Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Without Darkness

I sit at 2:46 in the morning in front of the fire. I work on my laptop. This represents an improvement in my writing life. When I first got the laptop in 2002 (a replacement computer for the 10 year old desktop which was hopelessly out of date), I hoped to break the writing-room habit. That didn’t happen. I plugged the laptop into an outlet in the writing room and there the laptop stayed.

Then I got my big desktop computer. I stored the laptop away, always intending to use it “in any room of the house.” The laptop didn't emerge from the drawer until I needed to take it to Provincetown.

During my stay at Provincetown, I worked exclusively on the laptop, wherever pleased me. That seems to have broken through my mental barrier.

I am thinking tonight about the coming winter, about how the days are getting shorter. It is this time of year that I really love. I have often wondered why. In my Modern Poetry class the other day we were talking about Robert Graves’ “To Juan At Winter Solstice.” That poem set off a long discussion about humans’ need to accept change.

The beautiful thing about seasons is change. In fall and winter, the trees simply shift their emphasis from their leaves to their roots, where the life force continues on. For humans, it is so hard to let go, to let change happen. We are afraid. Some lines from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring come to mind: the smoke, when it rises, hovers at the opening in the ceiling. It doesn’t want to leave the house. It doesn’t understand that once it leaves the house that it will have the big, wide sky to live in.

I think about this almost every day. The thought obsesses me. Whitman once wrote in a poem: “Set ope’ the doors, oh soul.” The soul needs a big space to dwell in.

The long, dark winter allows me to feel that space.

Since the change back to regular time, I have felt that surprise of looking out of the window at 5:00 in the evening and seeing darkness. I feel shock, a quickness within. This inner stirring, I know, is my soul yearning to escape the confines of the house I have built for it.

Eliot once wrote:

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

The paradox of caring and not caring is central to the creative life. The paradox cannot be understood until we learn to sit still. Can one care and not care simultaneously? Yes, and the trick is to not let the seeming contradiction tear you apart.

My experiment with writing haiku is paying greater dividends than I imagined. I set an arbitrary goal to write 100 haiku in a year. I told myself I would not worry whether they were good or bad. Basho said that a haiku is only good so long as it is on the writing desk, anyway. After the haiku is written, one mustn’t dwell on it but look forward to writing the next haiku. I think I needed to be given that kind of freedom.

Writing the haiku poems has led me to writer longer poems and to stay close to my creative life.

I have a secret battle: for some reason, I feel that when I write poetry I am being disloyal to fiction. My education has set a firm line between the two genres. My conscience says to me: You are not a poet. You will never be a poet. You should be working on your novel. You are wasting time by writing all these poems.

And yet I cannot live without poetry, without reading it, without writing it. Poetry speaks to my soul, and when I write it, I am making my soul. It must be true, as has been said by others, that the poem is a dialogue with the self and the novel (or short story) is a dialogue with others. So poems must be filling a need that prose cannot fill. But I persist in punishing myself for loving poetry. I need to work on this.

Poetry cuts deep channels within me. I remember being on the Ohio River and seeing the dredgers. They make sure the water stays deep enough for the boats to get through. They keep the river navigable. Poetry keeps my inner river navigable. Without it, the traffic stops. My imagination gets sluggish and shallow.

Rilke takes a slightly different view, one that delightfully free of self-absorption:

All the things to which I give myself
Grow rich and spend me

I take this to mean that in giving ourselves to poetry, we making our specific fears and desires universal. The collective voice grows rich and strong because of the poet’s excruciating honesty.

Lately, I crave poems. I almost feel like I will die if I can’t read a poem! And reading them makes me want to write them.

Sitting here in front of the fire, I know I need this dark time. As Theodore Roethke wrote: In a dark time, “the eye begins to see.”

Presently, my defining myth is the light in the darkness: Christmas-time, Solstice, festival of lights. When the lights shine and the quiet darkness is all around, I feel peace.

I am no longer a church-goer, but I love hymns, and the hymn that resonates for me now is: “It is well / With my soul.”

When I look at the fire, I see life. I feel life in the warmth it gives off. My spirit is at rest.

“Without Darkness, nothing comes to birth.” --Kali

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poem

NOVEMBER NIGHT

One a.m., no moon.
Train crosses highway six.
Distant lights erase
my own cold stars.

I remember the long-ago
bright face of a child.
He had sparklers in his hands.

One a.m., no train in sight.
And distant lights
erase my own cold stars.

Poem

JERRY

Jerry lived in a trailer park,
in an eight-wide with cigarette smoke
baked into the walls by hot summers.

He was ex-army and had never
been to war. After he got cancer in his lungs,
he sometimes ate lunch at our house.

Jerry would laugh like everybody else
at a joke somebody had made.
He still smoked, and did not seem sad at all.

But at night he came to our steps, crying.
He did not see darkness as the limitless world
the soul enters at death.
For him it was a void, a swallowing.

Poem

Writing late tonight,
I have remembered the beach
at Provincetown.

Remembered standing
on the sand, listening
to voices, clanking of glasses
and plates.

I was alone.
Everyone was so far away.

Haiku #83

Shanti Mantra,
Two frolicking dogs,
November fire--how you please me!

Haiku #82

Try my soup, he said.
Don't want to, she said.
He turned--she dipped in the spoon.

Haiku #81

Forgive me,
haven't read you in so long a time,
Antonio Machado.

Haiku #80

After the wine
my chest opened its rusty doors.
Light shone between my ribs.

Haiku #79

That little cup of wine
erased all limitations.
Now things stand as before.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Haiku #78

Snowy run on three legs.
Which is the lucky leg?
How does my dog decide?

Biscuit Recipe

My biscuit recipe:

Make them for yourself and
for someone you love...

Preheat oven to 450
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter
2/3- 1 cup milk

Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center; add milk. Stir just till dough clings together. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently. Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. If you spray your baking sheet with Pam, the biscuit bottoms will be nice and crispy. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 or 12 minutes or till golden.

"Biscuits"--Revised

BISCUITS

Things in your house
wait patiently for you
to touch them--flour,
butter, thin air.

Cooking is an alchemy
of sadness and desire.
Do it from scratch.
You can.
You already know how.

Sift dry things
into a glass bowl.
Use more sugar
than it says.
There is not enough
sweetness in the world.

Butter must be cold.
It is like your heart,
like your hands, cold.
In your case maybe
numb, too, from loss
and grief.

Chop butter into fragments.
Yes, things go to pieces.
It has always been this way.
Consider the gods
whose flesh was torn for the people.

Add milk, about a cup of that.
It came from a mother's warm body.
Knead. Press.
Fold dough into dough.
It will become resilient, alive
beneath your hands.

The only proper shape
for biscuits is the circle,
infinity's shape,
the snake biting its tail,
the moon before it loses
itself to darkness again.

They will rise like Lazarus!
Just wait. They will.
Oh, wait.
Wait.
Just wait and see.

Friday, November 21, 2008

For Those Who Presently Don't Want to Cook

Biscuits

Not those out of a can or box
but those that come together
from raw materials you have
around the house, things
waiting patiently for you to touch them.

You will make them from flour,
butter, and thin air, these biscuits,
from an anchemy of sadness
and desire, this bread.

Maybe somebody told you once
you are not capable of making
biscuits the old-fashioned way,
probably due to some genetic
deficiency on your part. Do not listen.
Do not listen to them.
The way is ancient:
you can do it. You already know how.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt
into a clear glass bowl: sugar, too.
Put in more sugar than it says to.
There is not enough sweetness
in the world.

It is important that the butter is cold.
The butter is like your heart, maybe,
icy with rage. After all, there is a wind blowing
across some vast emptiness inside you.
Or the butter is like your hands, maybe,
which are also cold, which are also numb
from loss and grief.

Take something you usually chop with.
Cut the butter into fragments.
They will cover themselves in flour,
which is the staff of life.
Adding milk is the final step,
a cup or so of that white magic
that comes from a mother's warm body.

You must knead, now. This is the best part.
Press the dough; fold it into itself.
It will become resilient and
alive beneath your hands.

Roll the dough out.
Cut from it the most perfect circles.
The circle is the shape of infinity;
it is the shape of a snake biting
its own tail, of the moon before
it begins to lose itself to darkness again.
The fire in your oven will make them
rise like Lazarus!
They will be delicious.
Just wait, oh just wait and see.

--------------------------------------------


My biscuit recipe:
Make them for yourself and
for someone you love...

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter
2/3- 1 cup milk

Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center; add milk. Stir just till dough clings together.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently. Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 or 12 minutes or till golden
.

Haiku #77

Snow blankets earth,
piles itself around my door.
Now immense quiet of winter begins.

Haiku #76

What is this I feel now?
Slender, cold as needles--
sleet falling into my ears.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Haiku #75

I am your field,
wood, dark air,
oh luminous deer

Haiku #74

Lost and passing by you in the dark,
you remind me who I am--
luminous deer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Haiku #73

Deer and racoon
eating beside the narrow road
this cold night

Haiku #72

Strange beyond words,
ghostly in pale headlights--
autumn deer grazing.

Haiku #71

Lacy and cold,
first snow to stay on ground--
so beautiful

Friday, November 14, 2008

Haiku #70

See cat crouching
underneath the parked car
on this rainy day?

Haiku #69

Driveway is gravel
mixed with shards
of broken plates

Haiku #68

Waning gibbous moon,
Ninety-six percent of full--
I think you're full of snow

Haiku #67

Can't wait
to step on wet leaves
this rainy day!

Haiku #66

I'd never noticed
you'd never purred--until you purred,
old yellow cat

Haiku #65

Got up this morning
to store-bought carrot cake on table--
empty house, cold house.

Haiku #64

Round ghost-moon
shines behind clouds' veil--
strange night!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gifts

I will write more about this later. I have a class in just a few minutes. Today I checked my campus mailbox and found a package from Maine containing books which are a gift from Gary Lawless who runs Gulf of Maine Bookstore. A while ago, I posted a message on the bookstore blog about having just discovered Nanao Sakaki (poet and translator of Issa's Haiku). Gary then offered to send me some books about Nanao and his poetry. I am talking "free books." I am talking about a "gift" from someone I so far barely know. It is one of things I live for--such kindnesses as this.

The books are:

Let's Eat Stars
Break the Mirror
Nanao or Never
Caribouddhism
In Ruins

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Haiku #63

In the gray field,
Something white strikes at the ground--
head of bald eagle!

Haiku #62

Cold, gray day,
husband gone for apple cider
nectar of summer

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Haiku #61

Cold weather
piggy-backs on Western Wind--
another log please!

Haiku #60

Husband tending fire ;
little dog barking for love--
morning sounds

Haiku #59

Incessant Ohio wind
please don't blow all the bright leaves
from the trees

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Haiku #58

Brown hairy stalks
jut up from leaf-strewn earth--
lilies of summer past

Haiku #57

What makes you do that--
chew on mulberry limb,
my wild little dog.

Haiku #56

Take them in--
Crossroads, apples, taste of stone--
All first things

Haiku #55

On the bush
a wad of blackberries
the birds never found

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Haiku #54

Isn't it cold?
Praying Mantis in cocoon
on bare stalk?

Haiku #53

Among green needles
Tiny juniper cones
the size of a pea

Haiku #52

Look, mouse-hunting--
Striped tail moves through tall stubble!
My little tiger cat.

Haiku #51

Moon waxing crescent
Thirteen percent of full
It's cloudy anyway

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

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Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
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From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych

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