"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, January 14, 2019

Ghost of Myself


Following Halloween, I like to change the bow on my ghost
and leave her out for the remainder of the year.
Thanks to my friends Claude & Sue who wrote:
"Your lace Ghost of Christmas Past
is one of best yard decorations we've seen!"


The following two poems -- "i am running into a new year" by Lucille Clifton and "in celebration of surviving" by Chuck Miller -- have appeared recently on several different blogs and New Year posts and websites. Yet, I've never seen them posted together. As my contribution to the conversation, I will compare and contrast, in keeping with my goal to provide "a poem for every poem."

Here they are side by side: Clifton's almost middle - aged narrator, "running into a new year"; Miller's almost elderly narrator standing outside in January, coming "through on the stretch in a photo finish." The two narrators contemplate various ghosts of themselves as they resolve to take the New Year and run with it. Even so, they spare a moment to reckon with the ghosts of "Auld Lang Syne" [literally: "old long since"; idiomatically: "long long ago," "days gone by," "old times' sake]. I like to think of these poems as "Auld Lang Syne" reveries, midnight resolutions to cut loose the old trappings and embrace the new energy of the present. As Robert Burns reminds us when we put his poem to music every New Year's Eve, we drink the cup of kindness now.

Clifton begs the ghosts of her old broken promises and her younger selves to forgive her for choosing the present over the past. Miller stands, however briefly, in the "golden envelope" of the present -- not the past, not the future. What matters more is history as we are living it moment by moment; not history as we look back on it. The present is real; the past and the future are imaginary. Or is the opposite: there is no Now; there is only Before and After?

Contemplative essayist and novelist Scott Russell Sanders (American, b 1945) has the perfect phrase for what is happening in these poems. He begins the new year by sharing this thought from a friend: "Memory grips the past and hope grips the future." In both poems, you can feel the icy wind of winter, and the exhilarating wind of change:
i am running into a new year
i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

~ Lucille Clifton (American poet, 1936 - 2010)


in celebration of surviving
when senselessness has pounded you around on the ropes
and you're getting too old to hold out for the future
no work and running out of money,
and then you make a try after something that you know you
won't get
and this long shot comes through on the stretch
in a photo finish of your heart's trepidation
then for a while
even when the chill factor of these prairie winters puts it at
fifty below
you're warm and have that old feeling
of being a comer, though belated
in the crazy game of life

standing in the winter night
emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
when that single January shooting star
flung its wad in the maw of night
it was yours
and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
that second wind, or twenty-third
is coming strong
and for a time
perhaps a very short time
one lives as though in a golden envelope of light

~ Chuck Miller (American poet, b 1939)
Thanks to Katie Field for recommending Lucille Clifton;
and to Peter Bunder for recommending both Chuck Miller
and Scott Russell Sanders


January: Always a Time for
Gazing Forward & Hearkening Back

Christmas Forward Backward ~ January 15, 2016

Perfect Twins: Going Out, Coming In ~ January 14, 2016

Janus, Orpheus, Obsolescing ~ January 30, 2011

January: Forward Vision, Backward Glance ~ January 28, 2011

Janus ~ January 8, 2010

Fast Away the Old Year Passes ~ December 28, 2009

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, January 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, December 28, 2018

Past Three O'Clock

"Christmas Back Home"

& "The True Meaning of Christmas"
cartoons by xkcd

Past Three O'Clock

past three o'clock,
on a cold frosty morning,
past three o'clock,
good morrow masters all.

born is a baby
gentle as may be,
son of the Eternal
Father supernal.

seraph choir singeth,
angel bell ringeth,
hark how they rhyme it,
time it and chime it!

mid earth rejoices
hearing such voices.
ne'ertofore so well
carolling nowell!

hinds o'er the pearly
dewy lawn early
seek the high stranger
laid in the manager.

cheese from the dairy
bring they for Mary,
and, not for money,
butter and honey.

light out of star-land
leadeth from far land
princes, to meet him,
worship and greet him.

myrrh from full coffer,
incense they offer;
nor is the golden
nugget withholden.

thus they: i pray you,
up sirs, nor stay you
till ye confess him
likewise and bless him.

Old English Carol
by George Ratcliff Woodward (1848 - 1934)

Q: What makes the perfect midnight
or after - midnight snack?

A: Mince pies! (& a cup of tea, of course)

Thanks to Ben & Cathleen for the perfect present!

And a Toast to Gerry & the Christkindlmarket!

Previous Visits: 2011 ~ 2012 ~ 2013


Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, January 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, December 14, 2018

Shorter by the Day

Whistling Boy ~ Marques E. Reitzel

On the Shortest Days

At almost four in the afternoon, the
wind picks up and sifts through the golden woods.

The tree trunks bronze and redden, branches
on fire in the heavy sky that flickers

with the disappearing sun. I wonder
what I owe the fading day, why I keep

my place at this dark desk by the window
measuring the force of the wind, gauging

how long a certain cloud will hold that pink
edge that even now has slipped into gray?

Quickly the lights are appearing, a lamp
in every window and nests of stars

on the rooftops. Ladders lean against the hills
and people climb, rung by rung, into the night.

by Joyce Sutphen
found in Modern Love & Other Myths
© Red Dragonfly Press, 2015
(see facebook)

[See also "The Shortest Day" by Susan Cooper]

See the mystical oil painting above, as well as this nostalgic pastel,
at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette (Indiana)

Two Hour Delay by Ron Burgess

The shortest day -- and longest night -- of the year will be here before you know it: on December 21st, one week from today! For the next seven days, we will continue to lose approximately thirty seconds of light per day; and then magically after we round the Winter Solstice, start gaining it back again. So prepare your hearts. As the earth turns towards the solstice, so do we:

The white dove of winter
sheds its first
fine feathers;
they melt

as they touch
the warm ground
like notes
of a once familiar

music; the earth
shivers and
turns towards
the solstice

Linda Pastan, American Poet (b 1932)

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, December 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Laden With Fruit

~ Thanksgiving Bounty ~
Thanks to Cathleen and Ben for the fruit and for the pic . . .

. . . and for sharing!

To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit
; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.
[emphasis added]

William Blake, 1757 - 1827

Thanks to my friend Katie Field
for the Opinel Paring Knife


A Comical Prayer for the Season
from the movie that we watch every Thanksgiving:
Home for the Holidays

Henry / Dad / Charles Durning: "Dear Lord, We realize just that lately everything is changing too damn fast. And all sorts of things are always the same, even things we hated like shoveling the turkey and stuffing the snow, and going through the same crap year in and year out -- "

Adele / Mom / Anne Bancroft: "Come on, your food is getting cold."

Henry: "As I was saying Dear Lord before my wife interrupted me, even those old - fashioned pain - in - the - ass traditions, like Thanksgiving, which really mean something to us, even though, god - damn - it, we couldn't tell you what it is, are starting to stop; and thousand - year - old trees are falling over dead, and they shouldn't. That's all from this end. Amen"

After dinner:

Adele: "It's all relative."

Claudia / Holly Hunter: ". . . that's what the day is supposed to be all about,
right? . . .

Adele: "That, and giving thanks that we don't have to go through this for another year. Except we do because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us."

Henry: "Oh shit! Deck the Halls! I can't wait for god - damn Christmas."

As everyone departs:

Adele: "There's never enough time, right? . . . I think I'm never going to see my kids again."

Claudia: "Come on, Mom. Buck up. There's always Christmas."

Henry: "Yeah, whether we like it or not."


Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Fruit in Season
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Title Like a Book

Happy Halloween Nails
It was just a fluke of timing that my orange tips
coincided with the Illinois Game (colors orange & navy).

I seem to remember this same thing happening once before.
Ben & Sam said, "Mom! Not orange!"
Well, no harm, no foul -- we won both times!

Pumpkin Spice

Purdue Snazzy

For a literary blogger, a large part of the fun of having your nails done is the poetic quality of the polish names. Puns abound, and the word - play provides endless entertainment. Kind of like strolling through the library, reading title after title of a hundred books that I will never have time to read, I can easily stand at the polish display for an hour, turning over each bottle to read the clever names.

There are the food names: Beets Me!, Bitter Chocolate, Chocolate Shake Speare, Malaga Wine, Mimosas for Mr and Mrs (suggested for weddings), and Suzi Sells Sushi by the Seashore. There are those which immediately conjure a specific color: Teal the Cows Come Home, Turquoise and Caicos, Down to My Last Penny, My Chihuahua Bites (ouch!). My favorites are the concept names, where you must use your imagination to figure out what connection might exist between the name and the color: Amster-Damsel in Distress, Can’t Find My Czechbook, I'm not Really a Waitress, Nomad's Dream, Not Like the Movies, Optimistic, Road Trip.

My friend Katy has an idea for a novel in which each chapter is named after a polish color. So imagine how delighted we were to discover a novelist -- Gabrielle Zevin -- who shares our interest in these color names and has actually used them to advance the plot of her novel The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. As the main character Amelia explains to young Maya:
Amelia takes Maya to the drugstore and lets her choose any polish color she likes. "How do you pick?" Maya says.

"Sometimes I ask myself how I'm feeling," Amelia says. "Sometimes I ask myself how I'd like to be feeling."

Maya studies the rows of glass bottles. She selects a red then puts it back. She takes iridescent silver off the shelf.

"Ooh, pretty. Here's the best part. Each color has a name," Amelia tells her. "Turn the bottle over."

Maya does. "It's a title like a book! Pearly Riser," she reads. What's your's called?"

Amy has selected a a pale blue. "Keeping Things Light."
It is not lost on Maya's dad, A. J., despite Amelia's protestations, that perhaps her ever - changing nail colors reveal a hidden clue to the status of their tentative romance. Later in the day, he asks,
"What color are you wearing today?"

"Keeping Things Light."

"Is that significant?"

"No," she says.
On previous occasions, A. J. has asked Amelia, "What hue is that?" One day the answer was "Rose - Colored Glasses," another time "Blues Traveler." As the months pass, and Amelia and A. J. decide [spoiler alert!] to marry, Maya picks the perfect wedding day present for Amelia: " . . . a bottle of orange nail polish . . . A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find."

(132 - 133, emphsis added, 156; see also previous FN & KL)

Available on amazon

Nail polish serves as an effective metaphor in poetry as well as fiction. The color names chosen by poet Anya Krugovoy Silver symbolize not only the brief life span of the manicure itself but also a foreshortened human existence, opening with a Baby's Breath, a First Dance, and the recklessness of youth -- Russian Roulette; closing with a Curtain Call, accepting life's ultimate fate -- Bone (the skeleton takes the day):
Red Never Lasts
There’s no doubt it’s the most glamorous,
the one you reach for first — its luscious gloss.
Russian Roulette, First Dance, Apéritif, Cherry Pop.
For three days, your nails are a Ferris wheel,
a field of roses, a flashing neon Open sign.
Whatever you’re wearing feels like a tight dress
and your hair tousles like Marilyn’s on the beach.
But soon, after dishwashing, typing, mopping,
the chips begin, first at the very tips and edges
where you hardly notice, then whole shards.
Eventually, the fuss is too much to maintain.
Time to settle in to the neutral tones.
Baby’s Breath, Curtain Call, Bone.

by American Poet ~ Anya Krugovoy Silver, 1968 - 2018
in her book From Nothing
On living with cancer and the connectedness of all things in life, the poet explains:
“I have a tremendous amount of joy in my life, and my joy exists with pain. I don’t see those two things as completely separate. All of life is woven together, and separating the strands is impossible.”

Anya Krugovoy Silver
on Georgia Public Radio
One more connection comes from the futuristic novel Player Piano, a post World War II tale of Dawn or Doom written in 1952 by the visionary Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In his imagined dystopia, the brave new machines have all but displaced meaningful human labor. Vonnegut explores the likelihood and the qualms of a society that reveres engineering above all else. However, it seems that he misguessed when he describes the "streetcorner manicure machine" that after a few minutes of buffing leaves the user "with gleaming, red - enameled nails" (239).

As it turns out, sixty - six years later, clients still value the undivided attention of a personalized, detailed manicure or pedicure. No machine has taken the place of that yet. What Vonnegut says of the haircut likewise remains true of the manicure:
"Used to be sort of high and mighty, sort of priests, those doctors and lawyers and all, but they're beginning to look more and more like mechanics. Dentists are holding up pretty good, though. They're the exception that proves the rule, I say. And barbering -- one of the oldest professions on earth, incidentally -- has held up better than all the rest. . . . It does seem like the machines took all the good jobs, where a man could be true to hisself and false to nobody else, and left all the silly ones, And I guess I'm just about the end of a race, standing here on my own two feet.

And I'm lucky barbering held out as long as it did -- long enough to take care of me. . . .

Anyway, I hope they keep those barber machines out of Miami Beach for another two years, and then I'll be ready to retire and the hell with them"
(205 - 08).
In conclusion, I think the only thing left to say is long live the hands - on manicure and the colorful polishes with titles like books:

Back to Reality,
Envy the Adventure,
Adam Said “It’s New Year’s, Eve,”
Hello Kitty: Let's Be Friends

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ RED: Dress, Lipstick, Fingernails & Ersatz
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Miracle of Mushrooms

Giant Puffball Mushroom,
about the size of a soccer ball, in our backyard.
I placed the apple and pears alongside for scale,
only to be queried by my son Sam: "How do I know
those aren't just miniature apples and pears?"

Searching not for a Halloween scare,
but merely for further information concerning
the Calvatia_gigantea,
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I googled
Wikipedia and this creepy face suddenly appeared
on my laptop, leering eerily amongst the puffballs.

"How do we know that isn't just a shrunken head?!"
Or, as my daughter - in - law Cathleen said:
"Wow! That takes scale to another level!"

"Or consider just the mushroom family,
rich as that is in tradition and deception. . . ."

~ Shirley Jackson ~

We are surrounded by the mystery and miracle of mushrooms!
Last month, my friend Beata sent an update of the
late summer adventures that she was having near Warsaw:

"Dear friends,
I’ve been in Poland already five days. . . . This weekend we went to visit friends who live in Gostynin. This small village, located in the Mazowsze Region, is known for a wonderful fresh microclimate created by pine forestry. We went mushroom hunting today, and I include photos of our treasure."
"Sending you warm greetings from the forest!"

"Mushrooms on the porch table,
lit by the afternoon sunshine!"

Elegant and mystical . . .

. . . just like Sylvia Plath's poem!
Notice how the mushrooms speak for themselves:

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

American poet, Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

This, and all mushrooms above
(except for the Giant Puffballs)
photographed by Beata Ribeiro
Poland ~ September 2018

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, November 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading