by Naomi Shihab Nye
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Thanks for the Italian chestnuts—with their
tough shells—the smooth chocolaty
skin of them—thanks for the boiling water—
itself a miracle and a mystery—
thanks for the seasoned sauce pan
and the old wooden spoon—and all
the neglected instruments in the drawer—
the garlic crusher—the bent paring knife—
the apple slicer that creates six
perfect wedges out of the crisp Haralson—
thanks for the humming radio—thanks
for the program on the radio
about the guy who was a cross-dresser—
but his wife forgave him—and he
ended up almost dying from leukemia—
(and you could tell his wife loved him
entirely—it was in her deliberate voice)—
thanks for the brined turkey—
the size of a big baby—thanks—
for the departed head of the turkey—
the present neck—the giblets
(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles
lit on the table—the dried twigs—
the autumn leaves in the blue Chinese vase—
thanks—for the faces—our faces—in this low light.
The End and the Beginning
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We'll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
This month's theme is all about Halloween and scary poems. I'm going to stretch the boundaries of that just a tad. As I type this, there's a crazy cold wind howling here in Minnesota, making the house creak and shift, knocking over unsecured things outside (thank goodness it's not my garbage and recycling pickup day). So for my creepy poem, I'm choosing one by Ted Hughes:
This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,
The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.
This month's topic for the Poetry Project is classic poetry. I immediately thought of the Bronte sisters, who, besides producing those very enduring novels, also wrote copious amounts of poetry. Much of the poetry written by Emily and Anne was for their elaborately constructed fictional world of Gondal. But there were poems that were stand-alone pieces as well.
I could have chosen what is perhaps Emily's most famous poem, No Coward Soul is Mine, but instead I decided to give you a poem each by Emily and Anne that represents them (as well as we can know them, after all).
The Night Wind
In summer's mellow midnight
A cloudless moon shone through
Our open parlour window
And rosetrees wet with dew -
I sat in silent musing -
The soft wind waved my hair;
It told me Heaven was glorious
And sleeping Earth was fair -
I needed not its breathing
To bring such thoughts to me,
But still it whispered lowly
'How dark the woods will be! -
'The thick leaves in my murmur
Are rustling like a dream,
And all their myriad voices
Instinct with spirit seem.'
I said 'Go, gentle singer
Thy wooing voice is kind
But do not think its music
Has power to reach my mind -
'Play with the scented flower,
The young tree's supple bough -
And leave my human feelings
In their own course to flow.'
The Wanderer would not leave me;
Its kiss grew warmer still -
'O come', it sighed so sweetly,
'I'll win thee 'gainst thy will."
'Have we not been from childhood friends?
Have I not loved thee long?
As long as though hast loved the night
Whose silence wakes my song.
'And when thy heart is resting
Beneath the churchyard stone
I shall have time for mourning
And thou for being alone.'
I feel like this poem, dated Sept. 11, 1840, is a harbinger of Wuthering Heights, which Emily Bronte began writing in late 1845. It's got that same eerie darkness, of voices whispering at windows, and the final closing stanza seems directly related to the last line of Wuthering Heights: "I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth."
And now a poem from perhaps the least-read Bronte sister.
A dreadful darkness closes in
On my bewildered mind;
O let me suffer and not sin,
Be tortured yet resigned.
Through all this world of whelming mist
Still let me look to Thee,
And give me courage to resist
The Tempter till he flee.
Weary I am -- O give me strength
And leave me not to faint;
Say Thou wilt comfort me at length
And pity my complaint.
I've begged to serve Thee heart and soul,
To sacrifice to Thee
No niggard portion, but the whole
Of my identity.
I hoped amid the brave and strong
My portioned task might lie,
To toil amid the labouring throng
With purpose pure and high.
But Thou hast fixed another part,
And Thou hast fixed it well;
I said so with my breaking heart
When first the anguish fell.
For Thou hast taken my delight
And hope of life away,
And bid me watch the painful night
And wait the weary day.
The hope and the delight were Thine;
I bless Thee for their loan;
I gave Thee while I deemed them mine
Too little thanks, I own.
Shall I with joy Thy blessings share
And not endure their loss?
Or hope the martyr's crown to wear
And cast away the cross?
These weary hours will not be lost,
These days of passive misery,
These nights of darkness anguish tost
If I can fix my heart on Thee.
Weak and weary though I lie,
Crushed with sorrow, worn with pain,
Still I may lift to Heaven mine eyes
And strive and labour not in vain,
That inward strife against the sins
That ever wait on suffering;
To watch and strike where first begins
Each ill that would corruption bring,
That secret labour to sustain
With humble patience every blow,
To gather fortitude from pain
And hope and holiness from woe.
Thus let me serve Thee from my heart
Whatever be my written fate,
Whether thus early to depart
Or yet awhile to wait.
If Thou shouldst bring me back to life
More humbled I should be;
More wise, more strengthened for the strife,
More apt to lean on Thee.
Should Death be standing at the gate
Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord, whate'er my future fate
So let me serve Thee now.
Anne wrote this poem in January 1849, when she had been diagnosed with consumption with little hope of recovery. However, in February she rallied somewhat and traveled to the seaside town of Scarborough in the hopes that it would save her. But in May, she died and was buried in Scarborough. This poem, written when she thought death was imminent, is incredibly moving, as she tries to rally her religious faith while humbly asking for more time to live.
Before I get into the August topic, I wanted to give kudos to the city of Minneapolis for commemorating the collapse of the I-35W bridge five years ago with poetry.
Welcome to the August Poetry Project. This month's theme is Pulitzer Prize winners. There are some mighty fine poets on that lengthy list. But of course, I have to turn to one of my faves. Sylvia Plath is the only poet to win the Pulitzer posthumously, in 1982 for The Collected Poems. As I mentioned in my introductory post for this project, I especially love the poems she wrote to and about her children. Some are heartrendingly sad, particularly the ones written during her separation from her husband. Others are more awestruck at the enormity of having a child, such as this one:
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And nowyou try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
Heaven for Arden
Back when Arden could still go for a walk--a real walk,
not the twenty yards or so
he stumbles and lurches now--
he used to be anxious and uncertain, looking to me,
stopping awhile, tentatively, to see if I'd agree
to go no further, sometimes whining a bit
in case I'd respond. Sooner or later,
the turn would come; we'd gone far enough
for one day. Joy! As if he'd been afraid all along
this would be the one walk that would turn out to be infinite.
Then he could take comfort
in the certainty of an ending,
and treat the rest of the way as a series of possibilities;
then he could run,
and find pleasure in the woods beside the path.
RIP, Gracie (a.k.a. Girlfriend, Stinky, Gracers, Crazy Dog, Goofball)
August 31, 2001 - July 25, 2012
The dog fans among you would do well to also check out Mark Doty's memoir Dog Years.
I am one of those people who reads poetry, who buys poetry, and who even attempts to write poetry. (Brag--I had a poem published in Alimentum this year!) It seems like it's time for me to get more serious about my enjoyment of poetry.
This month, the only requirement is a quick meme.
Why do you want to join for the Poetry Project?
For the reasons I stated above--I do read poetry and want to read more of it.
Do you have a favourite poet?
Many. Sylvia Plath (especially the poems she wrote to her children), Sharon Olds, Naomi Shahib Nye, Jude Nutter.
Hopefully this will go longer than a year. Do you have any suggestions for themes?
Mmm, no. Guess I'm too new to this project.
What are your experiences with poetry in the past? Have they been positive or negative?
Both. In college, it was somewhat tormenting--I majored in English, and oh, the agonies of dissecting a poem. At least back in my day (yes, I am old enough to say that), there was no emphasis or interest in just enjoying the sound of a poem. It had to be analyzed, word by word. There are plenty of poems that benefit from that, of course, but they don't all need to be treated that way. As an adult, rediscovering poetry has enhanced my overall reading and writing life. There is no more compact form of communication.
Tell us about a poem or poet that has had a profound effect on you. If you can't think of a poem, how about a song? Or a line from a story?
I've probably told this story before, but bear with me. Growing up in rural northern Minnesota, I read what the typical teenager of the time read, forgettable YA romance books with titles like Betty Jean Prom Queen. When I was 14 or so, some new people bought the house near ours for use as a summer home. They were impossibly exotic--from New York City! Good heavens. They had a dog named Gamila, and sometimes they would ask me to care for Gamila when they were gone on side trips. Once, as payment, they gave me a copy of Sylvia Plath's Ariel. There was certainly no going back to Betty Jean Prom Queen after that.
What frustrates you about poetry or the way we talk about poetry?
As if it's all or nothing. Either you like all poetry, or you don't like any. We don't treat any other form of literature that way--I love literary fiction, but not everything in that category is going to appeal to me. Same with any other kind of writing--sci fi, essays, memoir, whatever. Readers should be willing to try different poets and different forms of poetry before writing it off.
Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with poetry!
What do you want to know? Ask me in the comments and I'll answer.
It's that time again--time for the Annual Brigid Poetry Festival (aka Blogger's Silent Poetry Reading). I invite you to join me, and leave me a comment if you do so I can click over and read your poem.
It's so easy to view all poetry, at least the "good stuff," as terribly serious. But over time, there have been some talented poets who poke fun at their own art form. In this series of haiku, Wendy Cope takes wicked and brilliant aim.
The cherry blossom
In my neighbor's garden--Oh!
It looks really nice.
The leaves have fallen
And the snow has fallen and
Soon my hair also...
The moon is up, rooks settle,
The pubs are open.