Late November in one of my happiest years:
we wrapped ourselves in the soft thrill of friendship
not knowing how rare it was and how hollow -
for lack of it - would be the days and years ahead.
Chattering with the sophistication of underclassmen
we crossed a vacant city lot grown over with weeds,
toward the road that exited the airport.
The young president and his wife had landed and would
pass here on their way to speak in Houston.
His red hair flamed
in the late afternoon Texas sunlight.
He waved and each of us stored the memory
of an instant as the car sped by,
the woman at his side, his shining hair,
the slightest wave of his hand,
the memory – a still photograph in each of our minds.
In less than a day, he was dead;
hit by two rifle shots. His wife was returning,
spattered with his blood
to the emptiest of homes, the White House.
Another memory – but this one with the remove
of miles and overwritten with the static snow
from our early technology television sets.
Those same sets had been on that morning before he died
as we searched to see if there would be news of his visit.
Maybe a camera had caught us as well
and our friends would see us so close to history.
Instead, we saw four floppy-haired singers
from Britain who were planning a visit to America.
A few hours later, there was only the news that the man
on whom we had hung our hopes was dead.
Friendships that we thought were the most precious
gifts in our lives that day,
faded with the years.
Each of us had lives to live, purpose and gifts to give.
The floppy-haired Brits gave us the happy crutch
we needed to weather war and loss,
and, not least, the death of that soft thrill of friendship
we still had heart to feel
on November 21, 1963.
You see a lot of white marble in Washington, D. C. It has been turned into great buildings and monuments by craft workers of many skills. You see much of it at Arlington National Cemetery and other monuments in and around the national capital. Much of it came from the white marble quarry in Danby, Vermont. One notable example is the Jefferson Memorial. Here is a meditation on the marble from that quarry and its evocations for Memorial Day after a summer trip that took us to both Danby, Vermont and the Arlington National Cemetery.
The marble rose from Danby’s depths—alive
with Earth’s fire cooling yet inside its veins.
Now, shaped and polished, carved by craftsmen skilled
in shaping life from stone, returns to shade
the graves of tender men who died before
they lived—the boys whose manhood came with loss
of breath and blood, whose lovers knew but grief
before they knew the grace of tender youth.
A full-bloom rose is carved upon the cold
flat face of polished rock that smoldered once
in fiery caves below the ground that holds
the cold remains of youth who lived and died
unloved. No fragrant flower attends with tears
their passage through these caverns into night.
May 25, 2001
Click the link to see thirty ways to celebrate National Poetry Month. Here’s one way that didn’t make their list: Write a poem. Maybe they left it off because it is so hard to write well, especially anything you want to nail to the wall and call a poem. But poetry will die if ordinary people quit reading it; it will die even sooner if ordinary people quit writing it. I welcome your offering in a comment space.
There are only twenty more days left in National Poetry Month for you to write your poem and it may take you longer than you think, especially if you write a good one. Frankly, I am partial to the ones that sing with rhyme and meter. But Robert Frost made the rest of us look pretty silly with our little rhymers. So, relax and write some free verse to celebrate National Poetry Month.
I Fetch My Morning Paper, April 2019
A sullen, still morning in April.
I remembered mornings from my childhood; they were so different then.
The only sound would have been a small high pitch in the distance – a horn announcing a shift change, but otherwise silent.
Lights went on in the houses down the street and cars backed down narrow drives, taking neighborhood men to refineries.
There, unions stood between the men and their bosses and fought for bigger paychecks.
But there was no one to guard the fragile air they breathed, the crystalline air so clear I could look up in wonder at millions of stars that I could see but could not count.
I pick up my newspaper from the lawn this day, the better part of a century later. The air oppresses like a soured cotton towel soaked in morning’s fog; the gray day wraps around my head. Continue reading “I Fetch My Morning Paper, April 2019”
They knew from the very first
this would be a job
only a woman would do.
Standing through the seasons
in this harbor over a hundred years
offering what we French call hospitalité.
This wasn’t for haute cuisine and wine.
I was put here, an immigrant myself,
to welcome refugees
from famine and oppression,
asking only that they do their part
to protect the ideals and way of life
that moved always
in the direction of freedom.
Sometimes my presence
served to remind this
congregation of immigrants
that only a few can call
this their native land – and they never
owned the land so much as respected it
and kept it friendly to all creatures.
History knit us together in community
when natives and newcomers rose up,
fought together and died to remove
dictators from power –
declared enemies of liberty.
I don’t know if I can bear
this flame much longer.
He makes his home here now,
and would build a wall,
cage the children who would
give us the next generation of freedom.
For all I have seen from here,
watching the towers in flames,
seeing the bodies falling –
none of it drove me to fits of crying.
But lately, seeing the dream of democracy
reduced to a cruel
farce staged by and for one vain man –
I am so alone out here.
And I weep for you.
The still and heavy heat of Texas grows
like mythic rivers sent to drown out life.
But life won’t stop – nor laughing, so it goes.
We celebrate the summer as if strife
were far from towns that dot our coastal plain,
ignoring warnings recommending flight
from angry winds, and days of constant rain
with rising floods and lost electric light.
We fish; we swim; we bathe in cancerous rays.
We mow the lawn and slather barbecue
with sweetened sauces, then slug IPAs
until we see a storm come into view.
Then off we go with Grandpa in the back.
We head for Austin far from Harvey’s track.
The day’s news was largely concerned with the evolving U.S. / North Korea summit, The president met in the Oval Office with DPRK’s former chief spy. I could not help but imagine the possibilities. Today’s News in Sonnet Form is partly true and partly imagined, like many of the official releases issued from the White House lately.
News Sonnet II (Only Some Of It Imagined)
Dear Leader sends his most respected spy,
that’s me, to help assure your Twitter feed
is safe from Deep State hackers’ constant pry
to check if you’ve been compromised. Indeed,
allow insertion of this tiny card
in ancient Chinese flip phone you adore.
Your Deep State guys will find it much too hard
to intercept our plans for Singapore.
But, until then, [aside] we get to haul
in data not sent out in daily tweet –
the names and numbers, texts and every call
to baby-cakes and lady friends so sweet.
Perhaps your calls to tough guy Michael Cohen
will help us get negotiations goin’.
When I started this journal I intended to stay away from politics and current events. I soon realized that there was no way I would eliminate politics from my commentary. I’m afraid there isn’t much left of me if I abandon political discussion to Twitter and the cable networks.
Yesterday’s sonnet about Hurricane Harvey was fun to put together and even more fun to try to explain. Now I have decided to treat the day’s news in sonnet form. And the good thing is, I don’t have to explain. Just pick up your Washington Post, New York Times or push the buttons to go to Fox, CNN or MSNBC. Any one will do.