WILLOW

What is the willow writing on the water,
one branch bending in the wind, one tip
breaking the flat white surface?  Does it matter?

Yellow-leafed pond willow, rain’s own daughter,
long roots stretch and search and sip.
What is the willow writing on the water?

Shattering the mirror the sleek brown otter
slides from the slick brown bank,  and slips,
breaks the flat white surface.  Does it matter?

Comprehension, wisdom, nothing will come after
the fleeting words are written.  Who can keep
what the willow is writing on the water?

Every shatter, every ripple, will break and scatter
every message from the long yellow branch’s drip
breaking the flat white surface.  Does it matter?

And who am I to wonder, with my endless chatter,
words unconsidered slipping endless from my lips?
What is the willow writing on the water,
breaking the flat white surface?  Does it matter?

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WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS

WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS
(He) is not one man.
He is many men.
Only thus is (he) to be explained.

He is the South Pole of idealism,
the North Pole of realism,
and the Equator of humanitarianism
come together in a single human entity.

He is the deflator of human conceit,
the escalator of the meek.
He is the trumpeting brass and yet
the soft strings of the human orchestration.

He is the gentle rain upon the dry grass
of man’s frustrations, nurturing them into hopes.

He is the cultivator of man’s spirit,
the stimulator of the weary,
the catalyzer for the wicked,
the ennobler of the good. . .

He is The Voice
of those who have no other voice. . .
he has watched humanity pass
before him, as he sat by the road
and looked upon them all, appraising,
gently chiding, sharply criticizing,
philosophically suggesting,
rising in crescendo against what he thought
were wrongs practiced by the strong
against the weak, soothingly inspiring. . .
the tired and the weary and the fearful.

. . .he is a landmark, an institution,
a by-word. . .
In physical stature tiny,
thin, academician in presence, in philosophical
stature big, universal, geometric in his
audience. . .

(He) fears no man,
except himself. (He) respects all men,
but those who are struggling against odds
most of all. (He) loves people.

He is not one man.
He is many men.
He is all men.

He is humanity itself,
with its chameleon colors, its oddities,
its goodnesses, its hopes, its fears.

(He) is them all. . .
We hope everyone will . . know (him). . .
and knowing him. . will love him.
(He) is, indeed,
“what this world needs.”

Found in Louis B. Seltzer’s Introduction to “What This World Needs” by John W. Raper, a perfectly dreadful book of “inspiration”  that my mother gave to my grandmother in 1945, when Mom was 24.  If I had Mr. R’s last name, I’d change it.

A CONCERT I HATED

The usher gave us the wrong program and could not find our seats, or even our row.
The chandelier had three missing bulbs.
I found a wad of hardened gum under my armrest.
The popcorn was cold and greasy.

Too many violins, not enough French horns.
The conductor wore purple, wrong for the season.
One string on one electric guitar–the D–was just enough out of tune to grate.
The timpanist was counting the half-beats. I could see her moving her lips.
The solo pianist used too much sostenuto and the tenor smirked.
The second trombonist had audible spit in his horn.
The bagpipes were flat and the hurdy gurdyist was obviously drunk.
The harpist was in jeans. Lost luggage is not an excuse.
When the flautist stood for the allegro amoroso his pants fell down.

Behind me, a man kept snuffling and the woman with him kept whispering “use your hanky.”
All during the andante pessimisto a baby cried.
The audience applauded after every movement and the conductor smiled at them and bowed.
My husband fell asleep and drooled on his black tie.
At intermission, they ran out of champagne.
When I finally yelled “Fire!” the orchestra cheered and left the pit;
only the conductor remained, swinging his purple baton.

 

This was an “April prompt.”

THE PUZZLE

One thousand pieces.

My mother works section by section:
the white cat’s paws
the green butterfly,
the day her youngest daughter was born.

My brother looks at each piece in turn.
He finds its twin in the picture on the box.
He places it exactly where it belongs.
And his twin sister,
where does
she go?

She is here, now, still and squeezed dry,
close to completion.
She smiles from far away when someone speaks.

My middle sister works the borders:
Make the frame;  the rest will fit in.

My brother-in-law
insists that someone
took the corners.
The pieces
we need are
missing.  Someone
has a piece in
her pocket.

My father comes to the table with coffee.
He is in no section;  no border can hold him.
He can only hold his daughter’s hand.

I sort the pieces into small piles.
Not enough room on this table,
nor room enough here at all
for this hardest of works,
for these infinite pieces of time.

THE PUZZLE

One thousand pieces.

My mother works section by section:
the white cat’s paws
the green butterfly,
the day her youngest daughter was born.

My brother looks at each piece in turn.
He finds its twin in the picture on the box.
He places it exactly where it belongs.
And his twin sister,
where does
she go?

She is here, now, still and squeezed dry,
close to completion.
She smiles from far away when someone speaks.

My middle sister works the borders:
Make the frame;  the rest will fit in.

My brother-in-law
insists that someone
took the corners.
The pieces
we need are
missing.  Someone
has a piece in
her pocket.

My father comes to the table with coffee.
He is in no section;  no border can hold him.
He can only hold his daughter’s hand.

I sort the pieces into small piles.
Not enough room on this table,
nor room enough here at all
for this hardest of works,
for these infinite pieces of time.
My little sister died twenty years ago this month, in Vermont Respite House. I wrote this shortly after her death–among my  first serious grown-up poems. I’ll always be grateful to Sue  for many things, and especially for being a Muse.