Life With Horace

poetry & essays

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despite the two-step
back and forth
of sun and snow,
there is new growth
emerging from
the silver painted trees
that greeted me
this morning

the promised gifts
of warmth and green
are on approach,
not yet in sight
though moving closer,
not quite frigate bird
in endless motion,
they are more subtle
in descent

spring’s silent feet
are passing by
the slowing pace of winter
in its wanton marathon,
not in a sprint,
but sidling steps
that lull the beast,
so grass will grow
for us to dance upon
and sing the notes
of rising life again

will she won’t she? mother nature, that is.

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The child within

She calls me now where once she hid frozen,
afraid of dark paned windows,
conjured menace staring blankly in.

I first returned to grasp at shards of understanding
and found instead a small hand needing mine,
we stood together, unafraid.

There was a magma shift, the hard and inky dark
shape-changed by love’s reagent into brightness,
the bond of trust rewarding us with grace.


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The piano duo

The photo shows my godmother, Anne Hull (left) and my grandmother, Mary Howe, circa 1920. They were both pianists and composers, and performed together as a piano duo from 1912 until 1935. They met at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1905, when my grandmother was studying piano with Ernest Hutchinson. She later returned to the Peabody (with the full support of her husband) to study composition with Gustav Strube, gaining her diploma with high marks in 1922. She was active musically until the early 1960s, an internationally recognized composer, and a founder of the National Symphony.

Anne was studying for an Artist’s Diploma and Teaching Certificate. She had a rich musical life, never married, teaching first at The Institute of Musical Art in New York, and later The Juilliard Graduate School, retiring in 1968 at the age of 80.

Friends for the rest of their lives, they did extraordinary things in a world that sometimes considered them dilettantes, and not to be taken seriously.

My grandmother’s unequivocal take on being a woman composer, circa 1950:

“Women composers should be played more than they are. I don’t think conductors have a prejudice against women composers now. But no one puts women writers or women painters in a class any more and they still do with women composers. I know I considered it a handicap to be a woman when I started composing. I’m not a feminist. But I think I would have gotten along faster if I’d been a man.”

I generally admire her pieces, and think her art songs were her strongest. She knew many poets, and read poetry voraciously. Her friendship with the poet Elinor Wylie, whom she met during an early stay at the MacDowell Colony, is a story in itself. A particular favorite of mine is her setting of Wylie’s poem “When I Died in Berners Street”. I have been working on it with my voice teacher, and like to think she would appreciate the effort, if not the result!

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Imagining dragonflies

Walking under mid-March flying clouds,
snow still layered tightly on this wetland road,
there are soft murmurs, water running under ice,
the flow from unseen melt is fleeing winter.
A half-warm sun and gusting wind of early spring
cannot erase the memory of heat and fecund life,
riches here to be regained at nature’s pace, not mine.
The dogs and I tramp to the dam and back,
and dream of summer pleasures looming large,
imagining the dragonflies.

On yesterday’s wetland walk my mind kept overlaying summer on what I was seein

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catching the light

however it comes
we want it all, that light,
bright understanding
to open eyes,
illuminate and warm
our world, and free us,
so we think.

on light filled, sunny days
our spirits lift and soar
on updrafts,
hawklike, hunting
promise in those beams,
the source of what
is possible.

but with no sun and open sky
do we still sense
the light there for us
brought in different form?
that it still shines,
its power now diffuse
but no less ours,
and can we grasp
with raptor talons
all the glimmers due us?

much harder then
to have to work
for something often
free of effort, easy
to absorb, enjoy,
yet if we persevere
there is reward,
brilliance, no less a gift
for being indirect.

this ornament was a gift brought by my sister from New Zealand. it always catches light.

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sure signs despite appearances

We all know what yesterday was, and for most of us in the upper tiers of North America it was just a date.

But, there have been signs. More than one. Different signs, unexpected and joyous. Spring is en route here. Emerging at glacial pace after a winter that brought stoic New Hampshire yankees to the point of actual complaint.

The turkey buzzards are back. Really turkey vultures, but down in DC they were buzzards. I like that better. Circling singly and in whirling vortexes.

I’ve heard red wing blackbirds twice, once in my own yard.

Speaking of which, it is beginning to show mud. Longing for mud season. Just this year, mind you.

Bird song in the early morning is loud, and full and sweet, their spring calls.

There is more flowing water than ice or snow on our own Fassett Brook. The dark shape of the Brook is emerging from the snow in the woods behind us.

On a walk yesterday there was a bug creeping across the snow in front of me, when I happened to glance down. No idea what it was. Small and spindly, it crept along, and I imagined it muttering to itself about the snow.

And last of all, somewhat incongruous to me, I saw a male ring necked pheasant. First sighting up here for me ever. Coming home on Mountain Road, on the last climb up before the Old Toll Road trail. On the side of the road, looking a bit confused about getting back up the bank, to safety. Hope it didn’t become Creamed Pheasant, if you get my drift. It’s a busy road.

It’s definitely coming. Just very very slowly.

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dance of the jays

the clustered blues
have come to feed,
loud, gorgeous
wing of seven,
flying in with
unexpected grace,
slight hesitation in
each landing on a limb,
the power of their wings
allowing float.

the vision of
a singleton,
movement caught
up in the tree
but without sense of
pattern, common trait,
while with the whole, it is
nature making dance
to catch the eye.

our feeders draw large clusters of particular birds, along with the ones and twos and threes of others. the grace of the jays in the apple tree caught my eye.


Today, a while ago

A while ago I had a gift
and gave one too,
a lovely boy
whose soul and name
my heart reached out and held
before his birth.

And then he grew,
gifts seized with joy
and challenge met with grace,
in one quick moment,
my life’s blink
this swoosh, bright energy
old true soul, became a man
possessed of loving honesty.

Now two score on
a truth teller thinker
dreamer husband father
nephew cousin brother son,
above all friend,
his light shines bright
held always
in my soul’s arms
and in my heart.

for my son, on his 40th birthday

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but it is

not my loss I thought
a friend’s friend gone
under snow
sent down the mountain
by pleasure seekers
without thought
of lives below
or dreadful consequence

this sudden gap
where once a friend
stood in the heart
is feathered now
with small things
precious bits
of cloth or lace
dug from the snow
song and image
remnants of a
rich creative spirit
its light now dimmed
but not to be
forgotten, no

all sensed and felt
by strangers like myself
who at a distance
mourn her leaving.

the loss of a creative soul is universally felt, whether we realize it or not