I have been working on arranging a memorial at Marin Poetry Center for Linda Gregg, and also received word that my old friend died this week. So elegies are on my mind. Here is a beauty by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees
for Michele Antoinette Pray-Griffiths
Ordinary days deliver joy easily again & I can’t take it. If I could tell you how her eyes laughed or describe the rage of her suffering, I must admit that lately my memories are sometimes like a color warping in my blue mind. Metal abandoned in rain.
My mother will not move.
Which is to say that sometimes the true color of her casket jumps from my head like something burnt down in the genesis of a struck flame. Which is to say that I miss the mind I had when I had my mother. I own what is yet. Which means I am already holding my own absence in faith. I still carry a faded slip of paper where she once wrote a word with a pencil & crossed it out.
From tree to tree, around her grave I have walked, & turned back if only to remind myself that there are some kinds of peace, which will not be moved. How awful to have such wonder. The final way wonder itself opened beneath my mother’s face at the last moment. As if she was a small girl kneeling in a puddle & looking at her face for the first time, her fingers gripping the loud, wet rim of the universe.
It was a crazy week, including travel to the writers conference in Portland, so I missed the Monday vitamin for all of you. But here you go with a lovely poem by Julie Bruck.
Blue Heron Walking
Not one of Mr. Balanchine’s soloists had feet this articulate, the long bones explicitly spread, then retracted, even more finely detailed than Leonardo’s plans for his flying machines. And all this for a stroll, a secondary function, not the great dramatic spread and shadow of those pterodactyl wings. This walking seems determined less by bird volition or calculations of the small yellow eye than by an accident of breeze, pushing the bird on a diagonal, the great feet executing their tendus and lifts in the slowest of increments, hesitation made exquisitely dimensional, as if the feet thought themselves through each minute contribution to propulsion, these outsized apprehenders of grasses and stone, snatchers of mouse and vole, these mindless magnificents that any time now will trail their risen bird like useless bits of leather. Don’t show me your soul, Balanchine used to say, I want to see your foot.
Two amazing poets died this week, W. S. Merwin and Linda Gregg. I have posted several of Merwin’s poems before. Somehow though, I never have posted a poem by Linda Gregg. Here’s a sample:
Death Looks Down
Death looks down on the salmon A male and female in two pools one above the other The female turns back along the path of water to the male does not touch him and returns to the place she had been I know what Death will do Their bodies already sour and ragged Blood has risen to the surface under the scales One side of his jaw is unhinged Death will pick them up Put them away under his coat against his skin and belt them there He will walk away up to the path through the bay trees Through the dry grass of California to where the mountain begins Where a few deer almost the color of the hills will look up until he is under the trees again Where the road ends and there is a gate He will climb over that with his treasure It will be dark by then But for now, he does nothing He does not disturb the silence at all Nor the occasional sound of leaves of ferns touching of grass or stream For now he looks down at the salmon Large and whole Motionless days and nights in the cold water Lying still Always facing the constant motion
This wonderful poet is coming to read here next week. I have posted one of her poems before, but thought I’d post another, from her book “The Dig.” This poem, as many in the book describe a childhood at the edge, with unreliable caretakers. The description of “wringing of every cent from every dollar,” resonated with me, and I love the details of the description.
The Red Kimono
I stare at the brass scarred by beating until it is as bright and uneven as a lake in August when the sun melts all reflections into one wide gold zero, when the sky itself is wide, is hot as the bell that this schoolmaster, inappropriately strict, tips to summon the children from the unrelenting heat of noon. The long tape unrolls from the teeth of the adding machine onto the scarred deal. Over and over the budget unreels and spills, liberated from the sprockets and machinery of will. My mother sits with a pencil and ticks her teeth, we are broke, every avenue of escape is closed, even the car tires at the curb are fat black zeros, all the scheming and coaxing, the wringing of every cent from every dollar, has come to nothing. I watch my mother swab up the dust, her hair tied in a rag, her naked feet, nails bloodied by a tiny brush. Misery, misery, the cranes of good luck hunch at the snowy mountain of her left breast as she bends to set the empties on the step in the housecoat the landlady lent.
Barbara Reynolds runs a reading series the second Sunday of the month at Britt Marie’s, a wine bar on Solano. I am reading there March 10th at 3:30. But here is Barb herself, speaking one of her poems. This is the first in a series of three.
Ted Kooser was US Poet Laureate in 2004. His poems often deal with the farming communities of the midwest, like this one, which does a great job of capturing a moment and a perspective.
Flying at Night
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations. Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn back into the little system of his care. All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
Before the days of self service, when you never had to pump your own gas, I was the one who did it for you, the girl who stepped out at the sound of a bell with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back in a straight, unlovely ponytail. This was before automatic shut-offs and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank, I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas backed up, came arcing out of the hole in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts, belly and legs. And I had to hurry back to the booth, the small employee bathroom with the broken lock, to change my uniform, peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin and wash myself in the sink. Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt pure and amazed — the way the amber gas glazed my flesh, the searing, subterranean pain of it, how my skin shimmered and ached, glowed like rainbowed oil on the pavement. I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall, for the first time, in love, that man waiting patiently in my future like a red leaf on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty that asks to be noticed. How was I to know it would begin this way: every cell of my body burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me a nimbus of light that would carry me through the days, how when he found me, weeks later, he would find me like that, an ordinary woman who could rise in flame, all he would have to do is come close and touch me.
Out of the sump rise the marigolds. From the rim of the marsh, muslin with mosquitoes, rises the egret, in his cloud-cloth. Through the soft rain, like mist, and mica, the withered acres of moss begin again.
When I have to die, I would like to die on a day of rain– long rain, slow rain, the kind you think will never end.
And I would like to have whatever little ceremony there might be take place while the rain is shoveled and shoveled out of the sky,
and anyone who comes must travel, slowly and with thought, as around the edges of the great swamp.
Rain in Northern California, where we always seem to be needing it, can be as delicious as this poem, which sounds contemporary though written a century ago.
All night our room was outer-walled with rain. Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof, And rang like little disks of metal. Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between them. The rain rattled and clashed, And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered. But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored With your brightness, And the words you whispered to me Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain. Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!