Wednesday, January 30, 2008



The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel;
And the former called the latter "Little Prig."
Bun replied,
"You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year
And a sphere.
And I think it's no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I'm not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry.
I'll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ: all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I try to remember this poem whenever I have occasion to sing. Because I can't sing, and I admit to envy of those who can. And I feel embarrassed--ashamed, even--not to be able to carry a tune. It seems such a simple thing to most people I meet, to be able to sing "Happy Birthday" and not throw off all around you, to sing the national anthem at a ball game and not have the people in front of you turn around and look. Why can't I?

I can't say why I am so hard on myself for such a trivial shortcoming; I certainly would never think less of someone who couldn't do something I am good at. One of my dear friends cannot spell, but can write clearly and succinctly. My sister cannot read a map, but she can remember the address of the place you are looking for. My brother-in-law can't bake a batch of brownies out of a box, but he can build anything you like out of wood. I do not scorn them for having shortcomings--on the contrary, it just makes them all the more dear to me.

So I try to content myself with occupying my place, and I remind myself some things I am good at: I can tell a good story, I'm a good troubleshooter, I have an eye for detail. Some of my talents are useful, such as always knowing which direction I am facing, and some are obscure and not so frequently needed, such as the ability to recall the color of objects I have seen and match them perfectly. Besides my singing, I have some major downfalls: I procrastinate, I start things I don't finish, and I have a terrible tendency to fall into sarcasm. Yet somehow, these more serious deficiencies do not bother me as much as the inability to sing.

It is good to remember we all have our talents, big and small. What are some of yours?

Monday, January 28, 2008


Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanket whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert spaces.

Robert Frost

Winter is a struggle for me. It is the time of year when it is easiest to dwell upon my own desert spaces within me. Spring, summer, fall all bring with them opportunities to fill myself in the joy and beauty of nature. But when winter comes and that blankness seems to fall across the land, it also falls in me.

I do my best to keep it at bay. I have my little interests and my daily escapes, into books, or handiwork, or entertaining friends. But the little shocks of horror that come when I glimpse the stretches of expressionless blankness come more frequently in winter. The silences that in spring are drowned in rushing streams and in summer are eclipsed by the buzz of the locust and in fall are masked by the crunching of leaves underfoot are allowed to ring in the silence of falling snow. And the emptiness that is filled in spring with new green grass and in summer with riots of flowers and in fall with the blaze of the turning leaves is in winter echoed everywhere by white blank snow and a grey blank sky.

But although it is harder in winter to resist the desert places, it is not impossible. It is just necessary to look harder for the beauty to escape them. One morning, I went out after a snowfall, and I expected a world of blank whiteness. What I found instead was a world of color just awaiting my eyes, should I trouble to see. And I saw the snow at dawn was clear blue, not white. And the vibrant red of the crabapples and the solid, reassuring brown of the branches were all willing to be seen.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rabbit Hole Day

The Mad Gardener's Song

He thought he saw an Elephant
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realize,' he said,
'The bitterness of Life!'

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
'I'll send for the Police!'

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
'The one thing I regret,' he said,
'Is that it cannot speak!'

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the 'bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
'If this should stay to dine,' he said,
'There won't be much for us!'

He thought he saw a Kangaroo

That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
'Were I to swallow this,' he said,
'I should be very ill!'

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!'

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage-Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said,
'The nights are very damp!'

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
'Is clear as day to me!'

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'

Lewis Carroll, from Sylvie and Bruno

In honor of Lewis Carroll's birthday. A bit of nonsense and fun.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


A Minor Bird

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day,

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

Robert Frost

I long have wished to silence the bird song that lives within me. To allow my heart to sing a joyful song, unfettered, all day long--how glorious, but how dangerous that would be. In singing, do I not perhaps attract the attention of predators, or put myself at risk? How much safer it is to sit snug in the bushes, not making a sound. Hidden among the leaves, unnoticed, unmolested. Alone to arrange my nest without interference from others. No need to tie myself to others, to allow myself to become dependent upon another living being. To be hurt.

But to gain that safety, I must stifle the heart, layer by layer, with cynicism, self-doubt, false indifference. I build it up, day by day, until I do not remember that the heart still beats beneath the rigid shell. It has always been this way; I have always been this way. The jaded eye, the deflecting quip, the curling lip, are all used to convince myself this is how I want it. Alone, independent, unable to be hurt.

But then something happens. I hear a new voice singing from a nearby tree, and its beauty, its keenness, its utter truth vibrates within me until the hardened shell around my heart chips, cracks, shatters. My inner self is laid open, exposed, raw, vulnerable. It is frightening but exhilarating. My stifled voice sings out in a torrent, feverish, uncontrolled, unstoppable. And after the flood, when I am calmer, I see the truth. The shell I built for safety did not only stop inward barbs from piercing me. It also blocked all attempts at outward seekings.

So now, a new beginning. A way to sing my song, for it to be heard. And, therefore, to hear the songs of others around me. I hear them all singing in the forest: trills, whistles, chirps, coos, shrieks, clucks, all calling to me, and I hear them, and I answer. I add my song to the symphony around me and I revel in the harmony.

Friday, January 25, 2008


one recent evening
i glanced sidelong at you
and there occurred the slightest shift.
your neck,
inconsequential a moment before,
had become a sensual target.
your words blended together,
familiar in tone but
suddenly indecipherable.
isn't that something,
i thought to myself.

Kirsten Larsen 2008

When I told my friend of over twenty years--my best friend forever in the common parlance--that I had started this blog, I received the most wonderful gift: this untitled poem, which she had written for a friend of hers. I knew she was an excellent writer; twenty years of correspondence had given ample evidence of this, but never before have I heard her even hint at writing poetry. We are a friendship of opposites: coffee versus tea, Bitch magazine versus romance novels, film festivals versus knitting. But we know each other well, we trust each other and we love each other. We have a shared history of laughter and tears and frustration and triumph. Even given all that, I do not feel I am biased in thinking her poem excellent. If you, too, think it excellent, please speak up.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Upon The Death of Sir Albert Morton's Wife

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died

Sir Henry Wotton, 1651

I come from a broken home, and so many of my aunts and uncles and friend's parents were divorced that I grew up believing it was near impossible to find a soulmate for life. But in my adult years, I have been privileged to witness three great, enduring marriages among the lives of my friends. Marriages that, while not devoid of conflict, are so solid, so inarguably right that the thought that the halves should separate could not be maintained. And then one was rent apart, not by divorce, but by death.

Now I wonder and I worry about my friend who has been left behind. She is strong, so she will not collapse. She is honest, so she shares her grief. But there must be more that she does not show or tell. The myriad private moments of sorrow, the constant barrage of tiny jolts of loss upon thinking, I must tell him about--and then realizing he is gone. These are things she does not say aloud, but which I know must occur to her. The worst part of all is that I am powerless to help her except by listening when she needs to talk, laughing with her when she needs distraction, and being there for her when she needs someone to lean on. And telling her I love her.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Breaking Up The Classy Way

Sonnet 63

Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part;
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
Shake hands forever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou mightst him yet recover.

Michael Drayton 1619

I first came across this poem in my teen years, in a cheap paperback romance novel. In the story, the hero and heroine fall in love over poetry, some sort of misunderstanding blocks their path to happiness, and they part. In one last noble gesture, our hero quotes the first line of this poem, our heroine goes to the library and reads the poem, and all is well, she is assured of his love and returns to him, and all live happily ever after.

The poem has stood me well in the years since, for who can so cleanly cut herself free? We declare it is over, convince ourselves we shall not think of our former beloved again, but weeks, months, years later, even, a chance thought, or a glimpse of a familiar face, and it all comes rushing back, in a brief burst of madness. And if, at that moment, we received proof of love returned, would we not be tempted to fall again? All the work the mind has done to declare separation can be undone by the heart in a moment.

But that sort of story seems to work best in novels, not real life. Because in real life, we do not receive proof of love returned. We meet in the grocery store or some such place, and polite conversation ensues. We are introduced to the new love, or shown pictures of young children, and our paths part again. Only in novels, it seems, does the impossible happen. For an excellent example, I recommend Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's good to escape reality now and again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dangerous To Know

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

George Gordon, Lord Byron 1815

Byron wrote this when he was 27 years old, devastatingly handsome, and undeniably scandalous. He was famous for his affairs and eventually had to flee polite society. One of his discarded lovers called him "mad, bad and dangerous to know." Well, if he was going to write stuff like this, one can certainly see why women threw themselves at him like moths to a flame.

It works.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song

Here's the poem for today's post, as sung by Todd Rundgren. Have fun singing along!

The Nightmare Song

When You're Lying Awake With A Dismal Headache
(Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song from Iolanthe)

Love unrequited, robs me of my rest;
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers,
Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers!

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in, without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire--the bed-clothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counter-pane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles--you feel like mixed pickles--so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot and you’re cross, and you tumble and toss ’til there’s nothing ’twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bed-clothes all creep to the ground in a heap and you pick ’em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eye-balls and head ever aching,
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you’d very much better be waking;
For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich--
Which is something between a large bathing machine and a very small second class carriage--

And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat) to a party of friends and relations,
They’re a ravenous horde--and they all come on board at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
And bound on that journey you find your attorney (who started this morning from Devon);
He’s a bit undersiz’d and you don’t feel surpris’d when he tells you he’s only eleven.
Well you’re driving like mad with this singular lad (by the by the ship’s now a four wheeler),
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
But this you can’t stand so you throw up your hand, and you find you’re as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks) crossing Sal’sbury Plain on a bicycle:
And he and the crew are on bicycles too--which they’ve somehow or other invested in--

And he’s telling the tars all the particulars of a company he’s interested in--
It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices, all good from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers as though they were all vege
You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots with a boot tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree--

From the green grocer tree you get grapes and green pea, cauliflower, pine-apple and cranberries,
While the pastry cook plant cherry brandy will grant, apple puffs, and three corners, and Banburys--

The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing--
You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor, and you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins, and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep, and you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue, and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense that you haven’t been sleeping in clover;
But the darkness has pass’d, and it’s daylight at last, and the night has been long--ditto, ditto my song--and thank goodness they’re both of them over!

W. S. Gilbert 1882

Insomnia. I have it. And to be honest with you, I'm taking it as a bit of an insult from my brain. Ever since I pulled a few years of working night-shift, I've been proud of my ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. I'm the mistress of cat-naps--a quick ten-minute doze before driving in to work keeps me from falling asleep and driving off into the ditch, a nice half-an-hour's snooze after I get home from work keeps me going the rest of the day, I even take quick fifteen-minute naps in the evening so I can stay up a little later! I've always been much more of an asleep-as-soon-as-my-head-hits-the-pillow sort than the lay-awake-for-hours type. And now I'm tossing and turning and wide awake at four in the morning on my day off.

I know what's causing it, but I don't want to do anything about it. My brain is not happy with something I'm doing, but I'm doing it anyway. It's not illegal, it's not immoral, it concerns only me. But my brain sees trouble down the road, an upheaval of long-established patterns, and it has worked all my life to head off these sorts of troubles. It has persuaded me before to give in, to avoid messy introspections, to play things safe, to convince myself that I really didn't want things after all. It has encouraged me to believe that I was helpless and content at the same time, and lulled me into inaction. If the price for a good night's sleep is to also be asleep as I wake, well, that's not a price I'm interested in paying this time.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe

Wrecked castaway
On lonely strand
Works hard all day
To tame the land,
Takes time to pray;
Makes clothes by hand

For eighteen years
His skill he plies,
Then lo! A footprint
He espies--
"Thank God it's Friday!"
Crusoe cries.

Take heart from his
Example, chums:
Work hard, produce;
Complete your sums;
Friday comes.

Maurice Sagoff

'Cause it's Friday, and I have the weekend off, for once. I love parodies and poems that allude to other poems or books. There's plenty of light verse to come, because poetry doesn't have to be serious all the time. My last post notwithstanding, I laugh a whole lot more than I cry.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Crossing the Bar

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1889

A month and a half ago, I learned that a good friend had suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital. He had been seriously ill for several months, and his body was so damaged by disease that the doctors could do nothing for him but make him comfortable, and wait. I went to visit him in the hospital, and though he was weak, and couldn't talk much, and looked impossibly vulnerable, he smiled and made a joke or two. I left, full of sorrow, knowing that I had seen him for the last time.

The next day, we got a fall of heavy, wet snow and I went out in the morning to clear my driveway and walks. As I shovelled, I thought of my friend, and death, and those he was leaving behind, and I was filled with disbelief and anger and sorrow. The shovel scraped along the concrete and the snow packed itself upon it, and with each heavy shovelful, I also cleared the disbelief and even the anger, but the sorrow remained. And with each shovelful, I remembered a line or a phrase from this poem. I didn't think I had it memorized, but with each clump of snow I threw to the side, I came closer and closer to the complete poem. And as the poem took shape, my sharp grief reformed into tenderness and remembrance. When I was done, and all the snow cleared for the day, I went inside and read the poem, and was comforted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Oh For a Bowl of Fat Canary

Oh, for a bowl of fat Canary,
Rich Palermo, sparkling Sherry,
Some nectar else, from Juno's dairy;
Oh, these draughts would make us merry!

Oh, for a wench (I deal in faces,
And in other, daintier things);
Tickled am I with her embraces,
Fine dancing in such fairy rings.

Oh, for a plump fat leg of mutton,
Veal, lamb, capon, pig, and coney;
None is happy but a glutton,
None an ass but who wants money.

Wines indeed and girls are good,
But brave victuals feast the blood;
For wenches, wine, and lusty cheer,
Jove would leap down to surfeit here.

John Lyly, 1640

I'm in a rollicking mood today, having spent the afternoon in raucous and raunchy company, laughing and joking. I picture a pub long ago filled with friends around a table, eating, drinking, laughing and I picture my friends today, sitting at desks behind computers, laughing at the words on the screen, getting up to get a drink and coming back to laugh some more. John Lyly would be amazed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Argument of His Book

The Argument of His Book

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers.
I sing of Maypoles, hock carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.
I write of youth, of love, and have access
By these to sing of cleanly wantonness.
I sing of dews, of rains, and, piece by piece,
Of balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris.
I sing of times trans-shifting, and I write
How roses first came red and lilies white.
I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing
The court of Mab and of the fairy king.
I write of hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Of heaven, and hope to have it after all.

Robert Herrick, 1648

Recently, a friend of mine awoke a long-dormant appreciation of poetry in me, and I remembered why I fell in love with it in the first place. So this is the place for my thoughts on poems of all kinds, from romantic to comic, hopeful to doomed, deep to fanciful. Some rhyme, some don't, all are great works, and none are written by me. If you have a thought on the poem, please share, I love a good talk about poetry.