A Modest Halloween Proposal

It sometimes seems clear if there is an afterlife it does not interfere with present life. But what is present? The light from our sun is already a little over eight seconds old. We sunbathe in the past, confident in a present we never quite seem to fully inhabit (physics explains it’s perfectly possible to split infinitives). Where then do we go? Maybe time is a question of physics, maybe of metaphysics – the things that may come after the physics.

The dead seem an extremely polite bunch. They do not intrude. Looking for them is like searching for aliens. We may feel their presence, approach them with the telescope of faith, but if they exist, somewhere-somehow, that life lies far far beyond the present five senses. To prove an afterlife, if we want to believe in ghosts and such, we must create a sense beyond our given five.

William Blake noticed angels out and about. Rilke claimed to have seen one. What is it about poets that make them easy prey for such notions? Wouldn’t it be a bit frightful if the first aliens the astronomers discover turn out to be previous earthlings? The problem with communicating with the dead may simply be the length of time their message takes to reach us. By the time the first message from the first dead reaches Earth, we may all be gone. What would the message say? Trick or Treat?

I take no issue with the dead. Nor am I looking forward to meeting any aliens. Let them keep their distance. My problem seems to be sugar: to wit, candy – the Halloween tradition (in these parts).

This year, instead of passing out candy, I propose to hand out poems. Short poems printed on three by five cards, maybe with a cartoon or drawing on one side of the card. I’ll drop a poem card into every little critter’s Halloween basket. No candy. No sugar.

But when I mentioned the idea to Susan, she said, “We’ll get our house egged for sure.”

“You think? With the cost of dairy these days?”

“And the parents will accuse you of poisoning their kids with poetry. Besides, Halloween cards are nothing new. And poetry, while sugar free, is still very high in carbs and calories, not to mention saturated and trans fats.”

So much for my proposal. I guess we’re sticking with candy.

Bells, part 3, Relax

We should probably be wary of statements beginning with the pronouncement, “Never before, in the history of the world….”

Nevertheless, given our current world predicament, we might find ourselves in need of some relaxation – seemingly, like never before.

In his little book titled “How to Relax,” the monk Thich Nhat Hanh begins:

“You don’t need to set aside special time for resting and relaxing. You don’t need a special pillow or any fancy equipment. You don’t need a whole hour. In fact, now is a very good time to relax” (page 6, “How to Relax,” Parallax Press, 2015).

The same might be said for writing. You don’t need a fancy machine, a special desk or pen, or even a purpose. What you need – is a bell.

“There is tranquility, peace, and joy within us, but we have to call them forth so they can manifest. Inviting a bell to sound is one way to call forth the joy and tranquility within” (page 100).

Thick Nhat Hanh gives us a poem to remind us of the bell we want to listen for, to hear, to send out to others:

“Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow” (page 100).

And we don’t need a fancy blog template or website to write. Again, nevertheless, here at The Coming of the Toads, I’ve experimented with a few of the WordPress templates over time. But what did I want, if not simply to write? This isn’t the only place, the only way, I write. I keep a pocket notebook in the left rear pocket of my pants (detail for readers in need), unlined because I like to doodle and wander. I keep a spiral notebook in a desk drawer. I started The Coming of the Toads, after a few hesitant starts, in December of 2007, and have posted something at least monthly since. Why then, lately, have I been having thoughts of ending it?

I wasn’t “inviting the bell.” Not Poe’s “the tintinabulation of the bells,” nor his “anger of the bells,” nor his “moaning and the groaning of the bells.” But the bell of the muse. I like this etymological note from Oxford: “Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.” Writing involves a good amount of self-muzzle, or should. First, we might want to relax. Invite the bell. Then take up the pen and notebook, or open the blog.

This is the third piece in a series on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

The House in Summer (for ZZ & Chloe)

The house is not a mystery
that’s made from trees and history
from every old nook and cranny
you hear the voice of a nanny.

Papa pops up to make early
the coffee and lets out Zoe
the cat points like a unicorn
the approach of a vacuum horn.

The grand girls all day play
pretend puzzles of their world
while the board games nap
gathering light into a lens.

At night the windows fly
boat sails lift the sky
climb the moon high
and breath falls to a sigh.

Elephant Garlic Honey and “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle”

We’ve been growing more herbs these last few years. The Salsa Garden is lost, as well as most of the activities that used to surround it. Yesterday, walking with a beer through the brick bordered herb garden (used bricks salvaged from lost projects, saved from taken down chimneys – we’ve one clinker brick), I noticed three honey bees working the flowers of two elephant garlic plants. The flowers are round, purple and white balls of blossoms, about the size of a swollen baseball, blossoming one each at the top of five foot stalks.

It’s difficult of course to identify the plant a honey comes from, and these bees are foraging freely in urban wild yards up and down the block. And the elephant garlic is on its own, hardly a crop. I don’t know where the bees call home. The rampant peppermint growing up along the south facing wall will bloom soon, and will bring more bees, and butterflies, and hummingbirds. If our yard were a poem, it would be free verse.

I pulled out a prize find foraging in the neighborhood book box down on the corner this week: “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…And Other Modern Verse.” This is the 1966 edition that was welcomed in schools for a few years. It’s a textbook, but unlike most intro tos we see nowadays. There’s little discussion, and just one or a few questions for each poem gathered in a rear appendix. The title comes from one of the poems, written by John Tobias: “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.” The book includes black and white photos scattered throughout. All of the poems are cast in italics, but not their titles.

This copy is a discard from “School District No. 1: Cleveland High School.” The “issued to” slip pasted on the inside front cover shows 10/15/71 as the first date, issued to a Donald Scott. There is a name ahead of Scott’s, Gene Brown, but no date. There are other dates and student names: Shirley Moe (undated); Felicia Tracy (undated); 4/6/76 Marie Dee. There are eleven names, one crossed out with blue ink such that it’s unreadable. The last date reads 5-15-2000. And seemingly out of place, “Iris Little 6th per” appears at the top of the slip, no date. There is a note “To the student:” which mentions how the book comes into the student’s hands, and includes a schedule of “charges” should the book be found damaged in some way upon return, including: “4. Defacing by pencil…1.00; and “5. General mistreatment (water soiled, burned, dirty, ink, lipstick, paint)…1.50.” This copy is in good condition, the only “defacing” done by school ink stamps: “Property of….” And the slip, pasted to the inside cover, which has so fascinated me I’ve barely looked at the poems yet. 160 pages.

Theatrical

Older then, one more yesterday notched
into this haggard wasted belt, tight about,
turning in the widening gut, but must
be the clothes, despondent, I seem,
up the block quirky bobber says,
and I think he’s talking shit on
my writing, but no, he says, your mien,
like a traveler lost his way,
fearful forged face, luggage jowls,
over needy and under taken.

Ate too much, talking to self,
I don’t travel well, I say, when
he tells me, Go to Hell, but
let’s go for a beer sometime.
Drank to gorge, piss like a glacier
melting, violating the graces,
not a single work of mercy,
no incense in my crucible,
my feet leave a trace of beach tar
on the pavement parchment.

As the third and final act ends,
the boards weathered smooth,
the audience awakes to the smell  
of coffee and petrichor coming
down the aisles, the ushers throw open  
the great doors of the hall.
But what’s this, another act?
The players pretend nothing really
happens backstage dressing room sweat
when I present sweet flowers to the star.

Paintings and Poems: City on a Hill

“You are the light
of the world.
A city
set upon a hill
cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

Not to mention something you’ve put up online. What’s posted online can’t be deleted or hidden. That is the poet’s dilemma, who craves publication but still has changes, or will have. But that is only a matter or problem of print. Oral poetry, or song, allows, invites, indeed wants variations. Covers. Over time, cities get covered up. The earth rises, and falls.

I assumed the Queen Mob’s Teahouse poetry editor position back in April, taking over from Erik Kennedy, Queen Mob’s second poetry editor, from May, 2015, who followed Laura A. Warman. The gig is volunteer work, of course, as befits any true poetic enterprise.

I first put up, on April 19, three poems by Jax NTP. It was then the idea came to me to use my own paintings as the header images over the poet’s work. I was struck by Jax NTP’s atmospheric, impressionistic poetry. The poems are packed with energetic images changing with the speed of “Highway 61 Revisited”:

“there’s a giant temple on hazard and new hope street
blue reptile and green mazing skeletons, keepers of time
how long can you sit there with the pain before you try to fix it?”

from “how to pivot when you’re paralyzed,” by Jax NTP

And I had just finished a painting, the impressions of which, the symbols within, the colors, the shapes, I thought might complement Jax NTP’s poetry. I don’t mean to suggest any of the paintings necessarily align with the poetry in any literal way. In any case, I continued to look for images within my collection of painting pic selfies for complementary impressions.

Reading and reflecting on Jessica Sequeira’s poems, and later looking for a painting to go with the posting on QMT, I again felt the suggestion with impressions that seems the essence of poetry, particularly of poetical delight:

“The heavens have promised rain for so many days.
I think of waiting for torrents from the white sky.
But it might be a long time. Or this could be a dream.
Taking your hand, I guide it below, to my cloud.”

from “Eastern Variations, style of Ikkyū Sōjun,” by Jessica Sequeira

I selected for Jessica’s poems a painting from last year, “City on a Hill,” a large painting that had taken some time to complete. Again, the setting of the poems and the painting seemed harmonious:

“lakes shine like mirrors
reflecting tall mountains

rainfalls are unpredictable
innocent changes in the divine mood

birds sing into great holy spaces
the wind whistles its reply

icy glaciers plunge towards sky
green valleys dive into earth”

from “My South,” by Jessica Sequeira

I had taken numerous pics of “City on a Hill” when a work in progress in the basement studio:

And I used an early draft of “City on a Hill” to go with Ashen Venema’s poetry:

I sit still, watch him thin the oil
and restore his long gone love
on canvas, standing in
as the young skin
by the window, sunlit among
lilies, fresh cut, and Persian rugs
casually flung across seats.

from “My Painter,” by Ashen Venema

Well, the setting of Ashen’s “My Painter,” “sunlit among / lilies,” doesn’t quite align with the basement studio, though things are there too “casually flung.”

All my paintings I eventually give away, to family, friends, colleagues, who show an interest and enthusiasm. “City on a Hill” is hanging in my daughter’s den, looking out upon the backyard. The light in the room is perfect. I just want or hope the paintings have a life outside my basement, where, as Ashen puts it in “My Painter”:

“A blaze of light rims his white hair
from under his thick swirl of brows
black humour hides, and surprise”

After all the work on a painting, which isn’t really work, of course, but play, like the work of much poetry, we just might find a true work of art in what we’ve mostly ignored, in the mess we left behind. That tablecloth, for example, now that’s a work of art!

Cliff Notes

ands all sitting
Angst I a T
hangs silently
a long ways down
High Flyer Falls
rip rap cliff walk
Do Not Look Down
Set All Alarms
Valuables
tosses bought stuff
lands rock pine tree
calmly waiting
sea craggy end.

The Noir Hack

Met a hack on her back in the sack lovely but no ears
lugged a sack of socks as winter uncoiled into spring
all summer long rolled up socks & stuffed her bag
till full it was wool tossed socks fool me going barefoot
sandaled sock-less the warm early grasses of summer
by the sidewalks along the seashore in a summer
the weather news said would never end the waves
the summer the ocean beaches & solid gold weekends.

Noir fall & fell fall hard that year markets failed
& on socks tariffs hit feet cold wet & sore toenail
fungus infestation & the wooly cooly hack kneed
trumpet ear tinkered her socks along the esplanade
& came the coldest winter lemonade stands closed
nary a beer at the end of the year she was rich
& to boot boasted the warmest toes so near
impressed in silk slippers she was when I left her.

Trees

Some poems speak of love
others hate.
If you’re like me
you like poems about trees.

Trees are lovely and cool
because they make shade
which is nice to sit in
with a mint tea in summer.

A tree will grow hot
turn crisp and line
into stone menhir
not even booklice will like.

This poem is not about trees.
Would somebody please
send me a leafy poem?
The shade here is thin, the sun so near.

Horny Theology

A rufous whistled
and hummed
at my open door.

She flew at my heart
picked and snatched
hairs from my chest
for her nest.

Me flat on my back on the floor
while she sits on my face
hooked to my lips
slicing my eyes
like an ophthalmologist.

Her every winged flush
as sweet and powerful
as a rush of butterflies

falling
filling
my coughing joy.

To and fro
true and from
until

‘harumph’! 

she blurted out
and bolted off
as quickly as she came.

I thought she was a unicorn
or a rhinoceros with wings.

She left me
without a prayer.