Friday, December 9, 2016

The Garden of Verse: Facing Short Days and Long, Complicated Memories

            Clela Reed's depiction of "Beech Leaves in Winter" in the December issue of Verse-Virtual, particularly the ones that don't fall off the branches like the leaves from all the other trees, gifts us with a beautiful image: 
golden in sunlight against drab trunks
and empty branches,
          warm clouds layered
through the gray-cold of the forest.

            'Warm clouds' in winter? Anything that makes me feel warm in winter is a little vacation for the mind. This poem has a metaphysical reach beyond the visual one as well, raising the 'unscientific' notion of intention, and leaving us with two beautiful lines I won't spoil by quoting them here. What keeps us warm spiritually, this poem makes me ask, in winter? Maybe it's our ability to respond to phenomena such as the nearly translucent leaves "golden in sunlight" that refuse to let go in winter. 

            A different sort of imagery knocked me out in Joan Mazza's "Never Exaggerate." Handy hyperboles are offered for a range of at-home job performances:
A trillion socks sorted and bundled into sausages lined up in wooded drawers.
swept up tankers
of lost fur and puppy poop.

But then we come to the piece de resistance:
            I’ve walked to the moon and back behind a vacuum cleaner, to the sun on all those trips to school, my personal Appalachian Trail.

I expect this will have me thinking of other people's "personal" Appalachian Trails. My father probably found his Appalachian Trail driving up and down on the Southern State Parkway and other highways over decades of commuting.
            Did I find mine by typing my way through several New York City telephone books in my decades of newspaper work?

William Greenway's poems brought some tough love to the holiday season. Sharp observations on the season's disjunctions and hypocrisies accompany a newborn's arrival in "Accidents": 
Almost in time for that other birth
(alleged) in this snowy season,
though cotton-bearded shepherds
in bedsheets, bespectacled Magi,
and plywood mangers abound.
The Assisted Living crèche
has real sheep, goats, a mangy
camel, even a homesick llama
to bow to the rubber baby.

          I think we've all seen that kind of plywood manger, and I'm keeping my eyes open for the miracle of the Assisted Living creche. Still, as the poem tells us, the practical magic brought on by timely, or untimely, arrivals in our own day and age confounds and ennobles the world: "However these little deities arrive,/ they change everything,/ mostly lives,..."
         There's another great phrase to take with us on our own seasonal journey: "little deities."

             Michael Newell's poem "Of Scattered Leaves and the Sprawling Self" offers another metaphor drawn from a common activity of the turn of the year: 
I take a walk and watch
the young and old making sense out of chaos
through the use of rake and shovel and bin
into which all the colorful debris is deposited,

I worry about the need for too much order in the universal rush to collect the "colorful debris" and get rid of it as quickly as possible. That debris, those fallen leaves of many shapes and colors, is a kind of gift rather than a species of waste ('yard waste') that we good burghers dispose of in a rush to restore neatness or -- as it appears to me -- blandness to our lives.
            But this poem is too wise to allow the metaphor or raking leaves to support a simplistic point of view. As the poem tells us:
but I find
it more comforting to leave the clutter, the apparent
anarchy of memory intact

...on the way to embracing a complex, often contradictory view of the self. You can't neaten up the picture, sweep away the contradictions. "Do I contradict myself?" as Whitman asked. "Well, then I contradict myself."

            You can read the rest of these poems, and all the others, at