Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Clean Practically Anything


by Jennifer O'Grady


Yes, housework can be a chore

               A day, a day rinsed free of night

everyone enjoys a clean and orderly home

               a table wiped clear of crumbs and spills

the best way to do the maximum amount
of work, without becoming overwhelmed

               floor swept, dustpan emptied into plastic
               bags which are placed inside sealed metal cans

is to perform it in a systematic fashion

               dishwasher emptied, opaque and stainless

blot the stain, wipe away any residue

               whites now sorted, his socks, his shirts
               old egg-yolk yellow under the arms

try these to ensure results
reward your efforts:

               his underwear, the boxers faded and frayed
               repeating their pattern of angular hearts

be sure to remove any hooks or weights

               their scattered and miniature x's and o's
               openings measured for admission or exit

don't overload the machine, and remember

               his colors tangling in a tossed-off pile
               of mostly darks, mostly black and blues

fabric becomes much heavier when wet

               while here and there a spring green
               a tremulous yellow

protect from strong sunlight
and abrasive objects

               a newborn pink, streak
               of surprisingly deep red

warning: damages may not be covered

               like fresh blood, a raw and unsutured cut

try a product that claims to hide
surface scratches

               to be rinsed and wrung, dried and folded and piled
               into the thing we call a long marriage

if the marks have darkened
use a sharp knife

               these daily removals, these many attempts
               to wipe clean the counter the table the slate

if the burn is deep use filler
smoothing it to match the surface

               the windows now free of fingerprints and smears
               as if there were no glass no barrier no space

work carefully to avoid
damaging the paint

               in which to revisit your own faint reflection

this coating should last for years



Reading this poem snapped me back to the early years of motherhood - perhaps because I studied a similar book by Alma Chesnut Moore in trying to gain some skill in the art of keeping house. I wasn't alone in feeling confounded by domesticity - I was surrounded by creative, educated women who were suddenly home with children, laundry, surfaces to clean, furniture to fix, order to find in the daily waves of chaos that seems to follow new parents around.  To do this and anything else required a mental version of ambidexterity that I didn't possess - one mind focused on the physical and the other on the metaphysical.  I was always getting the two mixed up. This is what Jennifer O'Grady captures so perfectly here - the the waves of poetic thought lapping at the shore of the endless list of domestic to-dos and how-to-dos.  This poem appears in Poetry Daily and was originally published in Southwest Review.  If you are reading this without having read Moths, visit that page by clicking the link to find out more about Jennifer's work and read another terrific poem.   (Reprinted with permission of the author)

Images ~ Baby in the basket is by Devinf (visit to see more incredibly cute photos of baby Rune and really amazing yarn  work),  I found it first on Taylor Flannery's blog.  How To Clean Everything, one of the many editions by Alma Chesnut Moore, now available on Google Books.  The French Laundry advertisement can be found here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Journey of the Magi

Earliest Image of the Journey of the Magi
Journey of the Magi

 by T.S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.





Here's another favorite, on the occasion of Three Kings Day, or Epiphany.  I discovered while googling around that the first five lines of the poem were borrowed by Eliot from Bishop Andrewes' Christmas Day Sermon of 1622.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes in his Christmas Day Sermon of 1622 said this of the journey of the Wise Men:

T.S. Eliot as a young man
Lancelot Andrewes
"This was nothing pleasant, for through deserts, all the way waste and desolate. Nor secondly, easy neither; for over the rocks and crags of both Arabias, specially Petra, their journey lay. Yet if safe, but it was not, but exceeding dangerous, as lying through the midst of the black tents of Kedar, a nation of thieves and cut-throats; to pass over the hills of robbers, infamous then, and infamous to this day. No passing without great troop or convoy. Last we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, the very dead of winter.”

- compelling words, surprisingly fresh for having been written almost four hundred years ago ~ and far more familiar to us by being quoted by T.S.Eliot at the beginning of his poem, The Journey of the Magi.

The image at top is taken from a fascinating website called History Hunters International, an archeological website exploring the layers of history and appearance of divine men through archaeological evidence.






Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Thomas Merton Reader

In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain,  Merton tells us of the writing of the following poem:
While I was sitting on the terrace of the hotel, eating lunch, La Caridad del Cobra had a word to say to me.  She handed me an idea for a poem that formed so easily and smoothly and spontaneously in my mind that all I had to do was finish eating and go up to my room and type it out, almost without correction. 

So the poem turned out to be both what she had to say to me and what I had to say to her.  It was a song for La Caridad del Cobre, and it was, as far as I was concerned, something new, and the first real poem I had ever written, or anyway the one I liked best.  It pointed the way to many other poems:  it opened the gate, and set me traveling on a certain direct track that was to last me several years.
The poem said:

The white girls lift their heads like trees,
The black girls go
Reflected like Flamingoes in the street.

The white girls sing as shrill as water,
The black girls talk as quiet as clay.

The white girls open their arms like clouds,
The black girls close their eyes like wings:
Angels bow down like bells,
Angles look up like toys,

Because the heavenly stars
Stand in a ring:
And all the pieces of the mosaic, earth,
Get up and fly away like birds.



FOR MY BROTHER: REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION, 1943

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed --
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.



These two poems have been long favorites of mine and opened a door for me when I was in college to take chances with poetry, and to assure the heart a place at each poem's core.  In the first poem, which I don't think has a name but might be called La Caridad del Cobra, he captures so something of the joy and freedom in the truth-telling nature of poetry, a way of telling by not telling, like a Zen kōan.  This is a poem you have to let follow you around for a while.  The second poem always makes me feel intensely vulnerable.  I grew up in a family deeply touched by one war and feel for the many families today who suffer with grief that has no words.  Here Merton's poem is a gift to help give voice to the grief in the loss of a loved one.  It is so filled with heart that that the images shimmer on the edge of the poem like the skin of a bubble, buoyant with love and grief, irresistibly translucent.  He captures the life of grief in a way I've never found so well expressed.  These are borrowed from Google Books, A Thomas Merton Reader by Thomas P. McDonnell. 

See too the sensitive work of Sister Thérèse Lentfoehr in Words and Silence, on the Poetry of Thomas Merton, a book I've carried since my college days. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Earthbound and Transcendental - 2 poems by Chŏng Chi-yong

Nostalgia



      by Chŏng Chi-yong




The place where a rill, babbling old tales,   Meanders on eastward toward the end       of a broad plain   And a mottled bull ox lows   In dusk's plaintive tones       of golden indolence  
Could it ever be forgotten, even in one's dreams?  
The place where ashes grow cold in a clay brazier   While over empty fields the sound of the night wind       drives the horses   And our aged father, overcome with drowsiness,   Props his straw pillow  
Could it ever be forgotten, even in one's dreams?  
The place where I got drenched       in the rank weeds' dew,   Searching for an arrow recklessly shot   In the yearning of my earth-bred heart   For the sky's lustrous blue  
Could it ever be forgotten, even in one's dreams?  
The place where little sister, dark earlocks   Flying like night waves dancing in a fairy-tale sea,  
And my wife, not pretty but passable       and all the year barefoot,   Bent their backs to the sun's tingling rays and       gleaned ears of grain  
Could it ever be forgotten, even in one's dreams?  
The place where sprinkled stars       wend their way in the sky   Toward sand castles just beyond our ken,   while beneath drab roofs,       hoary crows cawing past,   People sit, softly murmuring,       round the faint firelight  
Could it ever be forgotten, even in one's dreams?  


     (Translated by Daniel Kister)



Window, I

    by Chŏng Chi-yong


Something cold and sad haunts the window.
I dim the pane with my feverless steam.

It flaps its frozen wings, as if tamed,
I wipe the glass, wipe again—

Only black night ebbs, then dashes against it,
Moist stars etched like glittering jewels.

Polishing the window at night
Is a lonely, spellbinding affair.

With your lovely veins broken in the lung,
You flew away like a mountain bird!

                                     (Translated by Peter H. Lee)



I have drifted back to these poems many times since discovering them and would like to share them here.  I have sought permission last fall but have not yet heard back from either the translators, the institutes or their universities. 

Daniel Kister, the translator and a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea, wrote, "Modern Korean poetry owes much to the pioneering body of work left by Chŏng Chi-yong who expanded the poetic possibilities of the Korean language through ingenuities of expressions and disciplined incorporation of musicality. He remained wary of sentimental effusion; from his early “imagist” works to his late “transcendental” meditations, restraint and sophistication remained signature characteristics of Chŏng’s poetic language.


The natural landscape in this poem is described in "the most lasting idiom" of language which is so plain and common that it almost sounds primitive. The emotional opulence is almost overflowing, yet immaculately controled. It presents the typically Korean pastoral scenery inspired with rural naivety and humbleness.   
The peculiarly Korean landscape composed of local images deconstructs all oppressive powers and generates a poetic space that is more liberating and simple, and where the most essential and permanent part of our mind is touched. So the poem leaves an indelible impression in our mind and stirs a sea of emotion from the deepest.

Read more of Chong Chi-yong's work and Prof. Kister's sensitive and thorough essay here ~ Korean Literature Today, Vol 1, No. 2, Autumn 1996, a work that includes many contemporary Korean poets.

The poem Windows 1, is aided by biographical information. Chŏng Chi-yong had a son who died early from a lung disease; it is likely that the one who “flew away like a mountain bird” with his “lovely veins broken in the lung” is his son, though nothing in the poem identifies him explicitly. Thus the poem can be seen as a song of sorrow sung by a grieving father. The poem shuns direct exposure of the speaker’s emotional state, but intimates it instead through the useless activity of “polishing the window at night.” The depth of sorrow the father feels is suggested by the fact that he remains awake in the still of the night, and the sudden flooding of memory in the last stanza, delicately accentuated with the exclamatory tone and the apposite use of the adjective “lovely,” is equal to the task of expressing the gravity of his loss. The language is tempered and the sensory experience regulated; Chŏng Chi-yong’s spirit of moderation is almost classical. (Editorial note by translator Peter Lee)

I will share more, through added links, soon.  Thanks!  

Tintern Abbey


The banks of my own Wye

LINES

WRITTEN A FEW MILES ABOVE

TINTERN ABBEY,

ON REVISITING

THE BANKS OF THE WYE

DURING

A TOUR,

July 13, 1798.

by William Wordsworth

=====


Five years have past; five summers, with the length    
Of five long winters! and again I hear    
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs    
With a sweet inland murmur.  Once again    
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,    
Which on a wild secluded scene impress    
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect    
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.    
The day is come when I again repose    
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view    
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,    
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,    
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,    
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb    
The wild green landscape. Once again I see    
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines    
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,    
Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke    
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,    
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,    
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,    
Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire    
The hermit sits alone.

 
                                     Though absent long,    
These forms of beauty have not been to me,    
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:    
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din    
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,    
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,    
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,    
And passing even into my purer mind    
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too    
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,    
As may have had no trivial influence    
On that best portion of a good man's life;    
His little, nameless, unremembered acts    
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,    
To them I may have owed another gift,    
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,    
In which the burthen of the mystery,    
In which the heavy and the weary weight    
Of all this unintelligible world    
Is lighten'd:—that serene and blessed mood,    
In which the affections gently lead us on,    
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,    
And even the motion of our human blood    
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep    
In body, and become a living soul:    
While with an eye made quiet by the power    
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,    
We see into the life of things.

   
                                                If this    
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,    
In darkness, and amid the many shapes    
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir    
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,    
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,    
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee    
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the wood    
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

   
And now, with gleams of half-extinguish'd though[t,]    
With many recognitions dim and faint,    
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,    
The picture of the mind revives again:    
While here I stand, not only with the sense    
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts    
That in this moment there is life and food    
For future years. And so I dare to hope    
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first    
I came among these hills; when like a roe    
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides    
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,    
Wherever nature led; more like a man    
Flying from something that he dreads, than one    
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then    
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,    
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)    
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint    
What then I was. The sounding cataract    
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,    
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,    
Their colours and their forms, were then to me    
An appetite: a feeling and a love,    
That had no need of a remoter charm,    
By thought supplied, or any interest    
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,    
And all its aching joys are now no more,    
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this    
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts    
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,    
Abundant recompence. For I have learned    
To look on nature, not as in the hour    
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes    
The still, sad music of humanity,    
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power    
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt    
A presence that disturbs me with the joy    
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime    
Of something far more deeply interfused,    
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,    
And the round ocean, and the living air,    
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,    
A motion and a spirit, that impels    
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,    
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still    
A lover of the meadows and the woods,    
And mountains; and of all that we behold    
From this green earth; of all the mighty world    
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,*    
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize    
In nature and the language of the sense,    
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,    
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul    
Of all my moral being.

   
                                     Nor, perchance,    
If I were not thus taught, should I the more    
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:    
For thou art with me, here, upon the banks    
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,    
Sunset near my house
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch    
The language of my former heart, and read    
My former pleasures in the shooting lights    
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while    
May I behold in thee what I was once,    
My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,    
Knowing that Nature never did betray    
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,    
Through all the years of this our life, to lead    
From joy to joy: for she can so inform    
The mind that is within us, so impress    
With quietness and beauty, and so feed    
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,    
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,    
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all    
The dreary intercourse of daily life,    
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb    
Our chearful faith that all which we behold    
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon    
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;    
And let the misty mountain winds be free    
To blow against thee: and in after years,    
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured    
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind    
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,    
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place    
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! then,    
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,    
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts    
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,    
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance,    
If I should be, where I no more can hear    
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams    
Of past existence, wilt thou then forget    
That on the banks of this delightful stream    
We stood together; and that I, so long    
A worshipper of Nature, hither came,    
Unwearied in that service: rather say    
With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal    
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,    
That after many wanderings, many years    
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,    
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me    
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake.    

I've come back to this poem so many times in my life, after my first foray into a troubled world, and seemingly after every foray since.  I am very much like Wordsworth in my need for and love of nature, I take solace in the quiet energy.  This poem offers me a staircase into a place of peace.  Though I've never seen Tintern Abbey, nor the English countryside, I believe we each have our own nature, our own most beautiful place, to find refuge in.  From time to time I am fortunate to glimpse this bright former nature in some young people not yet bruised or burdened, and shed my trouble like a heavy coat.

This next poem, too, by William Wordsworth cuts a smooth curve along a contemporary truth - perhaps a timeless one - and for something written two hundred years ago, feels to me a very fresh and urgent nudge to put away our blackberries and iPhones and walk a little deeper in the world we live in.

The World is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon

                by William Wordsworth

          THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                   
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
                                                              1806.