8.23.2021

NOTES FROM AN ISLAND - Aug 22 2021

 

It’s my birthday, again.

In a time such as this one, I shouldn’t be complacent about it. The passing of years is automatic. It is the compiling of them where the challenge lies.

Last year was a ‘big’ birthday, one whose number need not be named. At the beginning of 2020, we made Plans – travel, dine with friends, reengage my roots. The wild celebration had occurred the year before in the form of a raucous Seventies Party (not remotely germane, since I was neither seventy nor born in the seventies, but fun nevertheless). 2020’s Plans were scattered like ashes alongside everyone else’s.

So now it is this year. We made plans (writ small) – a modest trip home, a smaller supper, a few roots, our breaths held to make sure we could sneak past this milestone.

For some, birthdays are a time of celebration. For others, of sober reflection. My father used to send out a lengthy birthday letter (later e-mail) yearly until he could no longer focus his words into meaning. I’ve always been mindful at my own birthday time. There are a few poems that I recall writing (or fragments mercifully lost to anywhere but my swirling memory). I’ve always held my birthday in superstitious awe. Twenty-two is my so-called lucky number (still waiting for the luck to be attached). The eve before has always been one of waiting till midnight and then giving myself a silent nod of humble congratulation.

We write New Year’s Resolutions, using January 1 as the arbitrary day for everyone to reset the clock. But I think it should be our birthday that gives us the cue to review and rewind. We are not all really running the same race, or rather we are not running it in synchrony. We each have our own clock; a clock which once a year we should acknowledge with a nod, a wave, a laugh, a slice of cake, what have you – and then set aside as, with good fortune, our calendar continues to spin around.



8.10.2021

A YEAR IN POEMS - 8/10/2021

 

“Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.”

Sara Teasdale, “Let It Be Forgotten” 

This beautiful but bittersweet poem finds relief in the soothing passage of intense memories, but at the same time it honors the beauty and passion of those experiences.



6.16.2021

A YEAR IN POEMS 6/16/2021

 

“Come hither, Child! And rest:
This is the end of the day,
Behold the weary West!

“Sleep rounds with equal zest
Man’s toil and children’s play:
Come hither, Child! And rest.”

Ernest Dowson, “Villanelle of Sunset” 

My brother’s favorite non-classical poet and by extension mine. No poet ever, in my mind, was as skilled at turning sorrow into sweetness.



6.15.2021

A YEAR IN POEMS 6/15/2001

 

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.’”

Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven” 

There was a time when this poem was memorized by every school child in America and was often their introduction to poetry. The insistent rhythm and rhyme scheme, full of strange repetitions and dark corners create a deep and somber mood. I’ve never understood what was so scary about the subject. The image of the raven sitting on the bookshelf was more humorous than terrifying to me.



5.27.2021

A YEAR IN POEMS 5/27/2021

 

“Up with me! Up with me into the clouds!
                For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
                Singing, singing,
With clouds the sky about thee ringing,
                Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seem so to thy mind.”

Wordsworth, “To a Sky-lark” 

I have always admired Wordsworth’s attempt to achieve the lightness of a Keats poem in this ode. He tries desperately to rise weightless, and fails boldly, like an elephant thinking it is an eagle. 

(Parenthetically, I think skylarks have so much poetic press just because of their name. In nature, they are hardly the most ethereal or lofty of birds.)



5.24.2021

A YEAR IN POEMS 5/24/2021

 

“At the time that turned the heat of the earth,
At the time when the heavens turned and changed,
At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
To cause light to break forth,
At the time of the night of Makalii (winter)
Then began the slime which established the earth,
The source of deepest darkness.
Of the depth of darkness, of the depth of darkness,
Of the darkness of the sun, in the depth of night,
                                It is night,
                                So was night born

Queen Lili’uokalani, “Kumulipo”  

A beautiful, stirring version of the Hawai’ian creation story, made more full of pathos by the historical reality of Queen Lili’uokalani’s personal tragedy. The web posting has the poem in native Hawai'ian and it is even more haunting with it's mesmeric repeated sounds, likes the waves crashing on the ocean shore.



5.22.2021

ON A DEAD TREE

 

 

“A draft brings sway to
Brittle leaves,
Curled limbs of gray
Death-dancing in its light breath:
Ribs exposed, an umbrella
Broken reaching for the canopy.

Small buds glistened once on
Delicate supple fingers
Cavorting with the green and red surround:
The whisper of life-
Shuffling, striving for the
Blue-polished sky.

Winter seized the playful boughs
Too sudden to elude
Too swift to understand:
The hollow, from tip
To root, dancing now with
The memory of life.”

K Mankin, “On a Dead Tree”:

Yesterday, arborists removed the sweet Japanese Maple from beneath my study window. This poem is about the illusion of permanence.