with a Pin-yin transcription. (I found a great website if you like Chinese poetry… http://www.chinese-poems.com/

日暮

牛羊下来久
各己闭柴门
风月自清夜
江山非故园
石泉流暗壁
草露滴秋根
头白灯明里
何须花烬繁

rì mù

niú yáng xià lái jiǔ
gè jǐ bì chái mén
fēng yuè zì qīng yè
jiāng shān fēi gù yuán
shí quán liú àn bì
cǎo lù dī qiū gēn
tóu bái dēng míng lǐ
hé xū huā jìn fán

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/rdp-wednesday-fury/