Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

A Yellowstone Valentine

February 13, 2017


Roses are red,

bison are brown.

They forage on grass roots

held fast by the ground.

Oh their ways are quite ancient

and their demeanor seems patient

until late summer commences.

Then the herd starts converging,

and with the end to a’merging,

the rut hosts a range of offenses.

From this chart you will learn

how it’s hard to discern

the emotions a buffalo possesses.

But there’s one thing that’s true,

from a bovine or you,

nothing soothes like a Valentine’s caresses.

The sun shone as it had to

March 16, 2016

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Just before 4 pm on a Tuesday, 1/2 a mile away from where I sat on a bench warmed by the late winter sun, the buds of spring quivered on the edge of bloom and a woman died in a head-on crash.  The sonic boom, the metallic grating that spoke of some large object moving in a manner it had not been designed to do, signaled something gone horribly wrong.  No more than five minutes later, the screaming sirens converged.

I feel as a witness might, connected by aural proximity and a realization, always lurking but at such moments close to the surface, that death can arrive anytime, even on a bright blue afternoon on a clear stretch of road with shopping bags in the trunk, a sense of errands accomplished, and an anticipation of someone waiting at home with whom to share the day’s stories.

“We are survivors,” I tell my cat George as we’ve weathered the lonely winter missing our friend Bandit, killed only 500 yards down the same, dangerous road.  In this act, there lies no edification.  At times, even the burgeoning beauty of the natural world seems an affront to our sorrow.  But maybe our responsibility to the dead is to drink as deeply as we can of all that we too will leave behind at some impossibly beautiful hour.


the saucer magnolia blooming outside my front door’

Stars, stars, stars, stars

September 14, 2015

Over the past few weeks, a bright star in the east has been shining higher, brighter and longer in the hours before dawn.  That’s our closest neighbor Venus who on August 15 met up with and then slipped behind the Sun and who will be gracing our morning skies all through the winter and spring until next June.  Last week I saw her shining with Mars and the waning crescent moon as I headed to work at the unreasonable hour of 6 am.  This morning I was able to watch her hang alone above the tall poplar trees in the yard until over thirty minutes after sunrise while I stood, cozy in my pajamas, warm cup of coffee in hand, marveling at her persistence in the brightening daylight.

All my young life I lived with a “Morning Star.”  My younger, and only, sister’s name, Danica, is the Czechoslovakian version of this phrase.  Only recently did my mother tell me that it had been the title of a Czech newspaper she’d seen during her brief residence in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  By then, presumably, my name had already been chosen from a Russian novel, so Danica was reserved as a possibility for the next baby, a girl born 2 weeks before my first birthday and 3 days before my mother’s twenty-third.  My sister grew to hate the uniqueness of her name, adding it to a growing list of injuries her mother had committed upon her.  Moving often made such a different name even more onerous, since each new person would mispronounce it, wonder at it, demand an explanation.  As an adult, my sister decided to rename herself “Jane,” a version of her middle name her parents had not given her, one plain and simple enough to require no explanation.

It’s probably not this slight coincidence of having a sibling named for a planet’s morning apparition that makes me love the night sky (does she feel a closer affinity for palm trees?), but it does remind me how closely we are kin to the universe, a helpful reminder since often I feel deeply separate from the lives of everyone else.  I derive such pleasure from seeing Orion’s belt from my front door or charting Sirius’s arc across the southern sky that I tremble to think of the day when I might return to an urban life and be unable to chart our planet’s turnings without the aid of the celestial globe.  As it is now, a long run of grey cloudy nights can leave me feeling unmoored.  As we turn from late summer into fall, it’s still possible to get outdoors at 3 or 4 am and lie back on the stone wall to gaze at the traces of Milky Way, the Great Square of Pegasus, and the beautiful cluster of the Pleiades and allow the anxieties that have awakened me to sift back down into the cosmic dust.  It’s comforting to know that Venus will be shining in the east before dawn, reminding us that we are in some deep way knitted together, making our various ways beneath the light of the stars, bits of stardust scattered far from home.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful poem by Jo Shapcott about Callisto, the nymph turned into a constellation.  Punished for her pregnancy by the chaste and wrathful goddess of the Moon, Diana, Callisto was turned into a bear and torn apart by her own dogs.  Seeing her plight, the gods placed her in the sky as the Great Bear, Ursa Major, one of the few constellations that in the Northern Hemisphere never falls below the horizon.  Thanks to which placed the fabulous National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman for free viewing on its site where I first heard this.