Taken…

by this poem by Wallace Stevens. A fitting tribute as we edge near Beltane.

haremoon

A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

by Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

Photo Credit

Harbinger of Spring

springharbinger

Climates vary in different parts of Alaska; heck, the climate varies quite a bit in the little town that I live in. But one sure way to tell that spring is just around the corner is the appearance of skunk cabbage. So, while we might get some more snow (ugh, please no…), it does seem like spring might actually have arrived. Hence, the picture above.  If you want to see what the same stretch of ground looked like on March 8th, check it out here.

The cycle of the seasons is fertile ground for poets, especially Alaskan poets since we tend to live in places where there are more trees than people. It has been a struggle for me to shrug off the urge to write “beautiful tree” poems. I mean, what’s there not to praise in what I see everyday? Still, I think of a well-respected poet who said to me, “You write a really great poem about a tree, and I never want to read another poem about a tree.” At the time I was devastated. Seriously, I live in Alaska, surrounded by trees. But later, I got it. You can write a really great poem that has a tree in it, but the poem isn’t about the tree. Maybe the poem describes the tree but is really about the painful relationship you have with your ex-husband, or your mother, or your Geometry teacher.

So, the trees are still in my poetry; but I sure as heck am not writing about them.

To honor the incredible picture above, please enjoy Mary Oliver’s poem “Skunk Cabbage” from New and Selected Poems, Volume 2.

Skunk Cabbage by Mary Oliver

And now as the iron rinds over
the ponds start dissolving,
you come, dreaming of ferns and flowers
and new leaves unfolding,
upon the brash
turnip-hearted skunk cabbage
slinging its bunches leaves up
through the chilling mud.
You kneel beside it. The smell
is lurid and flows out in the most
unabashed way, attracting
into itself a continual spattering
of protein. Appalling its rough
green caves, and the thought
of the thick root nested below, stubborn
and powerful as instinct!
But these are the woods you love,
where the secret name
of every death is life again – a miracle
wrought surely not of mere turning
but of dense and scalding reenactment. Not
tenderness, not longing, but daring and brawn
pull down the frozen waterfall, the past.
Ferns, leaves, flowers, the last subtle
refinements, elegant and easeful, wait
to rise and flourish.
What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.

Confession Wednesday… in which I invoke Charles Wright

crowI confess that I’ve been tied to my day “gig” this week, and I just haven’t had time to be with my blog. Hence, Confession Wednesday instead of Tuesday! This is a particularly stressful time of year for secondary educators – not much time remaining with a whole lot of material left to cover, and the students are either a) as mentally exhausted as the teachers, or b) not in school because of band trips, drama trips, shopping trips, etc., or c) sitting in our classrooms wishing that the weather and the teachers would get nicer. I’ve been struggling to grade the papers that piled up during the five days that I was in Denver for AWP. I know, how much could accrue in five days? Well, considering that I spend approximately three to five hours grading each day, I think that I’ve got about ten hours of grading pile-up left to deal with.

I confess that I understand that you probably don’t care about this and would rather that I just got on with talking about poetry.

I confess that yesterday I was struck by the grace of my students. I am the student council adviser and last night the student council hosted a Talent Show/Oscar Night. I watched gawky adolescents try to put their best foot forward on stage, but also the magic of students supporting each other. Every performance got a raucous reception. Afterward, the students helped clean up, all the while chatting about the dancing and singing and movie-making of their peers. Grace, for me to see another side of them, an engaged, kind, supportive side.

And speaking of grace, now I turn to poetry. That grace, including the idea of spaciousness, has been a writing goal of mine for several years. I try to cultivate room for surprise and grace to take me in unfamiliar directions. Lately I have been doing this by posing odd questions, questions meant to put together disparate yet resonant ideas. The quote from my notebook in my last entry, “Whose name is gunshot weather?” is an example of this idea. My hope is to open myself up to connections existing deep within images and memories, but perhaps not on the surface. An expert in this is the poet Li-Young Lee. Another poet that I’ve been reading lately that also employs this technique is Charles Wright.

I admit that I’m late the Charles Wright party. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award winner that has been publishing on a continual basis for the last forty years. More than a month ago, someone on Facebook (could have been the Alaskan poet Jeff Oliver, I have a fuzzy recollection of that) recommended Buffalo Yoga. So, for the last month I’ve been returning to this book, re-reading poems, and marveling at their grace, as well as their invocation of landscape and loss.

Below is one of my favorites from the book. I highly recommend that everyone get their own copy and be prepared to be blown out of your ordinary perception of this world. (I apologize for the spacing; indentation and single-spaced lines don’t play well together in html.)

There Is a Balm in Gilead by Charles Wright

Crows in a caterwaul on the limb-laced edge of the afternoon,

Three scored like black notes in the bare oak across the street.

The past is a thousand-mile view I can’t quite see the end of.

Heart-halved, I stare out the window to ease its medicine in.

———

Landscape’s a local affliction that has no beginning and no end,

Here when we come and here when we go.

Like white clouds, our poems drift over it,

looking for somewhere to lie low.

They neither hinder nor help.

———

Night sky black water,

reservoir crow-black and sky black,

Starless and Godless.

Cars trundle like glowworms across the bridge, angel-eyed,

Silver-gilled.

The fish in the waters of heaven gleam like knives.

———

I write, as I said before, to untie myself, to stand clear,

To extricate an absence,

the ultimate hush of language,

(fricative, verb, and phoneme),

The silence that turns the silence off.

———

Butt-end of January, leaf-ash and unclaimed snow,

Cold blue of blue jay cutting down to the feeder box,

The morning lit with regret,

No trace of our coming, no trace of our going back.

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