Life With Horace

poetry & essays


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heaven’s way

up from quiet stones they ran
bedrolls flapping
dodging early morning rain
from green encrusted may
I knew them both
but not together until then
bright head and dark
laughing as they came
the dash of youth
and all of life ahead

from my window perch I wished them well
wished me in their place, and longing
turned away from fecund spring
too heavy for my shredded heart
leaking messy love
right down my shirt
I crept around the room
certain of impending death
(a Duse to the core)
of course I mended, they dried out

we all moved on to other lives
she left hers first, too soon and young
decades on my mind replays
those grays and greens
wet kissed fizzing temporary love
and wonder if her spirit
comes there too
revisiting a lilac scented
night among the stones
on Heaven’s Way

________________________________
for gus, and joyce. Heaven’s Way is a cemetery road in Vermont.

BH in the field


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elegy

and with his end
all lifeline letters stopped
akin to clocks
hushed at a death
leaving smothered laughter
or kind words
confetti-chopped
to ricochet at will

those daily orts
grown into thoughts
inked heiroglyphs sardined
with scattered
pencil nonpareils
bright chrome yellow sheets
they will come no more

he lived for wordy news
recounted histories
rich mirrors of our minds
but people hanging
on a vapid phone
not tolerated much
beyond a minute any day

in all of this
we saw and felt
the gifts his writing brought
quiet kindness
in our grasp connection
palatable family glue
admonishments
or clapping hands

he never did hold back
bursts of excited rant
against extinction
of a simpler life
or older barn
sunblot politic dizziness
or inept modernity

today we hold those pages
fiercely knowing he is gone
and reread again
to briefly feel his warmth
born of quiet brilliance
a rich legacy
of love disguised

__________________________
Day 3. the prompt was to write an elegy, and a particular facet of the person or thing mourned.


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longing for blue

longing for blue for the swell of waves at noon wind changing
light flaking on their crests

lunch on a glass table on hot flagstones flesh still warming
we rode ice sharp water round the whirlpool’s seaweed walls

wine in the blood languid tune in my bones we sit shoulders touching
shaded corners of a sea green room calling

beauty of white against dark green


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litany

what don’t I remember?
my collier brother brain
hoards words and time
with colors joining hands
to sing their song

I don’t remember
any moment spent
without a color wash
intensity of thought

I don’t remember
understanding those who hate
preferring to destroy
instead of build

I don’t remember
living days or nights
without a music counterpoint
embers into torches lighting memory

I don’t remember
sunsets painted on the undersides
of clouds or nature come to flower
without feeling joy almost to tears

______________________________________
A leftover prompt, from Day 29. Things remembered, and what they weren’t.


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a line borrowed

for years every morning I drank
long drafts of the world
without knowing
that words lay in wait
to flash like sunbeams
unable to dance quietly
until the moment of ambush

for years I would tuck away
the sight of throat caught beauty
in dull green strong boxes
to sit on bare wood shelves
until I could not wait
another moment of another minute
to feel and see again

for years words found me
some refused to leave
sticky stubborn things
and now, well now I recognize
them as old friends that held the dam
until one day they stepped aside
to release the flood
as I surrendered

__________________________________________
Day 25 part 2. The NaPoWriMo prompt was to borrow the first line of a favorite poem, and use it as a jumping off point for a new poem. I chose the first line of Mary OLiver’s Mornings at Blackwater.


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on approach to lighting a tree

The Whites are singing the morning awake today, as the dogs get fed, as I make some tea and watch things busy up out the window over the kitchen sink. Today I am grateful, as always, to see another sunrise, listening to music, in a place that I love deeply. Writing is on my mind this morning, I have had little time or energy for it this week, and it feels luxurious to anticipate the smooth feel of my pen on paper.

Day by day the house is looking a little more Christmas-ish. Favorite memory rich things bringing light and color to December’s squeezing down days. I am riding a wave of work that began the day after Thanksgiving and won’t quit until just before Christmas. It leaves my thoughts dim and cloudy in transition each night, muffled by tiredness., unless there is music to open my heart’s inner ear and let feelings out to air.

Happily this time of year is rich that way. Wednesday night found me singing with the Fitzwilliam Occasional Singers, rehearsing for Sunday afternoon’s tree lighting on the Common. Roughly fifteen of us, friends and fellow singers, gather every year to do this, and my city emigre heart is glad to sing again in a small village, and be part of a gift to the children and families of Fitzwilliam.

It will be full dark as we walk over from the church, just before five. The village windows glowing with candle lights. The tree waiting, unlit. Bustle. Portable lights get turned on. People begin to arrive, drifting into the glow from the recesses of the Common. Children sit on the ground in front, a wide crescent of small bundled up figures and smiling faces. It will be cold (but not as cold as last year, when Deb’s accordion froze up and we had to sing a cappella).

And then we will begin. Walden reading A Visit From St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas), Bill leading us through the carols we rehearsed, accompanied by Deb on her accordion. Then a carol sing for everyone (first verses only, and lots of laughter for Rudolph). At last Santa will roll in on the Fitzwilliam Fire Truck to light the tree, and talk to the children.

After there will be hot cocoa (so good in the cold) and home made cookies, while folks visit, then slowly disperse as the evening’s trappings are loaded into cars and trucks, along with us. Dark and quiet will settle on the Common again, except for the tree, its shining presence standing sentry until the new year.

 


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things I didn’t know I loved

I didn’t know I loved the deep
soil spirit under reedy marshes
connected to it through my bones
by a vision of roiling changing life

I didn’t know I loved to sing
that songs we sang would make me cry
joy in a quick moment on the backs of notes
voices together light to dark

I didn’t know that I loved dogs, people, places,
color memories, until they were gone
layered goodbyes dimming
sunlight to dusty motes on gray air

I didn’t know that I loved touch
I thought it dormant, dried but not forgotten
only to find a fire so ready lit my blood sang
even as I would cry aloud

I didn’t know that I loved words
that they would fill me
pull me with them words from my eyes
words from my simmering core

I didn’t know that I loved life
sweet along with sharp and hard
rushing in over tidal flats escaping just as fast
that I could cherish it not just live it

_____________________________
this list poem is from a marvelous poetry workshop taught yesterday by the poet Doug Anderson. we read “things I didn’t know I loved” by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. the exercise was to write our own list poem by the same title.


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licentia poetica

you both were spinsters (then)
and from our blinkered perch
closer to life’s alpha
we thought we saw two ancients,
despite a force of nature (solid) stance
and razor (gentle) gaze,
conviction flavoring the
snail paced minds eye tours
through plays and poems
or, god help us, Hardy
our take on you parodic,
not ready to imagine or predict
the depths of passion
you would later find
beyond our classroom door,
in brilliant marriage to
a (younger) Bishop friend
become a lover,
or cloud dancing mid life pilot
pioneering aerobatic ace,
biplane red and yellow blur
carving skies in perfect loops
tweeds and twinsets flung away
steeping gently
only in our teatime memories
your lessons had such legs
and far from trudging through
dull furrowed fields in metered step,
we learned to track and slither catlike
round each word, to seize
intent, and voice, and pace,
in short a brilliant Poets Ed
put to the test at last
with gratitude

_________________________________
For Joan Ford Rutt (Fordy) and Frances MacRae (Muck), who did all those things and more.

flowers from Geoff


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every day, love

we settle, cozy with each other,
life together flowing,
knowing we won’t leave
this place, our coupleness,
while our hearts are here.

quiet moments, though less weighted,
felt more clearly than crescendos,
simple, loving gestures
saturated with delight,
flowers you have chosen,
waiting on our table,
lovely, in a jar or pitcher,
knowledge of these growing things
and bird songs,
gifts I brought to you
through our acquaintance,
love’s osmosis
passing bounty back to me.

you brought me here, to
nights on mountains,
walks through wetlands,
skiing on a snow deep pond
in winter moonlight,
summer swimming ledges,
hearing loons or beaver slaps,
thrushes lilting song in hemlock woods,
rhododendrons bent with snow,
discoveries that echo joy,
and I suppose, my loving them
is now a gift turned round again

to you


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emptying a place, filling my soul

Sell a 6000 square foot house with outbuildings on 23 acres. Empty out 200 years of stuff. Add 15 cousins, stir well.

A TV series pitch? Not so much. It was my life for a while. It took about three years, but we did it, my cousin and I, with lots of family help and the sale of a painting.

There were miracles involved.

We were a typical extended family with rifts and misunderstandings. My cousin and I were trustees for the two branches (his father, my mother). We worked hard to heal the effects of the past, building a good working relationship, learning to trust each other. The rest of the family followed our lead, slowly but surely.

The potential for great drama burned off like fog. When the time came to finally empty things out, the family grew closer. There were no fights. None. Someone might get crabby for a few hours, but we all understood and helped each other through it.

Coming down to the wire the wild and wacky bartering started. Taking my name out of contention for a wooden bench, antique hay fork and french watering can produced the rug next to my bed! We all got into it. And it was never about monetary value.

So much so that when our family lawyer arrived on Monday morning to arbitrate any disputes, there were a whopping seven items waiting for him to decide about. Out of all that stuff. He said he’d never seen anything like it.

Big ticket items? Nope. The French watering can and a painting by my mother were the most hotly contested.

Even when the outcome was decided, we still made adjustments. One of my cousins (unbeknownst to me) was extremely attached to a child’s hearth chair that I got. Watching a slow tear make its way down her cheek, I simply gave her the chair. Fondness trumped by memories.

Later on her brother came up to me with a bowl he knew I really loved, but that he had chosen. He put it in my hands saying it had a small crack, and his wife had a thing about cracked bowls. I know it was because of the chair, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

Losing stuff. Regaining family.

It was that kind of day.


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local hitchhiker turns 90

Wish I could claim that zinger, but my nephew Adam delivered it sotto voce during the round of group photos at my sister Annie’s house this afternoon. A headline typical of our old small town newspaper, the Hudson Register Star.

Finally mellowing nicely thank you, my one-of-a-kind, definitely wacky stepmother Dorothy turned 90 today, and Annie rallied us to make the trek to the Berkshires for brunch in her honor. After a nice meal in a Lenox full of City weekenders, we regrouped to West Stockbridge to hang out for the afternoon. What a luxury.

gathering for DorothyIt was wonderful to be all together for a normal, non-BDM* occasion. There are six of us, of varied parental combinations, and except for Julie, the youngest (who lives in NZ, so she gets a pass), we all showed up, plus four out of seven next-genners, two with offspring of their own in tow.

Dorothy is the last elder in my immediate family, the only one left who “knew us all when”. Despite a rather checkered career as mother and stepmother, she has cruised into old age shedding neuroses and snarky tendencies, endearing herself to her grandchildren as she mellows out.

At the end of the afternoon my sister and I were marveling at “Zen Dorothy”, laughing that it was too bad it took her so long! In the words of the immortal (equally screwed up) Peter Sellers, “it is better to be late than never”. Oh yeah.

Dorothy grew up in Brooklyn, as did my Dad.

She loves Lottie Lenya in Brecht, Eggs Benedict, jazz, books, books, books, silly humor, left leaning politics, the theater, Ed Levin silver jewelry, bright colors, her plants and The Weavers.

Her children, stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren certainly.

My Dad once, then not. Then again for a while, then… eventually not. They separated for the final time a few years after they remarried.

Her friendships have been long and deep, even though she has always been able to alienate people close to her at the drop of a hat.

She has always been without prejudice (except perhaps towards those inflamed by it).

And she hitchhiked.

Once she could no longer drive, before her move to assisted living, she made us all crazy hitchhiking in and around Hudson NY, or when she visited family if no one was available to take her somewhere at the exact moment she wanted to go. These days commandeering a ride on someone’s walker seat is the only possibility.

Happy Birthday Dorothy. You are a marvel. I’m so glad we were there to celebrate with you. Lots of love.

*BDM = Births, Deaths, Marriages


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afterbirth: seeing with new eyes

The light was different this morning. Early sunlight was streaming through my neighbor’s woods across the road, and I could see the shape of her hill through the trees, glowing with its blanket of leaves and humus.

I wondered if I’d have seen it a year ago. Probably not. Last July I started to morph yet again, not really aware of what was happening at first. Whatever you want to call it: morphing, shape shifting, rebirth, I’ve been through it before. A simple event can lead to profound change.

Encouraged by a wonderful illustrator friend, in 1973 I picked up a dip pen to draw a Christmas card. A connection to the creative part of me that I had ignored for way too long. That card led to other drawings, a calendar, a series of notecards, spot illustrations in the Washington Post, some editorial illustration, house and building drawings all over the DC area, illustrations for the Guide to the Smithsonian, book illustrations.

After ten years in the graphics department of the international organization I worked for I volunteered to take over the fledgling corporate website from the engineer who started it. Those were the early days of html and hand coding websites (1996), and I had to learn everything. Fast. Two euphoric, exhausting months later the new site was up, and I was off to the races.

By the time I took early retirement in 2005 I was running all three of the corporate websites, with one foot in marketing, one in IT, both sides of my brain firing at warp speed. I thought of my work as the perfect melding of technology and design, and could literally “see” how the code that we wrote functioned and fitted together.

Oh, and the engineer, a deceptively mild former South African Recce who left his country for the US rather than use force against his own countrymen, became a good friend, along with his girlfriend.

He encouraged me to go back to skydiving (after a single static line jump in college). For one wonderful, summer weekend boogie in 1997 I jumped out of planes again, out of my mind with excitement, and passed the first two freefall levels. Then I stopped, cold, when he had a near-fatal parachute failure the next summer. I had a family that needed me alive. No question.

Rebirth hasn’t always been about creativity, or work. Two years ago next month, after a lifetime of wanting proof that a higher power truly existed before I could believe, I went to church one Sunday and God more or less said “shazaam!”. Not to be flip about it, but it was that sudden, and that obvious. I hold this precious gift close, amazed and grateful.

So last summer. Morphing. Again. It started when I joined a creative group on Facebook started by the author Jon Katz. As I wrote last September:

The result …. has been a miracle. That’s how I think of it. Like this came along and opened up a worm hole into a new place, a safe place to create and express and fall flat on your face, and get wonderful feedback from the rest of the inhabitants.

Yes. I love the group, and the folks in it. I see something like my neighbor’s woods and think about photo shoots, or drawings, or poems.

Especially poems. That completely blindsided me. Writing poetry. I never expected it, sort of like the Spanish Inquisition, happy edition. It feels good, really really good.

I’d like to think that Fordy, dear long suffering Miss Ford, who took me through Hardy, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats et al with great patience at school in England, is probably not surprised.