Poem and more poetry

I love that expression “a day late and a dollar early” although I’m not quite sure what it means. In any case, I’m a day late with today’s Monday poem because I’ve been helping with the book launch for the Community of Writers 50th Anniversary poetry anthology, Why to These Rocks.

That event will be a virtual reading on March 11, with Forrest Gander, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Greg Pardlo, Evie Shockley and others, each reading a poem from the anthology. I’ll be emcee. It will be live on March 11 at 6:30 pm and  you can register here. I think it will be an extraordinary event.

In any case, I am including a poem here that didn’t make it into the anthology, but one that I think captures some of the spirit of the Community:

Temblago

When Galway gets up to pee in the night he finds Temblago,
an imaginary place somewhere in France
that doesn’t exist anymore, a small country, rocky,
whose people, also called Temblago, are so
tenacious, the word has come to mean holding fast,
the way a piton clings to rock. When I get up,
I find one more mosquito bite in the soft indentation
of the inner arm. David says that insects are fantastic
that their name, “in sections” derives from how they are made,
many tiny sections, how even the tiniest insect, even a mite
has the same organs we do: a mouth, an anus,
reproductive organs, a digestive tract. We should think
about that instead of swatting it. He shows us an antlion,
a mysterious, armadillo-like bug with the miniature claws
of a dust-colored lobster, how it digs holes in the friable floor
of the forest, the grains at the exact angle of repose,
so when an ant falls in, it can’t scramble out; its frantic
legs alert the antlion who grabs it and devours it.
He demonstrates, dropping a carpenter ant into a thumb-sized depression.
We see the antlion’s claws grab hold. David scoops up
the tiny antlion and it’s prey, lets the ant go,
and holds the antlion in his palm, before dropping it
back in its hole. Antlions have a hard time, he says,
their metabolism is slow and very few ants
fall into their holes. They reproduce painfully slowly,
they turn have their chitonous into gossamer.
So I think about being nicer to insects, but still
I swatted the one that landed on me in the hammock,
just when my eyes were beginning to close, because
it was starting to suck my blood and that really seemed
like an act of insect aggression. Brenda says
she’s been trying to pin Bob down
about the wildflower walk, and I think
what that must be like, trying to pin Bob down, Continue reading “Poem and more poetry”

Cherries

While there are many wonderful blackberry poems,  I know only three poems about cherries, all from previous centuries–one by Thomas Campion, one by Robert Herrick, and this one, by D. H. Lawrence, that Larry mentioned as we were eating the exceptionally sweet cherries of this summer:

The Cherry Robbers

Under the long, dark boughs, like jewels red
In the hair of an Eastern girl
Shine strings of crimson cherries, as if had bled
Blood-drops beneath each curl.
Continue reading “Cherries”

An occasional poem

robert-hassI wasn’t looking specifically for a Thanksgiving poem, and this one might not be to everyone’s taste, but I like its realism–the confusion of emotions amid the celebration:

The Feast

The lovers loitered on the deck talking,
the men who were with men and the men who were with new women,
a little shrill and electric, and the wifely women
who had a repose and beautifully lined faces
and coppery skin. She had taken the turkey from the oven
and her friends were talking on the deck
in the steady sunshine. She imagined them
drifting toward the food, in small groups, finishing
sentences, lifting a pickle or a sliver of turkey,
nibbling a little with unconscious pleasure. And
she imagined setting it out artfully, the white meat,
the breads, antipasto, the mushrooms and salad
arranged down the oak counter cleanly, and how they all came
as in a dance when she called them. She carved meat
and then she was crying. Then she was in darkness
crying. She didn’t know what she wanted.

Robert Hass, from Praise

An  Elegy

elephantsA friend leant me Inventions of Farewell, A Book of Elegies, by Sandra Gilbert. This is a wonderful collection and in the introduction she references a passage on “elephant grief” from Fragments on the Deathwatch, by Louise Harmon, which in turn cites a National Geographic article about the mourning behavior of a herd of elephants after the death of an old bull. The elephants “approached his body by twos and threes, ‘sweeping their trunks slowly over him, not touching him for the most part but maintaining an inch of distance between his skin and the moist tips of their trunks. The ritual was more impressive for its silence.’ ’’  Continue reading “An  Elegy”

Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility

I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets–for me the Williams Sonoma or Chef’s Catalog is a kind of kitchen porn. Many of them aren’t worth the trouble, but I have two onion gadgets that really work: the onion keeper and the onion dicer.

IMG_1495The onion keeper I picked up one day in the supermarket. It’s a plastic onion-shaped container that opens in the middle with a twist. You put an open onion in it, twist it shut, and your onion is saved without smelling up the fridge.

The dicer has three sets of blades, two of which (rough dice and fine dice) can handle onions. There’s also a slicer blade, which I sometimes use for mushrooms. But it’s the onion dicing that is the real timesaver, especially when you have multiple onions to dice.

IMG_1496Set a half or a quarter of the onion flat side down on the dicer and pushed down the lid with your palm.

The machine gives a satisfying whump and you have instant, perfectly uniform chunks of onion.

IMG_1497Kitchen magic! It does for onions what my corn stripper does for corn kernels. This is a little plastic module with teeth at one edge that you run along an ear of corn to remove the kernels. Continue reading “Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility”

Envy of Other People’s Poems

Talking with another poet about the discouraging series of rejections, the endless worry that one’s work is really good–how can one know? I remembered this wonderful little poem by Robert Hass, from Time and Materials.

Envy of Other People’s Poems

In one version of the legend the sirens couldn’t sing. Continue reading “Envy of Other People’s Poems”

The fascination of translation

I don’t know exactly why translating poetry is so fascinating. For me, it’s a way to work on a poem when I have no ideas of my own. The demands of translation–the fact that a literal translation just won’t do, and that you have to try to somehow capture the spirit of the poem without straying too far from the literal–is the challenge and the art. In some ways, I feel that all poetry is translation–sometimes I’m trying to translate my own glimmers of an idea, sometimes those of someone else.

A decade ago, when Bob Hass had his weekly poetry column in a number of daily papers, he printed a translation of a poem by the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. I’ve mentioned these columns before–they’ve been collected into two books, Poet’s Choice and Now and Then–great morning readings, both of them. You can find Bob’s original column on Vallejo in the Washington Post archives.

At the time I didn’t know about the column, and happened to read the one on Vallejo riding home on BART, chancing on it in an abandoned copy of the San Francisco Examiner.  Bob printed the Stanley Burnshaw translation and one of his own. Ed Hirsch, when he did his own version of Poet’s Choice, printed Robert Bly’s translation. Here is the Spanish: Continue reading “The fascination of translation”

Poetry Monday

The prose poem is a medium difficult to describe–a paragraph? a story? a reflection? It’s shorter than a story, but not in short lines. It should make you catch your breath the way a poem does, I think. This one, by Robert Hass, does everything it should:

A Story About the Body

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” Continue reading “Poetry Monday”

California’s got four

San Francisco’s fine,
You sure get lots of sun,
But I’m used to four seasons,
California’s got but one.
cc                               California, Bob Dylan

When I first came here, I thought Dylan was right about the seasons, though not so much about sunny San Francisco! In the over 40 years I’ve lived here, I’ve learned to appreciate the subtlety of the seasons: the parched summers when the hills bake from a golden beige to tired, brittle brown, the way the brown shades into blue as the rains come. Then the blue intensifies, slowly greening over the rainy winter, till one sudden day, like yesterday, you notice that the hills have turned a green to rival Ireland. For a week or ten days they are so green, you want to roll around in the grass–a mistake, as it’s full of prickles! I’ve had some serious misadventures based on those intoxicating hills. Then in another moment they turn from an unbearably luxuriant green to a yellow-green, to the gold of early summer, and the process starts over.   Continue reading “California’s got four”

Bob Hass and Jim (Royal Dick) Rathmann

These two people have nothing in common, one a famous poet and teacher the other a renowned race car driver, except that I was reading first the obituary of Jim Rathmann in the NY Times this morning, and then Bob’s poem “Shame: an Aria.”

Larry was reading to me Jim Rathmann’s obituary over breakfast (vegetable hash–yummy–let me know if you want the recipe). He started racing before he was legally eligible, so used his brother James’ ID.  Hence his career as Jim Rathmann, record breaking race car driver, whose given name was “Royal” but whose family name was Dick. It must have been confusing, as his older brother was a decent racer, too. The part Larry read was: “He earned renown in Southern California drag-racing circles, receiving 48 traffic tickets before he was 18 — four during one lunch break.” But my favorite part was the last paragraph of the article.  He became friends with the astronauts, and one taught him to fly:

Gordon Cooper, one of the original members of NASA’s Mercury program, told him never to fly under a seagull lest the bird excrete on the plane. Rathmann made the mistake of laughing.

Colonel Cooper proceeded to prove his point, flying so low under a flock of gulls that a terrified Rathmann could hear the propellers cutting marsh grass. On landing, Cooper jumped from the plane and pointed to the spattered roof.

“I told you,” he said. Continue reading “Bob Hass and Jim (Royal Dick) Rathmann”