Tag Archives: poem

Cherish

Here’s one thing I love about having a space for writing:  I am surrounded by my books, which are filled with ideas, and that comes in handy at times like RIGHT NOW when I really feel a desperate urge to write but cannot think of a damn thing I want to say. Every spine of every volume reminds me that all writers have a moment (or year) when they get stuck.  Misery loves company and these writers are good company because they made it through.

I reached over just now and picked up a slim gray book of poems by Raymond Carver called “A New Path to the Waterfall.”  I bought this copy for myself in the spring of 1990.  A professor of mine, on whom I had a huge crush, had loaned me his copy earlier in the year because he thought I might like it.  I did.  I loved it and I loved him and that’s OK to confess now because I’m 45 and it feels sweet, not embarrassing, to remember that time when he and I would talk about books and painting and the ways of the world.  I was 21 and really looking to have my heart broken a few times.  Just to check, I googled him and his smile still made my tired old heart go pitter pat.  

carver_gallagherOne thing that drew me to this book of poems when I was 21 was the tragic story of Carver’s life.  He died in 1988 from lung cancer at the age of 50.  But he was supposed to have died 10 years before that.  Carver tried his best to drink himself to death but managed to get clean at 40.  He called the rest of his life “gravy” (and there’s a poem by that name, too).  In that last best 10 years, he made a life with Tess Gallagher, a fellow writer.  When they learned that he was dying, they married so they could call each other husband and wife.

Well.  That rings a bell.  These poems that I loved when I was a heartsick 21 year old girl mean even more to me now that I also know what it is like to promise “til Death do us part” when Death is practically a guest at the wedding.

So here is a lovely poem, written by Ray in the days between his marriage and his death.  After he died, Tess gathered all these last poems and assembled “A New Path to the Waterfall.”  His gifts to her; her gift to him.  

Cherish

From the window I see her bend to the roses
holding close to the bloom so as not to
prick her fingers. With the other hand she clips, pauses and
clips, more alone in the world
than I had known. She won’t
look up, not now. She’s alone
with roses and with something else I can only think, not
say. I know the names of those bushes

given for our late wedding: Love, Honor, Cherish—
this last the rose she holds out to me suddenly, having
entered the house between glances. I press
my nose to it, draw the sweetness in, let it cling—scent
of promise, of treasure. My hand on her wrist to bring her close,
her eyes green as river-moss. Saying it then, against
what comes: wife, while I can, while my breath, each hurried petal
can still find her.

cherish12236_RT8

There Is This

there is this

New Year’s Eve finds me wistful.  Contemplative.  To be honest, I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve much.  There’s such expectation that it will Be. Big. Fun.  I never seem to be able to be present, even when I’m all dressed in sequins and have a glass of champagne in my hand.  That plodding moment when we count down to an exact moment on the clock…then we find that the exact second passes and the one after it is just another second in the billions we live and no more “new” than the one before it.

Years are created by humans.  The changing of one to the next?  Sometimes leaves me feeling anticlimactic.

Or maybe it’s the cold medicine.  I dunno.

I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular, the last one I celebrated with Richard, six months before he was diagnosed with leukemia.  We had just bought a house and moved in together.  He had finished up a grueling semester of teaching.  Instead of going somewhere new on our traditional trip between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided to go somewhere familiar instead.  We returned to The Reefs in Bermuda for a week of pink sand and drinks in the hot tub.  Ahhhhh.

It should have been relaxing, but I had a Plan.

We had the love.  We had the respect.  We had the house.  We had the commitments.  According to my plan, it was time to get Married, by jinkies.  And what better place to expect a proposal than on a pink sand beach at midnight on New Year’s Eve?  I had it all planned out.  In MY mind.  I bought the black velvet dress with the sequins scattered across the shoulders.  I bought the beautifully ridiculous shoes.  We dined and we drank champagne.  We danced on the veranda to “At Last.”  We wore silly hats.

And instead of being present for all that fun, I was wrapped up in a big ball of resentment because the hours kept ticking by and he hadn’t asked me to marry him even though this was the PERFECT setting and….GAH.  He was blowing it!

My mood improved after midnight when I finally let my plan go.  And got out of those stupid shoes.  We put on sweats and walked down to the beach.  He smoked a Cuban cigar and I drank a last glass of champagne.  Not such a bad night after all, there under the stars and by the sea–once I got out of what was supposed to be and looked around at what was.

A gray-haired man in a tuxedo came down to the beach all alone.  He carried one gold balloon close to his chest.  We wished him a happy new year.  He returned the wish.  He held up the balloon, shrugged, then he started to cry.  “I lost my brother, David, eleven years ago.  Damn AIDS.  I promised him that I’d always remember him and send him a balloon whenever there was a good party that he had to miss.  Seems silly, right?”  I put my hand on his arm as the ocean wind thumped the gold balloon against his chest.  Not silly at all.

The three of us stood there close together while he told us about David.  He held the balloon aloft and said, “Happy New Year, David!  I love you.”  As he let it go and we watched the balloon sail heavenward, I raised my glass and Richard lifted his cigar.  I gave the man a long hug and he returned to the hotel.

I’ve been thinking about that night today.  About David and the gold balloon.  About Richard, who did ask me to marry him, but not that night.  How we live so much of our lives outside of the present, in memory or in plans.  It all reminded me of this poem by Barbara Ras, which I give to you now as a New Year’s wish:

 

You Can’t Have It All

by Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

__________________________

May you live in the New Year, and what’s left of the one we already have.  May you breathe deep and know that you are loved, the second before midnight and the second after it.

The Journey

I know some of you are being brave and bold RIGHT NOW.  You are saving your own lives.  Bravery doesn’t always come in historic gestures.  You might be starting a new job like Karen.  Getting your own place like Annabel.  Finishing up that first semester of college like Auburn.  Fighting for your life like Kristina.  Mothering an infant like Jackie.  Finding your way in the dark like…you know who you are.   Choosing to live another sober day.  Choosing to live.

Choose to live, again, today.  Save the only life you can save.  

Here’s some advice from Mary Oliver.

journey

Petanque

Today’s writing prompt was “If you had a time machine and you could return to one point in your life, where would you go and why?”

My first reaction to this game is always, “What’s the POINT?”  It’s silly to think that I could go back and change a major event in my life.  The whole skein unravels if I tug on one thread and I like where I am now.  Even with sadness that I’ve known, how could I push it away without pushing away the gladness?  Would I go back to that day in grad school when I first laid eyes on Fartbuster?  Or to the day I found out he was cheating?  Why?  If I weren’t that broken-hearted person I became because of loving him, I wouldn’t have been on the side of the highway that morning that I met Richard.  And he wouldn’t have had me beside him when he died.  I can’t have one without the other.  It’s all one life.

Maybe I could revisit a time in my life when I had a clean house and nine hours of sleep a night, but I would undo the tired joys of having two people who light up when they say “Mama!”

As I was pondering this, my friend Robin sent me a Wendell Berry poem:

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(The Sabbath Poems, 1993, I)

“Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”  So where would I go in my time machine?  I don’t want to undo anything, but there is one time I wish I had said Yes instead of No.  When I held myself close instead of being open.  A small sadness but one that has stuck with me.  Here’s when I would go now that I have less reason not to give myself away:

Paris.  December 28, 2005.  A chilly gray morning in a small park by the Eiffel Tower.  It was the third day of my solo trip to Paris and I had my feet under me.  I’d seen the view from the top of the Tour back when I was 21 and in Paris for the first time.  So that morning, as a widow waking up to the world again, I avoided the crowds and barkers near the base of the attraction and walked farther away.  To get some perspective.

My hands were jammed into the pockets of my black cashmere coat, the one I bought just for that trip so I could look more French and less American.  A red and yellow crushed velvet scarf warmed my throat.  Just a woman, walking in Paris.  On her own.

Boule.kugelI stopped to watch a group of elderly men playing petanque.  It’s like bocce or lawn bowling, but French.  There’s one small ball in the middle of the sandy court and each player throws larger metal balls at it in the hopes of tapping the “jack.”

They chided each other after bad throws.  Their laughter billowed in clouds in the frozen air.  Their heads were covered with black wool berets.  They rubbed their hands together to keep them warm and blew hot air into them while they waited turns.  They whooped like little boys and clapped at a masterful toss.  They argued among themselves over the close calls.  

They were busy enjoying each other and didn’t seem to mind that I was watching them.  I watched them for several minutes as my still feet grew colder and colder.  It was time to get back to walking before I froze in place.  I pulled my camera from my messenger bag and took a few snapshots of their game.

Then, in the way of French men who love all kinds of women, even the sad and dark, one of them signaled to me to come over.  I smiled broadly but didn’t come any closer.  Another grandpere turned to me with a friendly wave and invited me to join the game.  I laughed out a “Non, merci!”  

Then I continued my walk.  

That’s the moment I would return to.  I would say “Oui, s’il vous plait!  Merci!”  I would let myself be welcomed.  I would let myself be awkward and silly.  

I would give myself away.  Un petit cadeau.  

Here’s a gift for you to share with someone today.  

wendell berry tree with poem

 If you’d like to read other “time travel” stories, check them out over at My So-Called Glamorous Life.

Avo’s Hummingbird

Female Green Crowned Hummingbird

By Charlesjsharp, via Wikimedia Commons

G cleaned our hummingbird feeder tonight and made fresh nectar for a tiny bird he has named “Buddy.”  A few weeks ago, G was out on the deck in the still of the morning when a little hummingbird flitted in and out of petunias in the flower boxes.  The two of them spent a peaceful few moments together.  G delighted that the hummingbird showed no fear as it came closer and closer to him.  

As bluebirds are special to me, hummingbirds are the bird that G shares with his Avo (the Portuguese word for grandfather).  When Avo retired to his little house in Carmo de Minas, he made a project of feeding the hummingbirds.  But one day, he forgot.  That afternoon, he took his walk two blocks over to the town square to sit under the shade trees and rest.  While he enjoyed the stillness, a little hummingbird flitted up to him.  It hung there, flying circles in the air before Avo’s face.  Avo laughed, hauled himself up off the bench and began his slow walk home to fill the feeder.  The hummingbird buzzed beside him all the way.

G’s grandmother, Vovo, died a few weeks ago, right around when Buddy showed up on the deck.  G and I are both rationalists, but when he told me about the hummingbird that wasn’t afraid of him, I said, “I think it was your grandfather, here to tell you that your grandmother isn’t suffering.”  We, the rationalists, let that thought be, let it hold itself up against all logic, just like the hummingbird.

I cannot think of hummingbirds without remembering this tiny jewel of a poem by Raymond Carver:

Hummingbird

For Tess

Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird,”
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box.  When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

—Raymond Carver

 

When Raymond Carver wrote these lines to his beloved Tess Gallagher, he was dying slowly of an inoperable tumor.  He knew there would be a day when she would need to be reminded of how much, just how much, he loved her.  So he wrote the word “hummingbird.”

Peace to Avo and Vovo and all those who have flown before us.

The Sorrows of Your Changing Face

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

In 11th grade, our class studied British Literature, but we didn’t study it fast enough to suit me.  We dawdled through Chaucer (even in translation!).  We slogged through nasally BBC Radio records of “Macbeth” for a week straight.  Even the murders were boring.  I flipped ahead in the book to get to the more modern writers, the ones who had actually seen a telephone and motor cars.  The ones we wouldn’t have time to get to by the end of the year.  It was infuriating to me–how we always ran out of time in the school year and never got all the way through the end of the text book.  With every chalk dust diagram of sonnet rhyme schemes or droning exegesis of Wordsworth, I felt the chances of studying William Butler Yeats, Wilfred Owen, and Ted Hughes slipping into nothingness.  So I read ahead.

One poem by Yeats never left me.  I committed it to memory, or more rightly “learned it by heart” while sitting there in the windowless classroom filled with rows of desks and bored teenagers.

When You Are Old

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 

I was sixteen years old, and I yearned for a day when I could look back on my moments of glad grace, when someone–anyone!–would have seen the soft look my eyes had and their shadows deep.  Even the last stanza, the sadness of a Love that has fled and hid his face among the stars–I even wanted that.  Something to miss at the end of my life.  I hadn’t had anything yet, so I couldn’t wait to have something to miss.

Yesterday was Richard’s birthday.  He would have been 47.  I meant to write this post for August 5th, and I’ve been feeling sad about that since I didn’t.  Like the English teacher who had good intentions of getting through the whole text book, but the year just ran out.

It’s fitting, because Richard hated his birthday and refused any fuss.  His mother making a Julia Child’s chocolate cake was the only ceremony he actually enjoyed.  He was happiest as a kid when camp coincided with his birthday because he wouldn’t tell anyone.  No cake from home, no cards, no nothing.  It befuddled me, but I did my best to honor his wishes.  For the four years we had together, we mostly did the anti-birthday party party.  We made a POINT of ignoring his birthday.  But yesterday was busy with packing up my family of five, leaving the beach and driving back home in time to make it to the “Meet the Teacher” night at elementary school then unpacking and laundry and sandwiches from the grocery for dinner.

On Sunday night, right at sunset, G kept the kids entertained at the pool while I took a walk down to the ocean with my glass of wine.  I walked out into the lapping waves of low tide and floated there.  Pelicans sailed over the flat water, headed towards the red lights of buoys on the sandbar.  I had the beach to myself and if I looked straight ahead, I could pretend that I was the only soul between here and everywhere.  I wished Richard a Happy Birthday then rolled my eyes at how he would have snorted at that.  I told him how I missed him.  How sorry I was that he missed out on getting to have kids.  I told him how hard it can be, with the training wheels and bloody noses and the why why why of it all.  I couldn’t even speak the words for how joyful it can be.  What it feels like to see my son say “Fee-two-un….BADASH!” and pretend to be a rocket.  How my heart swells when Vivi and I pedal a bike together and she tells me stories about lions as we ride.  The peace that comes when we are sleeping in a room all together.  

Well.  

Then a light blinking off in the distance reminded me of a star and this poem came to mind.  I stood in the waves and recited the words that I learned by heart almost thirty years ago.  

He taught me how to travel and how to feel like I had the right to an adventurous life.  He loved the pilgrim soul in me.  But he has paced among the mountains overhead and hid his face amid a cloud of stars.  

Looking back over my life, I feel like my first husband, Fartbuster, got to love my beauty with love false or true.  Then Richard came along to love my pilgrim soul.  G gets the sorrows of my changing face.  This is how weird it gets when you’re three husbands in–they all can start talking in your head at the same time.  

As I walked back up to the dunes and to my family and to the life I love, I took an inventory of the person I have become since I learned that poem and dreamed of being loved and having lost.  I am so different now–a grown woman, divorced, widowed, a mother–finding her way.  Would Richard even recognize the woman that I’ve become because of what I went through with watching him die?  Could we have made it with happy hearts through the skinned knees and training wheels and rocket rides?  He loved the pilgrim soul in me, but he never got to know the sorrows of my changing face.  

That is the thing about growing older.  I keep growing.