Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Perfect Black Blazer

The Perfect Black Blazer - by Bobbi Lurie

The head nurse called to say
Mom threw a potted plant,
smashed the TV set, banged
her head against the wall.
When I got there I saw the deep
         bruise on her forehead.
She could barely speak so we sat
     mute for some minutes.
I watched her slide to the side
of the couch as she scratched
her arms, pulled at her hair.
I needed to bring her back
        so I told the story of
our Saturday excursions,
searching for the perfect
black blazer.
                  I exaggerated
the futility of finding
something immaculate like that,
something slim-fitting and neat,
able to match any pair of pants
or skirt we wore.
                         We never found it
of course but kept searching
as we watched other women
more glamorous than we were.
           When I asked if she
remembered that, she laughed
                 and said, "oh yes."
I looked around the room
into the distant faces,
haunted hair, blank stares.
"Time for lunch," a nurse yelled.
I walked Mom to her chair,
           watched the aides tie
bibs around the residents’ necks,
       leaned to kiss
Mom gently good-bye on her cheek,
   trying not to notice
she no longer smelled like
           my mother.
She had taken on the scent
of the urine-ammonia halls
and the talc caked heavy
                  on her body.
I walked out, then felt
       something strange
like a voice without words
tell me to return so I ran
                quickly back
to where she sat, her hands
         on her lap.
They were the same hands,
so I squeezed them tight,
kissed her for a second time.
Only this time I hugged
   her close,
            inhaled deep,
   took her all in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lives of the Nineteenth Century Poetesses

Lives of the Nineteenth-Century Poetesses

As girls they were awkward and peculiar,
wept in church or refused to go at all.
their mothers saw right away no man would marry them.
So they must live at the sufferance of others,
timid and queer, as governesses out of Chekhov,
malnourished on theology, boiled eggs and tea,
but given to outbursts of cries that embarrass everyone.
After the final quarrel, the grand
renunciation, they retire upstairs to the attic,
or to the small room in the cheap off-season hotel,
and write, Today I burned all your letters, or
I dreamed the magnolia blazed like an avenging angel,
and when I woke, I knew I was in Hell.

No one is surprised when they die young,
having left their savings to a wastrel nephew,
to be remembered for a handful
of "minor but perfect" lyrics,
a passion for jam or charades,
and a letter still preserved in the family archives:
"I send you here with the papers of your aunt,
who died last Tuesday in the odor of sanctity,
although a little troubled in her mind
by her habit, much disapproved of by the ignorant,
of writing down the secrets of her heart."

Katha Pollitt

Friday, May 15, 2009

Emily Dickinson's death

It was on this day in 1886 that Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. She wrote:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
She had been ill and grief-stricken for years. In 1874, her father, whom she adored, had a stroke and died. The funeral was held in family home, but Emily stayed in her room during the service with the door ajar. A year later, her mother had a stroke, which rendered her paralyzed and with memory loss. Dickinson wrote, "Home is so far from Home.

When she was in her 40s, the reclusive Emily Dickinson had a romance with an aging widower, Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge Otis Phillips Lord. They wrote to each other every Sunday, and their correspondence was the highlight of her week.

Dickinson's mother died in 1882, then her favorite nephew died of typhoid fever, and in 1884, Judge Lord died of a stroke. Dickinson wrote, "The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my heart from one, another has come."

Emily Dickinson died of Bright's disease on this day in 1886. Her coffin was white and surrounded by violets.

Dickinson had made her sister promise to burn all of her letters (though some survived), but didn't give any instructions about her notebooks. There were 40 notebooks, along with various loose sheets of paper, and these contained about 1800 poems.

The first edition of Dickinson's poems was published in 1890 and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a woman who had an affair with Emily's brother. This edition and many after it made sweeping edits to her poems. It wasn't until 1955 that Dickinson's poems were finally published just as she herself had written them---with punctuation, capitalization, and obscure diction intact. The volume, compiled by Thomas H. Johnson, in now the authoritative edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Waltz We Were Born For

The Waltz We Were Born For (Happy Mother's Day)

Wind chimes ping and tangle on the patio.
In gusty winds this wild, sparrow hawks hover
and bob, always the crash of indigo
hosannas dangling on strings. My wife ties copper
to turquoise from deserts, and bits of steel
from engines I tear down. She strings them all
like laces of babies' shoes when the squeal
of their play made joyful noise in the hall.

Her voice is more modest than moonlight,
like pearl drops she wears in her lobes.
My hands find the face of my bride.
I stretch her skin smooth and see bone.
Our children bring children to bless her, her face
more weathered than mine. What matters
is timeless, dazzling devotion—not rain,
not Eden gardenias, but cactus in drought,
not just moons of deep sleep, not sunlight or stars,
not the blue, but the darkness beyond.

"The Waltz We Were Born For" by Walt McDonald, from Blessings the Body Gave. © Ohio State University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

To My Mother

To My Mother - by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

"To My Mother" by Wendell Berry, from Entries. © Pantheon Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, May 4, 2009

‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’

‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ by Rupert Brooke - Last verse

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Friday, May 1, 2009


When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

"Music" by Anne Porter from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Steerforth Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.