"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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Desolation of Abode and Boy

A HOUSE WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUSWaiting for the Moving Van ~ June 2004


This picture of Sam polishing the kitchen tiles
was taken in August 2001, on the day we moved in,
pre-figuring the above photograph of Ben,
taken three years later on the day we moved out.

For today, I have pulled together yet another moving day blog post, this time featuring a poem by my son Sam, written back in 2007, when he was a freshman in high school. At the time, I thought he did very well, and I still think so. I am honored to feature him today as my guest blogger.

I confess, it was my idea (interfering mother) for him to experiment with the pantoum style, thinking that the repetition would capture the echo of the gradually emptying house; but all the rest was up to him.


The barren house deserted and devoid,
The home depleted of its frills and friends.
The desolation of abode and boy,
Packed up and sent off to another place.

The home depleted of its frills and friends,
Who will replace the boy that loved her so?
The lonely house cries out; it wants to shout,
“Come Back, Come Back! I can’t be left like this!”

Who will replace the boy that loves her so?
The boy that laughed and cried within her walls,
Humming and thrumming through welcoming rooms,
Now stripped down to bare bones and skeleton.

The boy meanders far from all he loved.
The desolation of the house and boy
Like Tara and Scarlett, separate and sad,
Their barren hearts deserted and devoid.

by Sam McCartney, age 14

To accompany their completed poems, the students were also required to submit an explication of their poetic process. Sam explains:

In my poem "Farewell," I used alliteration, internal rhyme, literary allusion, personification, simile, and hyperbole . . .

Alliteration is definitely my favorite poetic device, so I started my poem with "deserted and devoid" and continued with "frills and friends," "bare bones," "separate and sad" . . .

The lines in which I use internal rhyme are 7: "out / shout"; and 11: "humming / thrumming." Internal rhyme, for me, is a really effective way to enforce an idea. For example, on line 7, I really want to personify the house and enforce the idea that is is crying out in anguish; and on line 11, I really want to enforce the idea of the boy joyfully running through the house.

Finally, I chose an allusion to another work of literature. I think the placement of this device in line 15, which is near the end, really ties the poem together. The whole relationship that is being described throughout the poem between the boy and the house is similar to the feelings that Scarlett, the main character in Gone With the Wind, has for Tara, the house she lived in as a child. She was separated from that house during the Civil War and several years after.

As for the process that I underwent to complete my poem, it was a tough process that caused me a lot of stress and panic. I was trying to write my poem when my mother asked me to download pictures from her camera for her. As I completed this task, I started looking at the photographs from the day I moved from my house in Philadelphia. There was my brother, stretched out forlornly on the kitchen counter - top in our wonderful old house. As I looked at this picture, a flood of memories came to me and the poem wrote itself after that.

When I got the poem written down on paper, I went through a thesaurus to sophisticate* my poem by using words like "meanders" instead of "walks around." Also, I let my mother read the poem to add her insightful ideas. She showed me one of her favorite poems (see below), written in the form of a pantoum, thinking that I might like to experiment with this poetic pattern, in which line 1 of each stanza is an echo of line 2 in the previous stanza (until the final stanza, which can rearrange the pattern in a variety of ways). She also helped me keep the poem in blank verse by using her vast vocabulary** to keep all the lines 10 syllables long.

For example, in line 3, I could not get the line longer than nine syllables. She suggested that I replace the word "house" with "abode," which added one more syllable. Earlier that day, my teacher had suggested that I consider the word "abode" as a synonym for "house," so I knew it was the right choice for my poem.

Using the devices of alliteration, internal rhyme, and allusion taught me a lot about how the sound and sense of a poem go together to create the final impression. In my case, I wanted to capture the sad, hollow feeling of moving day, when residents say farewell and every stray sound echoes bleakly through the empty rooms. I hope my readers experience this feeling when they read my work.


: at this point, Sam's teacher has written in the margin of his final draft: "Is this a real word?" I think the correct answer would have to be: "It is now!

**vast vocabulary
: I swear I did not put Sam up to saying this!


Here is the other poem Sam refers to, the one that I had suggested he read to get a feel for the pantoum:

Always the One Who Loves His Father Most

Always the one who loves his father most,
the one the father loves the most in turn,
will fight against his father as he must.
Neither knows what he will come to learn.

The one the father loves the most in turn
tells the father no and no and no.
but neither knows what he will come to learn
nor cares a lot what that could be, and so

tells his father no and no and no,
is ignorant of what the years will teach
nor cares a lot what that could be, and so
unties the knot that matters most, while each

is ignorant of what the years will teach,
they'll learn how pride -- if each lives out his years --
unties the knot that matters most, while each
will feel a sadness, feel the midnight fears.

They'll learn how pride -- if each lives out his years --
will lose the aging other as a friend,
will feel a sadness, feel the midnight fears.
The child and then the father, world without end,

will lose the aging other as a friend.
And then the child of that one, too, will grow --
the child and then the father, world without end --
in turn to fight his father, comme il faut,

will fight against his father as he must,
always, the one who loves his father most.

by Clement Long

Long's poem can be found on pp 116 - 17,
in Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms
by Miller Williams

Our Third Floor Landing, like a drawing by Escher!

Even Harry Potter says,
"It felt most strange to stand here in the silence and know
that he was about to leave the house for the last time. . . .
It gave him an odd, empty feeling to remember those times;
it was like remembering a younger brother whom he had lost."
~ J. K. Rowling ~
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 44

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, August 14, 2011

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Moving Day

[By "we," I mean Gerry!]


I am dedicating this blog post to my wonderful neighbors
Mia ~ Zoe ~ Bea
who are boxing up and packing and moving away this summer
Au revoir mes amies!


Away went our little family,
like rats leaping off the burning ship.
It hurt to think about everything at once:
our friends, our desert, old home, new home.
We felt giddy and tragic
as we pulled up at a little gas-and-go market
on the outside edge of Tuscon.
Before we set off to seek our fortunes we had to gas up,
of course, and buy snacks for the road.

Barbara Kingsolver
from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, p. 2


A poem for every poem -- or in this case, four poems for one another -- all about the momentous occasion of Moving Day. The repeated images speak for themselves. In every poem you'll find the cardboard boxes, the eerie lonely no - person's land somewhere in between past and present and future, the strange light and odd sounds, the absent friends and closed doors, the keys, the landmarks, the old roads trailing behind, the new life stretching out ahead, the uncertainty of transition.

Each poet uniquely captures the sense of dislocation, isolation, and apprehension. Since first reading Joyce Barlow's poem in 1977, I have never failed to feel like "a great historical epic" whenever the occasion calls for such; and I was delighted, more recently, by the similarity of Barbara Kingsolver's sentiment: "We felt giddy and tragic." William Meissner unsettles the reader with his acquatic imagery and surprising motif of the pet goldfish / dead minnow; and Robert Wallace takes us back to a time before cell phones: "The phone has been disconnected."

Starting Out
Suddenly your life is packed away
in boxes and the present
is no longer home
again. You think
I must never leave
any of this.
You feel
like a great historical epic,
capturing every moment around
you: the turning of keys, the entering
into rooms, your hand resting comfortably
on the light switch.

And then you are going,
the faces of your friends growing small
as they wave in the rearview mirror,
the sign at the city limits saying


Then you are past stopping.
You would like to think you know
where you're going --
the map marked, the road clear.
But how will you know
when you get there?
the signs all blank
on this side, the roads narrowed
to a fine black line
behind you.

It may be you will never see any of this
again, coming suddenly bright
on the dark edges
of sleep. or perhaps in the early
morning hours of some future room you will sit down
to write all this and find
it is the letter from home you've been waiting for.

Joyce Barlow, American Poet
poem from The Chariton Review, Fall 1977 (vol 3 no 2)

Moving Again
You find yourself filing cardboard boxes for days.
When you open them you'll want everything
exactly as you packed it:
the flowers with petals unbroken, not smelling sour,
the slash of sunlight
caught in the corner
like a pet goldfish.

Moving is a way of teaching yourself
where you've been, you think, while you watch
your wife stare at the soles
of her feet.
It's a way of learning
where you should not be,
like a fish that dreams too often
of breathing air.

You step out the door for the last time,
expecting a hoard of neighbors, tears
hanging from their eyes, transparent laundry.
All that greets you is the empty
backyard, the hot sun
splashing you with salt.

You walk to the truck with the key,
the key -- a dead minnow in your palm
that is suddenly heavier
than any packed suitcase, any davenport.

The engine starts in an instant.
As you drive away,
the exhaust leaves a blue stream behind you
where no fish are swimming.

William Meissner, American Poet
poem from The Chariton Review, Fall 1978 (vol 4 no 2)

Bookshelves empty, tables lampless, walls
bare, the house is a rubble of moving --
foothills of boxes, trunks
under clouds of ceiling.

My friends
said good-bye hours ago, when June twilight
hung on the hills. Now, in late dark
muggy for stars, moths whir at the yellow porch light,
ping screens. By the one dim floor lamp
among the shadowy undoings of my life,
in a limbo between having gone and having gone,
I sit like a caretaker of my doom.
Not an ashtray or a spoon.
In the real dawn, I will be going.

My friends are sleeping, turned toward
tomorrows without me -- will be sleeping
when I begin to drive the familiar streets and roads
in which the sun will come only after me.

If I called them now, in this hollow
past midnight, anything I said would
be from the future.

Alone in the present,
I wait, smoking (a tin can for ashes).
Bugs thwack on the screens. Beyond love
I am a projectile into the future --
still hours, days away.
Time has stopped at the speed I am going, landmarks
appear strangely in new light,
clouds whirling past me, into the past.

The phone has been disconnected.

Robert Wallace, American Poet
poem from the anthology
Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle, p. 170

And finally, the beautiful imagery and heart - breaking clarity of Howard Nemerov's poem was new for me in 2004 when my good friend Cate (mentioned many times before on this blog) sent me a copy to guide me on my westward journey. For many years we had lived across the street from each other in Philadelphia; then Cate returned to Ohio, and a year later, following in her footsteps, my family and I returned to Indiana. How aptly Nemerov describes the intensity of those neighborly days and years, and how honestly he portrays the conflicted decision to move away. Nowadays, Cate and I remain "neighbors" in the Midwest -- well, Ohio is right next door to Indiana! -- living proof that some friendships manage to survive the momentous, earth - shattering, giddy, tragic, time - traveling confusion of moving day.

Going Away
Now as the year turns toward its darkness
the car is packed, and time come to start
driving west. We have lived here
for many years and been more or less content;
now we are going away. That is how
things happen, and how into new places,
among other people, we shall carry
our lives with their peculiar memories
both happy and unhappy but either way
touched with a strange tonality
of what is gone but inalienable, the clear
and level light of a late afternoon
out on the terrace, looking to the mountains,
drinking with friends. Voices and laughter
lifted in still air, in a light
that seemed to paralyze time.
We have had kindness here, and some
unkindness; now we are going on.
Though we are young enough still
And militant enough to be resolved,
Keeping our faces to the front, there is
a moment, after saying all farewells,
when we taste the dry and bitter dust
of everything that we have said and done
for many years, and our mouths are dumb,
and the easy tears will not do. Soon
the north wind will shake the leaves,
the leaves will fall. It may be
never again that we shall see them,
the strangers who stand on the steps,
smiling and waving, before the screen doors
of their suddenly forbidden houses.

Howard Nemerov, American Poet
poem from
The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov
, p. 220

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, July 28, 2011

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

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