So easy to think it’s just another three day weekend, but some reminders courtesy of the NYPL of the origin of this day.
And one of the poems that this day evokes for me…
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
And there is that line from Auden’s “The Unknown Solider”
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
Pause and remember.
Both Poetry Daily and Knopf Poem of the Day do celebrations of National Poetry Month (April, of course, the ‘cruelest’ month). Sharon Olds was one of Knopf’s selections, and she has always resonated with me, perhaps never more so than in this poem.
Then, one late afternoon,
I understand: the harm my father
did us is receding. I never thought
it would happen, I thought his harm was stronger than that,
like God’s harm—flood, or birth without
eyes, with mounds of tissue, no retina, no
pupil, the way my father on the couch did not
seem not to be using eyes
but not to have them, or to have objects
for eyes—Jocastal dress-brooches.
But he had not been hated, so he did not hate us,
just scorned us, and it is wearing off.
My son and daughter are grown, they are well
as if by some miracle. The afternoon has a
quality of miracle, the starlings all facing
the west, his grave. I come to the window
as if to open it, and whisper,
My father’s harm is fading. Then,
I think that he would be glad to hear it
directly from me,
so I come to where you are, bone
settled under the dewed tangle
of the blackish Northwoods moss like the crossroads
hair of a beloved. I come to you here
because it is home: your done-with body
broken back down into earth, holding
its solemn incapable beauty.
Perhaps all writers make use of their family first and foremost, but few do it as fearlessly.
Enjoying poet Charles Wright’s 2014 collection Caribou, notably the poem “Ducks.”
Gasoline smell on my hands, perfume
From the generator’s toothless mouth,
Opening swallow from the green hose,
Sweet odor from the actual world.
There’s an old Buddhist saying I think I read one time:
Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
After Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
The ducks, who neither carry nor chop,
Understand this, as I never will,
Their little feet propelling them, under the water,
Serene and stabilized,
from the far side of the pond
Back to the marsh grasses and cattails.
I watch them every night they’re there.
Serenitas. I watch them.
Acceptance of what supports you, acceptance of what’s
Above your body,
invisible carry and chop,
Dark understory of desire
Where we should live,
not in the thrashing, dusk-tipped branches—
Desire is anonymous,
Motoring hard, unswaying in the unseeable.
The poet and essayist Albert Goldbarth collects robots and rocketships. He gave a charming interview to Poetry Foundation about them. Reminded of this by a photo I took last week of a toy store in window in Amsterdam.
From the end of the interview:
Is there anything you’d like to tell me about your collection that I didn’t ask?
I guess for me some of these robots are beautiful. Some of them have a kind of futuristic look that I really appreciate. They’re part of the future that was promised us, that wonderful future where we really were going to be living on other planets, zipping around to work with little jet packs on our back and changing our personal weather by turning a dial in our homes, telebeaming to one another from the moon, to Mars Port, that beautiful innocent very optimistic and expansive promise-ful future. Of course, it became the world we’re living in now—AIDS and overpopulation and terrorism—but these robots are part of that alternative future. That’s quite lovely to me.
But also when I look at robots, I see heavy manual labor. To a large extent, we imagined that as mechanical creatures they would do our work for us. They would go into the mines on the moon, and they would be the ones to wield the picks to take out all the moon metal. The word “robot” comes from Karel Capek’s early play R.U.R., Rossum’s Universal Robots. Robot, for him, means labor or some heavy manual laborer. But when I look at these rocket ships, these anti-gravity vehicles, these things the size of 12 battleships put together, that nonetheless can zoom off the surface of a planet as if through the pure power of wishing, I think of the exact opposite of manual labor. For me, I think space and spaceships imply a world of immediate wish fulfillment. A kind of technological version of Peter Pan’s flight. And I wish I could articulate well for you how absolutely and deeply beautiful they are to my eyes.
Check out his funny, perceptive poems as well.