An original poem in honor of another one


Today my wonderful used bookstore find

Winds its way out of backpack; The Actual World[i]

Its name, and it in lies

Poetry that should, actually, seize the world.

We see what the poet paints: the October Farm while we

follow the Charles; The Hen House and Shed at the Museum.

And then on Binney Ave we sit bolt upright

At the shift to Christmas Eve with three

Hungarians!  Kings, thieves, Catholics, heroes.

Then nothing is the same.

Still further in we go to

Winter dinner filled with beets

And greens and smoke to the sky

And, no doubt, wide eyes at all the

Dancing and those paper rings.

Finally out we walk in line

To mushroomed woods with

Mother and gypsy and time.

Ah, the pain. The pain of beautiful words

That bring to us our misplaced joy then stay.

They stay to send the day away unwittingly, unknowingly,

Because with them we see just a corner of heaven:

Here, in the Actual World.

[i] Funkhouser, Erica. The Actual World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

CSS 8 November 2016

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You Know You’ve Been to Fenway When…

I write this post still floating from a treat-of-all -treats on Sunday: the chance to use a friend’s free tickets to the last regular season game in the career of Red Sox legend David Ortiz. Imagine sitting in the executive level, right over home plate, able to enjoy the down draft of a heater(!) to take out the trace of October chill, and even having “curb service” take your order and bring you snacks. Whaaat?

In honor of this exquisite gift, I humbly offer these observations in the style of another trip taken awhile ago now, but enjoyed by someone close to home.

You know you’ve been to Fenway when….

  • The person in the chai latte line moves just slightly away from you; it takes a second, but you realize you are humming “Sweet Caroline” and good times never did seem so good.
  • Security placed a red sticky tape on your handbag and you’re a bit slow to remove it. You even consider darting into the florist whose sign out front reads “ten percent discount if you are wearing Red Sox gear” because… that tape is close enough.
  • For just a moment, you wonder about buying season tickets. For just a moment.
  • As you begin the afternoon walk to the station your mind goes back to the 7th inning stretch. There comes a tightness in your chest: how much your grandfather would have enjoyed this place! His Kentucky farm hosted at least two diamonds, and he played so many games he had a hollowed out spot in the middle of his chest that would swallow a child’s small hand: poor protection for catchers back then.
  • For just another moment, you remember the games you’ve seen at the other “most beloved” ballpark up on the North Side. Is it disloyal to love them both?
  • Nearly 24 hours later, that “Fenway Frank” for supper is still a pleasant memory.
  • You are still happy you bought the 32 ounce David Ortiz souvenir cup even though doing so caused you to miss diving for the foul ball that landed on two people to your right.
  • Even on the day after the day after, you can still close your eyes and see the look of the infield extending back to toward right. No need to explain the smile on your face. It was a great day.

Thank you, Red Sox friends!

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Squarely in the Frame

The 3am thunderbolt crashed into what was already a restless night. The weekend had been full of good, hard work, “Fall Cleaning,” perhaps, what with furniture rearranging, popping unwanted items out onto the front verge and watching them go in 15 minutes, laundry, minimal but well-intended yard care in this continued drought, Red Sox games, more laundry. Sunday we had our normal group of kids in the Atrium, entertained a guest while watching Jimmy G get injured (now who is not paying attention??), tuned in another late Sox game, staying with them through the top of the 7th.  Now as my train  lumbers into town very low clouds drift over the bay. It was a downpour as we left the house but yes, the dog will get his walk, and somehow most of us in this moving tin box will stagger into the office on this gray Monday morning, recovering.

The notion of a “frame”  began to percolate on my marsh dog walk last Wednesday. We took the one mile trek, since the usually creaky dog returned from his previous weekend in the kennel oddly rejuvenated.  As we climbed the stony incline we saw directly in front of us a creature standing stock still. I hauled in the dog just to be on the safe side and rattled some brush to clear the path. I wondered, ” what is in my frame of sight, most days?”

This thought returned two days later when the dog was well underfoot and in the way of my hurrying. When I heard myself mutter, “You—You are squarely in the frame!” I caught a breath and wondered again how and why this phrase keeps circling my mind without finding a landing place.

Perhaps it’s not a question of who or what enters and leaves my literal frame of sight. Each day is full of responsibilities and tasks for people near and far. Also, our frames obviously change as we travel through passing hours and days. Car and even lowly commuter trips expose us to hundreds of miles.

Maybe the question is on my frames of mind. I can’t seem to shake off the form of a square for this frame, but I am wondering how porous the boundaries are. “I’m running behind,” I cry to the windshield on an extra trip to work last week. The answer comes from the Voice who knows me well:  “What are you chasing?”

I wonder if my frame is being stretched.

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“The Discipline of Seeing”

The day begins cloudy as I find my seat and pick up from yesterday’s reading in my new library book, House of Days by Jay Parini. I found it while scanning the poetry section (811) of a nearby public library, one I hadn’t visited in a while. The normal tour I follow is a stop in the lobby to see what’s new, then onto poetry and maybe, just maybe, up to the second floor fiction in search of authors and titles scribbled onto bits of paper in my purse, the “list” of books I think I might like to read.

I snatched this thin book and a couple of others that met the day’s main criterion of being easy to pop in my day pack. And great is the delight, I’m sure you know, of finding in such a snatch a great dose of poetry, so good, in fact, you think you might just purchase the book. After all, I only buy poetry books I’ve already read: don’t you?

Here are the arresting words from yesterday:

It’s always difficult to hold,

To place a moving landscape in the mind,

Where language feeds upon the given world.[i]

I was sitting in the back middle seat of my blue bus when I read those lines twice and thought about all the language that comes to me and each of us from this “given world.” Indeed, writers, those who aspire and those who’ve “arrived” feed on the sights, sounds and all of life. We move at speed and yes, it is hard to hold the scenes we see as they, too, move in and around us, compelling us to look again, to look deeper, to look beyond.

It’s a joy to sit in the train and not know what will spill out onto the page from the humble life doings that fill my days. Gardening is a bit like it: one goes out, finds a simple task; that leads to another task, and before long half the morning has found attention spent on things in need. If only I could move among the ingredients in my kitchen so creatively!

But for now, I am happy to read one or two more Parini poems before hitting the newspaper and the work tasks of the day. It can be difficult to navigate some of the pain we see in our given world, but we can resolve to keep our eyes open in case anything wants to be born from it.

[i] Parini, Jay. House of Days. New York: Henry Holt, p.12

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You Fly Beautiful, Too

I take a quick glance out my train window as we pelt along toward the city’s station. A plane comes into view, also headed south, probably to circle our cozy airport, Logan, with its rather short runways. I can see the plane banking left now; it will circle around, fly parallel to the north shore, turn again, and land. And even now as I look again, another takes off.  They come and go with great regularity.

But there was another noteworthy sight out the window: standing at attention on the marsh grass we passed were two equally beautiful birds. Great Blue Herons were patiently waiting for breakfast to show itself. I thought about their wingspan when they take off, and found myself thinking ‘you fly beautiful, too.” Not grammatically correct, but true.

We’ve been back from our 1500 mile road trip for little over a week now, and it feels like it happened a month ago. The drive from New Mexico to Chicago was all we hoped for. The mountain meadows witnessed from the train ride, the lonely two lanes roads in the plains, some family time with the branch in Iowa, and yes, the pilgrimage to the “geographical center of the contiguous U.S.” were all wonderful respites from the East Coast everyday. “You know you’re in west Kansas when you can’t find an eatery for lunch and you don’t really mind” could be a mantra for me.

I’m not sad to be back, however, though in the train last week we were shoulder-to-shoulder in the seat for three so close we moved like a three-pack over the very rough ride. It’s good to be back in range of the marsh even though I am not walking the dog much these days: on the walk I did make over the weekend, we were treated to the Morse Code of an invisible woodpecker tapping out some kind of message. And although our faithful backyard swimming pool will have to come down this summer and the heat now rises, we are home to prepare for the coming semester and ride out the rest of August with the joys summer can bring. It even rained heavily yesterday; our barrels are once again full and we captured the extra in random pots we set out to “water harvest,” an action needed now but not quite native to these parts.

So on we go,then,  into the heat index of today, with my fellow passengers on the train and the herons standing guard a few miles back. I hope with all the turbulence in our nation and world at this time, you are able to see something beautiful, and that it brings a ray of hope.


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Reading About the River

Some books are just “too good to put down,” although all too often we have to do just that. On the other hand, the extra time we spend in such books lends itself to savoring. Consider this description of Mr Crow’s river:

No matter how much it may be used by towing companies and water companies and commercial fishermen and trappers and the like, the river doesn’t belong to the workaday world. And no matter how much it is used by pleasure boaters and water-skiers and the like, it doesn’t belong to the vacation world either. It is never concerned, if you can see what I mean. Nothing keeps to its own way more than the river does.

Sometimes, living right beside it, I forget it. Going about my various tasks, I don’t think about it. And then it seems just to flow back into my mind. I stop and look at it. I think of its parallel, never-meeting banks, which yet never part. I think of it lying there in its long hollow, at the foot of all the landscape, a single opening from its springs in the mountains all the way to its mouth. It is a beautiful thought, one of the most beautiful of all thoughts. I think it not in my brain only, but in my heart and in all the lengths of my bones.[i]

I’ve nearly finished the life story of the barber of Port William. His shop and its surrounds have been more than a summer’s literary distraction. He writes of the country of my own extended family: the slopes of the hills and culverts are familiar, as are the town shops and benches in which and on which the talk of the town, and thus its very life, is shared. I was young and raised away from the rural farms of my parents,  but I still witnessed what the steady pressure of modernity brought upon these unsuspecting places. On a macro-scale we might say towns were bypassed. On a microscale, it meant the loss of buying a Nehi at the general store and forested dells sectioned forever by the progressive ribbons of “interstate highway.”

But today I want to share the joy in Jayber Crow’s friendship with Burley Coulter. Burley is often wandering and hunting in the woods and then seen doing others good and setting people to rights. He goes out of his way to set up and befriend Jayber, for instance, and their “membership” with one another, along with a few others in Port William, extends some 40 years.

“He was a man aboundingly evident, and yet one who belonged in some part to mystery, who lived the life of the place in a way that none of us entirely knew.” Jayber’s words describing Burley echo off the pages and take me down the years. I fly out of line in the Cambridge coffee shop and off to the River, to Jayber’s cabin. And when Jayber asks Burley’s son Danny about leasing this heavenly spot, because “…I want to be square with you, now,” and your eyes move to the final sentence there on page 319… you’ll forgive me, won’t you,  for whipping out my sunglasses so no one in line can see my tears?

Or perhaps not.  Perhaps I should let them fall. Burley’s gone, after a full, full life I remind myself. Besides, in this particular moment is it so unusual to cry for a man I don’t know and a place I haven’t been? But that’s not right,  I think as I leave the shop. I have known Burley, and I have been to that place.

Wendell Berry has taken me there.


[i] Berry, Wendel. Jayber Crow. Berkeley, Counterpoint, 2000, page 310.

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Bringing Home Grief

We’re approaching high summer now and national tensions, sadness and grief run like a sub-theme through our commuting. Each day the train continues to take most of us to the jobs we were doing “before,” before the summer, before our present pain, and before the juxtaposition of pain and summer’s beauty were upon us. Last week I reached for a book that, come Fall, will have served as a tonic this season.

“…You could see, still, that she was the woman who had said that. She was a woman who loved her hen flock and her garden and her flowers. Every day, from early spring to late fall, she made a little wander around her house and yard to see what was coming up or getting ready to bloom or blooming. She was always bringing home some plant or seed or root or “sticking it in the ground” to see if it would grow. And within all else she was, she was keeper and protector of the grief by which she cherished what she had lost.[i]

Jayber Crow is describing his neighbor in Port William, Miss Gladdie Finn who in life has lost and loved much. And although I found myself ‘sticking into the ground’  the chopped up, dragged out roots of my front lilacs the other day, it’s the image of Miss Gladdie going about her small work with a big heart that is staying with me. What is the balance between keeping and letting go of our grief? Is there any value at all to its “keeping?”

Usually we’re counseled, and the world verily demands, that we move on through grief, be it 5 stages, 12 steps, 4 booklets or some other schema. We know we carry something forward, but we aren’t sure what or why. We also know that to tarry with a loss puts us at risk of being unavailable and, if your parents are like mine were, also at risk of hearing them say aloud or in your mind, “Well, now what? Get a move on!”

Perhaps Miss Gladdie has a word for us all. Even as we move forward from today, from whatever yesterdays have left us with loss, we can go forward with our grief better situated. Perhaps if it’s placed in the heart just right, the grief won’t improperly tie us to the one we’ve lost; rather it will serve as a marker of something, someone once cherished, and therefore remembered, and so still beloved. I like to think this can be a place from which we move, maybe even with the one now gone:  inspired to do better, to care more, to try again.

[i] Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow: the life story of Jayber Crow, barber of the Port William membership, as written by himself: a novel. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2000,  page 141.

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