Friday, November 6, 2020

The Garden of Verse: November Poems in a Season of Uncertainty


Back before what happened at the beginning of this month -- and which of course is still happening -- the November 2020 issue of Verse-Virtual published three of my poems. My thanks to editor Jim Lewis and the issue’s guest editor Michael Minassian.

But everything feels irrelevant, doesn't it? 

In the very last days of October a surprisingly persistent snowstorm dropped five inches of wet snow on the Boston area. Forecasts for snow in October have never meant very much here in the past, so I expected the "slight dusting" we sometimes get. Probably followed by some rain. 

Instead we ended up with five inches of very wet snow, that hung on the green leaves and weighed down the heavily freighted branches. Some trees in the neighborhood lost branches.

The temperature wasn't very cold, but it took over a day for the snow to melt, and then the temperatures at night plunged below freezing. Plants died, massacred; turned gray, lost their stuff. I didn't respond fast enough. I had left most of the large houseplants outdoors; they always came indoors in November. It was too cold and snowy and wet for me to deal with them then.

I waited for the snow to melt before trying to bring them indoors. It was too late, 

I had failed them. My plants died, including some that I'd watered and cared for over decades. It was a bad sign.

I got another bad sign when my desk computer's hard drive died, after I gave in to some ridiculous anti-virus program and allowed it to shut down the computer. It would not restart. The drive was "degraded." It's been 'repaired,' and is working. But it's not the same. I don't know where things are.

And then it was election day. And four days later we're still counting. 

During these troubled days I forgot about my poems, and my poetry community. My 'garden of verse' that blooms anew each month. 

But, guess what, it's been there all along. There for me, and for anyone else to walk through, and sample, and smell the roses. 

Here's one of my three poems, written during the month of October, which feels like a long time ago. Not about politics, not about my failure to take better care of my garden. But the title is, nevertheless, fitting: "Powerless." 


Powerless


I am a refrigerator,
my accumulated coolness weeping away.
I am a kinship group of fully extended oak leaves
swaying and spinning ceaselessly
in the punctuated gusts of the new-season storm
that walks in among us
(like the uninvited guest at the neighborhood mixer
we have not, in fact, ever held)
to turn off the lights and the machines 
that keep us all ticking. 
 
I am the sound of the distant tires
huffing off to a place where things can still get done.
I am the silence of things not getting done.
I am the wind deep-breathing after a calculated pause 
as if to remind us who is lord of this condition.
I am the emptiness of the silent house,
the shadows in the room's missing corridors,
the powerlessness,
the sound of one pen writing.



To find work by more than 50 poets in the November Verse-Virtual, see
 November 2020 
          

 

  

All the flowering annu 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Garden of the Seasons: Big World, Little Me

 
Little, Big

Too big for golden dreams, too many golden hills, 

stunning views at each new bend of the trail,

a field theory of vantage points

Too many long looks

too far above, beyond me, all so little now

 

Where are the little words to hold the big moments?

A little life: a forever mountain range sculpted by the glaciers and all those millions of years 

in which Earth dreamed itself up,

the slow grind of time 

I get as big as I can,

imagine as much, see as far an ocular nerve routed to a brain cell can manage

I can't do it, I can't cut it down to size

It's out there still, larger than life, the place and time I can only be

as anyone can,

and come up short: little me, Big World












Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Garden of Verse: "Unmasked Men" and the "Justice Issue" poems


I am grateful to editor Pratibha Kelapure, who states on her 'about' page for the journal, "The Literary Nest," that "Poetry matters," for
including my poem "Unmasked Men" in her excellent journal's new issue. I think poetry matters too. 

I'm grateful also for the generous comments on this poem I received from a number of readers. 

If you haven't read it, here's another chance:

 

Unmasked Men

Trust only those with masks

the unmasked are stealing your future,

or your children’s or your grandchildren’s futures

Freedom is scarce

They will take yours

and they will not share it,

or give it back

They will consume it alone, down some hole

When you meet them, years later

      -- if there is a later, if there are years --

at a highway rest stop

their children will be hungry

their faces lined with fear

The sky will explode with apologies

from the management

All boats will be leaky

Posters will warn of a man in a red hat

The leaders of the coup will be arrested

Trust no one with a camera

Truth rides a bicycle

Zip codes will be randomized in the new

     post-P.O.

Bird will fly the wrong way in winter

Ants have colonized your neighbor’s back yard

They are sending scouts, parties of militarized true believers

into yours.

 

The unmasked ones will tell you all is well

“You can see by our faces that we are honest”

When they approach for an embrace, they have their hands

in your pockets

Their eyes on your daughter

They want to know your boot size

The time to hesitate is through

You can see the future by their smiles

The executioner’s face is not always well hidden

They steal your chickens in broad daylight

They cannot agree on what year it is, or even what day

Their leaders have not approved

the new calendar

Each day is called “now”

by which is meant “never”

 

Do not trust the ones without masks

Or agree to the toss of a coin

They keep their tails on both sides

They have no masks for the best of reasons:

They have no faces

 

To see the rest of the issue here's the link The Literary Nest

 

I am grateful also to Ruben Baca, editor of Necro Magazine, for including four of my poems in the journal’s fall issue devoted to the theme of “Justice.” 
My poems, and those of the other contributors include lots of contemporary comment here. Unhappily there's lots of ‘injustice’ to go around these days. 
 
My poems are “America 2020,” “I Have Lost a Country,” “What Democracy Looks Like,” and “Last Days of the American Empire.” 
 
To see my poems and the rest of the magazine, here's the link 

The Garden of the Seasons: October Gold on Stockbridge Bowl


The Golden Bowl

Every autumn we walk down here to the place where can see 

that the world glows deeply golden

and the water's blue as blue can be.

When the sky is open wholly

and the sun sits on the hillside, glow on glow,

everything is in its place, and the place is one we know.

Every evening come the shadows, and the glow begins to fade, 

still we come again the next day

to see what autumn gold has made.  























Saturday, October 3, 2020

October Poems: Verse-Virtual keeps turning a new page and revealing beautiful moments, like the colors of the autumn hills

















My thanks to editor Jim Lewis for producing another excellent issue of Verse-Virtual, the online poetry community and monthly publication, that this month offers work by 46 poets. 

Here's what Jim has to say on how poets respond to the difficulties of a full-blown pandemic and the political chaos of our day, even as October, arguably the most inspiring of months, has begun to turn its autumn lights on us:

"Poets have always been active participants in the struggle to survive difficult times. We write to persuade. We write to denounce. We write to document. We write to challenge the wrongs that we see. What we do NOT do is throw up our hands and surrender to despair. "this is not the time to howl" is my personal poem of defiance. If yours has not been written yet, write it. Share it. Use the gift of your words to encourage everyone you can reach to stand up and be counted in this conflict."

As a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual, going on five years now, I have the fortunate opportunity to publish new work each month in the online journal. 

I have three poems, my standard quota, in the October issue. The first is my comic take (as I hope should be clear) on a trailside warning posted at Notch View, a beautiful nature preserve and one of my favorite woods-walking sites in Berkshire County,  Massachusetts.The poem plays on a misunderstanding of the sign's use of the phrase "classic style." The site managers are, of course, speaking of the trail's use by cross-country skiers.

The poem's speaker (that's me), as the poem indicates, is thinking about everything else to which the term 'classic style' might apply.  The poem begins this way:

Classical Style Only


My daughter slide-steps sideways 
down the path at Notchview Reservation,
arms akimbo, see-sawing in stately fashion
She’s ‘walking like an Egyptian,’
so the cant phrase goes,
because of course the trail sign clearly states:
“Classical Style Only”
I am trying to imagine a fashionable Athenian 
or Augustan way of proceeding
while lacking a toga, or a tunic,
or whatever cloaked sublimely homely Socrates
when he paced up and down the Agora
directing flights of reasoned disputation
to mind-unfogging peepholes into the ‘World of Forms,’
... 
 
The second poem "October Rain" attempts to describe some
of the characteristics of its subject, and, I hope, needs 
no further explanation. 
 
The final poem is an attempt to put into words the feelings
produced by an instrumental song entitled "As Times 
Change" by Kathryn Toyama that I find almost 
(but not quite) inexpressibly moving. 
It's at least my third try at offering a
written response to this piece of music, which 
(of course) does not require one. 
Please take a look. The poems can be found 
at Verse-Virtual Oct. 2020 

 

 

   

 


September Poems: Reasons why if you can't love the season you're in, love the one to come

 

So many wonderful poems in September's Verse-Virtual. Here are a few I keep going back to.

 

I was drawn into Sean Kelbley's poem "Explanation" right from the beginning when the speaker's "Oma" explains where her home was.

"Batschka, 
Oma said, and ran her palms across her face 
as if to smooth a map. At the center of the map, 
her eyes burned like specific villages."
               Those two similes, one for the old woman's gesture --"as if to smooth a map" -- and the second, for her eyes -- "burned like specific villages" -- tell us that the road to an 'explanation' is not going to be all sweetness and light.  

 

Betsy Mars's beautifully phrased praise-poem to canine virtues, "What Is Essential," kept me re-reading to appreciate fully these essentials:

"you know

language is the source of misunderstandings",

Instead, as the poem details the essentials of the dog's understanding:

"You understand the necessity

of keeping the baobabs at bay

and raking out the volcanos –

even the ones that might be extinct.

You dig out roots in the yard

and rake the carpet into submission."

            The poem goes on from here to detail the sublimely wordless understanding between person and dog. How can we fail to appreciate a pet that holds trees at bay and keeps carpets from pulling a fast one?

 

September includes two beautifully haunting poems by Jeff Burt. "Snowflakes" finds reasons for 'angels' everywhere.

            His poem titled "Flash" intrigues and moves us with explanations for a mysterious light phenomenon:

"Once I thought it was the acrylic panel on my luggage

reflecting the nose light of an airliner about to crash.

Once I thought it was a beacon calling me

to read Hafiz on indulging joy

when knowing God surprises us

by awkward revelations when we least expect them."

            The poem convinces me that 'revelations'  are likely to awkward. I'll stop complaining about the noise in the street now. Maybe it's trying to tell me something.

 

So many of the wonder creatures in September's poems are dogs; a few are angels. The subjects of Irving Feldman's poem “Of, course we would wish“ are compared to angels at one point, but they're really not. They are, as the poet's note tells us," artist George Segal’s plaster casts" viewed at an exhibition. We'd like these plaster casts to appear e 'angelic,' the poem knowingly explains, tells us, but in fact "it's the dead themselves they resemble,..."

            This terrible resemblance is so beautifully expressed that we can't pull ourselves away:

"It hurts to see them so decent and poor.

And it does no good to scold them for it,

to shout at these newly impoverished relations

crowding timidly in the narrow hallway,

or recall to them the old extravagance,

or tempt them back with favorite morsels

and the glowing tales that made the hearth warmer.

            This poem doesn't simply describe a work of art. It gets inside it (and us too.).

 

 

Marjorie Moorhead  "Catching My Eye" begins with these carefully laid out lines, like clues to a mystery:

"Imagine a church pew lady’s glove.

White lacy upturned palm,

cupping bees and butterflies,

swaying gently on long stem,

leaves like feathers of a green bird.

Many tiny blossoms together

in a circle-burst of celebration

decorating hot July fields,..."

             At this point I'm betting "Queen Anne's Lace." That turns out to be just one of the contenders in this name game. But all the names, and the all imagery, the poem offers to make the inward eyes envision this summer marvel are equally winners:

            Call it summer time, the poem tells us:

"Heat waving

off pavement. Fields buzzing alive."

            I do call it summer time. And this poem nails it.

 

William Greenway's two intensely realized personal history poems got inside me as well. "Last Rites: Shark Week" alludes with a dark irony to an invitation to the rite of Communion. Of course the poem's darkly ironic invitation , as revealed in the poem's richly language, is offered by a shark:

"[I] never dreamed

back then how quickly things unseen

could rise from down below,

and how you could hear

not get out, now, but

Happy are those who are called

to his supper."

            It's a poem well worth rereading in its entirety. Something of the same tone is captured by a second poem, "Spooky Nook Road," that looks forward to the "scabrous scarecrows" and "headless horsemen" of that autumn holiday.

            I don't celebrate the end of summer. I miss it. But September 2020 shows us how much we have to look forward to.

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Garden of Verse: The Gifts of September

 

            The gifts of September's Verse-Virtual, the online journal that publishes scores of new poems every month, keep calling, showing me new wonders each time I unwrap them. Here are a few of the poems I keep going back to.

            Betsy Mars's beautifully phrased praise-poem to canine virtues, "What Is Essential," kept me re-reading to appreciate fully these essentials:

"you know

language is the source of misunderstandings",

            Instead, as the poem details the essentials of the dog's understanding:

"You understand the necessity

of keeping the baobabs at bay

and raking out the volcanos –

even the ones that might be extinct.

You dig out roots in the yard

and rake the carpet into submission."

            The poem goes on from here to detail the sublimely wordless understanding between person and dog. How can we fail to appreciate a pet that holds trees at bay and keeps carpets from pulling a fast one?

 

I was drawn into Sean Kelbley's poem "Explanation" right from the beginning when the speaker's "Oma" explains where her home was.

"Batschka,

Oma said, and ran her palms across her face

as if to smooth a map. At the center of the map,

her eyes burned like specific villages."

            Those two similes, one for the old woman's gesture --"as if to smooth a map" -- and the second, for her eyes -- "burned like specific villages" -- tell us that the road to an 'explanation' is not going to be all sweetness and light. 

 

September includes two beautifully haunting poems by Jeff Burt. While "Snowflakes" finds reasons for 'angels' everywhere, the poem titled "Flash" intrigues and moves us with explanations for a mysterious light phenomenon:

"Once I thought it was the acrylic panel on my luggage

reflecting the nose light of an airliner about to crash.

Once I thought it was a beacon calling me

to read Hafiz on indulging joy

when knowing God surprises us

by awkward revelations when we least expect them."

            The poem convinces me that 'revelations'  are likely to be awkward. I'll stop complaining about the noise in the street now. Maybe it's trying to tell me something.

 

So many of the wonder creatures in September's poems are dogs; a few are angels. The subjects of Irving Feldman's poem “Of, course we would wish“ are compared to angels at one point, but they're really not. They are, as the poet's note tells us," artist George Segal’s plaster casts" viewed at an exhibition. We'd like these plaster casts to appear e 'angelic,' the poem knowingly explains, tells us, but in fact "it's the dead themselves they resemble,..."

            This terrible resemblance is so beautifully expressed that we can't pull ourselves away:

"It hurts to see them so decent and poor.

And it does no good to scold them for it,

to shout at these newly impoverished relations

crowding timidly in the narrow hallway,

or recall to them the old extravagance,

or tempt them back with favorite morsels

and the glowing tales that made the hearth warmer."

            This poem doesn't simply describe a work of art. It gets inside it (and us too.).

 

 

Marjorie Moorhead's  "Catching My Eye" begins with these carefully laid out lines, like clues to a mystery:

"Imagine a church pew lady’s glove.

White lacy upturned palm,

cupping bees and butterflies,

swaying gently on long stem,

leaves like feathers of a green bird.

Many tiny blossoms together

in a circle-burst of celebration

decorating hot July fields,..."

             At this point I'm betting "Queen Anne's Lace." That turns out to be just one of the contenders in this poem's name game. But all the names and the all imagery the poem offers to make the inward eyes envision this summer marvel are equally winners:

            Call it summer time, the poem tells us:

"Heat waving

off pavement. Fields buzzing alive."

            I do call it summer time. And this poem nails it.

 

William Greenway's two intensely realized personal history poems got inside me as well. "Last Rites: Shark Week" alludes with a dark irony to an invitation to the rite of Communion. Of course the poem's darkly ironic invitation , as revealed in the poem's richly language, is offered by a shark:

"[I] never dreamed

back then how quickly things unseen

could rise from down below,

and how you could hear

not get out, now, but

Happy are those who are called

to his supper."

            It's a poem well worth rereading in its entirety. Something of the same tone is captured by a second poem, "Spooky Nook Road," that looks forward to the "scabrous scarecrows" and "headless horsemen" of that celebrated autumn holiday.

            I don't celebrate the end of summer. I miss it. But September 2020 shows us how much we have to look forward to.

            You can find all these poems here: 

Verse-Virtual September 2020