Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Screenshot 2015-05-18 12.33.32

Last night I went to bed with Don Draper on my mind (Mad Men fans will understand) and woke up with Rosemary Tonks. Tonks is the eccentric British poet I discovered recently who seems as self-destructive and tortured as Don.

In Sunday’s Mad Men finale, Don has a breakdown at a hippie retreat center and calls his young protégée Peggy for what seems a final goodbye. The coast to coast telephone conversation becomes a confessional. As Don lists his sins, all that’s missing is a “Bless me, Father”:  I broke all my vows, he tells her. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name. And made nothing of it.

I confess: I like Don and I’ve always rooted for him, even when he was the most jackassy of jackasses. But hearing this litany of failures, I was struck all over again about how much damage he’s done to people who’ve loved him. And that thought brought a Tonks’ poem to mind.

Whether or not Don changes, whether or not anyone in the show really gets a happy ending, ferocious indelible harm has been done. And Tonks is my new favorite spokesperson for damaged people.

Done For!

by Rosemary Tonks

Take care whom you mix with in life, irresponsible one,

For if you mix with the wrong people

– And you yourself may be one of the wrong people –

If you make love to the wrong person,

_

In some old building with its fabric of dirt,

As clouds of witchcraft, nitro-glycerine, and cake,

Brush by (one autumn night) still green

From our green sunsets…and then let hundreds pass, unlit,

_

They will do you ferocious indelible harm!

Far beyond anything you can imagine, jazzy sneering one,

And afterwards you’ll live in no man’s land,

You’ll lose your identity, and never get yourself back, diablotin,

_

It may have happened already, and as you read this…

Ah, it has happened already. I remember, in an old building;

Clouds which had cut themselves on a sharp winter sunset

(With its smoking stove of frosts to keep it cold) went by, bleeding.

Sorry about the dashes I had to insert between stanzas. I’m having trouble with formatting.

poem is next to red roses

poem is next to red roses

[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]

by Christina Rossetti

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Image 2

 

I’m lucky this Mother’s Day weekend to be visiting my mother in Maryland, lucky to celebrate this day with her in person for the first time in twenty years at least.

 

And when one is lucky, one can’t help but think of those who aren’t so lucky. Daughters who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their mothers. And mothers who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

 

I was thinking of those mothers in particular when, on a walk near my mother’s house, I came across this tribute to a young man named Noah Marks who died January 1 this year. I gathered from the assembled objects and notes that he was a lovely young man, talented, a lover of baseball and bow ties, theater and running. I also gathered that his death was a suicide.

 

I thought of his mother, how difficult every day is for her, and how hard this first Mother’s Day without Noah will be. I went back home, printed this poem, and returned to the pedestrian bridge to leave it with the other mementos.

 

To the mother of Noah Marks and to the wonderful mothers I know who have also lost beautiful young sons to suicide, Happy Mother’s Day. This line of Rossetti’s will surely call up sweet memories of your babies:

To my first love, my Mother

That’s a soul-expanding thought for any mother. And also this:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Mothers are mothers forever, whether or not children are around to send flowers or take them to brunch. A mother’s love for her children–past, present, and future love, love that will never end–marks her indelibly. Nothing can ever take away the beauty and blessing of that love. It’s a love to be honored and celebrated.

 

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

A chain that holds

Image 6

Last Saturday morning I participated in a breast cancer walk. The night before, I leafed through my poem stash to pick out a few to take with me, and it was then that I realized that a blog post on breast cancer should include my own health history.

 

I felt uneasy about that for a few reasons.

 

First because I’ve never mentioned on this blog that I’ve had breast cancer (ten years ago last fall). Okay, way back in a post about a William Henry Davies’ poem, I did mention that I have no breasts, but I tend to wear my “survivor” status like I wear my underwear–hidden from view unless you are my husband or doctor, but always there, close to the skin, a foundation, necessary to me if undesirable.

 

The other reason I was hesitant to do a breast cancer post was because the day was about my friend, the woman I walked to support, not about my own bad memories. I wanted to choose poems to celebrate her strength, acknowledge her ordeal, boost her confidence in her own good health. But the  poems I picked were personal to me and I can’t hide that.

 

The funny thing was, out of our group of ten walkers, I discovered that four of us have had cancer and (mostly) didn’t know the others did. So as much as the day was about Lisa, it ended up being about all of us, the survivors and the friends who helped, the women who didn’t survive and broke our hearts, the women and men whose hearts were broken, the strangers we met along the way. (Hello, Deb from Delaware with your chic post-chemo hair!) We walked in solidarity and friendship. I hope the poems reflect our shared experience more than just my own.

 

That said, the first poem I left was the most personal of all. When I arrived at the walk, I had a moment alone. My heart was full of friends I’ve lost to cancer. I left a poem to honor them: “Jewels in My Hand” by Sasha Moorsom which I taped to a lamppost by the entrance to the zoo, where the walk was held.

IMG_2678

To Beth and Christine (breast cancer), to Barb, (lung cancer), and to Kim, (jaw cancer), you are my jewels, as precious to me now as you were when I was lucky enough to know you on this earth.

All the ravages of time they can withstand

Like talismans their grace keeps me from harm

IMG_2676

 

At the walk starting point I left “New Every Morning” by Susan Coolidge.

IMG_2684

poem is on lamppost

This wonderful little poem is almost a prayer, and one I turned to many times during treatment and post-treatment anxiety. Maybe someone who needed a little hope took the poem home. For everyone else, it’s a great one to memorize, because how often do we need to hear this:

Take heart with the new day and begin again.

IMG_2683

 

On the railing of the penguin house I left Rita Dove’s “Pastoral.”

IMG_2706

I left it in celebration of breasts, how beautiful, how wonderful they are, giving food and pleasure to others.

 

I love this description of a nursing baby:

Like an otter, but warm,

she latched onto the shadowy tip

and I watched, diminished

by those amazing gulps.

 

Image

 

For women who have had breasts “diminished” in ways much worse than breastfeeding, I brought an excerpt from an Afanasy Fet poem. I left it near a peacock. My picture doesn’t capture the beauty of this bird, but I hope the poem reminds women of the beauty they have, no matter what surgery has done to their bodies.

IMG_2697

Losing breast tissue doesn’t make you less whole or less beautiful, or as Fet puts it,

All, all that once was mine is mine forever.

 

(Sorry I can’t provide a link to the complete poem. I found it in a little book of Russian poetry my sister gave to me. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere online.)

IMG_2691

 

Near a flock of flamingoes, some of them skittering along in a kind of flying run, I left a famous couplet of Andrew Marvell’s:

IMG_2703

poem is on fence post

 

This one is for everyone, to make use of the precious little time we have.

IMG_2700

 

Finally, I left “For Friendship” by Robert Creeley on a trashcan and asked Lisa’s group, “The Pink Honeybees,” to link arms as they passed by the poem.

poem is on trashcan

poem is on trashcan

This, the gift of suffering, any suffering:

to be bound to 

others, two by two

IMG_2687

 

When I was rushing to take this picture, I whacked my shin on a park bench, and came home with a bruise the size of my old breasts. (They weren’t very big for breasts, but the bruise was big for a bruise.) So here I am, bruised but glad to be bruised, like so many of the people at the walk that day.

 

Cheers to Lisa!

Cheers to Joi, Patty, Deb from Delaware.

Cheers to all the survivors who walked that day.

And a special cheers to those who walked beside, to those who form the chain that holds.

 

I found this poem last spring, just after the last forsythia bush had turned green. I had to wait a whole year for the next blooming, and then I found that the poem is absolutely right. No one does plant forsythia anymore. The forsythia I found was mostly on private property. Private property with overgrown yews and old landscaping.

 

I finally found a row of forsythia by the library, separating the parking lot from a busy highway:

 

poem is in bush

poem is in bush

 

and taped Alison Brackenbury’s “Schemes” to a branch:

Image

I love this little poem, but can’t figure out why it’s called “Schemes.” Any ideas?

Miraculous Trash

poems are on tree branches

poems are on tree branches

 

Poem #1: Miracles

by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of

the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night

with any one I love,

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer

forenoon,

Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so

quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,

The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

 

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with

the same,

Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

 

To me the sea is a continual miracle,

The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—

the ships with men in them,

What stranger miracles are there?

 

IMG_2617

 

Poem #2: The Cigarette, the Beers, the Trash

by Alejandro Murguía

 

Everything is good for something

Even the trash, the ugly and the dirty,

What we throw away we can put in a poem,

Make art of our rejections, our defeats

All of it just grist for the mill of our songs.

 

It’s too bad that sometimes we want only the pretty,

That which makes us believe we’re saints, or holy,

Or some kind of artiste, for hell’s sake.

 

Send me storms when I’m walking home

Locusts in the harvest season

I’d rather go hungry than

Stuff my gills at some catered banquet

Where everyone is neutered by Martha Stewart.

 

Look outside your frigging window,

What you see is what it is—that’s all there is.

I see abandoned cars, newspapers, a beer bottle

Propped up against a half-dead tree

And I’m going to put them in this poem

Because that’s all I’ve got tonight.

 

Then I’ll smoke a cigarette, stare at the night clouds,

Let the wind whip my face

And that’s it, at least I’ll know I didn’t cheat,

Didn’t fake what’s in my life.

 

IMG_2620

 

We sat in the car waiting for a miracle. On that clear and cold March evening we had a chance, said the meteorologist, a small chance of seeing the Northern Lights at sundown. My friend and I had been waiting years to see the Northern Lights—she’s an ardent fan of extreme weather and starry phenomena, and I’m an ardent fan of the movie Local Hero, my introduction to the Northern Lights back in the early 80’s.

 

Sitting in a school parking lot, the widest open space we could come up with on short notice, we felt like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin. As hope for the miraculous display dwindled, I dashed out in the wind to put these two poems in a tree by some athletic fields.

 

Even then, before I had read the two poems closely, “Miracles” and “The Cigarettes, the Beers, the Trash” seemed to be talking to each other on their respective tree branches.

 

–See the just-barely buds on these bare trees—said the Whitman poem—a miracle!

-Yeah but look down at how the snow melt’s uncovered trash, said the Murguía poem.

-The wind is tossing us about! Another miracle!

-That wind’s going turn you into trash.

 

Which it did, a moment after I took the picture.

 

Originally I paired the poems together together because they seemed opposites. Whitman’s poem is so cheerful it’s all but wearing a curly red wig and nuzzling a dog named Sandy. The tone of Murguía’s poem is decidedly less sunny:

 

Look outside your frigging window,

What you see is what it is—that’s all there is.

 

But the poems have more in common than I thought at first.

 

Both poems start in the city. Whitman is in Manhattan, Murguía presumably in San Francisco. And even though Whitman travels from the city to beach, to woods, back to city and Murguía stays put, they’re both completely engaged with their surroundings. They see what others don’t.

 

Or maybe it’s not so much that they see what others overlook, as it is that they re-name what they see so that others can see things in a new way. Whitman re-names everything he sees a miracle, especially the everyday things: Strangers opposite me riding in the car; the wonderfulness of insects in the air.

 

Murguía, who sees the ugly and the dirty, calls his trash poetry. Or inspiration for poetry. His poem is like a recycling bin, full of discards that he finds new uses for. Like a poetic version of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

 

Both poems are not just about seeing and re-naming, but also about the creation of self. In listing what he sees, Whitman creates a persona who is childlike, full of wonder. He’s the master of the artless art, of spontaneous expression of feeling, Murguía not only sees the underbelly of what Whitman sees, he wants to see the underbelly:

 

Send me storms when I’m walking home

Locusts in the harvest season

 

Seeing “what’s really there” separates the artistes from the artists, and Murguía is definitely in the artist camp. He’s proud of being authentic, of not having been neutered by Martha Stewart.

 

(Neutered by Martha Stewart. That’s a phrase to tuck away for future use. It would be a great bumper sticker and an even better support group. Overeaters Anonymous in room 12, Neutered by Martha Stewart across the hall.)

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 2.54.05 PM I hadn’t heard of Alejandro Murguía until a friend gave me a book of his poems for my birthday last year. He was born in 1949 in California. After his mother died when he was two, he was moved to Mexico City, where he lived until he was six. He writes in both English and Spanish and has been called “the activist voice of refugees and exiles.” He’s written two novels, a history of the Nicaraguan Solidarity movement in San Francisco’s Mission District, two books of poetry. He’s professor of Latin American literature at San Francisco State University. In 2012 he was named the Poet Laureate for San Francisco, the first Latino poet to be given the honor.

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 2.54.33 PMWalt Whitman (1819-1892) was born in Long Island to a family of nine. At various times throughout his life, he worked as a journalist, a newspaper editor, a teacher, a volunteer nurse in the Civil War, a government clerk. Although he struggled to earn a living, he shared any money he earned with his ailing mother, his sick brother, and wounded soldiers.

 

I’ve written about Whitman before, so I’ll copy commentary from previous posts:

 

Walt Whitman sure has a lot of laudatory titles :  “poet of democracy,”  he’s called, “father of free verse,” “America’s poet,” to name a few.  Critic Harold Bloom proclaimed Whitman’s importance in his introduction to the 150th anniversary edition of Leaves of Grass:

“If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.”

 

And no, we never did see the Northern Lights. If you are a lucky person who has, post a comment and tell me when and where.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to redeem myself after my last post (see comments section), so I headed back to the ATM. Different bank, different poem, different outcome.

poem is above the "no envelope" sign

poem is on lower right of machine

 

I taped an excerpt from a poem by a Poem Elf favorite, Carl Dennis. You can read the complete version of “Pioneers” here.

IMG_2630

 

(That’s a typo in the fourth line of the poem.)

After I taped the poem, drove around the ATM to photograph it from different angles, and parked my car to head into Starbucks, I noticed three bank employees congregating around the poem. They must have seen me circling and taking pictures. With visions of security cameras in my head and no idea how these bankers would react to what could be called vandalism by poetry, I duckedYes, I ducked down in my front seat. When I came back up, they were gone and so was the poem.

But I did get a picture first:

IMG_2635

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,617 other followers