ZUIHITSU FOR AN UNKEPT LENT When our grandson was not quite two, we brought him to a park, where we pushed him in a swing for a long time. After awhile, he wanted to stop. He just sat there in the swing, staring ahead of him, with a half-smile on his lips and a faraway expression in his eyes. I took a photo of him, like that. I keep that photo by my desk. The Father is Silence. The absent, silent one. The Son is Word, the teaching presence within and with and beside and behind and before. The Spirit is Practice. So they say. I take the dog into the pine woods every day. Sometimes I take her twice. I take her there in all weathers. Lately, heavy wet snow covers the path. It’s too sticky for snowshoes, so I slog through in my high heavy boots. The dog bounds. Lately, I’m watching a broken tree for signs of sheltering animals. I’m watching a hole under the roots of another tree to see if anyone is using that. So far, I have seen the tiny tracks and the tail-drag of a white-footed mouse disappear into that hole. A Bargain for Frances is about a little badger girl whose friend tries to trick her out of a china tea set she wants. When I was a little girl, we had a tin tea seat, turquoise and white. I will buy our granddaughter a tea set for her birthday, a china one, packed neatly into a little white basket. She already has a tea set that used to belong to her mother, but it isn’t in a basket. There is a place on the front step that is always icy after a heavy snow. This happens because the snow piles up behind the bars that keep it from sliding off the metal roof. The weight of the snow causes it to melt underneath, like the water melts under a glacier. That melt drips onto the step, and freezes there. I keep a bucket of sand just inside the front door. My friend Molly recently sent me a poem by Tim Jones, a poet who lives in North Carolina. I liked it so much that I looked him up and found a book of poems written by him, and I bought it. This is from his “Lent” poem: “Blessed are you, for yours/ is the lengthening of the light.” This morning, just at first light, I awoke to hear a cardinal singing in the shrub under the bedroom window.
Category Archives: Forms
Zuihitsu in February
ZUIHITSU IN FEBRUARY Six good things about being old: It’s easier to say No. It’s easier to say Yes. The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated. . . One can recognize languages other than one’s own. One can no longer die young. Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. One unpleasant thing about being old: arthritic thumbs. Return to Clay Studio: The plan is to make a troll to put by the pallet covering the wet spot between the yard and the woods. The children know the stories. According to our granddaughter, every story should end with the sentence, “And then, the bees got her,” adjusted, of course, for gender and number. The terra-cotta amaryllis was lovely. Four blossoms on two stems, just as advertised. The red one was even better: one stem with five blossoms and one with six, beyond all expectation. And last week, it made one more stem with six blossoms, smaller than the first eleven, but just as red. Things one can do with arthritic thumbs: knit with medium needles, play the piano, make things from clay, change wax filters in hearing aids. Things one can’t do: play the harp, knit with small needles, pick up pins. Be Gentle, says the Oracle of the Day, you’re hatching. Hard work, hatching. That weird little egg tooth on the end of the beak. Coming out into the world all scrawny and hungry and wet, opening your orange mouth. Or if you’re a butterfly, with bent wings to pump up and stretch. So yes, gentleness is called for. The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. And then, the bees got him. This old woman is learning Finnish. Why not. The nouns and pronouns are not gendered. It’s as foreign as Klingon. No means “Well” and Ja means “and.” Tuo has nothing to do with “you” as it likely would in an Indo-European language. Suomi on niin vaikea kieli, mutta kaunis. I have a plastic reindeer on my desk. No niin.
DECEMBER ZUIHITSU It is easier to awaken in the dark of winter. The body opens slowly, warms slowly with Qi Gong practice, with hot coffee. The summer body is restless, quick, easily exhausted. Why must my study be the coldest room in the house? From the windows I watch bare ash trees and brushy hemlock trees moving slightly in the North wind, dark against a silver sky. Sometimes a feeling of desperation. The weather, the news. The way my hips still hurt. Driving into town we pass a herd of young horses racing across a frosty pasture. We agree that it must be a wonderful thing to be a young horse on a cold morning. On weekends, the woman who calls herself The Lady From the Gravel Company sells Christmas trees for her son who is out West hunting deer. She hopes he doesn’t get one, she told me, because already she has two deer and a bear in her freezer. The dog wants to eat her scraps on the living room carpet. The old cat wants the young cat’s food. The young cat wants the old cat’s food. My husband wants cooked chicken thighs. I want Rasta Pasta. At supper, I find the jalapeño pepper that had disappeared into the stew. Water does not put out that kind of fire. Strange bedside fellows: Neil Gaiman and Barbara Pym. I expect she could write about him: a mysterious man with tousled hair, much admired by excellent women. I cannot imagine what he could write about her. The dog must go out in the dark again to see if the fiend who hides under the steps is still hiding under the steps and to see if every deer track down the driveway was made by the same deer. I must go out with her to see the moon and to listen for the owl who sits in the oak tree behind the house.
Between the yin and yang, the line.
Between the dark and light, the dusk.
Between birth and death, the life.
Around the hazelnut, the husk.
MATTER: A Pantoum
MATTER: A Pantoum
What gods do is make and let the pieces fall.
Billions of clocks on billions of beaches
turning as our hands move however they
move or our four legs or six or eight.
Billions of eyes in billions of deserts
move through their times or none and
we move our two legs or four or six or eight and
our hearts and chloroplasts, mycelium,
our many eyes or none.
Our structures crystalize, the plates
and hearts and chloroplasts and mycelium
subduct and bump as we rise and fall.
The structure of our crystals, how the plates
and all we do is an echo of clapping hands as we
subduct and bump and rise and fall.
With voices, silences, wavings of branches
we echo with our hands
and twigs and whatever anemones use
for voices: silences? wavings of branches?
We’re all made of one matter.
Twigs and anemones
turn while our hands move however they
move because we’re all the matter
and making matter and falling is what we do.
words: Three Bold Attempts
WORDS: THREE BOLD ATTEMPTS cricket illustrate tone pearl snap quilt THE GAME Last summer, I studied cricket. Not the insects in August, their crispy vibrations adding tone to the fading garden, but the sport. I like the langauge. Let me illustrate: Overs (six balls per), Stumps and Maidens and Leg Before Wicket. Innings, not as in baseball, is both singular and plural. That’s tea. That’s drinks. Declaring before All Out. Sixes and fours and centuries. Ducks and Golden Ducks. Silly mid-on. Test (the best) and ODI. Howzzat? I followed the World Cup in the Guardian online. They did OBO coverage. England won, to their surprise. I want to see a game someday, a whole five-day test. I want to hear the snap of leather on willow. I’ll bring a quilted vest and a thermos. I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, and pearls. I’ll wait for an umpire to Offer the Light, Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen The summer palace in Oslo. The Queen in residence, a conversation on the terrace. No birds, no crickets singing. The dining room in the palace: candles in the windows, late sun through the windows, green leaves outside the windows. Paintings on the walls—illustrations of green. No furniture but the black piano. The pianist wore striped socks. The soprano wore a green gown, no diamonds, no pearls. A silent audience on screens. No applause. The studio in New York. Monitors and clocks. Christine Goerke’s sad and gracious tone: A difficult time for singers and thank you. The program a carefully stitched quilt: Wagner and Norway’s Grieg, and Strauss, the snap of Kalman’s “Heia, Heia!” The peace of Ronald’s “O Lovely night.” Zuihitsu for the end of a terrible summer 1. Crickets drone away in the dark. I used to love them. This year, I find their rasping cricks most annoying. 2. Last night I watched a moon like a yellow pearl poke through a torn quilt of cloud and leaf. 3. My voice has taken on a querulous tone. I can’t help it. I am possessed by a tired and hot and hungry and frustrated three-year-old child. 4. The purple snap beans I grew do not snap. They are blotchy and stringy and not particularly flavorful. The purple blossoms, however, are lovely, and hummingbirds feed from them, so growing them was not a total waste of water and space. 5. The tone of this zuihitsu illustrates the way I have felt about this summer. A few times only, I have glimpsed something lovely, far away, and still.
words: SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
rigid draw meadow peer lemon cap
(another one with those words)
SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
1. A rigid plastic lawn chair, one of four that my parents kept on the deck of their condominium. I keep it on the front step from spring till snow. I sit there at sunrise and sunset, watching the yellow light flicker like sparks between the leaves.
2. The white linen cap I bought in Traverse City in a shop that sold hats and, unexpectedly, wine-making supplies. A young friend told me that when I wear it, I remind him of Yoko Ono. I wear it often.
3. Our backyard. It was forest, then meadow, then lawn, and it is now growing up again into forest. We’ve reserved a patch of grass around the house, and bits for vegetables and flowers, but what was barren lawn is filling up with grasses and goldenrod, bramble and sumac, gray dogwood and pine and oak. Five years ago, I planted one solemn young chestnut tree as an act of defiance.
4.The drawing of a cat we had for a few months. Her name was Nanette, and she was tri-colored, and very small. The old woman who gave her to us could not keep her. “There’s something wrong with her,” she told us, and there was. In the drawing, Nanette is curled, sleeping, in a chair that once was in the living room and is now in the kitchen. The drawing was made by an artist friend who stayed with us for a summer—along with her husband and three children—in the room that once was our guest room, and is now the study where I write.
5. The lemons I always have by me. Here is a new maxim I try to live by: When in doubt, add lemon. To vegetables, to pastas, to soda water, to soup. The scent of lemon revives me and a lick of lemon opens my senses to all the good in the world that remains.
6. Ursula Le Guin wrote “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.” I treasure a company of peers—poets, artists, women who keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
words: SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020
cap rigid lemon peer draw meadow
SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020
Like a drawing by Van Gogh,
I stand rigid in the meadow. I wear my white cap.
I peel a lemon, and peer at the trees.
I wear my white cap
though the brim is too rigid
for me to bend against the lemon-
brightness of the sun. I stand alone, peer
into the middle distance like a drawing
by Van Gogh of a woman in a meadow.
It is August, and the earth is dry. The meadow
crackles with brown grasses capped
with seeds. The summer draws
to a close. Have we yet let go our rigid
sense of what is real? My peers
cannot guess. News sours me, like lemon.
When I was young, I wore lemon
cologne. I lay in this meadow
beside a man—my peerless
lover—who wore a Greek fishing cap.
But our bones have gone rigid
with the years. We have drawn
living water so long. Now we draw
water grown bitter, like lemon
rind, and brackish, from a rigid
bottle. A butterfly wavers over the meadow
searching for one plant to cap
with one pale egg. I peer
at her with shaded eyes, my only peer
now in this tight-drawn
season, this heated season, capped
with grasses the color of dried lemon
peel. Under my feet, the meadow
soil is hard, cracked, rigid
with the hard rigidity
of this rainless summer, a peerless
summer of an anxiety that a meadow
cannot know. The trees live on, drawing
their life from deeper water. The lemon
sun beats and beats on my white cap.
words VARIATIONS: FOUR WORDS, THREE STANZAS
VARIATIONS: FOUR WORDS, THREE STANZAS
The raven has been flying to and fro
over the earth. She has returned.
I think it will rain again.
Do you know the meaning of grace?
The word you say before you eat;
the way a dancer walks in her pointed shoes.
The bear has been seen again.
We say “the bear” as if there were only one
running through the woods between our houses.
It’s enough to make me believe
in Satan’s test of Job.
How much more can they bear?
The talking raven will not be silent.
Over and over she says
“What’s the point? What’s the point?’
Like Hecate preceding and following Persephone,
grace precedes and follows us.
The question remains, “When?”
Once I found a raven grazed by a car.
I set her in the grass, covered her with leaves.
The next day, in the same place,
a raven circled me three times.
The acknowledgement was almost more
than I could bear. And I’ve wondered
since if the point was not gratitude but
taunt. “You cached me in the grass,
foul human, but see! I live.”
A raven pair tumbles over the yard
and the dog will not stop barking.
A bear climbs the fence and the dog is silent.
Raven is a trickster.
Bear is a god.
Is there a difference.
Walk the shore to the farthest point,
the place where sand turns to stone.
There is no limit to grace.
WITHOUT EVENT—A ZUIHITSU AGAIN
WITHOUT EVENT—A ZUIHITSU AGAIN
~with thanks to Ray for showing me the form
Our son sent a photo of our grandson at his pre-school graduation ceremony. He’s sitting in the backseat of the car wearing a cardboard hat with “2020” painted on in glitter. He looks so happy and proud. I’ve heard there are juniors at the High School here who want to do a drive-in graduation next year, because it is so much more “personal.”
I have seen—has the world seen?—the photo of a black grandfather carrying a wounded white racist to safety. ‘I’m protecting our kids,” he said. Take up your cross and follow me.
I don’t have Big Girl Underpants—mine are all the same—so this morning I put on my Big Girl Lipstick and brushed my hair behind my ears and took the dog for a walk again.
In the late 1880s, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem in honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. This is how it ends:
. . . . . .while there went/ Those years and years by of world without event/ That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
The prayer beads I carry in the pocket of my jeans are mostly wooden relics of my old Camp Fire Girl days. Four onyx beads. Two pewter suns salvaged from broken earrings. A tiny diary key. And an onyx cross, maybe half an inch long.
Ever since that first Gulf War I’ve had doubts about intercessory prayer. What about all those people who don’t get prayed for except in a generic way (Dear God, bless all the people in the world.)? I pray in a generic way these days. May all beings be free from suffering. At least that reminds me that I’m not alone, which may be the whole point.
As I walked this morning, I noticed a tiger swallow-tail fluttering along the roadside, parallel to my path. She seemed to be looking for flowers, which are fairly scarce along that shady stretch. She ignored a patch of spindly buttercups, landed finally on a plant I didn’t recognize, and began feeding on what I would hardly call flowers, just nubs of pale greenish white, hanging in clusters at the ends of the leaves.