January 26, 2006


I do not fit.
Things are not right.
And yet I would not say
That I felt like
A square peg
Trying to fit
A round hole.

I chose my path; I walked my ways
I would not pick a clear misfit.
What I am, I think
Is a round peg
Trying to fit in
A round hole.
Only the hole
Is too small
Or too big

Or maybe the sides are rough and leave splinters.

Posted by dichroic at 01:21 PM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2005

Z is for Townes van Zandt

I've been procrastinating on this, I guess, not wanting my series to come to an end. But I will go out with one more songwriter:

is for Townes van Zandt.

There is a distrinctive Texas style of music, not quite folk, not quite country, not quite blues, but at the intersection of all of them. Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, and Nancy Griffith are probably its most famous practitioners. Willie Nelson dips into it often, and you can hear it from Marsha Ball, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, and others, but Townes van Zandt is surely one of its main architects. Last Saturday, I was in a bar and I was surprised to hear a Townes song playing in the background. I realized soon that it was actually Willie Nelson's cover of Pancho and Lefty, which made its presence in the bar a little less unlikely. For a guy so many people haven't heard of, he's been covered by a lot of people: Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Norah Jones, Nancy Griffith for a few. Like Richard Thompson, he's a musician's musician, with not quite as much recognition as he deserves, but fanaticism from a lot of those who know him.

The most famous quote on him is from Steve Earle: "Townes Van Zandt's the best songwriter in the world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that!" (Townes' response reportedly was, "It makes me nervous. I've met Bob Dylan's bodyguards and if Steve Earle thinks he can stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table, he's sadly mistaken.")

Van Zandt was a self-destructive type, with a lot of genius and a lot of problems. He gets compared to Hank Williams a lot. He believed that songs just came to him, but that to get them he had to let go everything but his guitar: family, money, whatever. Between that and some psychiatric problems, he had a hard life and not a long one. But he left a whole lot of music behind. He was capable of writing absolutely spare music and lyrics, saying nothing at all more than what needed to be said:

If I Needed You

If I needed you
Would you come to me,
Would you come to me,
And ease my pain?
If you needed me
I would come to you
I'd swim the seas
For to ease your pain

In the night forlorn
The mornings born
And the morning shines
With the lights of love
You will miss sunrise
If you close your eyes
That would break
My heart in two

The lady's with me now
Since I showed her how
To lay her lily
Hand in mine
Loop and Lil agree
She's a sight to see
And a treasure for
The poor to find

Bob Dylan was one of his big influences. He said so himslf, and I think the echoes show:

from Mr. Gold and Mr. Mud

The wicked king of clubs awoke
it was to his queen turned
his lips were laughing as they spoke
his eyes like bullets burned
the sun's upon a gambling day
his queen smiled low and blissfully
let's make some wretched fool to play
plain it was she did agree

And, since he wrote when he did, I think there may also have been some influence from Tolkien, at least in this song:

from The Silver Ships of Andilar

Perhaps this shall reach Andilar
although I know not how it can
For once again he's hurled his wind
upon the silver prow
But if it should my words are these
arise young men fine ships to build
And set them north for Valinor
'neath standards proud as fire

But most of his songs reflected the experieces of his own life, or of the people he met along the way. The ballad Pancho and Lefty is probablky his best known:

Pancho And Lefty

Living on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath's as hard as kerosene
You weren't your mama's only boy
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams

Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words
That's the way it goes

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose

Lefty he can't sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty's mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go
There ain't nobody knows

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose

The poets tell how Pancho fell
Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel
The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold
So the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers it's true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he's growing old

A few gray federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose

He traveled a lot, wrote a lot of songs, met a lot of people, drank a lot, did a lot of drugs, and fought a lot of demons. ANd he played a hell of a lot of music. I think this one summarizes a lot of his life:

Highway kind

My days, they are the highway kind
they only come to leave
but the leavin' I don't mind
it's the comin' that I crave.
Pour the sun upon the ground
stand to throw a shadow
watch it grow into a night
and fill the spinnin' sky.

Time among the pine trees
it felt like breath of air
usually I just walk these streets
and tell myself to care.
Sometimes I believe me
and sometimes I don't hear.
Sometimes the shape I'm in
won't let me go.

Well, I don't know too much for true
but my heart knows how to pound
my legs know how to love someone
my voice knows how to sound.
Shame that it's not enough
shame that it is a shame.
Follow the circle down
where would you be?

You're the only one I want now
I never heard your name.
Let's hope we meet some day
if we don't it's all the same.
I'll meet the ones between us,
and be thinkin' 'bout you
and all the places I have seen
and why you where not there.

Posted by dichroic at 02:39 PM

December 12, 2005

Y is for Peter Yarrow

I am brazenly, if pusillanimously, skipping the letter X. The obvious selection for Y is Yeats, of course, and I do like Yeats. But most of the pieces I know and love best are the ones everyone knows, the going to Innisfree and the strange beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Also, anything I could say has probably been said better at one time or another by our resident virtual-neighborhood Yeatsoholic, the erudite Natalie. Instead, I'm going to combine this series with something that has become a tradition of mine in the years I've had this blog.

is for Peter Yarrow.

Every year at Chanukah, I've posted the lyrics to my favorite Chanukah song, "Light One Candle", by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. Every year it's seemed more topical, and 2005 is no exception:

Light One Candle

Light one candle for the Maccabee Children
With thanks that their light didn't die.
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied.
Light on candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand.
Light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peace maker's time is at hand.

Don't let the light go out
It's lasted for so many years
Don't let the light go out
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never became our own foe.
Light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago.
Light one candle for all we believe in
that anger won't tear us apart.
And light one candle to bring us together
With peace as the song in our hearts;.

Don't let the light go out,
It's lasted for so many years.
Don't let the light go out,
Let it shine through our love and our fears.

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment for those who have died,
When we cry out they have not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail.
This is the burden, this is the promise,
THIS is why we will not fail.

Don't let the light go out,
It's lasted for so many years.
Don't let the light go out,
Let it shine through our love and our fears.

Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!

Maybe because they've sung "Puff the Magic Dragon" (another song written by Yarrow) a few too many times around the campfire, some people don't take Peter, Paul and Mary seriously. But you have to respect people who have written songs that literally almost everyone knows, who have worked to foster younger songwriters coming up in their tracks, and most of all who have spoken, sung, and worked for what they believe in for some forty years now without wavering. The group marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and marched and sang against the Vietnam War, but unlike so many others, their activism didn't end with the 1960s. Yarrow specifically, since this entry is about him, was a founding member of the Newport Folk Festival, launched the New Folks concert at the Kerrville Folk Fest, is an advocate for the hospice movement, founded the “Save One Child” Fund at Beth Israel Hospital’s to provide free neurosurgery to save the lives of children from all over the world whose families could not afford the surgery, has worked with the Guggenheim Museum’s "Learning Through Art" program, and has launched Operation Respect: “Don’t Laugh At Me,” to build a climate of respect in schools. In other words, this is not just a happy little man who sings his little songs on PBS at pledge time. The Miami Jewish Federation summed it up when they gave him their Tikkun Olam award - "Tikkun Olam" is a Jewish idea that can be translated as "repairing the world".

None of that makes him a poet, of course. But try this: forget all those camp fires and just look at the lyrics of Puff the Magic Dragon with new eyes. It's a coming of age song, told from the imaginary friend's perspective. There's a reason it gets sung so much:

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalei,
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalei,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalei,

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name. Oh!

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh!

A lot of Yarrow's (and everyone else's) songs in the 1960s were about entering adulthood (or rejecting traditional models of adulthood) or about rebellion and individuality:

If I Had Wings

If I had wings no one would ask me should I fly
The bird sings, no one asks why.
I can see in myself wings as I feel them
If you see something else, keep your thoughts to yourself,
I'll fly free then.

Yesterday's eyes see their colors fading away
They see their sun turning to grey
You can't share in a dream, that you don't believe in
If you say that you see and pretend to be me
You won't be then.

How can you ask if I'm happy goin' my way?
You might as well ask a child at play!
There's no need to discuss or understand me
I won't ask of myself to become something else
I'll just be me!

If I had wings no one would ask me should I fly
The bird sings, and no one asks her why.
I can see in myself wings as I feel them
If you see something else, keep your thoughts to yourself,
I'll fly free then.

But they didn't stop there. PPM kept singing, and all three kept writing, and their songs grew past youthful rebellion. Yarrow wrote about surviving, about seeing idealists turn to cynics and about what it takes to keep singing:

from Sweet Survivor

You remember when you felt each person mattered
When we all had to care or all was lost
But now you see believers turn to cynics
And you wonder was the struggle worth the cost
Then you see someone too young to know the difference
And a veil of isolation in their eyes
And inside you know you've got to leave them something
Or the hope for something better slowly dies.

Carry on my sweet survivor, carry on my lonely friend
Don't give up on the dream, and don't you let it end.
Carry on my sweet survivor, you've carried it so long
So it may come again, carry on
Carry on, carry on.

from With Your Face to the Wind

Sometimes it takes the dark to let us see the light
You can't have that victory unless you've fought the fight
Sometimes it takes a winding road to lead us home
While you're windin' 'round my friend just don't go windin' 'round alone

Though it was Stookey who wrote about being Old Enough to be on the cover of Modern Maturity, and still singing. It's difficult to write only about Yarrow's work, because Peter, Paul and Mary have sung songs written by by each of the three, and some of their most famous songs are by other songwriters. But Yarrow is responsible for some of the trio's best songs, and like the other two, he doesn't seem to have slowed down much, or damped his fires with age:

from With Your Face to the Wind

I'm not saying the party's over I just wanted to tell you how,
very good it has been up 'til now
How very good it has been up 'til now
Isn't it so funny how time flies.

Remember when we used to laugh at old father time
All in all the joke's on him and he don't even mind
Sigh, and put your arms around me,
sway and look into my eyes
Isn't it so funny how time flies.

Posted by dichroic at 02:52 PM | Comments (2)

December 08, 2005

W is for William Carlos Williams

I promise, I will not quote you the thing about the plums in the refligerator, even though

is for William Carlos Williams.

I am thoroughly sick of those plums. They seem to be almost the only thing by William Carlos Williams that ends up in the anthologies. Clearly, I'm not the only one:

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams by Kenneth Koch

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

But the fault isn't in Williams himself not in his plums; they are hackneyed only because they are so often quoted, and they are so often quoted only because they were once so original: the matieral so mundane, but the purple juiciness of the fuits so palpable. He does seem to have a thing about plums, rather:

To a Poor Old Woman munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

But once he got out of the greengrocers', he also wrote beautifully about space, both spaceflight:

Heel & Toe To The End

Gagarin says, in ecstasy,
he could have
gone on forever

he floated
at and sang
and when he emerged from that

one hundred eight minutes off
the surface of
the earth he was smiling.

Then he returned
to take his place
among the rest of us

from all that division and
subtraction a measure
to and heel

heel and toe he felt
as if he had
been dancing

and of starry nights seen from Earth in my favorite of Williams' poems, one appropriate for this season of peace when the Hunter is high overhead:

Peace on Earth

THE Archer is wake!
The Swan is flying!
Gold against blue
An Arrow is lying.
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Bears are abroad!
The Eagle is screaming!
Gold against blue
Their eyes are gleaming!
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Sisters lie
With their arms intertwining;
Gold against blue
Their hair is shining!
The Serpent writhes!
Orion is listening!
Gold against blue
His sword is glistening!
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The language is always simple and plain, but the poems are so richly experiential (is that what that word means? I mean, reading them is a very sensory experience. Even writing about something as etheral as poetry itself:

The Poem

It's all in
the sound. A song.
Seldom a song. It should

be a song—made of
particulars, wasps,
a gentian—something
immediate, open

scissors, a lady's
centrifugal, centripetal.

The experience is so sensory that they remind me of MacLeish's line that "A poem should be palpable and mute / As a globed fruit." And so we come full circle back to the plums.

Posted by dichroic at 03:45 PM

December 07, 2005

V is for Henry Vaughan

And now for something completely different, at least from yesterday's jingles and ditties.

is for Henry Vaughan.

I first came across Henry Vaughan in Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light, in which he is one of Vicky Austin's grandfather's favorite poets; there is no better way to appreciate an artist than to hear about him from someone who loves him, whether real or fictional. Born into the time of religious upheaval, of Oliver Cromwell and George Fox and the Pilgrims, Cromwell and the Puritans, Vaughan could see nothing, whether a waterfall or a Christmas celebration, but as either a symbol of Christ or a reproach to Him:

from The Waterfall: O useful element and clear ! My sacred wash and cleanser here ; My first consigner unto those Fountains of life, where the Lamb goes ! What sublime truths and wholesome themes Lodge in thy mystical, deep streams ! Such as dull man can never find, Unless that Spirit lead his mind, Which first upon thy face did move And hatch'd all with His quick'ning love. As this loud brook's incessant fall In streaming rings restagnates all, Which reach by course the bank, and then Are no more seen : just so pass men. O my invisible estate, My glorious liberty, still late ! Thou art the channel my soul seeks, Not this with cataracts and creeks.

The True Christmas

SO, stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing ;
And mortifies the earth, and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flow'rs, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts' warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show,
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate,
But to the manger's mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth ;
And all man's greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.

Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherds' watchfulness,
Whom light and hymns from Heav'n did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in ;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

Still, though I share little of his theology, the beauty of Vaughan's images stays with me. The poem from which L'Engle took her book's title is both one of his best-known nad one of his most beautiful:

The World

I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres 5
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights, 10
Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow'r. 15

The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
He did nor stay, nor go ;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
Upon his soul, 20
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see 25
That policy :
Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries
Were gnats and flies ;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free. 30

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves. 30
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg'd each one his pelf ;*
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
And scorn'd pretence ;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess 35
Said little less ;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave ;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
Their victory. 40

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
But most would use no wing.
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light ! 45
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way ;
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God ;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be 50
More bright than he !
But as I did their madness so discuss,
One whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for His bride.”

That last stanza confuses me a little, rather. I have no reason to believe that Vaughan was a closet Catholic (it's believed he went to Oxford, so he was at least nominally a Protestant, and certainly it was far safer to be one). On the other hand, I don't know what the Bridegroom's Bride could be other than the Church, by which I usually think of the Catholic Church - unless the Anglican Church was claiming to be the heir of St. Peter? Whichever Church he refers to, Vaughan seems to be saying here that Eternity is only for its elect. Not my preferred theology ... but what beauty of language in saying so.

Posted by dichroic at 04:25 PM

December 06, 2005

U is for Unknown

This is cheating a little, since I started out with A is for Anonymous, but I'm going to address a different subset of verse here.

is for Unknown.

For Anon., I wrote about the ballads that begin many poetry anthologies, whose authorship is lost somewhere back in time. For Unknown, I want to write about the verses, jingles and rhymes that come from nowhere and somehow lodge in the folds of our brains. These are the onews everyone knows. (Actually, the ones I know are the ones everyone in the US knows - I'm sure that there are different versions in other countries.) Some stay around forever, some sweep through a school or a city and eventually die away. They appeal to different ages, too - most of the ones that stick seem to be sung to or by children, but different types appeal to different ages.

The grandaddy of these jingles is one of the best known:

Ring around a rosy Pocket full of posies, Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

I've variously seen it attributed to ancient Egyptian times and the Black Plague, though I'd have to say the latter seems more likely. The Mother Goose rhymes were first published in the 1700s, but some of them are much older than that.

There was an old woman tossed in a basket. Seventeen times as high as the moon; But where she was going no mortal could tell, For under her arm she carried a broom.

"Old woman, old woman, old woman," said I,
"Whither, oh whither, oh whither so high?"
"To sweep the cobwebs from the sky;
And I'll be with you by-and-by

But not all of these are ancient. I think Miss Mary Mack, a clapping rhyme I and my friends played, is of American origin - I'd guess not earlier than the mid or late 19th century just from the wording, but that's pure speculation.

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, All dressed in black, black, black, With silver buttons, buttons, buttons, All down her back, back, back She asked her mother, mother, mother, For fifty cents, cents, cents, To see the elephant, elephant, elephant. Jump over the fence, fence, fence. He jumped so high, high, high, He reached the sky, sky, sky, And he never came back, back, back, ‘Till the end of July, ‘ly, ‘ly.

Some of the other clapping rhymes were even later - I think the Oreo one came form a commercial. And there were rhymes I learned from other kids in school that must have been made up in the very recent past - they traveled around school a bit, then died away. Here's one:

Coca Cola came to town, Pepsi Cola shot him down Dr. Pepper fixed him up Now they're drinking 7-Up. 7-Up he got the flu, Now they're drinking Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew got shaken up, Now they're drinking Bubble-Up.
I have no idea where that one came from, or why anyone wrote it. (Bubble-Up was a short-lived soda, kind of like 7-Up or Sprite.)

Rhymes like the circle games or the Mother Goose ones are usually sung to toddlers, generally by older people. In contrast, the rhymes for clapping, jump rope or other games or for teasing are sung by older kids. That may make them especially vulnerable to change through the folk process. For example, there's:

[Hisname] and [Hername], sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G First comes love, then comes marriage, Then comes a baby in a baby carriage.

In my grade school, we'd have sung that last line as "Then comes [Hername] (or [Hisname], if he were the one being teased) in the baby carriage." It doesn't make a lot of sense that way, but it still sufficed if you wanted to embarass someone.

There were also counting-out rhymes, used to pick for example who would be it in a game of tag. We had a lot of those, and again they ranged from ancient:

Eeny, meeny, miney moe, Catch a tiger by the toe, If he hollers, let him go, Eeny, meeny, miney moe.

The nonsense syllables may first have been used to count sheep one of the Celtic languages. We sometimes used "Out goes Y-O-U" for the last line, and we did say "tiger", as opposed to "Indian" (which is used in the Mary Poppins books) or "n----r" which I have also seen in older sources. (I'm not sure if Mary Poppins originally said "Indian" or if my copies have been redacted.) Most of our counting rhymes had less illustrious pedigrees and fewer variants. Here are a couple more:

Doggy, doggy diamond, Step right up. Not because you're dirty, Not because you're clean, Just because you kissed the girl behind magazine And you are it!

Engine engine number nine,
Coming down Chicago line,
If the train jumps off the track,
Do you want your money back?
(person pointed to says "yes" or "no", counter spells the word out)
Y-E-S spells yes and you are it!

My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes,
My mother punched your mother right in the nose
What color blood came out?
(person pointed to picks a color, counter spells it out)
And you will now be IT!

The last line can vary in any of these depending who the person counting wants to pick. If you want to go on longer, you can pick who's NOT "it" and repeat the rhyme until only one person is left. And an obnoxiously precocious kid an make the last rhyme's target a little more uncertain by picking a color like "aquamarine". (Of course, I would never have done that, nuh-uh nope.)

Obviously, none of these are great poetry. But they were part of my life growing up; I think too many adults put away and even forget childish things. I want to remember them, especially when those childish things are links to centuries of children before me.

Posted by dichroic at 12:39 PM

November 30, 2005

T is for Tennyson

is for Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I'm not really a huge Tennyson fan; I don't really have the patience to plow through the Idylls of the King, I find the Lady of Shalott annoying (the person, not the poem), and I don't much care what In Memoriam says about his sexuality. (My guess is that if Tennyson (or Shakespeare, for that matter) felt romantic or sexual love for a man, he didn't view it as a matter of his identity in a modern way. But that's an unsubstantiated guess, and not one I feel much of a Need to Know.)

But, but, but. There is one poem of Tennyson's which with I am hopelessly and passionately in love, so instead of quoting bits of several different poems, I'll just include this one whole one here.

Ulysses IT little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me. 5

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades 10
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known: cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all; 15
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades 20
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life pil’d on life
Were all too little, and of one to me 25
Little remains: but every hour is sav’d
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire 30
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-lov’d of me, discerning to fulfil 35
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail 40
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners, 45
Souls’ that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and oppos’d
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil; 50
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep 55
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 60
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 65
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 70

I have a poster with a rower and a stanza of this on the wall next to my desk. Unfortunately, the creator of the poster apparently thought a computer spell-checker was sufficient proof-reading. Three lines of the poem as shown in the poster should be sufficient:

How dull it is to pause, to make and end, to rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! As tho' to breath were life! Life piled on life Were all to little, and of one to me

Humph. Sacrilege.

Posted by dichroic at 01:44 PM

November 29, 2005

S is for Robert Service

This one's an easy choice:
is for Robert Service.

I like Service for the same reason I like Kipling: he makes my blood pound. Like Kipling, he also sometimes shows me ordinary lives in extraordinary places that I wouldn't have known otherwise; most of his work is about the gld rush in the Yukon territory. His most famous poems are probably The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and The Men that Don't Fit In hits me hard enough that I once wrote a reply to it (women were scarce both in the Yukon and in Service's work). But my favorite of his poems, no question at all, is

The Call of the Wild

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there's nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God's sake go and do it
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert's little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills,
have you galloped o'er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa?
Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you

Have you known the Great White Silence,
not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map's void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is,
can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild -- it's wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.

They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
But can't you hear the Wild? -- it's calling you.

Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind,
there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.

Even some of those who went for the money are caught in the spell of the North, in his telling:

from The Spell of the Yukon There's a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There's a land -- oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back -- and I will.

They're making my money diminish;
I'm sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I'm skinned to a finish
I'll pike to the Yukon again.
I'll fight -- and you bet it's no sham-fight;
It's hell! -- but I've been there before;
And it's better than this by a damnsite --
So me for the Yukon once more.

There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting;
It's luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.

But the Yukon was undeniably brutal, as Service makes clear. We saw his work quoted in any number of history exhibits in Alaska:

from The Law of the Yukon
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons;
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat;
But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again.

Not all of the characters in Service's ballads were uplifted by adventure. Some, even some of the strong ones, were just beaten down. This one depresses me every time, because it reminds me of someone I love. He did have "a woman and child"(ren), but still, the pain is too similar:

Song of the Wage-Slave

When the long, long day is over, and the Big Boss gives me my pay,
I hope that it won't be hell-fire, as some of the parsons say.
And I hope that it won't be heaven, with some of the parsons I've met --
All I want is just quiet, just to rest and forget.
Look at my face, toil-furrowed; look at my calloused hands;
Master, I've done Thy bidding, wrought in Thy many lands --
Wrought for the little masters, big-bellied they be, and rich;
I've done their desire for a daily hire, and I die like a dog in a ditch.
I have used the strength Thou hast given, Thou knowest I did not shirk;
Threescore years of labor -- Thine be the long day's work.
And now, Big Master, I'm broken and bent and twisted and scarred,
But I've held my job, and Thou knowest, and Thou will not judge me hard.
Thou knowest my sins are many, and often I've played the fool --
Whiskey and cards and women, they made me the devil's tool.
I was just like a child with money; I flung it away with a curse,
Feasting a fawning parasite, or glutting a harlot's purse;
Then back to the woods repentant, back to the mill or the mine,
I, the worker of workers, everything in my line.

Everything hard but headwork (I'd no more brains than a kid),
A brute with brute strength to labor, doing as I was bid;
Living in camps with men-folk, a lonely and loveless life;
Never knew kiss of sweetheart, never caress of wife.
A brute with brute strength to labor, and they were so far above --
Yet I'd gladly have gone to the gallows for one little look of Love.
I, with the strength of two men, savage and shy and wild --
Yet how I'd ha' treasured a woman, and the sweet, warm kiss of a child!
Well, 'tis Thy world, and Thou knowest. I blaspheme and my ways be rude;
But I've lived my life as I found it, and I've done my best to be good;
I, the primitive toiler, half naked and grimed to the eyes,
Sweating it deep in their ditches, swining it stark in their styes;
Hurling down forests before me, spanning tumultuous streams;
Down in the ditch building o'er me palaces fairer than dreams;
Boring the rock to the ore-bed, driving the road through the fen,
Resolute, dumb, uncomplaining, a man in a world of men.
Master, I've filled my contract, wrought in Thy many lands;
Not by my sins wilt Thou judge me, but by the work of my hands.
Master, I've done Thy bidding, and the light is low in the west,
And the long, long shift is over . . . Master, I've earned it -- Rest.

Service's people range from footloose heroes to whores beaten by a life in which they couldn't find any alternatives that weren't tragic, but he makes them all noble, at least a little, and real, quite a lot. He shows joy in a sublime landscape and in a little harmonica, though he's enough of a Romantic that his real tragedies are generally brought about by people and social traps and the love of money, while Nature is aloof, apart, and always beautiful, and with great reward for the man (always a man) who can, ot tame it, but learn to live with it.

Posted by dichroic at 03:41 PM

November 28, 2005

R is for Christina Rossetti

My holiday mood has officially begun. I even listened to the Medieval Baebes' holiday album, this morning on the way into work.

Therefore, is for CHristina Rossetti.

The connection may be more obvious if you've heard Pierce Pettis' gorgeous rendition of her "In the Bleak Midwinter", which is on Windham Hill's Winter SOlstice III. I don't know whether Pettis wrote the setting himself; when I first heard it, I thought it was a medieval carol. This is a clear case of my not having listened closely enough to the words, but the melody does sound like something from the fourteenth century (I think it's Holst's melody). However, even though on closer reading they don't quite sound medieval, the words themselves are gorgeous:

In the Bleak Midwinter In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain.
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air.
But only his mother, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart

It's the echo of Old English kennings in the "Earth lilke iron, water like stone" line that makes it sound old to me, and for some odd reason, the repetition of "snow on snow" that makes it sound later. (The somewhat lame line that seems stuck in just for the rhyme, "If I were a Wise Man I would do my part" isn't particularly unusual for old folk songs, though.) At any rate, it's not surprising that the poem did first sound medieval; Rossetti, like her brother Dante Gabriel, was a member of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose goal was to recapture the beauty and simplicity of the medieval world. I'm not entirely sure why they thought medival art was simple, but they may just have meant unfussy - this was the early part of Victoria's reign. At any rate, the medieval influence shines like light through a stained glass window in her work, such as the fairy tale elements in The Goblin Market or the folk-song ones in some of her shorter poems:

A birthday My heart is like a singing bird Whose heart is in a watered shoot: My heart is like an apple-tree Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit; My heart is like a rainbow shell That Paddles in a halcyon sea; My heart is gladder than all these Because my love is come to me. Raise me dais of silk and down; Hang it with vair and purple dyes; Carve it in doves and pomegranates, And peacocks with a hundred eyes; Work it in gold and silver grapes, In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys; Because the birthday of my life Is come, my love is come to me.
Posted by dichroic at 03:51 PM

November 27, 2005

Q is for Quiller-Couch

Resuming the poetry series after Thanksgiving, I'm departing from poets to address instead a teacher, critic, and anthologist of poetry:

is for Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Helene Hanff wrote an entire book, Q's Legacy, describing how a man she never met educated her and changed her life. I can't say that he's had quite the effect on me that he did on Hanff or on his students, but the effect is definitely there. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, M.A., King Edward Proessor of Literature in the University of Cambridge, was the first editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse, the Oxford Anthology of English Prose, some collections of fairy tales and the collections of his lectures titled On the Art of Writing (my copy of which is doubly dear for having been given to me by Mechaieh) and On the Art of Reading. The Oxford anthologies, especially, have had a large impact on many later anthologies; the selection in the Norton Anthology of English Poetry shows it clearly. Q wouldn't have minded, I don't think; in the Preface to his anthology he acknowledged his debt to earlier anthologists, writing, "Having my heart set on choosing the best, I resolved not to be dissuaded by common objections against anthologies - that they repeat one another until the proverb [something in Greek that an Oxford or Cambridge student of his time would surely have understood, but that I don't] loses all application - or perturbed if my judgement should often agree with that of good critics. The best is the best, though a hundred judges have declared it so."

His anthology isn't only meant for scholarly readers, either; the Preface continues, "My wish is that the reader should in his own pleasure quite forget the editor's labour, which too has been pleasant: that, standing aside, I may believe this book has made the Muses access easier when, in the right hour, they come to him to uplift or console."

Though possessed of the sort of scholarship which this series makes it evident I don't have, Quiller-Couch shared my belief that poetry is not only to be studied, that it also needs to live in the life of its readers. His words resounded especially for me when I first read On the Art of Writing at roughly the same time I read Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World, the latter of which hit me even harder because I'd just come back from Antarctica. Quiller-Couch delivered his second lecture the day the news came back of the death of Captain Scott's party. That fact forwarded his belief that great poetry could not be allowed to become a dead husk breathing only of the dead past:

"I hold ‘gymnastic’ to be necessary as ‘music’ (using both words in the Greek sense) for the training of such youths as we desire to send forth from Cambridge. But I plead that they should be balanced, as they were in the perfect young knight with whose words I will conclude to-day:—

Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance
Guided so well that I obtained the prize,
Both by the judgment of the English eyes
And of some sent by that sweet enemy France;
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,
Town-folk my strength, a daintier judge applies
His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;
Others, because of both sides I do take
My blood from them who did excel in this,
Think Nature me a man-at-arms did make.
How far they shot awry! the true cause is,
Stella looked on; and from her heavenly face
Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.

‘Untrue,’ you say? Well, there is truth of emotion as well as of fact; and who is there among you but would fain be able not only to win such a guerdon but to lay it in such wise at your lady’s feet?

That then was Philip Sidney, called the peerless one of his age; and perhaps no Englishman ever lived more graciously or, having used life, made a better end. But you have seen this morning’s newspaper: you have read of Captain Scott and his comrades, and in particular of the death of Captain Oates; and you know that the breed of Sidney is not extinct. Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble: for we still have heroes to commemorate! "

Posted by dichroic at 04:14 PM

November 16, 2005

P is for Poe

Another easy choice. Yeah, OK, the Raven, "Nevermore" and all that, everyone knows that one. Actually, it turns out that's just one among many.

is for Edgar Allan Poe.

Is a poem about child marriage and early death suitable for reading to a child? I don't know, but the Victorians would have thought so, and so did my mother, who read Annabel Lee to me as her father did to her. (My family has peculiar taste in poetry, judging by the fact that I, a Jewish kid, knew all of The Night Before Christmas before I could read.) I loved Annabel Lee though, I think because of its ringing rhythm, because it was about children like me (I was a literally-minded child) and because of its defiant assertion that the love of these children was more powerful than that of "many far older than we":

Annabel Lee
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Poe, of course, was just simply not good at happy endings, in poetry, fiction or real life. You can see it in The Bells (notice the neat tie-in to Phil Ochs yesterday) where he starts pleasantly enough with merry sleigh bells:

Hear the sledges with the bells- Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells- From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

moves on to mellow happy wedding bells, and then suddenly stabs into that golden rapture with the terror of loud brazen "alarum" bells, segueing into solemn mounrful iron church bells, the sort rung for a death, then finishing with a weird twist:

And who, tolling, tolling, tolling, In that muffled monotone, Feel a glory in so rolling On the human heart a stone- They are neither man nor woman- They are neither brute nor human- They are Ghouls: And their king it is who tolls; And he rolls, rolls, rolls, Rolls A paean from the bells! And his merry bosom swells With the paean of the bells! And he dances, and he yells; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the paean of the bells- Of the bells: Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the throbbing of the bells- Of the bells, bells, bells- To the sobbing of the bells; Keeping time, time, time, As he knells, knells, knells, In a happy Runic rhyme, To the rolling of the bells- Of the bells, bells, bells: To the tolling of the bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells- Bells, bells, bells- To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Not a cheerful man, no. A bride is a betrayer, every beloved dies, and happiness is only in a dream. Still, for all the horrors he wrote, Poe believed in a love that outlived death and death itself was no tragedy when it came with love, or brought him back to his love, or separated him only briefly from his love:

For Annie Thank Heaven! the crisis- The danger is past, And the lingering illness Is over at last- And the fever called "Living" Is conquered at last.

Sadly, I know
I am shorn of my strength,
And no muscle I move
As I lie at full length-
But no matter!-I feel
I am better at length.

And I rest so composedly,
Now, in my bed
That any beholder
Might fancy me dead-
Might start at beholding me,
Thinking me dead.

The moaning and groaning,
The sighing and sobbing,
Are quieted now,
With that horrible throbbing
At heart:- ah, that horrible,
Horrible throbbing!

The sickness- the nausea-
The pitiless pain-
Have ceased, with the fever
That maddened my brain-
With the fever called "Living"
That burned in my brain.

And oh! of all tortures
That torture the worst
Has abated- the terrible
Torture of thirst
For the naphthaline river
Of Passion accurst:-
I have drunk of a water
That quenches all thirst:-

Of a water that flows,
With a lullaby sound,
From a spring but a very few
Feet under ground-
From a cavern not very far
Down under ground.

And ah! let it never
Be foolishly said
That my room it is gloomy
And narrow my bed;
For man never slept
In a different bed-
And, to sleep, you must slumber
In just such a bed.

My tantalized spirit
Here blandly reposes,
Forgetting, or never
Regretting its roses-
Its old agitations
Of myrtles and roses:

For now, while so quietly
Lying, it fancies
A holier odor
About it, of pansies-
A rosemary odor,
Commingled with pansies-
With rue and the beautiful
Puritan pansies.

And so it lies happily,
Bathing in many
A dream of the truth
And the beauty of Annie-
Drowned in a bath
Of the tresses of Annie.

She tenderly kissed me,
She fondly caressed,
And then I fell gently
To sleep on her breast-
Deeply to sleep
From the heaven of her breast.

When the light was extinguished,
She covered me warm,
And she prayed to the angels
To keep me from harm-
To the queen of the angels
To shield me from harm.

And I lie so composedly,
Now, in my bed,
(Knowing her love)
That you fancy me dead-
And I rest so contentedly,
Now, in my bed,
(With her love at my breast)
That you fancy me dead-
That you shudder to look at me,
Thinking me dead.

But my heart it is brighter
Than all of the many
Stars in the sky,
For it sparkles with Annie-
It glows with the light
Of the love of my Annie-
With the thought of the light
Of the eyes of my Annie.

Posted by dichroic at 03:47 PM

November 15, 2005

O is for Oliver and Ochs

The final tally was: 3 votes for Mary Oliver, 4 plus an email for Phil Ochs, and 5 for both, which sounds to me like a mandate for both, for some definition of "mandate". (Mostly, in this case, because the votes for each of the two are close.)

So, is for Mary Oliver and Phil Ochs.

Mary Oliver is a poet I keep discovering, forgetting, and rediscovering. All this proves is that my memory has gone to shit, because her poems are certanly not forgettable. Each time I rediscover them, they strike a chord in me and I remember that I'd loved them before. (Also, some websites that list her poetry include a photo, and the thick black glasses she wears are instantly recognizable.) A lot of recent poetry strikes me as deliberate abstruseness simply for a sake of showing off, a sort of "I'm deeper than you" one-upmanship. (I do realize this may show a lack in me, rather than in the poets I've read.) Oliver's poems are like a good novel: layered enough to repay further study, but telling a good story clearly enough to get you hooked on first reading. In the poems of hers I love best, there's always that top note of a clarion call that rings in your blood. In this one, one of her best known, she somehow combines that clarion call from the wild geese with a reassurance that it is OK to be only human - and that we are still part of the thrill of the natural world.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Her poetry is balanced on a fine edge; it tends to be instructive, teaching how to live, while avoiding the didacticism of Pope or the empty urgings to "Live!" that seem to cycle back into fashion every few decades, and she has a deep connection to nature that avoids the sentimentality of the Romantics or their convition that only man is vile:

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Phil Ochs is best known for his protest songs, like the Draft Dodger Rag or Outside of a Small Circle of Friends. Some, like There But for Fortune are painfully topical still. But Phil was nothing if not prolific both as composer and lyricist, and it's easy to lose track of some of his most beautiful songs becaue there are just so many of them. His appreciation for poetry is evident in his settings of Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells and of Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman (same poem, different setting than Loreena McKennitt's version). In the later, he pulls a neat trick: Noyes' original poem is much longer than most songs now (the folk process has tended to shorten the length of older ballads) and each verse has the same rhythm so there's no chance to vary the tune for a refrain. So what Ochs did to shorten it was simply to omit every other verse. The story the ballad tells doesn't suffer at all from the omission, and the loss of repeated detail makes the poem more evocative.

Ochs' own more poetic works have also tended to be lost. My favorite is one on aging and growing out of childhood, a subject that produced sweet and nostalgic songs in the late 1960s and early 1970s ranging from Kenny Loggins' House at Pooh Corner to Bob Dylan's Dream to Jim Croce's Alabama Rain and A Long Time Ago, not to mention some a little too sickly-sweet like Seasons in the Sun and Those Were the Days, My Friend. But Ochs avoids that pitfall, even while mixing in a little mysticism:

Changes Sit by my side, come as close as the air, Share in a memory of gray; And wander in my words, dream about the pictures That I play of changes.

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow they fade.
And then they have to die, trapped within
the circle time parade of changes.

Scenes of my young years were warm in my mind,
Visions of shadows that shine.
'Til one day I returned and found they were the
Victims of the vines of changes.

The world's spinning madly, it drifts in the dark
Swings through a hollow of haze,
A race around the stars, a journey through
The universe ablaze with changes.

Moments of magic will glow in the night
All fears of the forest are gone
But when the morning breaks they're swept away by
Golden drops of dawn, of changes.

Passions will part to a strange melody.
As fires will sometimes burn cold.
Like petals in the wind, we're puppets to the silver
strings of souls, of changes.

Your tears will be trembling, now we're somewhere else,
One last cup of wine we will pour
And I'll kiss you one more time, and leave you on
the rolling river shores of changes.

And sometimes he managed to combine a sweet tune and pretty words with his bitter messages, as in Flower Lady and the sadly prophetic No More Songs. I don't know whether he was contemplating his suicide yet when he wrote this:

No More Songs

Hello, hello, hello
Is there anybody home?
I've only called to say
I'm sorry.
The drums are in the dawn,
and all the voices gone.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

Once I knew a girl
She was a flower in a flame
I loved her as the sea sinks/sings(?) sadly
Now the ashes of the dream
Can be found in the magazines.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

Once I knew a sage
who sang upon the stage
He told about the world,
His lover.
A ghost without a name,
Stands ragged in the rain.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

The rebels they were here
They came beside the door
They told me that the moon was bleeding
Then all to my suprise,
They took away my eyes.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

A star is in the sky,
It's time to say goodbye.
A whale is on the beach,
He's dying.
A white flag in my hand,
And a white bone in the sand.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

Hello, hello, hello
Is there anybody home?
I've only called to say
I'm sorry.
The drums are in the dawn,
and all the voices gone.
And it seems that there are no more songs.

It seems that there are no more songs.
It seems that there are no more songs.

By the way, I couldn't do this series without all the sites online paying tribute to the poets I've written about, both the anthologies and the sites attempting to collect all or a sampling of the works of one particular writer. At the end of this series, I'll collect the links and post a bibliography.

Posted by dichroic at 12:43 PM

November 10, 2005

N is for Ogden Nash

I won't get to O until next week after the marathon and associated trip, so if anyone else wants to vote, there's plenty of time.

While I'm on N, I'd like to start by giving thanks to the editors of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. I was assigned it as the textbook for my Poetry class freshman year, and it's probably gotten more post-class reading than all of my other college texts combined. I think I have the Third Edition. The covers are creased and curling, the page corners are bent, and it gives the general impression of a book that has been well-loved. It's a huge book, with everything from anonymous fourteenth century ballads on up to what may have been almost the first twentieth-century poetry I'd read that wasn't either magazine doggerel or part of a book and meant to advance the story. It was probably my first exposure to the world of poetry beyond the Victorian- or frontier-influenced collections of Favorite Verses or the standard Great Works included in high school or junior high text books. I have several other poetry volumes now, but the Norton is still my go-to anthology when I want to look something up, and the only collection I know that has a broader selection of English verse is the Internet itself.

This is an appropriate choice for two days after I discussed Edward Lear:

is for Ogden Nash, who in some ways did for adults what Lear did for children.

Though his verse is as silly as Lear's at times, it shows a sardonic sensibility that conjures up the great Hollywood comedies of the 1930s and 1940s:

What's the use? Sure, deck your limbs in pants, Yours are the limbs, my sweeting. You look divine as you advance . . . Have you seen yourself retreating?

The verse form varies with the subject, and the scansion is perfect except when it deliberately isn't, reminding me of the advice to abstract artists to learn the rules so you know how to break them. Like Lear, Nash never let lack of a rhyme stop him:

Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

As a pilot, I can't resist this one:

No, You be a Lone Eagle

I find it very hard to be fair-minded
About people who go around being air-minded.
I just can't see any fun
In soaring up up up into the sun
When the chances are still a fresh cool orchid to a paper geranium
That you'll unsoar down down down onto your (to you) invaluable
I know the constant refrain
About how safer up in God's trafficless heaven than in an automobile
or a train
But ...
My God, have you ever taken a good look at a strut?
Then that one about how you're in Boston before you can say antidis-
So that preferring to take five hours by rail is a pernicious example of
At least when I get on the Boston train I have a good chance of landing
in the South Station
And not in that part of the daily press which is reserved for victims of
Then, despite the assurance that aeroplanes are terribly comfortable I
notice that when you are railroading or automobiling
You don't have to take a paper bag along just in case of a funny feeling.
It seems to me that no kind of depravity
Brings such speedy retribution as ignoring the law of gravity.
Therefore nobody could possibly indict me for perjury
When I swear that I wish the Wright brothers had gone in for silver
fox farming or tree surgery.

And yet, Nash's humor is rarely more than a little biting, and never cruel. His love for his family and joy in life come through often and vividly:

Always Marry an April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

Posted by dichroic at 01:00 PM | Comments (2)

November 09, 2005

La lettra 'O'

There's a poll on whom I should write about for 'O', over at my LiveJournal site.

Posted by dichroic at 04:41 PM | Comments (1)

M: a doubleheader

Today, I'm doing two poets, because the coincidences amuse me.

is for Marvell and Millay.

When I posted some of Queen Elizabeth's works, someone commented on how adolescent some of it sounds. Some things never change; witness Andrew Marvell's most famous poem, To His Coy Mistress, which finishes:

But at my back I always hear Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity. Thy beauty shall no more be found, 25 Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound My echoing song: then worms shall try That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust: 30 The grave 's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace. Now therefore, while the youthful hue Sits on thy skin like morning dew, And while thy willing soul transpires 35 At every pore with instant fires, Now let us sport us while we may, And now, like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour Than languish in his slow-chapt power. 40 Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball, And tear our pleasures with rough strife Thorough the iron gates of life: Thus, though we cannot make our sun 45 Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Or in other words, "Someday we're going to die, so you need to sleep with me right now." I wonder how often that line's been used, in poetry, and at keggers.

Millay wrote the gamut of youth, the good and the bad. It's not the only thing she wrote about, of course, and I don't even think it's what she meant to write about in this poem. I think she meant to capture the small moments of beauty in life, and how much they can mean when not much else in beautiful. But maybe because I first met it in a teenage book, this poem, for me, has always captured that moment when you're walking with your friends at the mall on a Friday night, and The Boy walks by, and he looks at you, and you decide it means you are in True Love Forever:


My heart, being hungry, feeds on food
The fat of heart despise.
Beauty where beauty never stood,
And sweet where no sweet lies
I gather to my querulous need,
Having a growing heart to feed.

It may be when my heart is full,
Having attained its girth,
I shall not find so beautiful
The meagre shapes of earth,
Nor linger in the rain to mark
The smell of tansy in the dark.

On the other hand, I think I read "First Fig" as Millay meant it to be read. It conjures up the moments, maybe in college, where you stayed up too late every night because if you had missed those nights and the people and conversations in them, the rest of your life would have been poorer:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends ­
It gives a lovely light!

Millay herself tried to describe exactly that sort of night:


WE were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

She also wrote about sex, both within and without love, about being alive, and about being a woman. I don't know what else Marvell wrote, but I think they would have liked each other. For a night, at least.

Posted by dichroic at 04:34 PM

November 08, 2005

L is for Edward Lear

I thought about the comparative merits of Amy Lowell (whom I know better from A. Edward Newton's stories of her as a book collector) and Vachel Lindsay, whose troubling Congo (another ambivalent case of what would not be considered racism at the time) is remembered, while other works are forgotten. And doubtless any real poetry appreciator worth her salt would write about Robert Lowell, but I'm not familiar enough with his poems to have much to say about them.

Instead, like the deep and thoughtful person I am, I will write about the undoubted master of the clean limerick.

is for Edward Lear.

There was an Old Man with a nose, Who said, 'If you choose to suppose, That my nose is too long, You are certainly wrong!' That remarkable Man with a nose.

Lear never let lack of a word (or of sense for that matter) get in the way of a good poem, whether in the limericks he is best known for:

There was a Young Person of Crete, Whose toilette was far from complete; She dressed in a sack, Spickle-speckled with black, That ombliferous person of Crete.

or in other works:

EPITAPH "Beneath these high Cathedral stairs Lie the remains of Susan Pares. Her name was Wiggs, it was not Pares, But Pares was put to rhyme with stairs."

I could try to analyze Lear's rhythm and his nonsense words and their appeal, but why both. I'm much too lazy, and anyhow, no child (or adult) who has had Lear read to him or her ever doubted the meaning of the verses, any more than those who were read Lear's spiritual descendent, Dr. Seuss. Lear's verses are best aloud, and best read with someone who will giggle over them. I like his longer works better than the lyrics; they're still silly, and still melodious, and the story is better. Anyone who wants to go off adventuring can sympathize with the Jumblies, beset by their doom-prophesying friends:

I They went to sea in a Sieve, they did, In a Sieve they went to sea: In spite of all their friends could say, On a winter's morn, on a stormy day, In a Sieve they went to sea! And when the Sieve turned round and round, And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!' They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big, But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig! In a Sieve we'll go to sea!' Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live; Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve.
Five verses later, they triumph, however:
VI And in twenty years they all came back, In twenty years or more, And every one said, 'How tall they've grown! For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone, And the hills of the Chankly Bore!' And they drank their health, and gave them a feast Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast; And every one said, 'If we only live, We too will go to sea in a Sieve,--- To the hills of the Chankly Bore!' Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live; Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
'O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Your favorite of Lear's (or Seuss, for that matter), is probably still the same one you asked for over and over. Mine will always be:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I suppose it would be too much of the same thing to write about Milne tomorrow, for the M's. Bother.

Posted by dichroic at 01:35 PM

getting ready to row really far

I had better not be coming down with a cold. Germs can have their way with me on or after November 26, but they are not allowed to have any effect before.

I'm optimistically choosing to believe that I woke up with sinuses fuller than usual and swollen tonsils because of the change from coast back to desert weather, or a pressure change or something. My tonsils and sinuses do often react that way, so it's more likely than not true.

After work today I'll be meeting the Old Salt, his wife the Mobile Monet (she paints in the car on long trips, as well as while stationary on an easel), and Dr. Bosun to load up our boats. (Rudder will get there late, because he's got a telecon with Japan.) They'll be driving out to Houston; we'll fly there on Friday, meet them and their son who lives there plus his girlfriend, then all ride together the rest of the way to Natchitoches. The Old Salt and Dr. Bosun will be rowing a double in the marathon, while Rudder and I wil be in singles.

A lot of Rudder's and my rowing gear will be going with them, so I don't have to carry it on the plane. I've been making a list to make sure everything I need makes it into either in their van or my suitcase; it worries me a bit that I'm up to 21 items and I haven't even gotten to clothes to wear while not racing, just stuff I need during or just before the race. However, it's not as bad as that sounds. Some items are small, like band-aids and first-aid tape; some are things that hold other things, like the bottles to hold water and Gatorade or the dry bag to hold my phone for emergencies; some are things I may or may not wear depending on the temperature or will take off right before I get in the boat.

We all have goals for our race. Ironically enough, Rudder's and mine are similar; we both hope to beat our time in our respective mixed doubles boats last year. Of course, the specifics are a little different: he and She-Hulk set a course record in their category, while the Old Salt and I were slower than everyone except a few of the canoes and kayaks. Actually, I'm hoping to break 5 hours, and I think I have a good shot at it, but failing that I'd be happy enough to beat last year's 5:42. The Old Salt and Dr. Bosun have been doing a lot more training than he and I did last year, and they're hoping to break 4 hours. It's what the corporate types call a "stretch goal" for them, as is Rudder's, but they should be doable. I cheated a little; my own goal only requires an average split of 3:30, including breaks. I hope to row at a split of 3:00 or not much slower, so as long as I don't take as many breaks as we did last year, I'll be good.

Also, an artifact of yesterday's drive home, coupled with an NPR story on short poetry and something I'd been thinking about a while back:

Or, The View From My Office Parking Lot

It's always a perfect sky, he said,
It's always a perfect sky.

Where the earth has been ravaged
Where Nature is savaged

Wildflowers plowed under
And trees torn asunder

The land has been paved,
And no beauty is saved,

Look up! to a still-perfect sky.

Posted by dichroic at 12:42 PM

November 07, 2005

"Why, you naughty boy. I've never Kippled!"

Today's choice is easy for me, a poet about whom I've written before, another one whose work my mother used to read me when I was too young to read it myself. It was when I was older, though, that I learned how much he'd written and found the pieces that rang truer for me.

is for Kipling.

"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges -- "Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

That phrase rings up and down my spine every time I read it. Rudyard Kipling understood discontent, understood always wanting to know more, to go elsewhere, to see something new.

"Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker. But you wouldn't understand it. You go up and occupy."

He never quite understood that the White Man's Burden was a fallacy with tragic results, made up by himself rather than a law of nature, or that love for your own country doesn't have to mean trying to make the rest of the world look like it. Imperialism and its attendant racism were bred into the Victorians and Kipling never managed to escape it. But he had a few moments of glimmering on the verge of insight, with Tommy's respect for Fuzzy-Wuzzy, who "broke a British square" and for Gunga Din, who "didn't seem to know the use of fear":

'E would skip with our attack, An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire." An' for all 'is dirty 'ide, 'E was white, clear white, inside 45 When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is gone— 75
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din! 80
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

But even when Tommy wants to desert his twenty housemaids for a "neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land", he and apparently his creator never quite managed to generalize individual nobility to general equality of worth.

So why read Kipling? Because his country's Imperialism is dismayingly reminiscent of my country's sometimes. It is a foul upsetting thing that we still send soldiers off to battle and then forget about them.

Because every so often, the variety of people the Empire let him meet did seem to teach something about respecting different paths:

IN FAITHS and Food and Books and Friends Give every soul her choice. For such as follow divers ends In divers lights rejoice. There is a glory of the Sun (’Pity it passeth soon!) But those whose work is nearer done Look, rather, towards the Moon.

There is a glory of the Moon
When the hot hours have run;
But such as have not touched their noon
Give worship to the Sun.

There is a glory of the Stars,
Perfect on stilly ways;
But such as follow present wars
Pursue the Comet’s blaze.

There is a glory in all things;
But each must find his own,
Sufficient for his reckonings,
Which is to him alone.

And mostly because, past the eminently singable words and the tarnish of time passed and the muck of Imperalism, sometimes Kipling's words flashed truth and poetry. So many of them are war poems, whose truths I hate to hear because they still apply so vividly. Some of them tell of days that are gone, ones I'm glad are past and ones I wish I'd seen. Some are just funny. Sometimes, no matter how much repetition has made them sound hackneyed, there's a truth worth hearing again. I have a few words taped on my rowing machine at home; when we've had our erg marathons I've copied them and taped them to the machine I was using. And I will copy the same words and bring them with me to Lousiana this weekend, and if I remember to bring tape, I will tape them on my boat where I can look at them for 42,195 meters up Cane River Lake:

"Hold On" --- the Will
Posted by dichroic at 03:46 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2005

J is for John MacCrae

I'm not really that big a fan of Ben Jonson, though I've seen the case convincingly made that he'd have been viewed as a colossus if he'd lived in any other age. I was considering writing about Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky, but when I checked the authoritative source (Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice I found seven pages of commentary, but felt no better understanding of the poem than when I first memorized it, at age 10 or so. Like Alice, it "fills my head with ideas - only I don't know exactly what they are". Gardner relates the poem to everything from group theory to Anglo-Saxon, but somehow, I like it better just as read, without too much thinking.

So instead, I'll use J as my entry to write about a group poets who wrote about the horror and tragedy they lived - and who, in many cases, never came back.

is for John MacCrae and the other poets of the Great War.

Poetry of WWI ranges from sublime to searing, sometimes within the work of the same poet, sometimes in the same poem. As L.M. Montgomery showed in her WWI story, Rilla of Ingleside, at least some of the soldiers in WWI went in believing they were there to root a terrible thing out of the world, once and for all, to keep faith with those who went before and to light a torch for those who followed:

In Flanders Fields

John MacCrae (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

They went in, perhaps expecting a difficult fight, but often with high ideals. Alan Seeger (1888-1916) wrote:

But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

But what they found in the trenches was obscenity, and their words departed from the romantic ballads, love songs, and ideals of earlier poets to show it starkly. In one of the best-known poems of the war, Dulce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) wrote of a man "drowning" in mustard gas:

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Ideals were shattered, in some cases never to be rebuilt, and lives were ruined. Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) wrote of the miasma of a rotting God. Sigfried Sassoon (1896-1967) wrote of living with wounds, both physical and mental :

Does It Matter

Sigfried Sassoon (1896-1967)

Does it matter? -- losing your legs? . . .
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter? -- losing your sight? . . .
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter? -- those dreams from the pit? . . .
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know that you've fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit

The war was not kind to women, neither to those who lived in the war zones, those who watched and waited, nor those who tended the wounded and had to try to comfort the suffering:


Eva Dobell (1867 - 1963)

Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seem to question why:
With both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the 'dresser' drawing near;
And winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment's there
He'll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his woodbine cigarette.

And afterward, the world was never the same even for those who served and survived:

from On Account of Ill-Health

Edward Shanks (1892-1953)

Men that have marched with me shall march to peace again,
Bringing for plunder home glad memories of pain,
Of toils endured and done, of terrors quite brought under,
And all the world shall be their plaything and their wonder.
Then in that new-born world, unfriendly and estranged,
I shall be quite alone, I shall be left unchanged.

Some of the poems I've quoted here are well-known, some are less known. They are only a small sampling. Additional collections of World War I poems can be found here, here, and here.

Posted by dichroic at 12:48 PM

November 01, 2005

I is for Iambic pentameter

Sorry, can't think of any 'I' poets I like. But if Geni can use her letters for both artists and masterpieces, surely I can bestow mine as freely. And so,

is for iambic pentameter.

If you should take a ride on Shakespeare's horse
To some imagin'd iambic Banbury Cross
The characteristic rhythm of its trot
Would be dit-DOT dit-DOT dit-Dot dit-Dot

Though on trochees you might sometimes founder
You'd come back to iambs as being sounder
While other rhythms help to vary pace
Iambic is the one that wins the race.

Pentameter, too, suits English-language poems,
As Japanese for haiku is the home
Though no quintepedal horse in nature's found
In English poetry, he is most sound

In iambic pentameter Shakespeare's sonnets run
As well as those of Milton, Keats, and Donne.

A few disclaimers: Yes, I got a little silly here - but really, it takes about two lines to explain iambic pentameter and then what else do you have to say? Yes, I know I didn't keep strictly to iambs or even trochees here. Yes, I know that neither did Shakespeare, Milkton, Keats, or Donne. So sue me.

Posted by dichroic at 10:49 AM

October 28, 2005

H is for Hope

H is hard. I wanted to write about Gerard Manley Hopkins' "sprung meter", and about the time I went mountain biking in the dappled light of a forest and his Pied Beauty came to life around me. I wanted to write about the sweetness of Leigh Hunt's poem to Jane Carlyle, Jenny Kissed Me, which inspired one of the very first poems I was ever brave or foolhardy enough to post online. I even wanted to write about A.E. Housman, whose subjects range from cherries in blossom to bad poetry.

Another longtime favorite poet has had occasion to bring himself to my attention over the last few days, though, so I'll write about him instead.

is for A. D. Hope.

The thing that astounds me most about Hope is that he is a he. The first thing of Alec Derwent Hope's that rocked my formative years was his Advice to Young Ladies, possibly in a high-school anthology, back when I was myself a young lady, a feminist from toddlerhood and furious at the idea that anyone might limit me because of my gender. Postumia's fate made me furious, but it's the last verse that is most eye-opening:

Advice to Young Ladies

A.U.C. 334: about this date, For a sexual misdemeanour which she denied, The vestal virgin Postumia was tried; Livy records it among affairs of state.

They let her off: it seems she was perfectly pure;
The charge arose because some thought her talk
Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.

The Pontifex Maximus , summing up the case,
Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
To wear less modish and more pious frocks.
She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace.

What then? With her the annalist is less
Concerned than what the men achieved that year:
Plots, quarrels, crimes, with oratory to spare-
I see Postumia with her dowdy dress,

Stiff mouth and listless step; I see her strive
To give dull answers. She had to knuckle down.
A vestal virgin who scandalized that town
Had fair trial, then they buried her alive;

Alive, bricked up in suffocating dark;
A ration of bread, a pitcher if she was dry,
Preserved the body they did not wish to die
Until her mind was quenched to the last spark.

How many the black maw has swallowed in its time!
Spirited girls who would not know their place,
Talented girls who found that the disgrace
Of being a woman made genius a crime.

How many others, who would not kiss the rod,
Domestic bullying broke or public shame?
Pagan or Christian, it was much the same:
Husbands, St. Paul declared, rank next to God.

Livy and Paul, it may be, never knew
That Rome was doomed; each spoke of her with pride.
Tacitus, writing after both had died,
Showed that whole fabric rotten, through and through.

Historians spend their lives and lavish ink
Explaining how great commonwealths collapse
From great defects of policy - perhaps
The cause is sometimes simpler than they think. 40

It may not seem so grave an act to break
Postumia's spirit as Galileo's, to gag
Hypatia as crush Socrates, or drag
Joan as Giordano Bruno to the stake.

Can we be sure? Have more states perished, then,
For having shackled the enquiring mind,
Than those who, in their folly not less blind,
Trusted the servile womb to breed free men?

Despite the evidence of Postumia and of his reply From his Mistress to Andrew Marvell

To say the least, the scene you paint
Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
And on this point what prompted you
So crudely, and in public too,
To canvass and , indeed, make free
With my entire anatomy?
Poets have licence, I confess,
To speak of ladies in undress;
Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
In verses this is common stuff;
But -- well I ask: to draw attention
To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
And prate of dust upon it too!
Sir, was this any way to woo?

Hope isn't primarily thought of (by people other than me) as a feminist poet; he wrote about love and sex, being human and about his country, Australia. And before he died in 2000, his country recognized him as a great poet.

Posted by dichroic at 01:21 PM

October 27, 2005

G is for John Gorka

I really didn't feel like writing about Oliver Goldsmith today; I've never managed to finish The Vicar of Wakefield (having spent my life trying to be flexible, rather than in-), though I did once read She Stoops to Conquer, and his poetry doesn't particularly appeal to me (especially the one that says that the only thing a fallen woman can do to wash away her guilt is to die. Yeesh.) I thought about cheating a little and letting G stand for Gwendolen Brooks, but I've already posted my favorite poem of hers, way back in the early days of this site. Instead, I'm going to take a path I'll probably choose a few more times in this series; rather than a traditional poet, I'll discuss a singer-songwriter.

is for John Gorka.

If you are a modern-day poet, you can post your work in the chapbooks and quarterlies and online sites around, and people who know they like poetry will read it. Or you can sing it, and all kinds of people will hear it. (To get the biggest audience, you should probably set it to hip-hop music, but in that case I'm probably not going to be one of those who will hear it.) There are some constraints induced by melody: you're likely going to want rhyme, and you may end up repeating lines more than you would in a poem meant to be read or recited. (Those can be either bugs or features.)

I first encountered Gorka in the late 80s, when I was volunteering at the Cherry Tree Folk Music Co-op and the Philly Folk Fest. I appreaciated his words and tunes at the time, and only later listening to recordings realized how resonant his voice is, as well. Here's the first song of his I fell in love with, and not only because of its twisted logic and the fact that it reminds me of a Muppets routine:

I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair

I saw a stranger with your hair, tried to make her give it back,
So I could send it off to you, maybe Federal Express,
'Cause I knew you'd miss it.
I saw another with your eyes, the flash just turned my head,
I went to try them on for size but they looked the other way,
And they wouldn't listen.

But you're never hard to find in a crowd
The people around you smiling out loud
Their feet don't touch the ground
Their feet don't touch the ground
Their feet don't touch the ground

I heard a stranger with your voice, it took me by surprise,
Again I found it wasn't you, just an angel in disguise,
In for a visit.

By the way, how is my heart? Haven't seen it since you left,
I'm almost sure it followed you, could you sometime send it back,
I'll buy the ticket.

I saw a stranger with your hair
I saw another with your eyes
I heard an angel with your voice
By the way how is my heart
By the way how is my heart

Gorka sings about love and changes, baseball and neighborhoods and factories, and about my home state of Pennsylvania. I live across the country in a much less folk-music-friendly area now, and I haven't seen him live in a long time, so I'm less familiar with his recent music. A lot of his works are more poetic than these, but I like this one because it reminds me of Ogden Nash:


While they fish out the fisheries
I wish on the wisheries
Mixed up in the mysteries
Every night, every night

I pedal hope, now, from port to port
I never stay at the last resort
I'm not tall, but I never come up short
I always pay, I pay and pay

I got arrested and I got away
I met Clint and he made my day
Tarred and feathered in La Brea
What a pit, what a pit

I formed my own government
I cast pearls before the parliament
Got some girls for the ex-president
No, not him, another one

Thought I appear none too glamorous
I have often been amorous
Though I am an ignoramimous
Ignoranimous, that's the word

My chances were ludicrous
She was graceful and luminous
My heart sank bituminous
But I asked anyway

Through the window she kissed my face
Pushed me down and put me in my place
The French would call that the coup de grace
No, that's not my native tongue

Found a raincoat in a London fog
Got a kitten from a catalog
Got a demo from a demagogue
I played it loud, it pleased the crowd

While they fish out the fisheries
I miss the missing and the mysteries
I broke a dish signed by Cyd Charisse
Yeah, I pay, I always pay

I pay and pay

Posted by dichroic at 01:15 PM | Comments (2)

October 26, 2005

F is for Eugene Field

In my opinion, Robert Frost is one of the great voices of America. Some of his lines have entered the vernacular: "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," and "But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep", for instance. I do love many of Frost's poems, and one of my great regrets is that I didn't know The Master Speed, whose final couple is "Life is only life forevermore / Together, wing to wing and oar to oar" before my wedding.

But nearly everyone's familiar with Frost; if you're not, his poetry is modern enough to be in modern English, but not so modern as to be hard to understand, and it's easily accessible online. Instead, I want to write about a lesser known (if lesser-skilled) poet.

is for Eugene Field.

I first met Field in an old anthology my parents had. (How many anthologies are there called "Best-Loved Poems"? This was one of them.) I think it had the usual bits of people like Milton and Keats, but when my age was still in single digits, those were too abstract and boring for me (actually, some still are). Instead, I'd reread Poe's Annabel Lee and the funny ones, like Riley's Little Orphant Annie and Eugene Field'stale of an epic struggle:

The Duel

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t' other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I was n't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I 'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw---
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate---
I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

It's not surprising I liked him; he was nicknamed "The Children's Poet", and a lot of his pieces are for, about, or spoken by children. Field, who lived from 1850-1895, also wrote some typically sappy Victorian lyrics, but the pieces I most enjoy are the children's and the vernacular ones. They may be doggerel, but they're fun, and there are some characters worth knowing in them. He wrote Western stories with titles like Casey's Table d'Hôte and The Conversazzhyony and first person stories like Jest 'Fore Christmas, which starts:

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl---ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, an' things that 's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake---
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for bellyache!
'Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore Christmas I 'm as good as I kin be!

There are also some sweet and not overwrought love poems to his wife and family, but even better are those to his books, like this one I came across while researching this post:


Though care and strife
Elsewhere be rife,
Upon my word I do not heed 'em;
In bed I lie
With books hard by,
And with increasing zest I read 'em

Propped up in bed,
So much I 've read
Of musty tomes that I 've a headful
Of tales and rhymes
Of ancient times,
Which, wife declares, are "simply dreadful!"

They give me joy
Without alloy;
And is n't that what books are made for?
And yet---and yet---
(Ah, vain regret!)
I would to God they all were paid for!

It goes on for several more verses. If you sympathize with his bibliomania enough to want to read the rest, or if you want to read some of Field's other work, there's a good selection here.

Posted by dichroic at 02:07 PM

October 25, 2005

E is for Elizabeth

I promised that this series would include poems I loved and wanted to share. I lied a little. I don't love these poems (except maybe the first) but they fascinate me. Their author could be described as a minor poet of the Elizabethan Age - no small achievement, given the company. However, she was more commonly referred to as Gloriana, or as The Virgin Queen, or as Her Majesty, by the Grace of God Queen of England and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.

whE.gif is for Elizabeth Regina

Elizabeth was always academically brilliant, and thanks to her (final) stepmother, Katherine Parr, she was as well educated as any prince. Historians are still arguing over just how able a ruler she was, but she has been recognized as a great queen for over five hundred years. Her reign saw the great flowering of both English political power and English literature, and she trod a delicate political balance in which any misstep could have put England under the sway of a man, probably less able and almost vcertainly with divided loyalties. I have always been fascinated that she also found time to write poems that, while not among the finest of their time (and such a time!) are good enough that they are still anthologized five centuries later. The poems are interesting in their own right, as art and as a window into a unique life; they speak of betrayal and balance, the suspicion and resignation that are part of her role and the heartbreak and grief over aging or lost love common to all women.

Written in her French Psalter

No crooked leg, no bleared eye,
No part deformed out of kind,
Nor yet so ugly half can be
As is the inward suspicious mind.

The Doubt of Future Foes

The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy;
For falsehood now doth flow, and subjects' faith doth ebb,
Which should not be if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.
But clouds of joys untried do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turn to rain of late repent by changed course of winds.
The top of hope supposed the root upreared shall be,
And fruitless all their grafted guile, as shortly ye shall see.
The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,
Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.
The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow
Shall reap no gain where former rule still peace hath taught to know.
No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port;
Our realm brooks not seditious sects, let them elsewhere resort.
My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge employ
To poll their tops that seek such change or gape for future joy.

On Monsieur's Departure

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.

Posted by dichroic at 01:14 PM

October 24, 2005

D is for Donne

Don't worry, I'll get to some reporting of JournalCon today too. But first:

whD.gif is for Donne, of course.

The standard view of Donne is that he comes in two parts: the early womanizing years, in which he derailed his career by marrying his patron's niece without permission, and in which he wrote about love and sex; and the later respectable years when he ended up as Dean of St. Paul's, during which he wrote about God and religion. In keeping with pretty much everything else in the world, it's not really that simple.

For instance, "The Flea" is a seduction poem, but not a serious one: Donne seems to be having enough fun playing with words and his pretty conceit ("Look! Our blood is already mingled in this flea that has bitten both of us, so why resist a little more mingling?") that persuasion becomes almost secondary. Look at the words: in the first verse Donne's still thinking mostly about sex, and the words reflect it. He's got sucking and swelling, wooing, and loss of maidenhead. In the second verse, though, he's gotten into what he's doing and started to riff; he's off onto the sacrament of marriage, with an evocation of the Trinity and the cloister. In the third verse, the women is beginning to sound like Herod, with her nail purpled in innocent blood, though it's more of a flirting teasing than a serious accusation. Then he can't resist: in the end he's not blandishing or flirting. Donne's a very bright man, clearly able to outargue his paramour, and just can't resist turning her own logic on her to win the argument. This is not a poem that would have gotten him laid successfully, but he may have gotten more enjoyment in his play on words and logic anyway, leaving serious cozening for anther day.

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

In contrast, some of Donne's religious works are surprisingly earthy. In Holy Sonnet XIV, he begins with what, according to my excellent high school teacher Mrs. Martyska*, is an evocation of a tinker, banging on a pan in order to remove dents. That almost-awkward rhythm conjures up the hammer in the first quatrain:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Yet though it's only a sonnet, the metaphor isn't big enough to support the whole thing. The rhythm smooths out as he moves on to an image of a beseiged and betrayed town:

I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Then, even though he's in his older more sedate years by this point, it's still Donne. When he's writing to God he's still using the same sensual images, only now directed to a new end - also, now the poet is become the ravished instead of the ravisher:

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

I'll post one more. I don't think this one needs discussion, given how often I've paraphrased its opening lines in my own life. So has Great Big Sea: the opening lines of Boston to St. John's, "Girl, don't tell me that it's morning / Can we keep the curtains drawn?" always make me think of Donne. It's universal, for anyone who's had a night good enough that morning's unwelcome:

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, "All here in one bed lay."

She's all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

* I've never been able to find Mrs. Martyska online; I'd guess she remarried and changed her name. She probably had more effect on me than almost any other teacher, partly because I had her for all three years of high school, and partly because, as an engineering student, I only had three English classes in college (poetry, drama, linguistics) so an outsized proportion of what I know about literature is doe directly to her.

Posted by dichroic at 01:26 PM | Comments (1)

October 20, 2005

C is for cummings

For today's entry I'm going to cheat and recycle something I wrote in 2002, because the correspondence between these two works still amuses me.

whC.gifis for cummings, and the original entry is here.

I probably won't get to 'D' until Monday or so; as a Sayers fan, my choice for that letter should be obvious. (Also, I participated in an online alumni seminar on him, earlier this year.) Let me know, by the way, if you like this series or hate it and wish I'd just stop. I haven't gotten a lot of response on it, but traffic has been down here lately anyway - I think it's just a normal random cycle.

Tonight I'll pack; tomorrow morning I'll get up at 4 and row, then come home, shower, clean my windshield so I can see through it, and head off to JournalCon. The camera is on my list to pack, so if I get any good photos I'll post a couple, along with my report. My laptop is a piece of crap, so I won't be taking it, thus no posting during the weekend unless the hotel has computers. I haven't previously met anyone who will be there, do it should be interesting. Debsiobhan, do you think anyone would mind if we did Barrett's Privateers at the karaoke night? That would be way more fun than singing pop songs, even if I knew any.

Posted by dichroic at 02:20 PM | Comments (2)

October 19, 2005

B is for Burns

I was going to write about both of my favorite two 'B' poets, until I saw just how long the post on the first one had gotten (I couldn't resist the bawdy stuff). So I'll leave Browning for another writer (hint, hint, Swooop) and instead write about oor Rabbie.

whB.gif is for Burns.

Here's the thing about Burns. It's true he was born poor, and that he wrote his first poems while working unsuccessfully as a farmer. (More of his problems may have arisen from his "irregular" liason with the woman who later became his wife, and the resulting kirk censure, than from any lack in his farming, but that's another issue.) But he wasn't uneducated, though much of it may have been self-education, and when he wrote in braid Scots it was through choice, not because it was the dialect he normally spoke. At least when writing to an ENglish audience, he wrote in standard English, though he may have been like the Scots of John Muir's day who spoke in Scottish to the Scots and in English to the English, and who when with the former saved the latter dialect for moments of fury. Burns was lionized in Edinburgh and was offered positions both on a London newspaper and in a Scottish university, though he turned both down.

Here's the other thing about Burns: he left a whole set of poetry that wasn't in your high school anthology. He kept them in a locked drawer, and some of them were eventually published with other material as "The Merry Muses of Caledonia". Some were songs he collected, some he wrote. Here's the version of John Anderson, my Jo, that I first learned, a sweet song reminiscent of Browning's "Grow old along with me / The best is yet to be":

JOHN ANDERSON, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John, 5
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither; 10
And monie a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot, 15
John Anderson, my jo.

But it's set to the tune of an earlier song he'd collected, in which John Anderson's wife is not so happy about his aging:

John Anderson, my jo, John,
I wonder what ye mean,
To lie sae lang i' the mornin',
And sit sae late at e'en?
Ye'll bleer a' your een, John,
And why do ye so?
Come sooner to your bed at een,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When first that ye began,
Ye had as good a tail-tree,
As ony ither man;
But now its waxen wan, John,
And wrinkles to and fro,
I've twa gae-ups for ae gae-down,
John Anderson, my jo.

I'm backit like a salmon,
I'm breastit like a swan;
My wame it is a down-cod,
My middle ye may span:;
Frae my tap-knot to my tae, John,
I'm like the new-fa'n snow;
And it's a' for your convenience,
John Anderson, my jo.

O it is a fine thing
To keep out o'er the dyke,
But its a meikle finer thing,
To see your hurdies fyke;
To see your hurdies fyke, John,
And hit the rising blow;
It's then I like your chanter-pipe,
John Anderson, my jo.

When ye come on before, John,
See that ye do your best;
When ye begin to haud me,
See that ye grip me fast;
See that ye grip me fast, John,
Until that I cry "Oh!"
Your back shall crack or I do that,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
Ye're welcome when ye please;
It's either in the warm bed
Or else aboon the claes:
Or ye shall hae the horns, John,
Upon your head to grow;
An' that's the cuckold's mallison,
John Anderson, my jo.

It's not entirely clear why he felt the need to clean up John Anderson, considering that Burns himself wrote Nine Inches Will Please a Lady. Some of the Scots words may not be clear, but the gist is fairly easy to make out:

Come rede me dame, come tell me dame,
My dame come tell me truly,
What length o' graith when weel ca'd hame
Will sair a woman duly?"
The carlin clew her wanton tail,
Her wanton tail sae ready,
"l learn'd a sang in Annandale,
Nine inch will please a lady."

"But for a koontrie cunt like mine,
In sooth we're not sae gentle;
We'll tak tway thumb-bread to the nine,
And that is a sonsy pintle.
Oh, Leeze me on, my Charlie lad,
I'll ne'er forget my Charlie,
Tway roaring handfuls and a daud
He nidged it in fu' rarely."

But wear fa' the laithron doup
And may it ne'er be thriving,
It's not the length that makes me loup
But it's the double drivin.
Come nidge me Tom, come nidge me Tom
Come nidge me, o'er the nyvel
Come lowse an lug your battering ram
And thrash him at my gyvel!

graith=gear, equipment; clew=scratched, fondled;
tway thum-bread=two thumb-breadths; sonsy=healthy;
daud=a lump, a bit; laithron=lazy; doup=rump;

Posted by dichroic at 04:56 PM

October 18, 2005

A is for Anon

I'm taking up the challenge Sienamystic and Swooop have flung, to do a poetry alphabet to match the wonderful series Sienamystic is doing on Art History. Mine will not be as erudite as hers, mostly because I don't know as much about poetry as she does about paintings. (If you want that sort of information, though, go read Swooop's recent entries on William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and the Victorians.)

Mine will be more personal; I'm going to focus on poets I like or that mean something to me, whether or not they're important or even great. Some are great, and if others verge on doggerel, it's doggerel that matters to me. Most of them won't be all that obscure because I probably wouldn't know them if they were, but on the other hand I won't write about Shakespeare because anything I can say can be said better by a thousand others. I reserve the right to skip letters, because life's too short to worry about poets beginning with 'X'. I did a quick Google search to make sure I hadn't missed anyone I'd regret, but I do have three or four letters lacking names. I also reserve the right to talk about two or even three poets beginning with a single letter, if I can't decide between them or if they somehow go together well.

This is stuff I like, that's what it is, and I want to share it. I'll be cross-posting to my LJ and my main site. I'm not sure everyone gets the idea that poetry can be fun or meaningful, not just something you're stuck studying, though I think most people probably do. It was fun putting together the alphabet, and I expect it will be fun doing the writing. And I think there's plenty of room for more than one alphabet of this sort, so if you want to try one sharing poems you love, go right ahead.

And with that said, I'll start where most poetry books seem to:
whA.gif is for Anon.

SUMER is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springth the wude nu—
Sing cuccu! 5

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu;
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, well singes thu, cuccu: 10
Ne swike thu naver nu;
Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!

A lot of chronologically arranged poetry books, like the Norton Anthology of English Poetry and the Oxford Book of ENglish Verse, seem to start here. It's a lyric meant to be sung, and it's a paean to summer. Since it's from 1250 or so, the English needs some translation:

Summer is coming in, loudly sing cuckoo.
Seed grows and meadow blows, the world springs anew.

The ewe bleats after the lamb, the cow after her calf, too.
The bullock starts, the buck farts, merry sings cuckoo.

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well singest thou, cuckoo,
No ceasing you ever knew.
Sing, cuckoo, now, sing, cuckoo
Sing, cuckoo, now, sing, cuckoo

This is a series of images of summer, and if you consider how mild English summers are, compared to a damp, cold winter in a thatched hut, it's clear there is reason to be glad. There was a belief that cuckoos didn't give their calls until well into summer; compare the American Cuckoo song: "She never hollers cuckoo / Til the fourth day of July." On the other hand, thaose growing seeds and blowing meadows sound to me more like spring. The Gaels divided the year into winter half (Samhain to Beltaine) and summer half (Beltaine to Samhain), so this may be a survival of that worldview. I don't know the tune, but I have a feeling there were many, as tends to happen in the folk tradition, and that they were catchy, for this to have survived that long.

Another of my favorites by Anon. is a nearly opposite mood, expressing longing instead of pleasure and plenty, and it's so universal that no further explanation is really required. I've quoted this one myself, omitting the prayer to Christ and the need for a change in the wind, but knowing that the love and the lure of home and bed have not changed. I didn't need to look this one up.

Oh westron wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christe, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

Posted by dichroic at 05:52 PM

May 03, 2005

found poet, remembering when

Thanks to Ebony, I found a new poet again today whose work I love. By "new...again", I mean that I do not remember ever having read any of her poems before, but when I looked her up on Google, I found that her photo was familiar. Those glasses are unmistakeable. (Not to mention unflattering - I wonder if she wore them to hide or just didn't care?) So I must have read something of hers, sometime before.

Here's why I like her: I am a hopeless philistine. I want poetry to mean something to me. Sometimes, as with Kipling or some of Donne's, it's a literal story; sometimes, as with Yeats or other Donne it's a flash of feeling. But a lot of modern poetry (say, from the 1970s on) leaves me cold. Some poets seem to equate obfuscation with depth, when anyone who's looked at a muddy creek knows it's entirely possibly to be both opaque and shallow. Fortunately, there are others, and Mary Oliver is one of them whose work speaks intelligibly to me.

Also, in looking to see what I'd written about Oliver or modern poetry before, I found a poem I'd written a few years ago and hadn't indexed, so that was a bonus. Appropriately enough, it reminds me a little of her work - not in terms of quality but of similar theme.

The meme below is one I've stolen from LA. This one has been around for a while, but I've never done it before (I don't think.)

25 years ago
May 1980. I was 13 and in 8th grade. My Bat Mitzvah was two months before, so my mother and I were involved in using some of the money I'd been given to buy me a new bedroom set to replace the bed and dresser I'd had since graduating from a crib. I was probably still under 5' tall, wearing preteen sizes, and most of a year away from menarche.

20 years ago
May 1985. Spring of freshman year. I was finishing exams, then heading off to Ocean City, NJ, where the friend whose parents' beach house we were staying at would become my first serious boyfriend, the only person other than RUdder or family to whom I've ever used the 'l' word.

15 years ago
May 1990. I was 23 and had met Rudder 2 months before. He was coming over after work every night, and we never quite got to sleep as early as we'd planned. Within the next month he would talk me into taking rowing lessons, and we would select an apartment together. We officially moved in together that Spetember, when my lease was up.

10 years ago
May 1995. I was entering the last semester of my MS, working on simulating the Thermal Control System of the Space Station for the astronaut trainer, and soon to begin the job hunt that would land me in this city by the end of the year.

5 years ago
May 2000. We were in our current house. I was working at an internet company. The lake had opened to less than a year before, and I think I was finally giving in and joining the 5AM competitve rowing program. Coach DI was (in my opinion) unnecessarily hard on us, but I did get in better shape than I had ever been in.

3 years ago
May 2002. I had been working at this company for three months. I was getting ready for my first time competing in the GOld Rush Regatta, in which I'll be competing for the fourth time in a few weeks (though probably just in the 300m dash at the end of the day this time). With the month, I'd get my navel pierced (it still is). I'd been writing in this journal (in its Diaryland incarnation) for fourteen months.

Last year
May 2004. Nothing major going on. I was training hard for the same regatta, had written a story plot though not a story (the fiction urge seems to be a yearly thing), and began using a Diva Cup. (I still am - well, not continuously-still, but every-monthly-still, of course.) I passed my Biannual Flight Review.

This year
May 2005. I'm working for the same company though at a site only half an hour from home, instead of an hour or more. I'm still rowing and lifting weights, but have scaled back a bit because I'm working on an Instrument Flight Rating.

I slept in until 6 and skipped the workout because I'd flown back from Houston and gotten in a little late the previous night. Rudder and I hit the local bewpub for dinner, and I reread one of Charlotte MacLeod's Sarah Kelling mysteries, having picked up several at Half-Price Books on my trip.

Erged 5000 meters, got into work by 6:30 AM to get ready for a big meeting. Tonight I'm flying with one of the instructors I like most.

Posted by dichroic at 01:24 PM

February 18, 2005

table of contents redux

Whew. Got my table corrected and pointing to the proper places and all of the older imported entries cleaned up. I also caught a few I'd missed. Lot of work. This is more for a convenient reference for myself than because I suppose anyone is panting to read all of my (semi)poetical works but anyway, the table is here.

Posted by dichroic at 04:10 PM

February 15, 2005

sea change / into something rich and deep

I don't know what this is. It may just mean I'm not getting enough sleep.

Sea Change

My head is full of ocean
Like an aquarium in the helmet of an old diving suit
Fronds and mermaids look out from my eyes,
Strange creatures that never knew air glide behind them.
What truths I see gleam out through layers of murk,
Clear only when seen through a diver's lens.
Else shades of light veil greener, bright, then dense.

Yet like the ocean the truths I have I keep
And what I know may roll up on a tide
Or lie for years, buried, in the depths of mind,
Or roil past, seen only glancing behind the foam,
Or wear disguise, a sea-change only pierced in sleep.

Posted by dichroic at 04:03 PM

February 11, 2005

channeling Langston and Lindy

"Dona nobis pacem" says the old song: Give us peace, give us peace, give us peace.

But peace is not a thing to be given.
Peace is taken. Peace is earned,
Peace is held and peace is painfully made.

Peace is forged in the fire of a fierce determination,
Folded layers of decisions hammered for strength
With will.

Peace is built stick by stick,
Peace is balanced, stone on stone,
Stone on unthrown stone.
Peace is fitted together, each part slotted in
Where a place is found.

Peace is not poured in a pure stream from above;
Peace is built up from the ground by those who need its shelter most,
Holding it up,
Shoring it up,
Improvising as they build,
And propping where it starts to sag.

Peace is not the gift of gods or governments.
Peace is earned at the price of sweat, steel will,
Skill, care, unconfidence
And need.

That felt good. It's been a long, long while since I was able to write any poetry except by forcing it, a method guaranteed to produce nothing but doggerel (though still useful for practice). The beginning of this one came to me, though, when I was listening, ecstatic, to news of the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire, and then, deflated, to the Israeli comment that the ceasefire depended on the Palestinians to maintain it. (Translation: one rebel throws one stone, or one renegade plants one bomb, and thwe're sending the army back in. Given the difficulty of controlling a whole population, I hope I'm mistranslating here.) Maybe because he cared about peace too, but I felt like I was channelling Langston Hughes as this thing above spoke in my head, with its pounding carpenter rhythm. (Or maybe that was Jimmy Carter, but he's not dead yet.) Of course, the words and the finishing still had to come through me, so I'm not blaming any lack of quality in this on Hughes. But it surely did feel good to have it come to me.

I did end up flying yesterday - and I got actual! (That means flying in actual instrument conditions, with a clearance, talking to Center, and the whole bit.) The wind wasn't bad but there was rain and low clouds. Once we were off the ground and I saw how bad the visibility was, I started worrying I wouldn't be able to see the runway well enough to land - fortunately I could once we were down to 1000 feet height-above-ground or so, but we did quite a bit of flying in the clouds with NO visibility at all. My instructor didn't even have me put on a hood (really a visor, worn so you can't look out and can see only the instrument panel). It was some scary shit, especially on the way back when Phx Approach was supposed to be vectoring us and didn't say anything for a very very long time. That was because they didn't need to, since we were heading straight for our home airport on a VOR radial, but the thing is they didn't say anything to anyone else either, which means there's no way to tell that the radios haven't gone out. Which would suck fairly hard in those conditions.

So yeah, it was scary to the point of pounding head and dropping pit of stomach. Of course that's not entirely rational; I had a CFI with me and my instruments were working fine. But they can break, and I'm not comfortable yet with what to do if they did, and anyway, instrument flying is inherently not a safe thing to do. There are mountains out there, and my little Cessna doesn't have a collision warning system to detect them. (Ironic, since that's one thing my company makes.) I do have a GPS with them programmed in, but again, the pit of my stomach doesn't know from GPSes.

I kept telling myself it was good to be doing this now, while there's a CFI along and I'm training in familiar territory, than to encounter it for the first time alone in a strange area. Here, at worst, we could have gone down low and found our way home by following roads and landmarks. Rudder pointed out that also, this is a good time in my training to do this because now some of the other tactics I'll be learning will be extremely memorable. (What to do if the radios go out, for instance.) The pit of my stomach doesn't listen to him, either.

Good experience, though. (I tell myself again.) Next time it will be much less scary. And one good thing was proving again that I'm not ruled by the pit of my stomach, because I flew well, nailed the ILS approach at Casa Grande (best one I've done yet) and did two landings so good the instructor was impressed. There's nothing like a bit of motivation to do it right, I guess.

Posted by dichroic at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)

November 24, 2004


I've cut down far too many trees over the past couple of years, due to drought and fire ad bark beetles. Maybe this is a better way to look at it. Anyway, it's a bit pedestrian in spots but it just came to me for no clear reason - usually a sign that someone in my head is trying to tell me something.

Apparently Chief Seattle never really said, "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?" but that doesn't make the idea any less valid. So here:

On Chief Seattle's Land, a Century Later

It's my land. I have the deed,
The title to it guaranteed.
With the bank, I own this plot
It's mine to sow or mine to plow
Mine to wreak or ruin. Not
A soul can tell me What to grow
Or harvest on my lot.

And yet.... and yet the pines I've sown
Have flourished, some, and some have grown
Then withered. Some died right away
And some, the best of all, have sprung
From seeds I never planted. They
Found soil they liked and and trees that hung
Above with sheltering shade.

There's flowers, too, the 'volunteers'
From breeze-borne seed in previous years.
They're not at all to do with me.
I could sow "wildflowers" from a can
But those aren't wild, like the free
Gift of the sun and passing rain
The winds leave in their lee.

I could, of course, rip out the weeds
Plow soil under, hoe and seed
And reap a docile, measured crop.
I could, but still, my planted field
Would be a hostage to each drop
Of water cloudbanks choose to yield
Or floods, if they choose not to stop.

However close I clutch my deed
My sovereignty's not guaranteed.
Those others who once lived here knew.
They held it jointly with the rain
No trace of them remains here, Who
As steward, not as suzerain
Lived on this land as now I do.

Posted by dichroic at 02:25 PM | Comments (2)

June 24, 2004

table of (poetic) contents

If I do ever get my archives moved over here, I will regret this entry because I'll have to redo it. In the meantime, though, I want a table of contents of the poems I've posted in the three years I've been keeping an online journal - I do have a spreadsheet on one computer, but this will be more accessible.

LATER NOTE: Updated as of 2/18/2005.

I give fair warning, some of these suck. Some are jokes. Some are not. Some, I will go so far as to say, don't suck.

3/9/2001Ice Fog Dance
3/9/2001Sarah Whistled When She Walked
4/20/2001Marot Translation
5/1/2001Just Don't Tell Me How to Do It
5/15/2001Not All There Is
6/14/2001Parodies of Frost
6/21/2001Hands, Hands, Hands
7/30/2001Model Flying
8/3/2001I've Been Slimed
8/20/2001Notes on Shopping
10/01/2001Sept 11 Attempt
11/7/2001Knuckled Down
12/14/2001The Why of Flight
1/14/2002Change is Crackling
1/24/2002Free Will
2/22/2002The Only One Who
2/22/2002A Day on the River
3/4/2002My Last Girlfriend
3/27/2002Lunar Proem
4/10/2002Brown Eyes
4/18/2002A Life in Brief
4/23/2002Without Words
4/29/2002The Sleep Cycle
6/14/2002Unfriend Fire
6/22/2002The Perfect Guest
6/24/2002The Curdle Fair
8/15/2002Talkin' Ashcroft Blues
8/20/2002A Reply to Service
9/19/2002Turn the World Over
1/7/2002The Quest
2/3/2003Death Comes in Clouds
2/11/2003A Mother's Loss
6/16/2003Sonoran Storm
7/06/2003The Preflight Gavotte
10/29/2003Riding the Wind
12/15/2003A Ghostly Banner
2/23/2004San Francisco, February 2004
4/9/2004Forty Egrets
6/22/2004I Have Not Chosen Sufficiency
6/22/2004Ocean In My Eyes
11/4/2004On Chief Seattle's Land, A Century Later
2/11/2005Peace is Not a Gift
2/15/2005Sea Changes

Posted by dichroic at 11:59 AM

tell the truth but tell it slant

Since some people I know in "real" life read this, and I wouldn't want My Brother the Writer worrying about whether I had an unhappy childhood again, I probably should comment on the previous poem. Melissa commented, in part, "Only you can answer this, think this out to its end."

My answer to her was:

Oh, no, I know the answer - it was the poem wanted the question asked, not me really. The answer is, that life really was the default, the easy choice, the one my parents would have liked me to make. And I really would have hated it. I'd have ended up half a person, like a nautilus unable to move into a bigger chamber (which, I think, is what happened to my parents, though they're not necessarily unhappy about it). The other woman I wrote about is real, too, but I think for her that is just the right-sized life.

But the question in the last stanza is true, too. I certainly have chosen to make things harder for myself than they absolutely needed to be -- but for me, I'm much happier erring in that direction than the other way.

As I was thinking about that this morning on the water, though, I started thinking about poetry in general. (Water is soothing, and also, setting my mind to worrying one problem while my body works on rowing seems to work for me.)

Poetry exists to tell a truth, sometimes one that can't be told or would be difficult to tell in prose. Good poetry tells a universal or at least widely applicable truth. I'm not claiming any merit for my own except that of conscientous effort, by which I mean that I do always try to use my words to tell a truth. The thing is, it's not always my truth. Sometimes it's what I think is someone else's truth, or it's only a part of my truth or it's my truth but from a different perspective. For example one of the very first pieces I posted in a blog was "Sarah Whistled":

Sarah whistled when she walked,
Tangled bits of tunes that tailed
Away behind her like a banner
Floating on a trailing wind.

No matter now that she's far gone,
I seem to see her when I hear
Tuneful snips of tangled song
Set dancing on a trailing wind.

Sarah is me, actually; I was imagining the point of view of someone who is fond of me, who might find the habit endearing. They might equally find it annoying, of course; that's the nice thing about not having to tell all the truth. Or to go on to better poets (and ones not so obviously stealing from Leigh Hunt), Robert Browning in Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister or Edward Arlington Robinson in Richard Cory though they were talking about something universal, were not showing it through their own viewpoints. Even Emily Dickinson, the most personal of poets, had obviously not died when she wrote "Because I Could Not Stop for Death".

What I'm taking a lot of high-flown words to say is, don't worry, I'm happy. I asked the question, but I do know the answer -- which doesn't mean it's not worth taking out and re-examining occasionally. If I'd stayed in Northeast Philadelphia I would be rattling the bars of my cage and dreaming of escape.

Posted by dichroic at 08:10 AM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2004

I have not chosen sufficiency

There must be an infinitude of lifelines
I could have followed,
A universe of forked choices.
Somehow, though, there's a default;
Oddly, not the one I took.
Another seems most obvious,
Now in retrospect as well as then.
I can see it more clearly than any other
Sometimes more clearly than my own. It goes:

Just well enough in high school, Then on to the state college. Choose a reasonable major, anything, Not a passion but a suffiency. Graduate and get a job (not career), Changing emplyment once a decade or so. Marry a nice enough Jewish boy, Produce the prerequisite children, And live, of course, not far from my mother, In a nice house, on a nice street, in a nice neighborhood, in a nice life.

Another brown-haired little girl I knew
Did choose that nice life.
She sleeps now two doors down the street
(It was her parents' house)
And my mother grandmothers her son,
Which gratifies everyone concerned.
As far as outside I can see
She's happy with her choices.

I think I would hate her life.

But would I?
Would there be adventure enough
In choosing the nice Jewish boy,
In raising the nice Jewish children,
In choosing the synagogue, the job,
The schools, the supermarket, the vegetables?
Have I chosen a life full
Of unnecessary challenge?

Posted by dichroic at 05:03 PM | Comments (1)

April 09, 2004

forty egrets

Tell me,
Does the sight of forty snowy egrets
Standing in line in the dawn
Bode some great stroke of fortune?
Perhaps in an old Japanes belief
Like folding a thousand cranes for a wedding.

Then again
Maybe seeing forty white white egret
Winging away by twos and threes with long slow beats
Into a red red sunrise
With a high three-quarter moon overhead
Mixed and mirrored in rippling water
All of a cool April morning,
Is as much good fortune
As one day has any right to expect.

Full disclosure: Actually, I counted only 37 in line, though I did see a few more elsewhere, and a few of them were blue herons. But still.
Posted by dichroic at 08:20 AM

February 23, 2004

San Francisco, February 2004

I don't think this is quite done -- I think what it really wants to be is a sonnet -- but I'm afraid it will get too precious if I don't set it free now. Some parts are still awkward but there are bits I really like. Also, I want to get it done while it's still topical:

San Francisco, February 2004
Soup lines, job lines, jurors summoned and waiting
There's nothing new in lines at City Hall.
Shuttered closed-in people, boredom warring desperation,
Bodies slumped, faces blank, betraying nothing at all.

But now there is a new thing in the city
This line is double file, two by two
Hands are held, there's music, joking, laughter
Old loves, new vows, on borrowed time, laws still blue.

This queue dares speak the name of loves here promised
Faces show a joy now not repressed
Hands are held as bodies lean together
No closet could contain this tenderness.

And yet there is a tension under all the celebrations
They know tomorrow could make today's joy mooted
Loves solemnized here without consent annulled
As though love's void unless in courts disputed.
Posted by dichroic at 12:09 PM

December 15, 2003

ghostly banner

I've been working on this for ages, on and off. It had its genesis a couple of months ago when a Turkish synagogue was bombed. The casualties were mostly Muslims who just happened to be in the area. Of course, the Iraqi casualties in the recent Iraqi attacks on American soldiers and the many casualties on both sides in Israel and Palestine factor in, too.

I see a ghostly banner wave,
Its emblem, crescent twined with star.
And crowding below it, silent shades
Of those who died beneath its thrall.

These are not the zealots, stained
By hatred, souls forever marred.
These never chose a warrior's way
Nor weighed their worth in battle scars.

These are the inadvertent martyrs
To cause and choices not their own,
Killed by foe or killed by "brother"
Killed. Intentions dead, deeds stand alone.

Wrong place, wrong time. Promiscuous shrapnel sails
And one more shade slips through the bannered veil.
Posted by dichroic at 04:43 PM

October 29, 2003

riding the wind

You know how they always say to write what you know? Well, the first two lines of this are something that I think only someone who was both a rower and an engineer could write. And if I ran it by someone else who was both (there are more than you'd think, including the one I live with) he or she would immediately begin an argument over whether the lake's surface is truly laminar. (I think it may depend on how calm the day is, actually.) One note: remember that rowers face backwards, toward the stern of the boat.

I cleave the laminar layer between water and air,
Tracing two dimensions on the boundary plane.
Stretching the spidersilk veil of night's ending
I turn my bow to the still-dark west
And look east to watch the clouds melt in sunrise.
Moving with the dawn-wind now
I feather my blades earlier to let it blow me down my course
And the boat lifts with me
We gather speed
And I am riding the wind.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

July 06, 2003

the preflight gavotte

I've had this first line for a while but am still trying to find the right setting for it.

Between rolling and flying, airplanes dance,
A small excited jig from wheel to wheel
Anticipating flight. For in the sky's
An airplane's proper place.

I do the same dance, sometimes. I jitter
In anticipation of returning to home
Or to you, to home, or to the sky or the water,
To my proper places when I've been too long away.
We went flying this morning, me along as Rudder's safety pilot, to spot aircraft and make sure we're more or less where we ought to be while he practices instrument flight with a visor preventing him from looking out of the plane. I do really need to get back to flying myself. Maybe if I can talk my boss into lettng me telecommute some I'd have time to do it.
Posted by dichroic at 10:39 AM

June 16, 2003

Sonoran Storm

Just playing around with the Ampersand June challenge, stir up the dust:
Sonoran Storm

Stir up the desert dust, sage-scent the air
Sweep the scirocco across the arroyos
Anvil the cloud tops, trail veiling virga
Shaping the storm, swirling the sky.

Scythe the storm-harbinger through summer's languor
Slice blade-cold wind across terra-cotta heat
Blow in the dust cloud to brown out the vista
Then roll down the thunder, hope for the rain.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

February 11, 2003

productive morning

Today I'm anchoring a class, but not teaching any modules, which means I sit here while other people teach, to make sure everything is flowing smoothly and to provide continuity. I have my laptop and a network connection, so it's actually not an entirely unproductive way to spend a day. I confess that so far this morning, though, most of my productivity has been channeled toward the following.

This one is dedicated to the Spartan mothers, Martha Jefferson, who died at least partly through trying to provide an heir for Tom, and to Erlenweg6 at Diaryland), though I still hope it will not apply to her. (For that reason, even though it was something she wrote that sparked the poem, I'm not linking to her. I don't think it's something she needs to see, just as a matter of her own peace of mind. Send good thoughts her way, and to her son Nolan.)

A Mother's Loss

Ancient Greece
Each Spartan matron told her warrior son
Not to come back, unless with his shield or on it.
I wonder, when the chroniclers were not looking,
Later, each by her own private hearth,
If each cried out,
"Oh, my son!"

They told me not to love him, said I had to bear a-many
Told me I would lose a child for every one I kept.
But he kicked his way to life beneath my breastbone
Grew stronger, bigger, feeding from my body.
How could I not love him? -- and now he's leaving.
Don't tell me stories about Heaven
God doesn't need my child as much as I do.
Oh, my baby! How can I keep him?
My son, my little boy.

I never even thought of this. We've
Got miracle medicine now. It's not
Supposed to happen in this age. How? Why?
Who sneaked the age-old Horsemen
In, past the white-coated guardians?
And why, why, why my son? My baby,
I brought him to life once
And would again. If it killed me,
I would do it. I can't.
And that may kill me too.
Oh, my son, how can I hold you?

And here's a terza rima for antidote:

Water and ice, a cold-burning purity
Frozen, spear-bright, sharded light.
Life's edge, no comfort, no security.

The Boreal: the land of clean and white,
Throbbing colors, sheets of light above
Living heat bewrayed by frigid night;

Auroral warmth is chilled by far remove.
Taran-taran-taran! the call implicit in the air
Is to the explorers, unafraid to love,

Where love is not returned. The harsh land here
Will be no easy lover. Small return
Requites the hungry lure of the austere.

Utter North, so cold that cold can burn,
A study in chiaroscuro, stark,
Clear boundaries defined at every turn.

Yet still Aurora, throbbing in the dark,
And lichens at life's outmost bound demarked,
Belie the snuffing of life's stubborn spark.

Now, what do I do this afternoon?
Oops -- almost forgot to thank Baf - - that dollie there in the sidebar in the extra-bright uni is adapted from one she made for me. (I added muscles and slimmed her a tiny bit. Yes, I'm vain.)
Posted by dichroic at 12:28 PM

February 03, 2003

attitudes and self-focus

Death Comes in Clouds

Death comes in clouds now
And in contrails,
In billows and mushrooms
And smoke. In streaks
Across a morning-blue sky.
It seems wrong, somehow,
The combining
Of horror and beauty. But then
It's not a new mixture
There always has been
The rich ruby sheen of blood
The sleek glimmer of knives
The sparkle of deep water.
Still, death by cloud is new
This past century:
More beauty defiled.
We can't afford
More beauty defiled.

This morning on the news, I saw an interview with the sister of one of the Columbia astronauts. She said, "We'll get through this, we'll help each other through this." And of course I felt sorry for her because her brother's dead and all, and of course I'm glad her family is helping each other deal with grief. But since when do you talk about "getting through" a grief two days after it's inflicted? That's not the time to worry about your own mood; that's the time to weep and wail and rail at God and the universe, or to take and give comfort, or to mourn the dead person in whatever way that particular person ought to be mourned. She's probably not really a selfish woman, and it's not fair to judge someone by what she says in a time of pain, with a microphone shoved in front of her face. She's probably saying what she thinks people are supposed to say at this sort of time.

So what sort of culture do we have when concentrating on one's self instead of the dead person seems like what is supposed to be said?

By the way, kudos to NASA for protecting the immediate families of the astronauts and asking the reporters to leave them alone.

I'm having trouble with the question "So, how was your weekend?" today. I mean, in one way, it was fine. I got a massage, made some adjustments to my boat that I think will help, washed and waxed it, saw a good movie, bought tickets to visit T2 and Egret, spent loves of time with Rudder. On the other hand, I spent a lot of it in front of the TV watching footage of people dying, watching a gut-punch to the only federal agency it's still possible to love. (Only because love is blind. You do have to squint enough to ignore the big piles of red tape.) So I had a horribly depressing weekend in that sense. Maybe I should read what I just wrote and not focus so much on my own reaction.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 07, 2003

finding contentment

Ampersand project: the only way you'll find happiness.

"Trying to be happy is like trying to build a machine for which the only specification is that it should run noiselessly." -- anonymous

The Quest

Most sought their fortunes. I thought it wiser
To seek my happiness. Thus, I quested
Rejecting this or that life-offer
Refusing all inferior benison,
I would not settle for any lesser thing.
And as my fellows on less worthy quests
Chose each his silly path,
I mocked them all. I scorned their choices,
Sure that in seeking mere adventure
Mere love, mere work, mere opportunity
Each life was wasted. I, only I
Still sought the noblest path
As my life's quest. As years went on
There were no other travelers beside me.
Each had chosen a life, to live it out
For better or worse. I pitied them,
Sure only one of pure intent
Could reach the highest sphere.

How rude a shock it was, one day,
When I paused to look, to sneer
As I thought, at erstwhile travelers
They who had settled for mere dross.
For in those lesser goals, in work,
In lust (They called it love)
Or those puerile images of themselves
That they named family,
They found -- it could not be!
But it was so -- real happiness.
How could their lower aims
Have reached my loftier goals?
What boot high standards, then?
Was my quest wasted? No, it could not be!
And yet ... and yet ... and yet
What else to think?

It's a little rough, I think, but I don't really know where else to polish.

Posted by dichroic at 11:43 AM

October 10, 2002



I watched my city burn, my Illium.
My baby in my arms, our scant possessions at our feet.
No way to know if my man were alive or dying, dead,
Or what the Fates held for us, where our threads wound.

As I watched the fires, waking, I dreamt a woman watching flames
In the dream, I did not know if she were me.
She gathered children close as she too watched a city burn.
Her face changed then, became other faces, different women
Clutching children, husbands, parents, household gods
Each one had flames reflecting in her eyes.

Then in the fire's roar I heard strange syllables,
A litany of names I did not recognize:
Tianjin and Atlanta, Rome, Dresden, Sarajevo,
Washington and London ... the list went for long minutes.
Then I heard my man calling, and I ran to him,
His hair held sparks and his skin was burned
I thanked the gods for sparing our lives,
The women and their strange-named cities
I left to think of on some other day.

Presumably, this was inspired by listening to the beginning of the Odyssey. There's a regular entry here.
Posted by dichroic at 12:42 PM

September 19, 2002

esto y ése

First, congratulations to Mousepoet on the birth of his son. Any man who can describe his wife as coming through labor "like a warrior"....well, if he can pass that sensibility on to his son, the world has improved another little bit.


I goofed this morning. Since I wasn't ready to leave the house until 4:40, I decided to put on shoes, go to the gym instead of rowing, and do my rowing tomorrow. Unfortunately, I forgot that I have an early meeting tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll just do one lap and then accompany Rudder on his planned Sunday row. We're both going flying on Sturday, which should be interesting since it will be my first time since passing the biannual a couple of months ago.


Al person que leéme in Español: Algunos partes del traducimiento (??? Como se dice translation?) son muy divertido. No hablo Español muy bien (duhhhh) pero es posible que puedo ayudarse entiendar este pagina, si lo quiere. Por ejemplo, "Abajo de una cerveza" debe a ser "Beba una cerveza." Mejor, sí?


Genibee's entry today and the last half of Kuinileti's go together in a very odd way and I'm glad I read them in that order.


Trickster, turn the world over,
it's time for a change.
Let's see what's on the other side.
Raven-black coyote, quicksilvered Puck,
Take hold of the corners,
Billow it like a bedsheet
Then toss them across, and flip
North to south, up to down.
I'll be First Woman and explore
The new land. I will name names
And learn new ways, new laws, new medicine.
Who will talk to me?
What will be the immanent fire?

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

August 30, 2002



A Jew is like cloth dyed in tea
Soaked and steeped until the essence
Will never leave her pores.
When you prick her,
She bleeds mama-loshen
In the backs of her ears
She hears the voices of old women
A hundred generations of them behind her
Brewing their tea and their talk, as old women do,
Their words, in Yiddish and still older tongues
Prickling the edges of her understanding.
It pigments her corneas, to color her vision.
She may choose what sort of a Jew to be
As she can choose what sort of a woman to be
But like her brown eyes,
No mask can change the essence
Of a people's ancient memories
That dance, for this daughter,
In her irrevocable soul.

Harold Kushner has had a lot of good things to say, things that made sense for me. One of the best is from his book, "To Life!". Paraphrasing from memory, "When you ask, 'What do Jews think about such-and-such a thing, the answer will alway be, 'Well, some think this, some think that, and some think something else entirely.' " This is how being Jewish is for me. I am sure it is different, and maybe a more vibrant thing, for Pigtails and DrunkTina, who are more observant Jews; different again for my mother, whose Judaism is also her social life, or for my friend S who I think identifies more with Israeli culture than the older Ashkenazi ways. And Judaism may hold a different flavor still for Egret, a quarter Jewish by blood but raised in another religion, or for Mechaieh who is not Jewish at all but for whom the teachings and language resonate deeply.

I'm being a bit presumptuous here, in describing other people's experiences in one line, so I ask pardon and hope they will let it slide by just for the sake of the argument.

It is coincidental that I started work on this yesterday, thinking about the coming High Holidays, Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. Today I read Mechaieh's latest entry and was struck again by the difference in associations. For me, "Oleinu" invokes not the literal meaning of the prayer, but a chanted tune and the ending of a Shabbat service, with the procession out of the sanctuary and into a recption room for cakes and tea (on Friday evenings) or tiny cups of schapps (after Saturday morning services. And that brings back the voice of the rabbi with his odd careful accent, the memory of the time my brother got drunk on a dozen of those tiny cupfuls, memories of making small talk with my mother's friends. Then I begin remembering old dresses I wore, Hebrew school classmates I haven't seen in two decades, holidays, and the ensuing holiday family dinners, which of course reminds me of my grandparents, who are the key to a host of memories in themselves. Memories do chain like that, and we are, more than anything else, a people who remember. ETA, May 2, 2019: This poem used to say "Like her female chromosomes / no surgery can remove the essence". That passed without comment back in 2002 when I first wrote and shared these words. In 2019, I got called out for them; the world has changed - or rather, it hasn't, but our perceptions have, and our understandings of ourselves. XX chromosomes are not the determining factor of a female identity, so I have edited accordingly.
Posted by dichroic at 09:23 AM | Comments (2)

August 15, 2002

talkin' Ashcroft blues

"But she's only as rich as the poorest of the poor,
Only as free as a padlocked prison door,
Only as strong as our love for this land,
Only as tall as we stand...

Here is a land full of power and glory,
Beauty that words cannot recall
Her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom,
Her glory shall rest on us all."
by Phil Ochs

Should be our national freaking anthem.

Talkin' Ashcroft Blues

I ain't free if you ain't free,
And you ain't free if she ain't free,
We'll all be free, equally,
Or we ain't free at all.

My friend out in Australia wrote to me,
Said, I ain't gonna visit you no more.
She said, "it's not safe out there in the land of the so-called free,
And I'm not goin' there while you're at war."

I said, "Oh, that. No need to worry. We got the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, INS, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, and some new groups that don't even have names yet watchin' for terrorists. You're prob'ly safer here than you are at home!"

She said, "It's not the terrorists that have me in a stew,
There's worse than that worries me.
It's those held on suspicion that you don't see on the news
When they lock the door and throw away the key.

I laughed. "But you're Australian, and they won't take you away,
They only do that when they have good cause.
It's not the KGB here -- this is still the USA,
And you'll be safe, protected by our laws."

No search and seizure. Habeas Corpus. The Bill of Rights!

She said, "Oh yeah? How can you tell?
They've got no checks and balances at all.
They're trying foreign nationals and locking them in cells
No bail, defense, or media on call."

So here I am now wondering just what the truth might be
And if there's any way we can be sure
We only lock up bad guys, and leave the good ones free
And still welcome freedom-lovers to our shores.

Meanwhile where do I get a ticket to Australia?
copyright dichroic

Blame Natalie, who sent me a copy of Woody Guthrie's autobiography, and Ducks and Eiluned, who do their freedom fighting with words.
Posted by dichroic at 12:38 PM

August 14, 2002

and about time, too

Here are two very different poems. The first one just left my head this minute, based on something I saw yesterday morning.


Something's going to change.
The birds know
I saw them at sunrise
Flocking in patterns
Three, six, a dozen.

There's no sign of fall on the land here
So I can't tell if that's the change they see
Or if it's something else; just weather
Or a scent blowing in from somewhere else
Or maybe there's no change at all
And it was just a good morning to flock together.

Every morning is different from every other, though,
Like the birds, my own body reacts differently to each.
Some are for sleeping, some are for bounding out of bed
Some, like the birds', are for flocking together.

This is the first one I ever wrote that I thought was good enough to share, and the only one I've read in public. I can't believe I've never posted it here before. It's got a few weaknesses as a poem, because it's really meant to be a song, to the tune of Bill Morrissey's Birches. Morrissey's lyrics struck me as so sad that I wanted a happier ending, so I wrote one. This is also abolutely autobiographical. Minor things have changed since (Rudder reads more and watches TV less, and I have a pilot's license too) but not any of the major things.


He didn't like her music,
They didn't like the same books,
In fact, he didn't much like to read at all,
While she was always curled in some library nook.
And he liked watching TV,
While she found it a bore.
He was tall and calm,
She was short and sharp,
They were different to the very core.

Then one day without warning, in the middle of a fight,
She asked why they stayed together,
When he was so far from her Mr. Right.
The answer came back swiftly,
As if he'd thought on it awhile,
So perfect that it floored her.
Anger ended, she began to smile.
He said, "It's cause we give each other
Room to be who we are."
Then he left to fly his airplane.
She kept on playing her guitar.

Posted by dichroic at 02:22 PM

July 22, 2002

a little verseleh

This will have to make up for the entry I didn't get around to yesterday (so much for the perfect record. The appropriately-nommed Mechaieh is leaving today, so:

Mechaieh is an easy guest --
She doesn't need her clothing pressed --
She's not the sort who causes stress.

She likes to eat the food we cook --
She compliments the way I look --
She's happy just to read a book.

She really did enjoy our pool --
Her music tastes are very cool --
She should run a guesting school.

She falls in well with all our plans --
She washes her own pots and pans --
Yes, we're both big Mechaieh fans.

May or may not have time for an entry later but if so it will probably just be about changes to my gym program.
Posted by dichroic at 07:33 AM

June 24, 2002

the Curdle Fair

Here's a something I wrote because I wanted to, and maybe a bit of a late anniversary present for SWooP -- not her style of words, I don't think, but she'll appreciate the references.

Fair Song

At the Curdle Fair, at the Curdle Fair,
You'll have grand fun
Beyond compare.
There's candy floss and suchlike fare,
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.

Paul hoped, that chicken-poxy spring,
He'd be well by the First of May
That most exciting special day,
With fortune tellers and coconut shies
The knife toss and the swings
And stalls that sell most everything
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.

At the Curdle Fair, at the Curdle Fair,
You'll have grand fun
Beyond compare.
On the roundabout, you can ride a bear!
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.

Pretty Molly awaited April's end
Wondering if young Ben would come
With crinkly grin and gypsy charm
Last fair they'd had a splendid time
He'd asked "Can you be true?" (she thought).
She wore the shiny brooch he'd bought
And hoped that she'd see him again
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.

At the Curdle Fair, at the Curdle Fair,
You'll have grand fun
Beyond compare.
There's a smiling lad, with curly hair,
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.

Ben raced through setting up the rides
He'd not forget her, no fear!
He'd thought of nothing else all year
Could she be happy in a caravan?
Today if he could, he would find her
Today, with a kiss, he'd remind her
And from today, she'd travel by his side
With the Curdle Fair each May Day.

At the Curdle Fair, at the Curdle Fair,
You'll have grand fun
Beyond compare.
And you may meet your true love there,
At the Curdle Fair on May Day.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

June 14, 2002


I am way too full or excellent Korean food to feel like writing much. Here, however, is something I've been working on. Ampersand's topic for this month is "Friendly Fire". Having, as always, a literal sort of mind, and no desire even to think of being shot down by one's own side, I chose to take the topic somewhat literally.

I am fire. I am not dog but wolf
I am no simple servant to maintain.
Friend sometimes, yet uncomfortable companion
Who never rests quiescent, never tame.

And yet more full of wild glamourie
For that I am untame. no cage binds flame
No mold imposes shape, no rising spark
Or flicker is repeated, none the same.

I bow sometimes to serve the need of men
Next I rise, holocaustic, to consume
Themselves, their goods, those same homes I had warmed
Uncaring whether I mete boon or doom.

I am what I am; Yahwist in this alone,
I am alike in blazing bush or hearthside glow;
Small matchstruck flame or giant burning sun,
Chancy servant, fickle friend and sometime foe.

As always, subject to copyright by me and subject to further tweaking. Especially that last line.
Posted by dichroic at 02:01 PM

April 30, 2002

The Sleep Cycle

I took the Ampersand topic for this month very literally:
"Why so slowly in winter / and later with such a rapid shudder?"
- Pablo Neruda, trans. William O'Daly

and ended up with the following. I like some things about it, but as usual, I'm not sure it's finished.
The Sleep Cycle
For a tree
The winter is
A time of sleep
And storage,
Of husbanding
And slow-flowing sap.

One day, the wind speaks
Of spring in breezes
Rather than winter blasts.
Twigs stir. The tree shakes
Sleep from its stiff branches
And ponders putting out a bud
Or two. The juices flow more quickly now.

As the tree comes full awake
Buds are a matter of course now.
Now the task is to unfurl flowers.
More buds expand into leaf.
The tree is snowed over with blossom
Then filmed over with a hazy gold and green.
Faster now, unfurl the leaves fully
Drop the blossoms, a localized carpet of snow
Begin to ruminate on globes of ripening fruit,
Fully dressed now in rich rustling
Reach up, reach out, gladly growing,
full-tilt into summer.

Waltzing in summer's winds, until exhaustion
Ushers in autumn. The breeze is colder now.
And there begins to be a taste of winter.
Glad to rest, the tree drops its leaves
Recklessly spending its last energy
In a show of pure bravado
A glory of crimson and gold.
Leaves fade and drop.
Immured again
In winter's peace
The tree rests.
Posted by dichroic at 10:59 AM

April 23, 2002

without words

I figured out how to say it. Inspired by Mousepoet's words, but Rudder's actions:
Without Words

No I said
I don't need help getting to sleep
Or even that odd pleasure-spasm
So often accounted as the only right goal
Tonight, I want you to love me

And he did
He told me with lips and tongue and teeth
Speaking without voice or words
With hands signing a universal language
Against my skin, and all of his body on mine

Oh I thought
I didn't know he knew to do that
And stopped thinking for some time
Posted by dichroic at 01:49 PM

April 18, 2002

A life in brief

A Life

And don't forget to look at the stars tonight.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

April 10, 2002

Ice on it

Somehow, I like this more than anything I've written since Sarah Whistled or even Jubilate. Maybe it's because like those, this one forced its germ on me, instead of my going out to look for it. Maybe it's also because it took me longer to coax that germ into a grown plant than it usually does when I make one up without a seed from the cosmos.

I used to watch you gaze at me,
Eyes brown and clear as mountain brook.
Eyes so transparent I could see
The bedrock love beneath the look.

Every now and then I glance
But itÕs been years since last I caught
That gaze. Your eyes look off askance
Or lowered lids hide all your thought.

And yet I know in every bone
If anything, you love me more
Than in the days when eyes alone
Told of love then newly born.

But still, if bone-deep kenning brooks no lies,
What happened to the love-look in your eyes?
Posted by dichroic at 02:53 PM

March 27, 2002

mixed reflexes and two poems

I've worked here just over a month now. For some strange reason, I seem to have developed mistaken reflexes, and I'm not quite sure what could cause this to happen. Granted, the place is a cubicle farm with a strong resemblance to a rat maze (especially at my height), but it's not the fact that everything looks alike that's throwing me off, because then I would be making new and different wrong turnings, instead of the same ones every time. For example, when coming from the west, I often try to turn into the cube before mine and have to catch myself. (I don't know what the guys in that cube are thinking of me by now.) I never do that when I'm coming from the other direction. And my instincts think that one person I consult frequently is on the end row, when really he's one aisle in. The "streets" don't look at all alike, and I never make that mistake in the opposite direction.

I would understand this if things had changed, but I've been in the same place since I moved here. I don't know if I had mistaken impressions at first that somehow got burned into my neural paths, or if I'm conflating this area with a previous similar cubicle farm (and the coworker with a similar ditto) or what.

It feels odd, like having phantom pain in an amputated limb, except that in this case the limb never was there. And it doesn't hurt. But, you know, aside from that, just alike. Or not.

Lunar Proem

This morning the moon hung low and full
And I sculled up the moonpath
The only sound the catch of my oars
(And the sound of cars, because
The city has no respect for romance.)

I stayed along the moonpath,
Watching the luminescent ripples from my boat
(Until I had to turn to miss a bridge, because
Real life is no respecter of romance.)

I turned then, and the road of light
Stayed with me
At an angle, transfixing my scull
Like Eros' arrow piercing a heart.

The moonpath is a creature of breezes.
When the water calmed, Diana's reflection
Contracted to a dot, an oval, a short line of ovals.
Changing as I rived the water.

I turned my back on her, and watched
The ripples in my stern wave
Had a fainter, milky glow. Lights on the bridge
Tried to ape the moon, but gave me instead
A tessellated shimmer around my stern.
When I turned back, the moon had sunk lower
Enlarged, and turned the color of amber
Or weak tea or old parchment. She sank and deepened further,
And I watched for the dawn.
That one was mine. This one I stole from Row2K, because the author has said it better than I can, but because I'm an honest thief, I'll note that the writer's name is Carole Luke.

Night River

Each night I dream about that rising river.
Each night, my body curls at the catch,
and my blades drop neatly down, square and silent
into black water. My legs push hard against
the wide river's current. The bow splits a darkness
so deep, it threatens to swallow my shimmering, moonlit hull,
now a gleaming white sliver, skimming, sliding headlong
into this night river unwrapping itself around me.

And each night, as I soar through the water, my oars
suddenly wings, folding, gathering, spreading
wide up into the breaking dawn, the light gently wakes
the sleeping land where, tender and calm,
you sleep unconscious of time, the start of a smile
shaping your morning, the day holding its breath
before it unfurls ferociously, like its sister darkness
has done, yielding my shell back onto to your land.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

March 04, 2002

my last girlfriend

Poetica Collab: "Obsession/Compulsion"
Write a poem about an obsession or a compulsion you or someone else may have.

My Last Girlfriend

That's my last girlfriend's picture on the wall,
Looking as though she watched us. Not at all
Do I have feelings for her now. Her image stands
Because I have no better one at hand.
To lend a bit of color to this wall.

But also, if you look at her, you'll see
The picture's lovely, just in its own right.
I didn't take the photo though, despite
That sunrise look you see there on her face,
As though she thought she heard a lover call.

There's no one sees her face, but turns to me
As if to ask how that look came to be.
"She must have loved you very much," they sigh.
But that's the thing; it wasn't only I
Whose words or presence brought that look of joy.

A neighbor might have said, "You're looking well,"
Or someone whistled at her, driving by,
Or out at night with friends, and some cute guy
Asked her to dance or held a glance too long
Or sheÕd been ogled by a pizza boy.

Just any little thing would make her blush,
Her eyes would sparkle, and a rising flush
Would show as though she'd just fallen in love.
And yet, she didn't seem to value much above
These petty things the attentions that I paid.

She had – I'm not sure how to say this, but she had
A sort of way of being over-pleased
By any nicety, yet ill at ease
As if she hardly valued all I gave.
In fact, with me, she almost seemed afraid.

She smiled at me, yes, she did, but then
She smiled the same at other passing men
As if she ranked their answering grins with mine.
I spoke to her but never could refine
Her tastes and manners as they should have been.

I chose not to quarrel; there was no point.
She'd never have admitted what she'd done
And I would not debate. I'm never one
For arguing; it isn't dignified.
I wouldn't stoop to seem so small and mean.

Still, she grew worse, until I could not bear
To hear her flirting laugh, as if she cared
For any man – but me. She tortured me.
Oh yes, she knew, she couldn't help but see.
You women never live by honor's code

But still, I always was a friend to her,
And just to show the goodness of my heart,
I fixed her brakes. I got her car to start
And watched her drive away. That night she drove
Straight through a highway rail and off the road.

They said it was an accident, she hit
A patch of ice, maybe, or nodded off a bit.
Or maybe swerved, to miss a weaving car
Or drifted over just a bit too far.
They never found the cause, far as I know.

I'm sorry though; I've rambled on too long.
And this was meant to be our special night.
Where would you like to go? I thought we might
Start with a special favorite place of mine.
Well, here's your coat. It's time for us to go.
With profuse apologies to Robert Browning. The hardest thing about this was trying to get the vernacular speech right, and not fall too far into his formal phrasing -- I don't think I altogether succeeded there.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM | Comments (1)

March 01, 2002


I think this may be one part "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her", one part "Like a Hurricane", and one part the full moon's light before dawn this morning. It's definitely wanting to be a poem, not a song.


As I walked alone last night
I saw you under the trees at the edge of the road
Beckoning me. I could see
Your white shirt, your dark head, your waving hand
And best, the moon reflected in your eye.
I ran over to you, and, being who I am,
Tripped on a rock,
Fell flat, thudding painfully,
Full length on the ground.
As I stumbled back up,
I looked over, to tell you
I was all right, though scratched and scraped.

But you weren't there.
At the edge of the wood,
Your shirt was a white birch trunk,
Your hair a cap of leaves,
Your hand a branch, a blossom
Or the wing of an owl.
I don't know how the tree
Could counterfeit the gleam in your eye,
Unless it was my own wanting put it there.

Tonight I walked again
Along the same wooded road.
This time when I saw something move,
I smiled sadly. And told myself,
Wiser now, of the tricks the moon plays.
And how white the trunk of a birch can be,
How a birdÕs wing looks like a hand,
And how a lonely eye can see a glint
When no glint is there.
I watched out for rocks
And for the Moon's wiles,
And tried not to trip with foot or heart.

Then you ran to me, from under the trees,
Where you'd been leaning
On a white trunk, under dark leaves.
Real and incorporate now,
Not only a trick of moonlight.
(I touched you to make sure
And also just because I could.)
Moonlight's a chancy thing,
Best take your chances when offered.

Posted by dichroic at 12:31 PM

February 22, 2002

two poems

I had a great row this morning. The city's other coaching launch died last night. Since the first one caught fire Monday morning (no one was hurt) they were without a launch and had to cancel practice due to city policy. I got out well before the rest of the club and so had a whole lap before I encountered the wake from AussieCoach's launch. Here's the result of all that, a poem and a song.

The Only One Who

I may not be the only one
Who would like to put my hands around your neck and squeeze.
And I'm probably not the only one
Who gets annoyed when you begin to lecture. I'm certainly not the only one
Who hates when you assume I don't know as much as you do.
But I am the only one
Who loves you anyway.
Don't worry, it's not meant to be necessarily true to life.

A Day on the River

I. The Rower
Pulling your guts out
Racing the stopwatch
Out every morning before you can see
Silent and focused
Feeling the boat's rush
The pace of your strength and your speed

And all I can wish you
I wish I could give you
To hold as you hold to your oar
Is joy in the effort
And joy in the dawning
Calm wind and fast water
And safe harbor home.

II. The Kayaker
Exploring the inlets
Watching the birds next
Looking to find what's to see
The river that rocks you
Riffles and chuckles
Fine beads form as sun warms your skin.

And all I can wish you
I wish I could give you
To hold as you paddle upstream
Is joy in the effort
And joy in the morning
Soft wind and smooth ripples
And safe harbor home.

III. The Sailor
Sails heeling over
As the wind freshens
You lean out to balance the breeze
Spray wets your forehead
Sails pass and repass
You let the wind tell you what course it's to be.

And all I can wish you
I wish I could give you
To hold as you lean to the lee
Is joy in the effort
And joy in the sailing
Warm wind and smooth water
And safe harbor home.

IV. The Fisher
Returning in moonlight
Weighing your catch
Moving upriver from a day on the sea
This time you're empty
Last night you'd a hold full
Tomorrow, who knows -- you'll just wait and see

And all I can wish you
I wish I could give you
To hold as you hold to a dream
Is joy in the effort
And joy in the evening
Fair wind and fast water
And safe harbor home.

Posted by dichroic at 09:22 AM

January 24, 2002

Satan Tempted Me

How can a good God allow evil?
The question is so often asked
Now that we have such enormities in our recent past.

Maybe He’s just a prime mover
Maybe He’s not there at all
Maybe he’s gotten disgusted and sits staring at a wall

Or maybe he can’t make a difference
Maybe he’s just ineffectual
If so, you may be disillusioned if he fails to resurrect you all.

But I – I believe in free will
I think we can chose our own way
And so I think we can blame only ourselves, at the end of the day
Ourselves and each other, if we are called to account at the end of the day.

copyright pkb, 2002

I admit it: Satan tempted me to do it. In this case, he was masquerading as that rhyme in the third verse.

Posted by dichroic at 02:49 PM

January 14, 2002

change crackling?

Every eon or two
The earth's magnetic poles exchange
North becomes south, south north
Or maybe a little west.

I imagine there is a feeling of tension
Before the poles move;
A crackling in the air,
Ionization of impending change.

The after the exchange,
A feeling of an end and a beginning,
Of a world made new.

And yet, the earth's greater motion is not altered.
It revolves around the sun
As it always did,
Deflecting not an iota from its accustomed path.

I feel that crackling in the air now
And I hope for change
While I hope (and think I know)
That the greater course of my life, my love
Is as constant though ever-moving
As the earth around the sun.

All of which is a fancy way to say I'm ready to go back to work now. I did feel that impending change in the last several months I was at work, and should have heeded it more closely. I thought my job was safe because I was directly billable, but didn't bargain with them changing the rules on me. (Silly me.) I'm hoping I feel that crackle in the air again that says things are about to change, this time toward full employment. I write about it here because I find, I really do, that things are more likely to happen if I voice them out loud. Unfortunately, I have never found a way to make them happen any sooner.
Meanwhile, I can't stay and write longer. In my current incarnation as Domestic Goddess, I have to hurry off and buy some supplies so I can get a pot of chili going before I have to go coach juniors this afternoon. More later, maybe, while the chili is cooking. At the very least, I'll probably come revise the lines above.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

November 07, 2001

Poetica: Knuckled Down

Because Mechaieh is right, that you need to keep writing to practice craft before any magic will come, this is for this month's Poetica Collaboration:

Knuckled Down

Laughing, she danced across the moonlit bridge
If she saw the flicker in his eyes, as she whirled into his arms,
She forgot it in his kiss.

Years later, she remembered that odd look.
Her listless step and dowdy dress spoke,
As her stiff mouth would not,
Of her journey from that laughing girl.

She was too spirited, he said, too frivolous,
Not fitted to her place. Word by word
He built her shackles, bricked her in
In a cell of the spirit, trying to quench her spark.

The night she finally ran, she wore over dull clothes
A crimson silk scarf, bought from hoarded dimes
And hidden for months in a secret back drawer.

At the bridge, she left the car.
Then, laughing through tears,
She danced across in the moonlight
And whirled into the arms of freedom.

Funny thing: when I begin this journal, I intended it to be a series of essays. I felt guilty writing the mundanities of my day instead of ruminating on Issues. Now, I seem to have this urge to disgorge minutiae, and I never seem to write anything worthwhile. So instead, as a change, I'll leave this poem with has very little to do with my life. In this entry, I won't write about the photographer's showing up at rowing, or the hour he spent yesterday shooting me at my laptop, or my bead projects or travel plans. I feel the need to do some writing that's worth the reading.
Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM | Comments (1)

October 01, 2001

Nothing Comes Out

I actually agreed with something Coach DI said at practice this morning. That's rare enough that I thought I'd better make a note of it. He had us row in two eights today, one men's and one women's. I was initially disappointed not to row the four, but he told us he wants us to become more used to set boats, and that not rowing together was the reason we didn't win more races on Saturday. He wants the men and women each to have a steady eight thatcan be broken up into four fours, so we will practice in both configurations. Makes sense to me.

Then he topped off this unusual run of logic by letting practice go too long and getting everyone (else) to work late.

I keep thinking there are a couple of poems in me, about the events of September 11, and about rowing, and how smooth and easy it looks while all the time you're working furiously, and how much of life is like that. Like a duck swimming. But every time I try to put the ideas into words, nothing comes out, Or I get a few lines but then no more:

This morning my desert's cerulean sky
Was shrouded grey and sullen, a rare thing.
How long will it take before gray billows in the sky
Cease reminding me of smoke over twinned towers?

See what I mean? I think the problem is that both ideas are to big for me. If I have a strength at all, it may be lapidary detail, like the reflections in my namesake bits of glass.

Also, I've been reading bits of Wallace Stevens and Yeats, who seem to be the two modern poets who have the most influence on current writers, with Frost a close third. A humbling, if educational experience.

Posted by dichroic at 02:43 PM

July 30, 2001

Model Flying

I was looking for a picture of an erg, and came across this on ConceptII's web page. Read it – it's an interview with a 90-year-old woman who’s been rowing since 1938. Interesting to hear that she was told "girls don’t row," back then; Dorothy Sayers commented on the issues of women being in college at all, but treated women’s rowing at Oxford quite matter-of-factly, a few years earlier. As Christopher Morley noted, in his wonderful columns on the city, Philadelphia has rarely been at the forefront of fashion (I think the last time was 1776).
(Note: the article's no longer up.)

And now I've gotten that out of the way, I have a couple of corrections to make. The lake is now back open. Apparently -- I am not making this up -- someone caught a fish that was thought to be a piranha, but that turns out to be a related species that only eats other fish. I swear, I am not making this up. Hardcore tried to set up a raffle in which each participant puts in $5 and takes a guess as to the real reason -- opinion is divided as to whether the guesser closest to the real reason or the most creative one should win the pot. Queue very nearly guessed right, actually.

Also, it turns out, from discussions with Rudder, who has an instrument rating, and from additional news coverage, that the problem with the new stadium is not that it would obstruct the VFR, as I said earlier, but that it would obstruct the ILS (Instrument Landing System) for the north runway. So just the one runway is affected, not all local traffic, but my other arguments still apply. The obstruction is still there whether the stadium is full or not, and the people who think airport safety ends at the airport fence are still idiots.

Speaking of aviation, we were riding around a private airstrip this weekend, looking at all the cool houses, and stopped to watch two guys flying their radio-controlled airplanes. These were the smaller sort, with wingspans of less than 2 feet. One had a trainer, which appeared to be modeled on a Cessna 172, but the other was modeled on a Sukhoi, one of the hottest aerobatic planes there is. He was a good pilot, too; it was fun to watch the little thing doing snap rolls and attempting hammerheads. They were kind enough to let us take a turn, too, using a "buddy box" that could be over-ridden if we seemed to be doing anything risky. Those are harder to fly than you'd think.

If you look hard, you can usually tell an RC plane from a real one. The scale can be deceiving at a distance, but somehow they seem to fly more lightly, and turn more easily than a real one, like the difference between a sparrow’s flight and a hawk’s.

Tracing loops and spirals in a spirograph pattern
No larger wings could match,
To the evident bewilderment of a raven flying by,
The little craft wheeled and swung,
In deceptively precise abandon.

All I could think was with what joy
Leonardo’s spirit, watching, would be weeping.

Posted by dichroic at 12:35 PM

June 21, 2001

Hands, Hands, Hands

Oh, yeah, by the way, rereading Gaudy Night typically has one other effect on me:

Our hands are clasped together, fingers interlaced,
A unit, melded, both held, neither seized,
We let go briefly, step apart, rejoin in lonely haste,
Each finger finds its place again with ease.
My hand knows the feel of yours by heart,
(If hands can have a heart, though yours hold mine)
My hand fits into yours as though the two would never part,
Yet after time apart, the fit’s aligned.
It’s odd that they should fit so well, so different in size,
Though weathered much alike by wind and years.
This fit, honed over time, is now become a thing to prize,
A thing to cherish, as the end of our first decade nears.
Our lives’ fit has been mirrored by our hands;
Shaped so by love, seared with each others’ brands.

Harriet's is much better, though.

Posted by dichroic at 12:38 PM

May 15, 2001

The Best Are But Shadows

On collabs: I've decided not to "join" one after perusing diarist.net and realizing how many projects and idea-sparks there are out there that require no membership. It's not that I actually mind the committment; it's that I don't like the idea of being shackled to a collab some of whose topics may not spark me. That said, here's an entry for Ampersand's current topic:

"The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst/ are no worse, if imagination amend them." - A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare

Jung may have been right.
The things of old lore call out
to the deepest-buried shadows boiling
well behind our thoughts.
It is not clear; do they call out
a reaction or a self's reflexion?

I have known Faerie feared and loved and both.
Spoken of in whispers as the Good Folk
and doors thereto sought in the hillsides
under moonlight.
And Voodoun as well:
another set of clothes for Christian saints?
or devils working evil on their dupes?
or Riders, neither good nor bad,
but caring nothing for humanity
save as a source of horses?

Puck and the phooka, manitou, mermaid,
And all the many guises of the Raven:
good or evil, mere blind power,
or just a desperate cry
that This Is Not All There Is?

Posted by dichroic at 12:45 PM

May 01, 2001

Rhyming orange

For some reason, my shoulders were sore this morning from rowing yesterday. So I
went to the gym and did legs this morning so they could be sore too. My body is
now symmetric in its pain.

"Doing legs" involves squats with a barbell behind my neck (up to 70 lbs today!),
front squats, leg presses, hang cleans, a few clean and jerks (which I don't think
I do quite right, so I only do a few), and calf raises, in case anyone is
wondering. "Doing arms" is lat pulldowns, seated rows, bench pulls, shoulder
presses, upright rows, and bicep curls. Either way, I warm up on the rowing
machine and do lots of stretching afterward.

Stretches are important to me; if I don't do them, after a while I start feeling
like I've built blocky, dense muscles (whether they're visible to the naked eye is
a completely different matter). They're actually a bit uncomfortable. In high
school I got to the point the I could do splits (only with the right leg forward),
but I lost them somewhere in my mid-20s.

End exercise journal

According to Amazon, in addition to one book for work, I have on the way to me:

  • The latest Elizabeth Peters, Lord of the Silent, just out today
  • Miss Read's Thrush Grange
  • the recently-issued collection of Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone stories,
    Third Invocation to Legba
  • Sean Stewart's Mockingbird

Are you jealous yet? Probably not, if you're href="http://evilena.diaryland.com">Evilena, href="http://mechaieh.diaryland.com">Mechaieh or href="http://phelps.diaryland.com">Phelps, as the first two probably already
have Lord of the Silent by now, and the third has a whole collection of Miss Read.
Possibly not even if you're My Brother the Writer, who may have the Wellman book
by now. The Stewart book is recommended by people who like Connie Willis, so I
think it's a safe bet.

On a completely different topic, it turns out the Tom Lehrer once managed to rhyme
'orange', supposedly the only English word that doesn't have a

Eating an orange

While making love

Makes for bizarre enj-

Oyment thereof.

This inspired Douglas Hofstadter to write a longer poem with similar rhymes in
tribute, but I think those are all downhill from Lehrer's Ogden Nash-worthy
quatrain, so won't quote them here.

Which makes me think of poetry, which, believe it or not, is actually analogous to
what I'm doing at work. One of the most common responses of software engineers to
the imposition of processes is that they stifle creativity. The best answer I've
seen to this is that instead, they give a framework, or foundation, within which
to apply creativity. When designing a car, you don't exercise creativity in
reinventing wheels; you build on what is known and try to go farther. Back to
poetry, Robert Frost said that "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the
net down". I don't entirely agree -- there are constraints other than rhyme and
rhythm that can be imposed on a poem -- but it's true that some of the most rigid
forms, like sonnets and haiku, have been some of the most fertile.

On the other hand, poetic forms need to balance a certain amount of looseness with
that strict structure -- the rules of a sonnet don't specify either content or the
actual rhymes, just their pattern. I think this rule may have more general
application to the ways in which humans do our best work. In other

Tell me, tell me what to do,

Just don't tell me how to do it.

Give me what I need from you,

Then let me find my own way through it.

I'd rather not be just your pawn,

But still, don't be too laissez-faire,

I will not plead, I will not fawn,

I'll work with you if you'll play fair.

I'd rather work within the rules

If I help choose what those rules are.

I'll find my way (I'm not a fool)

But sails must have support from spars.

I need a frame on which to lean my weight,

As trees need wind to grow up strong and straight.

It is left as an exercise for the class to determine why the above is not actually
a sonnet. It is left as an exercise for the writer (me) to determine why she
decided to post the above.

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM


For some reason, my shoulders were sore this morning from rowing yesterday. So I went to the gym and did legs this morning so they could be sore too. My body is now symmetric in its pain.

"Doing legs" involves squats with a barbell behing my neck (up to 70 lbs today!), front squats, leg presses, hang cleans, a few clean and jerks (which I don't think I do quite right, so I only do a few), and calf raises, in case anyone is wondering. "Doing arms" is lat pulldowns, seated rows, bench pulls, shoulder presses, upright rows, and bicep curls. Either way, I warm up on the rowing machine and do lots of stretching afterward.

Stretches are important to me; if I don't do them, after a while I start feeling like I've built blocky, dense muscles (whether they're visible to the naked eye is a completely different matter). They're actually a bit uncomfortable. In high school I got to the point the I could do splits (only with the right leg forward), but I lost them somewhere in my mid-20s.

End exercise journal

According to Amazon, in addition to one book for work, I have on the way to me:

The latest Elizabeth Peters, Lord of the Silent, just out today
Miss Read's Thrush Grange
the recently-issued collection of Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone stories, Third Invocation to Legba
Sean Stewart's Mockingbird
Are you jealous yet? Probably not, if you're Evilena, Mechaieh or Phelps, as the first two probably already have Lord of the Silent by now, and the third has a whole collection of Miss Read. Possibly not even if you're My Brother the Writer, who may have the Wellman book by now. The Stewart book is recommended by people who like Connie Willis, so I think it's a safe bet.

On a completely different topic, it turns out the Tom Lehrer once managed to rhyme 'orange', supposedly the only English word that doesn't have a rhyme:

Eating an orange
While making love
Makes for bizarre enj-
Oyment thereof.

This inspired Douglas Hofstadter to write a longer poem with similar rhymes in tribute, but I think those are all downhill from Lehrer's Ogden Nash-worthy quatrain, so won't quote them here.

Which makes me think of poetry, which, believe it or not, is actually analogous to what I'm doing at work. One of the most common responses of software engineers to the imposition of processes is that they stifle creativity. The best answer I've seen to this is that instead, they give a framework, or foundation, within which to apply creativity. When designing a car, you don't exercise creativity in reinventing wheels; you build on what is known and try to go farther. Back to poetry, Robert Frost said that "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down". I don't entirely agree -- there are constraints other than rhyme and rhythm that can be imposed on a poem -- but it's true that some of the most rigid forms, like sonnets and haiku, have been some of the most fertile.

On the other hand, poetic forms need to balance a certain amount of loseness with that strict structure -- the rules of a sonnet don't specify either content or the actual rhymes, just their pattern. I think this rule may have more general application to the ways in which humans do our best work. In other words:

Tell me, tell me what to do,
Just don't tell me how to do it.
Give me what I need from you,
Then let me find my own way through it.

I'd rather not be just your pawn,
But still, don't be too laissez-faire,
I will not plead, I will not fawn,
I'll work with you if you'll play fair.

I'd rather work within the rules
If I help choose what those rules are.
I'll find my way (I'm not a fool)
But sails must have support from spars.

I need a frame on which to lean my weight,
As trees need wind to grow up strong and straight.

It is left as an exercise for the class to determine why the above is not actually a sonnet. It is left as an exercise for the writer (me) to determine why she decided to post the above.

Posted by dichroic at 12:47 PM

April 20, 2001

Le Ton Beau de Marot

Arrgh. I had completed this entry then lost the whole thing when I tried to submit it. I have attempted to reconstitute it, in Word this time so I still have it if D-Land goes down.

This morning I coxed instead of rowing. Didn't get swapped in as promised, and I can already feel myself turning into jello.

That's not really true, of course. My thighs are still sore from lifting yesterday (weights, not Ted. Get your mind out of the gutter!) and I'll row a single tomorrow, weather permitting. Coxswains are underappreciated, though.

I've begun rereading Le Ton Beau de Marot, by Douglas Hofstadter. Besides being one of my favorite books, it's a collection of translations of a small poem by Clement Marot as well as an excursion into issues relating to translation, poetry, translation of poetry, the nature of language, and machine processing of natural language. It's also a love letter to his wife, who died tragically during the writing of the book.

At one point, I thought Le Ton beau would literally change my life. It was the proximate cause of my deciding to study cognitive science and language, which led to embarking on an MA in Linguistics (the best way to study the fields I wanted at the local university). Unfortunately, when I took my current job, I was unable to manage to take time out for classes, and of course no scheduler ever thinks one might want to take night classes in anything but business or computers. Also, I was learning enough at work to keep the Elephant's Child well-nourished.

In honor of Hofstadter, here's my stab at translating Marot's A Une Damoyselle Malayde, preceded by the original:

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour ;
Le séjour
C'est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu'on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Confitures ;
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne

Dearest One
Night is done,
Day is here.
Dungeon drear
Is your bed.
From your room,
Come out soon,
Go outdoors
World is yours.
Quickly mend
I, your friend
Tell you so.
Well I know
You like sweets
Time for treats.
Chocolates, tarts,
And candy hearts.
Don’t stay sick
Get well quick.
If you’re still
Feeling ill,
You’ll grow thin,
Lose both chins,
Little friend,
God will send
Health and fun,
Dearest one.

Posted by dichroic at 02:21 PM

April 10, 2001


This will be an odd entry.

The thing I didn't mention earlier about the episode with Coach DI was what happened after I got home. Because of going out to get checked out on the coaches' launch (which, by the way, we never did do, as someone had taken the gas can), I got home only shortly before T would normally have been heading up to bed.

He came over, sat with me while I ate my soup (homemade matzoh-ball soup is wonderful for taking the knots out of your stomach), listened to me, offered only useful suggestions, and that sparingly, and generally did his best imitation of The Perfect Husband. (The frightening thing is that part of it was him applying tactics from his latest management class on how to deal with upset people. Apparently, this one made sense.)

A little later yesterday evening, I was lying in bed thinking how good he'd been, and how grateful I was to have such a partner, and the following started coming into focus. This is the odd part I warned you about. I'm not terribly religious, or much into prayer. I believe very strongly in free will -- normally, I thank T directly for what he's done, rather than thanking Someone for him. This one, though, came to me; I didn't go looking for it, except to complete it. I wanted it to speak of the sublimity of a spiral nebula, the purity and power of the white horses of ocean spray, and the small miracle of love, and I doubt I've gotten all of that, and I think it may not be done yet. But, subject to change, here is:


Praise the One Who brought all to be.

Praise the Spirit Who spawned the uncountable universes.

Praise the Shekhina Whose thought set the cosmos expanding,

Praise the Builder Who laid the structure that from a single seed grew the galaxies in their crystalline brilliant complexity, spiral or barred or lenticular.

Praise the Mother who, self-fertilized, birthed the stars that brought forth Her grandchildren, the planets and their glory of rock and ice, of gas and spume and spray and life.

Praise the Artist, who brought about the beauty of the great and the small, of the nebulae and of the northern woods, of Luna's stark surface and of the lush life of a coral reef, of Neptune's brilliant blues and of the white surf that rides the waves.

Praise the Prime Mover Whose physical laws, set in motion, led to this place and this moment, where I and my beloved come together, at home in a small corner of a small planet (at the round earth's imagined corners) in a small galaxy on the edge of Somewhere.

Sing in praise.

Posted by dichroic at 02:30 PM

March 09, 2001

Ice Fog Dance

I do have guitar chords for this one. An ice fog is a real event, in which the water vapor if frozen, and apparently the motes do sparkle. I heard about it on the radio program "Earth and Sky", and somehow had to write about it.

On a cold clear night
When the air was still
I saw sparkling motes
Of ice distilled.

And they danced
Wild, fair and free,
And they danced
To an ancient melody.

I watched them dancing, and I wanted to join in
I tried to take the air, but I did not know
Where to begin.

Then I came and held you
After time apart,
As I held you tightly
Joy woke my heart

And it danced
Wild, fair and free,
And it danced,
My heart with yours, and you with me,
And it danced,
And I heard that ancient primal melody....

Posted by dichroic at 02:34 PM

Sarah Whistled When She Walks

This is a rare one of mine that's not meant to be a song, but I'm afraid it is horribly derivative ("Jenny kissed me when we met..."):

Sarah whistled when she walked,
Tangled bits of tunes that trailed
Away behind her like a banner
Floating on a trailing wind.

No matter now that she's far gone,
I seem to see her when I hear
Tuneful snips of tangled song
Set dancing on a trailing wind.

Posted by dichroic at 02:32 PM