KEEPING–a Sheldon Museum Poem

Three years ago, the Spring St. Poets wrote poems about objects in the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont. The items were then exhibited, along with the poems, and we did a reading. I wrote this one about a chunk of woodwork that Henry Sheldon had rescued, presumably from some renovation done at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.   

 

KEEPING

~the carving from St. Stephens, found in a cupboard in the barn

One autumn day many years ago I stole

an antique book with a tan leather cover

embossed in gold. The thin pages smelt of mice.

It was in a pile of many heaped

in a corner in a muddled room

on the condemned third floor of a gothic

sandstone castle awaiting remodeling

including–and this is important–new wiring.

It was a building I loved.

When spring came, it all burned up.

Nothing remained but a stone shell and they

bulldozed that into the foundation hole

and built a garage on the spot. I wish

I had taken all the books.

Henry Sheldon would have–

and a juice glass from the dining room and

a candlestick and the pump organ and

a chunk of the chapel window woodwork

and the horsehair sofa from the library

and the doughnut jar from the kitchen and

the mantlepiece from the common room and

the shield that hung above it and the tower

bell that fell and no one ever found and

a railing from the front porch where we used

to sit in the moonlight and sing or kiss.

What is this about? —

to love places, to care about things, to care

what happens to them, to be wary of change,

to want to remember, to want everyone

to remember, to believe that history

matters, to want to keep something, keep many

things, the everyday bits:

shoes and razors and appleboxes and doorframes,

chairs and violins and cupboards and spinning wheels

and dishes and cannonballs and hacksaws and drums

and books that no one will ever read.

 

TO MY SISTER SUE

TO MY SISTER SUE

November 29, 1955—June 27, 1993

After you died, I determined to live

more worthy, left work I was not

sure about, took up my pen.

 

It’s been twenty-four years.

I’ve spiraled back toward something

maybe like god, but not

 

the one I thought I knew,

for how could that one

have let you die despite

 

our prayers. How could it

allow so damned much pain.

The pottery monk you gave me

 

stands with his folded hands,

beautific smile, next to a jade tree

in a green pot. Your photo hangs

 

on my study wall, your face

pensive, dark eyes gazing

toward something I cannot see.

 

June 27, 2017

MIDSUMMER DAY

MIDSUMMER DAY

The Feast of St. John the Baptist

 

Rain again. Again. Again.

Not the gentle pitter-patter rain, but

the tropical kind, the pounding kind

that washes out roads and birds’ nests,

that splatters mud on the lettuce,

soaks gray squirrels to brown,

gives mosquitoes everything

they need but blood. I can’t

sleep in this rain. It’s something

primeval, some anxiety

about the river rising, roots

rotting, everything I know

being washed away.

EQUANIMITY

Something happened back when I wasn’t

looking, or maybe I was looking and didn’t care.

Maybe it happens to everyone by a certain age,

or it doesn’t matter. Or it’s what is meant

by equanimity and it’s something to strive for

only I didn’t, or at least I don’t think I did,

and yet, maybe it’s the fruit of all that prayer,

the hours on the front step with my cup,

watching the sun come up, or set.

 

 

~Solstice 2017

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

 

about the path in the forest

and what you’d find if you strayed.

How manners matter,

respect for elders, kindness

to strangers, even giving them

your last crumb. When it comes

to the point, respect, too, for animals,

because you never know.

About how careful you must be

when you make promises and

what happens if you don’t keep them.

How dangerous it is to offend old women.

(Never, ever, offend old women.)

They told what happened

if you lied, stole from the poor.

They told what always happened

to people who wanted to be like god.

WHAT IS TRUTH?

WHAT IS TRUTH?
 
Truth has a tranquility to it,
a kind of ease that no artifice
can equal. There is nothing frantic
about truth, nothing bombastic.
Complex now and then, but not
so hard to untangle, not so hard
to recollect. It doesn’t make
itself up for preservation.
As comprehension grows,
there is a duty to correct.
It listens for clarity.
It can look you in the eye.

NOMINATIVE CASE: a found poem

 

Longmans’ English Grammar, now 100 years old, is fabulous, especially the examples. Here are a few:

 

NOMINATIVE CASE

found in Longmans’ English Grammar, 1917

Exult, ye proud patricians.

Tom’s brother will come tomorrow.

Highest queen of state, great Juno comes.

Was the garden gate closed just now?

 

The Hudson is a beautiful river.

Put on they strength, O Zion!

Have those new houses been let already?

Pretty flowers grow in my garden.

 

The tall trees are shaking in the wind.

The golden corn was waving in the sun.

The great bell is tolling slowly.

Art thou he that should come?

 

Is the little child sleeping?

Have you been waiting long?

It was the lark, the herald of the morn.

O night and darkness, ye are wondrous strong.

 

Old King Cole was a merry old soul.

The hunters killed Bruin, the bear.

Art thou that traitor angel?

We have been friends for many years.

 

The careless girl was looking off her book.

I hope that I shall be a scholar some day.

I am going to Chicago next week.

I’m to be queen of the May.