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Archive for the ‘Those Winter Sundays’ Category

Continuing with my previous post, here’s three more poems I left behind on a recent trip to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula.

Louise Gluck’s riveting “Gretel in Darkness” is a favorite poem of mine and I couldn’t resist putting it in these enchanted woods.  Gluck imagines Gretel years after she has pushed the old witch into the oven and burned her to death.  When you think about it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems a much more likely outcome for fairy tale characters than Happily Ever After.

Gretel in Darkness

BY LOUISE GLÜCK

This is the world we wanted.

All who would have seen us dead

are dead. I hear the witch’s cry

break in the moonlight through a sheet

of sugar: God rewards.

Her tongue shrivels into gas. . . .

 

Now, far from women’s arms

and memory of women, in our father’s hut

we sleep, are never hungry.

Why do I not forget?

My father bars the door, bars harm

from this house, and it is years.

 

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,

summer afternoons you look at me as though

you meant to leave,

as though it never happened.

But I killed for you. I see armed firs,

the spires of that gleaming kiln—

 

Nights I turn to you to hold me

but you are not there.

Am I alone? Spies

hiss in the stillness, Hansel,

we are there still and it is real, real,

that black forest and the fire in earnest.

 

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” I left on a trail that runs along 3 spectacular waterfalls.  (An earlier post on that poem here.) Winters in the U.P. are brutal.  My neighbor who grew up near the Porkies now wears flip flops year round because Detroit winters are just not that cold to him after a childhood of playing outside in twenty below.

And finally, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall.”  (A much longer  post on that poem here.)

Will the poem outlast the leaves?

Goodbye, U.P.!  Till next year!

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Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze.  No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,



Speaking indifferently to him

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

“Love’s austere and lonely offices” is a phrase I’ve carried around for years.  It pops up whenever I see a person quietly doing drudge work for someone else. If I see an older man shoveling the driveway—well looky there, love’s austere and lonely offices. Mothers schlumping through grocery stores—aisle 4, love’s austere and lonely offices. People who work jobs they dislike to support their families–l.a. & l.o’s, of course.

While the poem is about Robert Hayden’s foster father, it could describe a whole generation of fathers who have all but disappeared:  the strong silent types who shut themselves off from the emotional life of their families, men trained to show love through work and sacrifice.  They thought little of their own comforts, they never bought things for themselves, they patched up the house with duct tape and saved money for education. There’s much to admire in those men and much to grieve for.  All the affection they missed, giving and getting.

My own father died this past January.   He was a complicated, difficult and amazing person.  I find it’s hard to write about him.  But Robert Hayden, who never met my father, who grew up in a slum, who lived through traumas far removed from my suburban upbringing, somehow captures my feelings about my father in a way I can’t.  I loved this poem the first time I read it, and now I love it even more.

I hid “Those Winter Sundays” on a Friday morning under the sun visor of my sister’s car a few months after Dad passed away.  She didn’t find it till the weekend was almost over, which made every ride in her car an exercise in laughter suppression.  I gave this poem to her in particular, because as a nurse she administers love’s offices everyday; but more because she was kind and sweet and necessary to my father in his decline. Cheers, M.K.

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