Posts Tagged ‘michigan’

I was just at the post office mailing my Valentine’s Day cards, and there I met the friendliest woman on the planet.  In five minutes’ conversation we covered the Pope’s resignation, all the Charlie Brown characters we could remember, her favorite candies, recent films we’ve seen, and who she’s sending Valentine cards to.  After a while I asked her,  “Are you always so friendly?”  “Yes,” she said, “I have to be.  Every day is a gift, that’s how I look at it.”  She told me her husband died two years ago.  “And look at me,” she said, “I’m pretty young for that.”


She’s on my mind, that bubbly stranger.  I don’t know her name but I dedicate this Valentine’s Day post to her.  She lost the love of her life but she hasn’t lost love.


So here’s my annual Valentine’s Day poem-spending spree:


Costco had a jewelry booth for Valentine’s Day and that seemed like a good place to leave Ogden Nash’s “A Word to Husbands.”

poem is on display table above the apostrophe

poem is on display table above the apostrophe


Whenever you’re right, shut up” is excellent advice for any lover, not just husbands.



Pottery Barn was selling a few Valentine’s Day gifts by the register.  When the salesperson’s back was turned, I folded up “24th September 1945” by Nazim Hikmet and stuffed it in the silver heart box.



Hikmet was a Turkish poet and wrote the poem in prison.  In spite of the date in the title, the poem is timeless, and a good one for lovers who hope that the happiest days are still ahead.  

before I folded it up

before I folded it up


On a little path that runs by a creek, a woman I’ve never seen leaves quirky arrangements of twigs, flowers, rocks, pinecones, leaves and whatever else is nearby.  She does her work in secret and so do I.  As a way of introducing myself to her, I left Nikki Giovanni’s “A Poem of Friendship” by one of her “installations” that wasn’t covered by snow.

poem is to the left of the pole

poem is to the left of the pole


It rained heavily the night after I left this poem, so I hope it’s still there for nature lovers to find on a romantic or platonic stroll.




Teenagers have so many ways to be miserable and so many ways of hiding that misery. I left Jack Gilbert’s “The Abandoned Valley” at the entrance of a local high school as a reminder that Valentine’s Day is a great holiday to reach out to people who are lonely.

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door


The image of a well might not be familiar to today’s high schoolers, but “being alone so long” is to most.




Allan Ginsburg found Walt Whitman in the grocery store, so I figured he might belong in the drug store too.  I put Whitman’s poem “As Adam Early in the Morning” on a shelf  at Rite Aid loaded with diet products.

poem is on middle shelf in front of Alli

poem is on middle shelf in front of alli


“Be not afraid of my body” says Whitman, and I hope dieters won’t be afraid of their own.  No one should have to buy a product that makes them shit in their pants just to get someone to love them or so they can love themselves.  No body type is unlovable!




For years poet Ted Kooser sent out postcards with a new poem every Valentine’s Day.  One of them, “For You, Friend,” I left at a candy store.

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

lovely Judy will help you

lovely Judy will help you


If anyone’s looking for the best chocolate on the planet and you live near Inkster, Michigan, this is the place for you.



Finally, I left a Valentine poem for my own valentine in pretty much the same place I left one last year, outside his office:

poem is to left of Comerica sign

poem is on window to left of Comerica sign


For you, dearest heart, Robert Bly’s “A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other.”




Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Spread some love!





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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


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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Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains

Every summer for the past seven I’ve made a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Year after year, its wild beauty calls me back.  (You can read about my 2010 visit here.)


Visiting the U.P. unsettles me.  I’m enough a suburbanite that I feel on edge in a place with so many trees and so few people.  Humans never made much of an inroad in the Upper Peninsula anyway, but lately with the closing of so many mines and paper mills, it’s less populated than ever.


But visiting the U.P. also allows me to connect with something bigger than myself.  Call it mystery and freedom, call it nature, call it God, but it’s a connection I’ve yearned for all year without knowing it.  That soulful kind of experience, along with the spectacular views, is what pulls me back.


This year I went to the Porcupine Mountains for the first time. The Porkies, as they are known, are 60,000 acres of state park along Lake Superior, about 5 ½ hours west of the Mackinac Bridge. Of course I left poems wherever I hiked—after all, that’s what a poem elf does.  But I won’t be writing much about these poems because they were leftover copies of poems I either have posted already or have sent to someone privately.  A normal person would just throw the extra copies away, but that seems callous to me.  (A normal person would also say my behavior is a mix of hoarding, littering, and marking territory, and sometimes normal people are spot on.)


Since the internet is the slide projector of our age, I invite you to see a few photos while I gush over a trip you didn’t go on.


Bond Falls

If you’re a waterfall fan, the Upper Peninsula has a glut of them.  It almost gets to be like meh, another amazing waterfall, no more noteworthy than another pretty day in California.

For no particular reason, I left John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on a tree by these falls.


I left Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” at the bottom of the Lake of the Clouds (top photo).

No one writes about connecting with nature and spirit more beautifully than Oliver.  She really belongs here.


At Summit Peak, the highest point in the park, I left Scottish poet Edward Muir’s “The Confirmation.”

The poem is between my friends, tall and not-so-tall, each “as they were meant to be.”


I’ll post a few more pictures over the weekend.


Happy Friday!

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first I left the poem here

then I moved it here. Couldn't decide which viewing platform was more beautiful!


Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Written on the roof of a coach, on my way to France




Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!



Request to my housemates:  from now on, instead of the usual silences and mumbles in the morning, please greet me, as you behold my person in its crusty and ungroomed state, by saying, “Earth has not anything to show more fair.” And no smirking or snorting.


Anyway, it’s a good line to store away for those moments when beauty takes us by surprise.  The next time you encounter great beauty—holding a new baby, lying in grass on a Henry James kind of summer afternoon, gazing at the moon in late September—try saying Earth has not anything to show more fair. And voila! The desire to articulate transcendent experiences is satisfied.


Finding words to capture beauty is one reason to turn to poets (they would like to be useful people), and that’s what I did when I discovered the view pictured above.  I had hiked up 2 ½ miles to the top of a hill just outside of Boyne City.  Boyne City is a nice little northern Michigan town with a very good deli and three ice cream shops, but not bright and glittering by any standards.  I wasn’t expecting much of a view, but when I arrived at the end of the trail and saw Lake Charlevoix spread before me in the sunlight, I laughed out loud.  It was so magnificent and so splendid, and I was without a companion to whom I could make exclamations, so I laughed.


And then I thought about who else I could share the experience with, and of course that got me thinking about what poem belonged there, and soon enough I settled on Wordsworth. No one better than he, that chronicler of the sublime, that  “lover of the meadows and the woods,/ and the mountains,” as he calls himself in an earlier poem, “Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey.” A few days later I hiked back up the hill armed with scotch tape and “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge.”  After a week’s time the poem was still there (hooray) but was gone the week after that.


The poem, as the title tells us, was written atop a coach travelling across  Westminster Bridge in the City of London early in the morning.  Wordsworth seems astounded to be so moved by the view.  He’s a nature poet, not an urban one, and suddenly a city he formerly found to have a “heavy and weary weight” (“Tintern” again) moves him to exclamations like “Dear God!” (Can’t you just hear William Shatner’s Captain Kirk reciting this poem, perspiring and writhing in a froth of passion?)   Wordsworth’s disbelief plays out in a slew of negatives, beginning with the first line, and then, “Never did sun more beautifully steep”  and “Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.”


Is it just me and my naughty thoughts or is something deeply sensual going on here?  The City before him seems female, a beautiful woman wearing a garment.  The garment is bare and she’s lying about “open” to the valley and sky. The sun, which is identified as male, infuses her with light like a great big teabag while the river, also male, runs through her.  That City sure is having a busy morning.



Ah well, it’s probably best that I don’t analyze this poem too much.  I’m in over my head with Wordsworth and his pals.  I never finished the “Prelude” or understood negative capability and am irked to remember the B I got in Romantic poetry in college.


Wordsworth was born in 1770 in England’s beautiful Lake District.  After a happy childhood in one of the many beautiful homes he lived in throughout his life (be sure to look at Rydal Mount), he lost both parents by the time he was 13.  When he was 20 he took a walking tour of Europe.  Funny to think of these august poets as real people, footloose and fancy-free, no different than the unbathed backpackers of today seeking transcendent experiences in Amsterdam with dog-eared copies of Let’s Go Europe.


In France he fell in love with a woman and fathered a child but left before the birth.   Lack of money and the Reign of Terror kept him from returning to France, but he did provide financial support to his daughter.  “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” was written when he was on his way back to France ten years later to meet her for the first time and to make a settlement with his former lover so that he was free to marry his childhood friend Mary.


That background information opened up the poem for me.  Here’s Wordsworth rumbling across the bridge on his way to make a new life.   The city is still asleep, its “mighty heart is lying still.”  Nothing has happened yet and anything still could.  He’s bursting with a sense of freedom and possibility.


A giddy sense of freedom and possibility is so often a byproduct of magnificent views.  I think that’s why I laughed out loud atop Boyne City.   All that beauty—life felt so big and grand—-I wanted to take it all in—-fling myself over it—dear God!—-Emotion!  Tranquility!  Daffodils!



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