Friday Poetry

This poem arrived in my email this morning:

Doubled Mirrors

It is the dark of the moon.
Late at night, the end of summer,
The autumn constellations
Glow in the arid heaven.
The air smells of cattle, hay,
And dust. In the old orchard
The pears are ripe. The trees
Have sprouted from old rootstocks
And the fruit is inedible.
As I pass them I hear something
Rustling and grunting and turn
My light into the branches.
Two raccoons with acrid pear
Juice and saliva drooling
From their mouths stare back at me,
Their eyes deep sponges of light.
They know me and do not run
Away. Coming up the road
Through the black oak shadows, I
See ahead of me, glinting
Everywhere from the dusty
Gravel, tiny points of cold
Blue light, like the sparkle of
Iron snow. I suspect what it is,
And kneel to see. Under each
Pebble and oak leaf is a
Spider, her eyes shining at
Me with my reflected light
Across immeasurable distance.

Kenneth Rexroth

I love how this poem seems to move so simply, almost like a prose paragraph. But every detail is exact, moves the poem forward from a late night on a particular road into immeasurable distance.

And poetry from an unexpected source appeared as an editorial in the NY Times on Derek Jeter by Doug Glanville that Larry read to me. Here’s a sample: “You speed through much of your time just hoping to keep the ooze moving forward, worrying that it may swallow you whole the minute you let up.” Several passages made us almost teary. Not surprisingly, he’s written a book, The Game from Where I Stand, which I just ordered.


The hive has a hat

When we set up the Haengekorb, I didn’t realize it needed to be protected from rain. We hung it in a tree in the back of the yard, and it really wasn’t practical to take it down to put on a roof once the bees were in. The unseasonal rain we had prompted me to put up a very makeshift roof; but clearly, I needed to solve this problem in a more permanent way. I originally thought of 1/4″ plywood and 2×2’s, but I didn’t see how I could cobble this together around the ropes. Also, there was the problem of weight.

Then I thought of clear plastic corrugated roofing. I got an 8′ piece, some v-shaped metal flashing, a couple of pieces of lath, some marine glue, some foam pipe insulation and hose clamps, and metal duct tape (the kind they use for heat ducts).  I had the lumber yard cut the roof panel in half, and cut a 4′ piece of the flashing for me. Then over several days I glued the lath to the short sides of the roofing, glued the flashing across the top, and taped everything up. I drilled holes for the ropes and made saw cuts from the edge up to the rope holes. I covered the holes with tape so they wouldn’t fray the ropes.

The installation had to be at dusk, when the bees were all quiet and in the hive. The first evening, I waited put up two ladders. I climbed up on either side of the hive, and set 18″ pieces of the  foam pipe insulation around each rope, with a clamp at the top for the roof to rest on. I taped around each piece of foam for reinforcement. The next evening, I set the finished roof on the foam and taped up the saw cuts with duct tape and metal tape. Then I covered all the metal tape with blue painters’ tape to deflect the heat and please the bees, who allegedly like blue.

Now we’ll have to see if it holds up and keeps the bees dry when the rain comes. But in any case, this is certainly the most advanced engineering project I have ever tried. I am amazed that my measurements were right, the saw cuts were relatively straight, and the whole thing worked as I envisioned it.

For the full story of the arrival of the bees, and setting up the hive, click here. Or click to see the makeshift roof.

Whose poem is this?

Sometimes I can’t remember whether something in my notes is original or cribbed from somewhere.  For example, did I write this? or was it possibly Lorine Niedecker?

Changed two words.
What I call
a morning’s work.

It’s very like some of her short work:

Remember my little granite pail?
The handle of it was blue.
Think what’s got away in my life—
Was enough to carry me thru.

*                    *                   *

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
so the cold
can’t mouse in

Both those are hers, and I can’t remember for the life of me whether that three-line stanza is mine or hers. Someone might know…

In any case, I thought of it, because my day’s work today was to come up with the phrase “the darning needle of dread,” which came out of reading Robert Kroetsch. His mother called dragon flies darning needles. I liked that idea, and so it goes. Though I’m not too crazy about his prose so far. A little too Hemingway-wannabe? a little too peppered with self-consciously quotable phrases? I’m not sure just what I am finding off-putting. I haven’t gotten to the poetry yet. But I do like Lorine Niedecker! An underrated poet, I think. She lived into her late sixties, but I couldn’t find a good later photo. She wasn’t as secluded and little known as Emily Dickinson, but you don’t get too famous if you live a quiet life in the wetlands of Wisconsin.

Domestic Felicity

Yesterday was the day for pruning the labyrinth. I am a person who loves to plant and tend but hates to cut. My mother used to say she liked the look of wild gardens, and I guess I do, too.

Nonetheless, it was no longer possible to walk the full labyrinth, so pruning and tying back was in order. I took my wonderful Japanese scissors and some brown garden twine, and set to work.

The whole project took four hours, not the hour or so I’d expected. But it at the end the labyrinth was a labyrinth again, not an impassable maze, and the pullets feasted on the cuttings.

As a finishing touch, I placed a statue (a wonderful gift from a sculptor friend) near the center. In addition to gracing the labyrinth, it holds back the Blue Showers plant so that I didn’t have to completely decimate it.

Everyone was happy. Or at least the chickens and I were both pleased with the morning’s work.

If I were to work on a poem today, it would be in the category Bob Hass called in a lecture “poems of domestic felicity.” One of my favorites in that category is this one, “Everyone Was in Love.”As with all domestic felicity, there is a hint of darkness at the edges that only makes the moment sweeter.

Everyone Was in Love

One day, when they were little, Maud and Fergus
appeared in the doorway, naked and mirthful,
with a dozen long garter snakes draped over
each of them like brand-new clothes.
Snake tails dangled down their backs,
and snake foreparts in various lengths
fell over their fronts, heads raised
and swaying, alert as cobras. They writhed their dry skins
upon each other, as snakes like doing
in lovemaking, with the added novelty
of caressing soft, smooth, moist human skin.
Maud and Fergus were deliciously pleased with themselves.
The snakes seemed to be tickled too.
We were enchanted. Everyone was in love.
Then Maud drew down off Fergus’s shoulder,
as off a tie rack, a peculiarly
lumpy snake and told me to look inside.
Inside that double-hinged jaw, a frog’s green
webbed hind feet were being drawn,
like a diver’s, very slowly as if into deepest waters.
Perhaps thinking I might be considering rescue,
Maud said, “Don’t. Frog is already elsewhere.”

This poem is in Galway Kinnell’s latest book, Strong is Your Hold. Not only is this a wonderful book, it comes with a CD of Galway reading the poems. He has one of the great reading voices, and the book is worth it just to hear him read this poem.