30 minutes, with Delia
neighborhood, near the river
It rained last night, which helped melt some more snow. Everything wet and dripping today. Mud and muck on the edges, puddles in the middle. Walking by a neighbor’s house I heard a rhythmic drip drip drip. Also heard a pair of woodpeckers pecking, then laughing. Whispered Brooks’ “The Crazy Woman” and Oliver’s “Wild Geese” to myself as I walked.
James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 10
Begin with As windows are set, end with What are the questions you ask?
As windows are set in walls in whited Washington. City, begone
From my thoughts: childhood was not all that gay. Nor all that gray,
For the matter of that.
Yesterday I looked it up and discovered that Schuyler grew up in Washington, which I would have figured out anyway after reading this line.
Gay and gray. My favorite use of this pair is in Gwendolyn Brooks’ wonderful poem:
The Crazy Woman by Gwendolyn Brooks
I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”
May leans in my window, offering hornets.
What a line! Speaking of hornets — or wasps? or yellow jackets? or something that stings like that? — we have a few nests in our eaves. Every winter I talk about removing them before it gets too late in the spring, and every year we forget. Will we remember this year?
The fresh mown lawn is a rug underneath
Which is swept the dirt, the living dirt out of which our nurture
Comes, to which we go, not knowing if we hasten or we tarry.
The daily tasks, like mowing the lawn, a way for us to try to keep the inevitable at bay, or to think we have some control over death, or to avoid confronting it.
Opens wide her bluest eyes and speaks in bird tongues and a
I love this line and how he brings together these two sounds! I’m always thinking about, and writing about, hearing the birds mixed in with the buzz of chainsaws or leaf blowers or lawn mowers. I like imagining that all of these sounds are May speaking.
The blighted elms come down. Already maple saplings,
Where other elms once grew and whelmed, count as young trees.
whelmed = archaic; engulfed, buried, submerged.
Was wondering if there are elms in the Mississippi River Gorge. Found some info about the invasive species, Siberian Elm.
Also, just remembered a poem I posted back in 2019:
Elms/ LOUISE GLÜCK
All day I tried to distinguish
need from desire. Now, in the dark,
I feel only bitter sadness for us,
the builders, the planers of wood,
because I have been looking
steadily at these elms
and seen the process that creates
the writhing, stationary tree
is torment, and have understood
it will make no forms but twisted forms.
A dishpan the soap powder dissolves under a turned on faucet and
Makes foam, just like the waves that crash ashore at the foot
Of the street. A restless surface. Chewing, and spitting sand and
Small white pebbles, clam shells with a sheen or chalky white.
A horseshoe crab: primeval. And all this without thought, this
Churning energy. Energy!
Sometimes I can be dense, so here’s a potentially dumb question: is he talking literally about waves — I know the narrator of this poem lives near the ocean — or is this a metaphor for the waves of debris on post-winter streets, reemerging in spring? I imagine it could be both. I’ll take it as a metaphor and wonder about what crushed up crustaceans might be unearthed in asphalt eroded by winter salts. Here in Minneapolis, near the Mississippi River Gorge, we were once part of the Ordovician Sea, so I can imagine some of that might still be present in the crushed up rock used to pave our paths and roads.
The sun sucks up the dew; the day is
Clear; a bird shits on my window ledge. Rain will wash it off
Or a storm will chip it loose.
Ha ha. I love the word shit and what it does to this image — it doesn’t cheapen or tarnish it, but makes it more real, mundane, less precious. Oh — and it makes it a little gross, which I like.
Life, I do not understand. The
Days tick by, each so unique, each so alike: what is that chatter
In the grass?
Sometimes I’d like to understand, to have my questions answered, but more often I like not knowing, or not yet knowing what that chatter in the grass is. I like having the space to imagine all the different things it could be. Perhaps what it is is more magical than I could have imagined. Understanding is necessary, and so is imagination and possibility.
May is not a flowering month so much as shades
Of green, yellow-green, blue-green, or emerald or dusted like
The lilac leaves.
A few days ago, while doing some research on colorblindness for the series of color poems I’m currently writing I came across a video about “what it’s like to be colorblind.” In the video they included some side-by-side images of “normal” and “colorblind.” Both images looked almost the same to me, especially what was green. I could tell it was green, but it also could have been gray or brown (and maybe it was in the image that someone who is colorblind would see). The variations of green, the subtle differences between yellow-green or blue-green or emerald green are mostly lost on me. Instead, I see green or light green or dark green or gray green or brown. This May, I’ll have to pay close attention to green and what I see, then write about it.
The lilac trusses stand in bud. A cardinal
Passes like a flying tulip, alights and nails the green day
Down. One flame in a fire of sea-soaked, copper-fed wood:
A red that leaps from green and holds it there.
I have lost the ability to be shocked or startled by red, especially from a cardinal. There is a cardinal that summers in our yard — my daughter has named him Chauncy — but I never see his red coat. I only know him by the shape of his head, looking like an angry bird, and his birdsong. This month he has decided to help usher in spring by perching himself on the tree outside my kitchen window.
A lot is lost and missed when you can’t see the red flash — the flying cardinal, a small blinking light, a flare somewhere — that everyone else sees and instantly understands and assumes that you see too.
The plane tree, always late, as though from age, opens up and
Hangs its seed balls out.
It’s not just me, right? You are picturing an old guy with his balls hanging out too?
Winter is suddenly so far away, behind, ahead.
Yes, like it never happened, or it happened to someone else. I call her Winter Sara.
From the train
A stand of coarse grass in fuzzy flower.
I love tall, ornamental grasses with fuzzy ends that look like feathers or flowers! Someday I will plant some in my yard.
I like it when the morning sun lights up my room
Like a yellow jelly bean, an inner glow.
I’m not a huge fan of jelly beans, but I appreciate that Schuyler’s line gave me the chance to think about them and to imagine that intense yellow in the center of a jelly bean, one that has a translucent shell, not an opaque one. As an adult, I’ve grown to love the color yellow. I wonder, would a yellow marble work for this too?
May mutters, “Why
Ask questions?” or, “What are the questions you wish to ask?”
I love this as the last line of the poem!