holding in my hands the small tub in which at noon i bathed my children
i look at the water in which float, benumbed by heat,
the dusty remains of their earlier game –
in some other reality, water would be carefully filtered
and then poured at the root of some apple tree whose shade and whose fruits
would be more than heavenly gifts –
it looks at the sun through eyes of foam
then slowly flows from the tub,
and the games of my children are left to return into the dust of the yard
to water there
the roots of their wings
december unfolds its wings, unusually creamy and warm
under a lavender glazed sky, the house’s green walls allow
mild reflections of sunlight to lick them of shadows and
autumn scents, the windows are bored, posing shamelessly
in their entire nude transparency, and a pair of spiders,
having somehow escaped winter’s fangs so far, are
rejoicing upon the bliss of colonizing a dark corner
beneath the eaves, enjoying what in another time of the
year would be called “honeymoon”.
endless phrases cover pages, purposely avoiding periods
that would cut their thread too often, painting complicated
arabesques of meanings similar to some refined sensual
teasing, round and round hot spots but not quite touching
them, like a calligraphic piece of jewelry, and you come to
receive one tiny dot with the same orgasmic gratitude
smearing your smile as if it was a breath of fresh air
caressing your gasping throat.
seconds seem to play leap-frog back and forth, time’s
heartbeats are stuck in the mud and nothing helps with
ignoring the howling silence perforated here and there by
the momentary chirp of some stray sparrow in search for
crumbs, and by the time you’ve reached this line you
realize that all that i’ve actually told you so far is that i’m
alone and missing you…
i planted seeds of lavender,
tiny things in the palm of my hand,
then the black soil and water,
patience . . . . and waiting
for the first signs of life,
the need for care and love
’til the splendor of blue,
the comforting fragrance,
a gift for the bumblebees and me
jag planterade frön av lavendel,
små ting vilande i min hand,
svart jord och vatten,
på de första tecknen av liv,
skötsel och kärlek,
“Once we create imagery that honestly represents how life feels from the inside, there is a deep sense of personal empowerment and a new degree of private certainty as a result of having finally touched down to the original bedrock of our original self.” Peter London, No More Second Hand Art
World in the Cracks
I believe they are waiting
I see them when my dreams splinter
their feet happy
splashing in a green pool
flower rings around open tresses
goldened by the sun
tender thighs fearlessly open
they recline with easy laughter
stretching graceful limbs
proud bosoms thrown to the wind
idly looking over bare shoulders
waiting for the next to arrive
Soft fabrics flow along their curves
green, gold, maroon
richly embroidered with bird wings
not really designed to cover
for here candour is the touchstone
This dell of delayed life
hums a happiness that never threatens
All of which are to me familiar
Curls, cascades and this well-loved lushness
Loveliness that never deserved a cold earth
which knows not what to do with its treasures
They are waiting and to see them often
I live more in my beleaguered dreams
I write on things I do not know about
or know but can’t get to them
or can get there but with lesser perfection
or it may be perfect
but I can’t live with such perfection
so I make them
all over again
to know more about them
to get to their core
to make their beauty bearable
so that I can live there
or keep them forever as raw materials
to build my no-so-perfect but beautiful world
whenever this one ejects me out
When I was in utero
my mother’s heart
would soothe me.
Then came that violent
an event known as
Now I walk barefoot
soaking up electrons
from Mother Earth,
a process some call
Creation is a violent
act, life explodes
It requires an equal
and opposable force,
to soothe the rawness
of all the pain
We are seeing.
from the self
to which the soul
out of balance,
on the mind, body, spirit
from forces that would
Rob us of vitality
and like a cancer,
until we are no more than
our time to die.
Life is the result
of billions of things
that must happen
and against enormous
We all must make
our peace with existence
Rip off the bandage
plunge me into analysis,
with your immediacy,
snap me out of my paralysis.
a well crafted ruse.
Soft spoken kindnesses
can only confuse.
I look for the trap,
the rationale, the bait.
The healing more painful
than this crisis I hate.
You slap my hand,
don’t pick at the scars,
stay in the moment,
don’t dwell in the past,
nor look too long
at the stars.
You would pray for me,
have me pray for myself,
but my pain doesn’t understand.
You drag me about
to houses of worship
for a laying on of hands.
I would have all this
done and over,
you stress the importance,
necessity to heal.
But you can’t rush me
Your professionally detached
has its limits
and you don’t fully understand
how I feel.
in the words
the world’s skin
many dead already
more to die
A poor widow was living with her two sons and their wives. They treated her shamefully, but the old woman had no one to turn to with her woes and nowhere else to go, so day after day she suffered in silence. Her sonsand daughters-in-law mocked her, and begrudged her every crumb of bread, every grain of rice. Even as the widow starved, her misery grew.
One day, when she could no longer bear the pain, she slipped out of the house and walked down the road. She had no idea where she was going, until she came to a house so decrepit there wasn’t even a roof left. She felt strangely drawn to the deserted house and stepped inside.
To her surprise, she found herself telling the nearest wall her grievances against her firstborn son, whom she had showered with love from the first time she felt him quickening inside her, and who now had no use for her.
As she finished, the wall crashed to the ground under the weight of her sorrow, and she felt her burden grow lighter.
She turned to the next wall and the tears flowed as she described the cruelty of her first son’s wife…
…who gave her only rags to wear and threatened to send her out with a bowl to beg.
The second wall collapsed and she grew lighter still.
She told the third wall about her second son’s ill treatment…
…and the fourth wall her complaints against his wife.
When she was finished, the old woman stood amidst the wreckage, watching the dust settle. She still had nowhere else to go, but as she turned homeward to face her life, just for the telling of the tale, she felt lighter in body and spirit than she had in a long, long time.
–Retold in Apples From Heaven, Copyright 1994 & 2016 Naomi Baltuck.
Poems clutter the landscape of my mind with bite-sized portions easily committed to memory, ready to be pulled out in a moment of need or want. In the art of healing and living hugely, poetry is warp and weft.
Whether I am writing poetry or reading it, poetry gifts to me those blessed eureka moments, the moments when I understand myself or another, can put a name to the demons, or simply realize that I am not alone in my joy or sorrow. Think of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and the simple line, “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.” I am getting older, approaching elderly, and though I am always making new friends, I’m of an age where I lose a friend or two each year, sometimes more. Bereft at the loss of someone precious and shocked that the earth hasn’t stood still, I think of this line and know that in this circumstance, everyone feels what I do . . .
. . . and all it takes is one disappointment in love to relate to Mad Girl’s Love Song by Silvia Plath, “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed/And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane./(I think I made you up inside my head.)
Of the many poets I dearly love, I particularly appreciate Ruth Stone for her quality of giving things their true names and for the practicalities embedded in her poems. “Dear children,/You must try to say/Something when you are in need./Don’t confuse hunger with greed;/And don’t wait until you are dead.”
Ruth Stone was an American poet and poetry teacher born into an impoverished family at Roanoke, Virginia in 1915. She lived most of her life in rural Vermont, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won many awards for her poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her last collection, What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008). She was wry, bold, conversational, edgy, philosophical and used the language and imagery of the natural sciences to good effect. Her second husband, the poet Walter Stone, committed suicide leaving her with three young children and an experience that indelibly etched itself on her life, heart and poetry. She once remarked that she spent the rest of her life writing to him and those poems were no doubt healing poems for her.
Not Expecting an Answer
This tedious letter to you,
what is one Life to another?
We walk around inside our bags,
sucking it in, spewing it out.
Then the insects, swarms heavier
than all the animals of the world.
Then the flycatchers on the clothesline,
like seiners leaning from Flemish boats
when the seas were roiled with herring.
This long letter in my mind,
calligraphy, feathery asparagus.
When Ruth Stone won the Whiting Writers’ Award, she got plumbing for her house. When she received the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at the National Book Awards, she said “I’ve been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn’t stop, I never could stop. I don’t know why I did it.… It was like a stream that went along beside me, you know, my life went along here . . . and all along the time this stream was going along. And I really didn’t know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can’t even take much credit for it.”
Ruth Stone died in 2011 leaving behind thirteen collections of literary dim sum. This poem, which gave its name to a collection that I just purchased, is a new favorite.
In the Next Galaxy
Things will be different. No one will lose their sight, their hearing, their gallbladder. It will be all Catskills with brand new wrap-around verandas. The idea of Hitler will not have vibrated yet. While back here, they are still cleaning out pockets of wrinkled Nazis hiding in Argentina. But in the next galaxy, certain planets will have true blue skies and drinking water.
If music be the food of love, play on ” ~ William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Act I Scene I ~ Duke Orsino’s opening line.
One of the first lines of Shakespeare I had ever read, as a teenager, came from this play that I studied for English Literature at the age of 16. It still resonates in me today. I passed English Literature at ‘O’ Level, but not with any great distinction. Maybe if I’d had the talent, intellectual aptitude and whatever other indeterminate qualities and quantities, be they genetic or environmental, I might have been more distinguished in my appreciation of the literary arts; maybe even more accomplished as a writer or musician, instead of starting out my adult life as I did, as an engineer, or a ‘reluctant metallurgist’, as I sometimes introspectively muse. Thereby hangs another tale, for another time.
But that’s history; it’s part of what made me the person I am and I am grateful for that and all the subsequent opportunities that I fell upon as a result of the path I took, not least of all in my personal life. If I am unlikely to ‘make it’ as a writer, if any one of us, who sometimes aspire with our pens in whatever corner of literary endeavour we may hang out, there is something else that happens in that endeavour; something that possibly only time, ageing and accumulated wisdom can reveal. This is quite simply that, if you seek, you will eventually find.
Alongside an early appreciation of literature, which Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and a host of classical poets afforded me in my school years, came also an appreciation of music, albeit not through education and training; rather through my exposure to the music through singing as a treble in the Church choir and at school, through the music scene of the 60’s and 70’s and the saving grace of my decision to sell a car and by a good guitar with the proceeds (a Yamaha FG140, to be precise), which provided me with an escape from, and therapy to help in my resolution of some challenging times.
I guess, out of a deep desire to make music, which thus far had been confined to playing my guitar and singing mostly on my own or small groups of friends, eventually, after what I call a thirty-five year spell in a creative desert, came an opportunity to make music with other likeminded people. More’s the point, I was able to find the time to join and regularly attend rehearsals in a mixed voice choir. It was here that I first discovered the true joy, not only of the music and singing in harmony, but of sharing that love with others.
And now, for the past two years, I have been singing and performing regularly with one of the best Barbershop Choruses in the UK, as well as with a local chamber choir, whose MD has managed to attract some significant musical talent … and me! A year ago, I also formed a mixed barbershop quartet with some singing friends. Additionally, through the barbershop chorus, I facilitate a regular quartet night. I am, you might say, in at the deep end and making up for lost time! This all sits beside other occasional duets with a musical neighbour and the recent setting up of a five piece folk ensemble; and next year, I have already put my name down to allow myself (to be persuaded) to form a male barbershop quartet through the resources of Hallmark of Harmony, some time early next year.
The latest step in the development of this absorbing hobby is that I have found myself being asked, nay commissioned to write lyrics. I’ve written poetry for several years and, during that time, often dabbled with writing song lyrics too. Now it seems to be happening. Am I living the dream or am I kidding myself? We’ll have to wait and see … and I shall have to keep close to my very supportive wife, who is unstinting in her support of my ‘hobby’. Long may that last, as well as my ability to keep up the energy levels needed to perform at this level, but singing is something many can continue to enjoy well into old age. I am always hopeful of singing at my own 100th birthday party!
Whilst a painting may have the power of a thousand words, for me, music, singing, poetry, musical composition and songwriting are closely interwoven art forms that, when combined in the most skilful way, I’d venture to say they are probably the most powerful of the art forms. When you encounter a song, with a great melody and poetic lyrics, the combination of which is so synergistic and performed with such passion that it hits you with a power that is unforgettable, makes your heart ache or makes you smile, then you know you have engaged with the highest form or art.
This experience is a quest, of which I will never tire. As long as I can breathe, I will sing. It has the power to change lives, to provide a therapy that no pharmacy can give you. Whilst I could never advocate that it replaces a true faith, whatever denomination you may choose, I have witnessed on many occasions, first hand, the healing power of singing in harmony with my friends. Singing takes you several steps beyond just listening to music. You only have to witness once the tears in the eyes of a grown man, when they feel that perfectly pitched chord sung in harmony, and when they have just performed a particularly moving rendition of a favourite song, to know how unique and powerful this experience truly is.