What can be said of cliche that has not been said? Sadness, too, floods the sensorium. Snorkeling along face underwater, sadness cannot talk, and hears only its own sorrowful breath. Cliche will sleep deep and wait out winter and will rise up again come spring, already gone to seed before the yellow narcissus awakes.
Across the street from the Estate Sale,
there’s talk if it’s a teardown,
while a couple of bushtits build
a hanging nest in a paperbark maple,
coming and going through the perfect
hole at the top of the sack woven
with string, spider web, tiny twigs
and grassy strands yarned around.
“Go easy,” she yearned. “Go around.”
Then came the night she won’t spring back.
Some do not come back,
even as the buds rise in the rows
heatly lubricated by the bees;
not all the plants pull through
that inscrutable winter stare.
But to turn under? Finished now.
Not to worry, the sun is the poshest one.
His light goes shallow, into the soil,
as easily as through fish water,
a clean singing glow.
The days are gone
this bud was for you.
City park a bench come Spring
passersby doing their thing
King slips into Queen being
antique clown bums a smoke
everybody doing something
and those have nothing at all
nothing their thing this Spring.
Cool cat gesticulated crouch
down by the empty reservoir
live on social media channel
pothole posts and midnight tweets
comic flickers flower round the pole
breaking beaks on noisy bedspring
like every Spring that’s ever been.
Now Jack and Jill dressed to kill
over the hill they spring and sing
shall Jack hath Jill and nought go ill?
or doth not Jill make a good Jack?
spring seeds put to bed then will time
Summer rest before work begins earnest
August and lugubrious September.
The ambiguities of Spring befuddle
tulip mania in all this muddle the old
let the thistledown grow those
with little to increase shall not spray
the unwanted children free to roam and play
the glow of a new Pentecost settles
over a movable East and festive West.
The Age of Privacy is over
all must now show their hands
still the war the weather the constant worry
but another night passes in local peace
and the coffee house on the corner
open as usual still a few things
we might rely on not to our detriment.
Spring slowly sprung the environs plush with dawdle walks and doodle weeds, tweets and posts poking up in the usual spaces, out of concrete poetry cracks, but in the midst of this year’s annual rush for life we were learning to breathe. Spring is just such the perfect answer to winter, one wonders shouldn’t one’s writing change, from Irony back to Romance? Never mind; summer will remind us there is no keener irony, no sharper disappointment, than romance. “Beware of all enterprises,” Thoreau said, “that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” Advice which is everywhere ignored with regard to romance, not to mention writing. Poetry persists in prolonging winter while at the same time putting out the basil too early in spring. The doodle upper-right depicts a new striped shirt.
Spring is the enterprise the clothing ads have been predicting since the Christmas ornaments were boxed for the basement. In the liturgical calendar, Lent accentuates the anticipation, slowing the heartbeat to the rhythm of nature. Pope Francis this year clarified that giving things up for Lent misses the point, unless what we give up we give to another. I was thinking of giving up clothes for Lent, but alas, the approaching Spring was simply too wet and cool. To the right we see the doodle remnant of an unseasonably hot spring day, when I broke out the shorts and Susan the muumuu.
Each season puts a special pressure on the breath. In winter, the air inside is stuffy with recirculated dust. You go outside for a breath of fresh air, and there is Cassini taking pics of the ice rings around your heart. The winter cold constricts. The spring cold giggles. Summer laughs. Fall chokes and coughs. One might hold a romantic view of winter, the emptiness, the sleeping squirrels in the sleeping tree hollows, the squirrels quiet for the night in the roof eves. Snow falls from the fir limbs like the down from the mattress when your body is easily the hottest object in the house. Come spring you’ll be dancing in the rain, you sing. But all you do is slip and fall on the mossy deck, the bruise on your leg like a storm on Jupiter.
Jokes mock truth, but as the season moves, truth mocks the joke. On Facebook, we posted a couple of Public Service Announcements (PSA). In one, we reminded friends to be cautious with their ear, eye, and nose drops. We were at the pharmacy, picking up some new off the shelf eye-drops, for the eye floaters, and stopped just short of purchasing instead a box of ear drops. It’s not just that we forgot our reading glasses, nor that our attention span is now the flight of a mosquito. We are simply not paying attention, spaced out, always spaced out, anticipating the next batch of Cassini pics to brighten our day. In the second PSA, we mix the good news that baby wipes can be used by adults to soothe hemorrhoids with the caution not to pull out the bleach wipe by mistake.
Which season is the setup, which the punchline, we remain uncertain. We feel we are beginning to move backwards. In any case, when is it not a winter of discontent? Surely that is the message returning from Cassini. No sooner the heaters shut down the air conditioners fill the air, but you know it’s not still winter; winter was never so noisy.
Spring’s fill flickers, now on, now off. Now shorts, now long pants. One day, we pull a few yard games out of the basement, badminton and whiffle ball and croquet and we get out the patio umbrella, and we even have a picnic on the lawn. We hug a leafy tree.
We grow as silly as bees as the snow melts and as giddy as Cassini descending through the icy rings of Saturn. We clone around, all shook up. We sit out under a major league baseball pop fly. The ball goes up and up and up; it never does fall back to Earth.
Exhausted with the turning from winter to spring, we cave in to sleep, and dream of books, mothers, lovers, and selfies. And we dream of breath and of breathing. We awake and feel our breath. It’s very relaxing, learning to breathe. Such a perfect breath. I’d like to share it with you.
“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot told
Pound all about it, Easter tide out,
but why brood on our days
unless we are made
of dry wood and worry,
each ring a memory of rain?
Does any month feel pity?
You called her a primrose,
your spiral spring shell.
The land tired of playing possum
opened in lavish blossom.
Meantime, you go from a funeral
to a game of chess?
No wonder you’re so depressed.
Hurry up! Indeed, it is time,
and there is no more time
for revisions of decisions and such.
Spit it out, that tooth that broke
on the hardtack bread.
Yes, the river, its currency
seems to bother you,
crossing the rough bar
in your tipsy canoe,
sipping sweet wine from a shoe.
Why do you drift so? Maybe
it’s time to seize the falling
yellow forsythia, catch and bundle
the candied pink camellia calling
a day a day alack-a-day day.
No, I won’t say we’re wasting time,
working up a dry thirst over an old city,
lamenting the past. We might have called
Big Dada and asked for a blessing,
a holy water sprinkling, and asked,
“Dada, how’s Nana?”
“Dada! Dada! Dada!”
Maybe we’ll see you in May.
Hopefully you’ll be feeling better,
and we can all spend a day
going a Maying,
if Corinna comes to town, everyone
looking forward to ordinary time,
the grassy bed spread with garlic greens.
kee jaa gigrrijaa filled dawn
sleep ing in
plash bark dust bath.
the little ones pleach
bird dew squish.
A tugboat crow lands
pushes off in creosote
high in drifting fir.
a hummer comes as close
as a baseball pitch
to drink from the brim
of my blue Los Angeles
(you don’t often see them
this far north
you see SF Giants
and S Mariners
and we used to see
infrequently, but still).
the keens and leeks
trill and cheep
red clippers and blue rakes
dark mud-brown enfilades
with light soot patches.
get springy not yet,
on the horizon,
we hear lines
ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee’s
In a body of water
Two women walking
One in turquoise taupe
The other in peach mauve
Briskly yelling into cell phones
Their voices trailing off like crows
Squirrelly trees stiffen tall tail stillness
Writing is hard work, the experts tell us
If a day is lost to writing the reason
Is probably you did not want
To write, after all
“What is all this juice and all this joy?” Gerard Manley Hopkins asks of Spring. And no sooner does he sing the push and fuss, the ballyhoo, of a sea sky blue slurred song of fresh thrushes than he announces the sound of a melancholy note, a bell of vespers, the turning of the promise of spring, spring’s quick morning suddenly fallen, the promise of its baby blue sky now overcast, what was in the seed of his poem from the beginning, “a strain.”
Is spring for the earth painful? It might be, born in a bed of industrial pollution, which even in Hopkins’s time was already something to brood over, and in spring he’s already grieving.
Not for Hopkins will spring last, and every spring grieves for its unwinding even as it unwinds in juice and joy. It’s the climate change of the “Sea of Faith” again that seems to sully his spring. To his coy mistress he does not even bother calling. He doesn’t want to make the sun run; he wants to see it stand still.
And Hopkins twists Herrick’s argument’s ear, and Herrick’s sin of staying becomes for Hopkins a sin of leaving. Where in Herrick, Corinna is told,
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying,
in Hopkins, the children are told:
Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Hopkins does not seem to sing to the virgins. Somehow, he’s unable to seize his day. Hopkins disliked cages: “This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.” In Hopkins, spring is not sustainable, but this abstract thought becomes itself a cage. And age is a cage.
So it was of Hopkins and his springs and falls I thought as I walked past this Flowering Japanese Crabapple tree the other day. And I remembered a line from Hopkins’s poem, “God’s Grandeur”: “And for all this, nature is never spent.”
At least, I think it’s a Flowering Japanese Crabapple. Hopkins would probably know. He despaired, among the many things he seems to have despaired over, of the toil and wear and tear already evident upon nature of the effects of urbanization and industrialization. Yet here I saw these lovely blooms persisting, in the middle of the city, surrounded by construction. For the tree, as you can now see in the pic below, is a caged skylark. But it’s been there awhile, wedged into a corner of a parking lot up against an old brick apartment house, but it continues to sing to me, and will sing to you, too, and to anyone who cares to take a walk in spring. Alas, as Hopkins and the carpe diem poets remind us, spring won’t last, so get it while you can, while the juice still runs freely and the joy escapes confinement.
But, no, wait, why go under such a stricture and structure? That seed grows into a tree of melancholy. Why not simply go? Not put out, but go out. Ah, now there’s some juice and joy to go by.
Torqued antipathy apparels dimple
dented funny car, idling gear limbed,
oiled, greased, and garbed
wardrobe red, beaming barbs,
wavy hair flames bursting
from the fat winged fenders
of his 1950 hot rod roadster,
and the countdown lights
go green, and the ground springs,
and the asphalt melts to sap;
meanwhile, in lane next whole daddy,
apples in juicy life dangle,
from form below pending,
suspended, the quick nap of a bee,
moistly sloping sap up elegant boughs,
up, wake up, give us blush
pale pink blossoms,
not the false fruit of an inapt poem.
Leaf springs, cracks the bark
of the dormant pome tree
pruned for Verve & Vigor.
What is called a season is the mapping of sap
around a wound,
and a poem is a funny car.
After the burled cuts, twisted,
elbow pruned shifting of gears
and squealing of red wheelbarrows,
the melting tongue wanders away,
talking to the bees from a standing start,
showing the pink slip core of reason
dash and flash in a sap sluice.
When the lemon yellow of a doubtful flower tells lies
And the hush pink plum blossoms first fail to surmise
A touch and a kiss turn to stone.
When the steep turn toward the dark cherry dyes
And find winkle’s wake still seeping under the sash
A drink and a dress turn to stone.
To turn to stone is not to die and worm away
A stone never slept nor arose
A stone is a stone is a stone is a stone.
When knickknacks walk and talk and wingding
The livelong night no wonder
A flower turns to stone.
Hearths are made of stone, and wheels, and paths,
And walls, and dwellings, and churches, and busts.
A stone thrown skiffles across water and plops.
When a shuck of stone falls from the sky
Not a soft place on the land to nest
A tempest has turned to stone.
When in spring one feels petrified
Curl and pit and weigh and hurl
Slink and creep and push and pull.
When the angels of spring go stone
Old stones erupt in new waves
And lyrical flowers woe no bloom.
Work morning and Luke up early helping his dad load plumbing tools,
wrenches and chisels, elbows and nipples, the ladle and the lead pot
full of soft lead that looks like frozen surf.
Luke now taller than his dad.
“Give Dan a call,” Luke said. “He’s drivin’ now.
We’re headin’ inland to work,”
and he ran his rough hand meanly over Jack’s salt matted hair.
“I’m afraid my surfin’ days are near over, kid,” Luke said.
Dan lived with his grandma back in the alley
behind Roman’s, off Devil’s Path.
He was working on an old Chevy beater.
He was a cross between a surfer and a hodad.
“You turnin’ into a hodad,” Jack said,
but it was a question, and Dan laughed.
“All you think about is surfing, kid,” Dan said.
“I have to give Grandma a ride to mass.
Give me a quarter for some gas, go to mass with us,
then we’ll drive down and check out some waves.
You hear Gary got shot? Not coming home, though.
Sent him up to Japan for some R and R.”
“I love the mass,” Danny’s grandma said.
She sat in the middle of the bench seat,
smelling like toilet water and wax.
“I love the quiet, the peace.
I love the back of the church dark,
the hard polished oaken pews,
the altar lit like a halo, the smell
of the candles, the incense,
the smell of Father Dayly’s hands
when he puts the host between my lips
and sets it down softly onto my tongue.”
“I know you do, Grandma.”
“No, you don’t. You boys can’t know
nothin’ about it, how I love the sudden bells.
I love the mass so much,” Danny’s grandma said,
“I’m giving it up for Lent.”
They turned to look at the old woman,
Jack rolled his window down,
and Danny’s grandma saw the salt water in Jack’s eyes.
“But,” she said, spitting it out, and paused.
“Yes, Grandma?” Danny said.
“You go to mass without me during Lent.
You give up surfing for Lent.”
Jack could hear the waves laughing at him.
Rising from the beach and curling over the dunes,
a breeze hisses like a glass blower’s torch.
The spring swell peals across the bay,
the waves a glass cavalry menagerie.