Monday Morning Poem

April 4th, 2011

It’s been awhile since I posted a Monday poem; the lag is probably related to a general Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul I’ve been stuck in, wherein it becomes easy to believe that everything I specially value is probably an unwanted annoyance to the rest of the world. Logical revisitation of this situation turned up the fact that this is actually my blog, so I get to do what I want with it, and bugger anybody else’s feelings on the matter. Hence: here’s a poem, because it turns out I wanted to post one.

I read this poem at my high school graduation. It is not subtle or intellectual; like a lot of Cummings’ poetry (even the poems about death) it is bright and clean and exuberant. Perfect for a seventeen year-old girl to read aloud on the verge of a whole new stage of life.

Nearly ten years later, I know more thoroughly than ever that too much striving for sophistication can deaden the soul; it can provide an excuse for not living. The refined and sublime – that’s a bus that comes once a year. You can waste a lot of time waiting for it to turn up.

So I still love this poem, and I still need it. It takes me where I need to go – into a palce where errors and failures have their own beauty, and aren’t to be feared.

May my heart always be open to little birds

Bird Reloading wings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

photo by Jose Lun Aparicio

Monday Morning Poem: High Flight

August 23rd, 2010

B-24 Liberator Pilot Bill Whetsell, Crew 108

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

Photo from David C. Foster

Monday Poem: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

August 9th, 2010

My grandfather is in his final days. He’s 92. He has a frontal lobe brain tumor. He can do little more than lie in bed and drift in and out of consciousness, in and out of dementia.

In his most lucid moments, he still doesn’t want to believe he’s dying. Part of me has been deeply frustrated with him – how can he keep forcing my parents through the pain of telling him, again and again, that he won’t be leaving this place?  At his age and state of health, as a lifelong Catholic, can’t he make peace with the fact?

Then I remembered my namesake’s most famous poem, about his father’s decline (I’m certain I’ve posted it before), and my anger dropped away.

It’s his life. He’s right to want to keep it, as fiercely and for as long as possible. Nobody can tell him otherwise. Least of all those of us who care for him.  He flew alongside men who died in combat at 22.  Every moment he gets is earned.

do not go gentle

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

photo by John Locher

Monday Morning Poem: Low-Tide

June 7th, 2010



These wet rocks where the tide has been,
Barnacled white and weeded brown
And slimed beneath to a beautiful green,
These wet rocks where the tide went down
Will show again when the tide is high
Faint and perilous, far from shore,
No place to dream, but a place to die,–
The bottom of the sea once more.
There was a child that wandered through
A giant’s empty house all day,–
House full of wonderful things and new,
But no fit place for a child to play.

Edna St.Vincent-Millay
photo by junkast

Monday Morning Poem

May 24th, 2010

Out to sea


Was I the last one waiting? Epochs passed,
tides tossed the island twice each day, sometimes

a lazy shushing, sometimes violent—then
tides would frighten me, count-down clocks striking

off the muzzy days and nights. Mosses grew
around me—pin cushion, pale shield, old man’s

beard. One gray day, walking on the sand,
I found a wooden shoe last, size 4, stamped

1903, the cobbler who’d worked with it
long gone—yet why only now had it washed

ashore? And one night, I saw 6 peonies
tossed on the rocks—Sarah Bernhardts, I thought—

fringed yellow hearts, their palest pink petals
tinged vermilion, strewn, shipwrecked children,

lonely drowned bodies white in the moon’s glow.
Where does anything come from?

I picked my way over granite to gather them,
then brought them back to the cabin

where their frail heads drooped from a Chinese vase,
nodding feelingly at the dead child’s shoe.

Then, a little interlude of pure joy, amnesiac,
so human—then hail, rain, wind, the flailing trees.

Harry Roseman
photo by Claire Marie Vogel

Monday Morning Poem

May 3rd, 2010

I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

Kermit the Frog

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson
photo by Nicole Marti

Monday Morning Poem: Wraiths

March 22nd, 2010



They know not the green leaves;
In whose earth-haunting dream
Dimly the forest heaves,
And voiceless goes the stream.
Strangely they seek a place
In love’s night-memoried hall;
Peering from face to face,
Until some heart shall call
And keep them, for a breath,
Half-mortal … (Hark to the rain!)…
They are dead … (O hear how death
Gropes on the shutter’d pane!)

– Siegfried Sassoon

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson for the New York Times, from a series of photographs showing the preserved bedrooms of young American soldiers killed in the last decade.

Monday Morning Poem: A Hole in the Floor

February 1st, 2010


A Hole in the Floor

for Rene Magritte

The carpenter’s made a hole
In the parlor floor, and I’m standing
Staring down into it now
At four o’clock in the evening,
As Schliemann stood when his shovel
Knocked on the crowns of Troy.

A clean-cut sawdust sparkles
On the grey, shaggy laths,
And here is a cluster of shavings
From the time when the floor was laid.
They are silvery-gold, the color
Of Hesperian apple-parings.

Kneeling, I look in under
Where the joists go into hiding.
A pure street, faintly littered
With bits and strokes of light,
Enters the long darkness
Where its parallels will meet.

The radiator-pipe
Rises in middle distance
Like a shuttered kiosk, standing
Where the only news is night.
Here’s it’s not painted green,
As it is in the visible world.

For God’s sake, what am I after?
Some treasure, or tiny garden?
Or that untrodden place,
The house’s very soul,
Where time has stored our footbeats
And the long skein of our voices?

Not these, but the buried strangeness
Which nourishes the known:
That spring from which the floor-lamp
Drinks now a wilder bloom,
Inflaming the damask love-seat
And the whole dangerous room.

– Richard Wilbur
photo by Jon Feinstein (site)


Generally the poems I pick for the occasional Monday appearance are connected to something very literal in my life.  It’s a way for me to process happenings (from the silly to the significant) and recontextualize them however I feel the need.  Sometimes I know exactly the poem I need to post; just as often I simply type “[topic] poem” into the search field and keep sifting until the right thing presents itself, which it invariably does.  The oracle of Delphi had nothing on Googlemancy.

But, the literal-ness:  this past weekend I ripped up, often with considerable violence, a lot of old carpeting and linoleum in the home I’ll be officially moving into this month, to prepare it for brand new floors.  I am not designed to take such things unmetaphorically, and the bare board that the work exposed feels parallel to all the getting-started going on in my life at the moment, and to the “buried strangeness” that is the mysterious continuity of self in the face of flux.

Monday Morning Poem: This Gentle Surgery

January 4th, 2010

Iris Scisors

This Gentle Surgery

Once more the bright blade of a morning breeze
glides almost too easily through me,

and from the scuffle I’ve been sutured to
some flap of me is freed: I am severed

like a simile: an honest tenor
trembling toward the vehicle I mean

to be: a blackbird licking half notes
from the muscled, sap-damp branches

of the sugar maple tree . . . though I am still
a part of any part of every particle

of me, though I’ll be softly reconstructed
by the white gloves of metonymy,

I grieve: there is no feeling in a cut
that doesn’t heal a bit too much.

Malachi Black
photo by dannyeastwood

Monday Morning Poem: Joy, Shipmate, Joy!

December 14th, 2009


Joy, shipmate, Joy!
(Pleas’d to my soul at death I cry,)
Our life is closed, our life begins,
The long, long anchorage we leave,
The ship is clear at last, she leaps!
She swiftly courses from the shore,
Joy, shipmate, joy.

Walt Whitman
photo by Davie;


In the contemporary Methodist tradition, the third Sunday in Advent is the week of Joy.  Advent used to be a much starker time, focusing on the end of the world and the coming day of reckoning, rather than anticipation of the arrival of an infant Christ.  I was struggling with, for this week’s poem, whether to trend towards the Joy or the End.

But why choose, when you can just have Walt Whitman?  (Next year: Emily Dickinson.)

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