Category Poetry

The Turning Year in Poem and Song

The great earth spins, morning to night and back again, season upon season, the eternal return, its unalterable rhythm punctuated in the days of our own lives by our scurryings after food and drink, fun and rapture and love. The lives we make are all our own, yet beneath each one, a Great Commonality, a stickiness to others, all others, across all space and time, who harbor near-identical needs, dreams, longings, and questions of the night.

Below, a poem reflecting that commonality, the universal rhythms and rituals of our daily lives, given perspective and focus at this turning of the year, the turning of a hand toward another, the turning of the shovel as we lay a beloved to rest, the turning to light as the winter solstice recedes and spring beckons us anew.

All the best to you, my friends, in 2020.

***

                   THE YEAR

By Ellen Wheeler Wilcox (1910)

What can be said in New Year ...

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Mt. Royal Drive, 1959

MT. ROYAL DRIVE, 1959

The garage door—
atop which my father
placed a basketball hoop,
its backboard sawed, drilled,
painted and hoisted
by his own hands,

Against which
dodgeball epics played out
among siblings and neighbors,

Past which
we dashed in races that
began north of the driveway and
careened to the back fence,

Inside which
I smoked my first cigarette,
nervous as the homing pigeons
who pecked warily in their coop above
(another father-built project born of scrap wood and love).

The basement—
place of hiding & seeking,
caroms & checkers on
idle summer days,
where the parents retreated occasional Sundays,
locking the door with an air of authority that
required no “Do Not Disturb” sign for 8-year-old eyes.
(Two surprise sisters products of those languid afternoons…)

The breakfast nook—
Site of pancake fests and
endless torments by an older sister
artful in the ways of clandestine kicks,
where...

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My Neighbor Teaching Her Daughter to Ride a Bike on Memorial Day

A ten-minute frolic, a morning interlude of
squeals and wobbles, mother and daughter
pursuing an age-old quest of mastery on
the day we remember our war dead.

I pause in my yard work, lean on my pushbroom,
this snapshot in time collapsing into time past,
me with a firm grip on my daughter’s tiny seat
leading and guiding from behind, ever forward.

And the cascade continues, in free-fall now to
my own father, setting me free and thinking me able
as I glide toward a parked car, failing the turn and
bound for the emergency room with a broken arm.

Not everything works out as hoped, a lesson
etched into the very brows of parents grieving
still on this day, their children lost to war, the
triumph of their first bike ride now unto dust.

Balance in all things, goes the old maxim,
body and brain a holy first essential, the
child from sitting to standing, walking to
running to wheeling, set forth upon the world.

An...

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Two Wendell Berry Poems on Humility

From his Kentucky farm where he has long disdained use of a computer and rails against modern sins such as strip mining, industrial agriculture and unrestrained market capitalism, 84-year-old Wendell Berry occupies a unique place in contemporary American letters.

Throughout his prolific output of novels, short stories, essays, and poetry totaling some 50 volumes, he is at once the stodgiest of conservatives, a thoughtful curmudgeon standing stoutly for the old ways of fidelity to family, place, religion, and modesty of expression.

At the same time, he remains a darling of Subaru-driving outdoorsy liberals who cotton to his outspoken environmentalist views, pacifism and anti-materialism.

Personally, I have been both inspired and exasperated by him, but I have never for a second doubted his sincerity or intelligence or devotion, and he is always worthy of attention.

Berry’s is a world of overalls and unlocke...

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Everyday Ecstasy: A Mary Oliver Appreciation

When poet Mary Oliver died a couple of weeks ago, I suspect many readers responded much like I did: “Oh no!”

That’s an almost universal response when anyone we know well dies suddenly—and we are both surprised and crestfallen. If the deceased is just an acquaintance or a public figure whom we don’t know personally, our response tends to be more muted: “Gosh, that’s too bad.”

But Mary Oliver? “Oh, no!!”

Part of this, for those familiar with her work, has to do with the sheer fact that writers whom we enjoy and tend to go back to enter our brains and our consciousness and take up residence there like the very best virus. That rare kind that actually improves our health rather than decimates it.

These writers become like lifelong friends, with whom we carry on a dialogue of sorts...

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