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poem is on bulletin board under rainbow

poem is on bulletin board under rainbow

 

Sudden

by Nick Flynn

 

If it had been a heart attack, the newspaper

might have used the word massive,

as if a mountain range had opened

inside her, but instead

 

it used the word suddenly, a light coming on

 

in an empty room. The telephone

 

fell from my shoulder, a black parrot repeating

                         something happened, something awful

 

a sunday, dusky. If it had been

 

terminal, we could have cradled her

as she grew smaller, wiped her mouth,

 

said good-bye. But it was sudden,

 

how overnight we could be orphaned

& the world become a bell we’d crawl inside

& the ringing all we’d eat.

 

Image 1

 

(I posted this on Twitter a while back and thought I’d re-post on the blog for the non-Twitter folks.)

 

This poem-elfing goes back to the spring of 2016 when I was visiting my mom in the hospital. After she died I kept these pictures to myself because the thought that I had put the poem on a bulletin board near her room seemed awful, misguided, unfeeling. She never would have seen it, but who did? Did it cause pain to someone who just lost a loved one, suddenly or otherwise?

 

Now, a year and a few months later, her death still hurts, and the poem brings up new questions. Is death easier if it’s drawn out and harder if it’s sudden? I don’t know. This past week there’s been two deaths in my circle, one unexpected, one after a long illness. Both feel sudden. I suspect the grief in Flynn’s poem rings true (pardon the pun) for the grievers in both situations–

 

how overnight we could be orphaned

& the world become a bell we’d crawl inside

& the ringing all we’d eat 

 

Here’s a short bio of poet Nick Flynn from a previous post:

 

Nick Flynn was born in Massachusetts in 1960. He was raised by a single mother who committed suicide when he was a young adult. His father was an alcoholic who fancied himself a writer and went to prison for writing forged checks. While in prison, his father wrote him letters full of advice, but Flynn never wrote back out of respect for his mother. After high school, Flynn became an electrician.

 

Two years after his mother died, he started working at a homeless shelter in Boston. Flynn met his father at that same homeless shelter when his troubled father came to spend the night. Their reunion was the subject of a memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which was turned into a movie, Being Flynn. The move starred Paul Dano as a young Flynn and Robert DeNiro as his father.

 

In addition to his poetry, Flynn is a widely published essayist and memoirist. He’s married to actress Lili Taylor with whom he has a daughter. Flynn lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at University of Houston.

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poem is leaning against bread case on top of counter

 

To Luck

by W.S. Merwin

In the cards and at the bend in the road
we never saw you
in the womb and in the crossfire
in the numbers
whatever you had your hand in
which was everything
we were told never to put
our faith in you
to bow to you humbly after all
because in the end there was nothing
else we could do
but not to believe in you

still we might coax you with pebbles
kept warm in the hand
or coins or the relics
of vanished animals
observances rituals
not binding upon you
who make no promises
we might do such things only
not to neglect you
and risk your disfavor
oh you who are never the same
who are secret as the day when it comes
you whom we explain
as often as we can
without understanding

 

 

Maryland is one of the best places to get a really good steak-and-cheese (that’s a sub sandwich, for those who haven’t had the pleasure), so when I was back in my old digs last week I decided to chow down at a local deli. Turns out the deli didn’t offer the best version of that delicacy, which should be greasy and mayonnaise-y and held together in a crusty roll, but I couldn’t be disappointed because it was good enough, and just eating it brought back a nice memory of passing a foot-long steak-and-cheese around the table with my sisters, each having a bite till hardly anything was left for my husband who bought the sub in the first place.

 

Just so, reading this ode to luck—-more of a hymn actually—brings to mind the luck that has shaped my life, the good luck which is so often just the absence of bad luck.

 

The poem feels ancient and dark, the second half in particular. It frightens me a little. Bad luck lurks around the poem’s edges, and I wonder if the person who found “To Luck” pocketed it as a talisman or tossed it over her shoulder like salt.

in his younger days–very handsome!

W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927. His father was a Presbyterian minister. He graduated from Princeton, and after a year of graduate study in Romance languages, traveled through Europe working as a translator and tutor to children from wealthy families. In 1976 he moved to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism, eventually settling on an old pineapple plantation in Maui, where he still lives today with his third wife.

 

Merwin’s circle has included many luminaries of the poetry world—he was classmates with Galwell Kinell, pupil to John Berryman, and friend of James Wright, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

 

 

He was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War and donated the prize money from the Pulitzer he won to a draft resistance movement. He continues to work as an activist, these days focusing on saving the rainforests of Hawaii.

 

He’s won too many awards and honors to list. I’ll just mention he’s a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the 2010 Poet Laureate of the United States, and leave it at that.

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poem is resting atop an upright rug

A Jacquard Shawl
by Ted Kooser
A pattern of curly acanthus leaves,
and woven into one corner
in blue block letters half an inch tall:
MADE FROM WOOL FROM SHEEP
KILLED BY DOGS. 1778.
As it is with jacquards,
the design reverses to gray on blue
when you turn it over,
and the words run backward
into the past. The rest of the story
lies somewhere between one side
and the other, woven into
the plane where the colors reverse:
the circling dogs, the terrified sheep,
the meadow stippled with blood,
and the weaver by lamplight
feeding what wool she was able to save
into the faintly bleating, barking loom.
These rugs aren’t shawls and they sure aren’t jacquard, but they are blue and they are woven (though surely not by hand), so here landed Ted Kooser’s poem.
When I read this poem I find myself rubbing my fingers together as if a shawl were between them, as if by feeling the shawl I connect myself with a history, as if by connecting myself with a history I connect myself to other living beings, the sheep, the dogs, the weaver. I love this poem, I’ve loved it for a long time, and I hope the rug shopper who finds it loves it too.
Ted Kooser is a favorite here at Poem Elf. Here’s a short bio from a previous post:

Kooser is something of an ambassador for getting poetry in the hands of “regular” readers.  He writes a free column for newspapers (American Life in Poetry), and started a publishing company, Wildflower Press (no longer operating) to circulate contemporary poets.  He strikes me as a lovely man whose ambition is not to enrich his life with literary success but for literature to enrich other people:  “I write for other people,” Kooser says, “with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”

 

 

Ted Kooser comes from and lives in the ordinary, un-rarified world of the Great Plains.  He was born in 1939 in Iowa and has lived most of his life in Nebraska.  He began his career as a high school teacher but worked most of his career as a vice president at a life insurance company.  Here’s a wonderful fact about Kooser:  he flunked out of a graduate writing program (I’m not sure how you do that) which didn’t prevent him from becoming the Poet Laureate from 2004-06.  His work is deemed “accessible,” and therefore has received less critical attention than it deserves.

 

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poem is on barstool in foreground

 

Things

by Fleur Adcock

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

 

 

Just a reminder of a few Things before the start of the holiday weekend so you won’t have Worse Things to deal with come Monday (or Wednesday if you’ve got a long break).

Poet Fleur Adcock was born in 1934 in Auckland, New Zealand, but spent World War II in England. She moved back to New Zealand to attend university, and then made her career as a librarian in London before turning to writing and translating full-time.

 

Although this poem falls under “light verse,” her other work does not, and she has won many awards, among them the very grand-sounding “Queen’s Medal for Poetry.”

 

For a droll profile of this very English poet, link here.

 

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

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poem is on vault door

 

The Door

by Franz Wright

 

Going to enter the aged horizontal cellar door

 

(the threshing leaves, the greenish light

of the approaching storm)

 

you suddenly notice you’re opening the cover of an

enormous book.

 

One that’s twice as big as you are—

 

but you know all about that:

 

the groping descent alone in total darkness,

 

toward—what?

 

You know what you’re looking for, and you forget, and

maybe you have no idea

 

yet. But you know something is down there, and a

light you need to find

 

before you can even begin to search . . .

 

I had lunch with my daughter in Detroit the other day, and she took me on a tour of the building where she’s interning, the historic Chrysler House. The highlight of the tour was the basement offices of dPop, a commercial interior design firm whose work is—

 

I have a few photos to share of their passionate, thoughtful, provocative workspace (truly, it is), but first a thought on why I put Franz Wright’s poem on the door to an underground vault. Inside the vault is dPop’s conference room, presumably where lots of creative work takes place. And Wright’s poem captures the creative process so well:

 

You know what you’re looking for, and you forget, and

maybe you have no idea

 

yet. But you know something is down there

 

Here’s the interior of the vault. Only a few of the safe deposit boxes have been opened.

 

Notice the hat and glasses of the Invisible Man in the corner.

 

Another conference room, this one bright as a movie space station.

 

A workhorse, I guess–

 

Those are soldiers, ghostly on the wall.

 

For another poem of Wright’s and a short biography, link here.

 

 

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At a rest stop somewhere along the Ohio Turnpike:

poem rests on travel brochures, center of the picture

 

Vacation

by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Poet Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is an interesting fellow and prolific writer. Link here for more details. The short version:  he’s a poet, novelist, essayist, environmental activist but not wholly a traditional one, and full-time farmer. He was friends with fellow Kentuckian Thomas Merton, the famous monk who wrote Seven Story Mountain. 

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This is a picture of the jam jars in my pantry. I count thirteen and that doesn’t include the outpost colony of orange marmalade and apricot preserves that live in the back of my refrigerator.

 

The jars have sat unused for at least a year, some much longer. If it were up to my husband they’d be tossed, but anytime he comes near what he calls my “hoarding”–- a term that includes the jellies but also my soup cans, bags of dried beans, sewing notions, cleaning fluids, beauty products, boxes of stationery and assorted office supplies—I body-block him and shout about wastefulness. We sure have a lot of fun cleaning together.

 

Therefore in the interests of marital harmony and shelf space not to mention expiration dates, my summer and fall goal—let’s extend it winter too (wild ambition is not one of my faults)—is to use up all the jam. Jam on chicken, jam on pork, jam on toast for gluten-loving visitors. Then I’m going to cook up the beans, send out lots of letters, slather myself in all manner of lotions and ointments, and use use use all my unused things until I’ve achieved a Marie Kondo life-changing tidiness.

 

Yeah. Well. We shall see. I might just settle for tidyish.

 

But there’s one collection I know I can get through and that is my stash of “unused” poems. Over the seven years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve collected a lot, and I know I won’t use most of them. Some poems are by poets I’ve featured too many times, some I don’t much remember why I liked in the first place, and some demand more time than I’m willing to take away from my other writing projects.

 

I hereby resolve to post poems several times a week until my Poem Elf folder is empty. It’s going to be simple. Photos and a caption. I’m not going to write commentary, and I may or may not include a short biography of the poet. Whatever prevents me from putting poems out in the world and posting them on this blog will be eliminated.

 

Project Tidy-Up starts this week. Also posted on Twitter.

 

 

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