The clouds are low and hairy in the skies

All I can think of right now is Robert Frost’s poem. I have a recording of him reading it that I think was made around 1960 just before he died. He read it fast with hardly a pause for breath, in his old man’s voice. It was as if he was hurrying to get it recited before he too had to run and ‘prepare himself for rage.’

Here it is, two ways:

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.

And this is he reading it via iTunes.. You get 90% of it; enough to hear the wonderful quaver in his voice.. Click right here

But there’s no quavering in our voices today, right? Although before all this is over we just might be glad the cliff is backed by continent… Good luck everyone!

‘You’re Born, You’re a Kid, You’re a Grownup…’

You could be sad on a dark day like this, cold and wet as it is, but only if you took the short view.  

Of course it’s hard not to take the short view with a three-day blow coming in and so many of last year’s dead leaves still carpeting the earth, some even still clinging to the branches, waiting on this  wild strong wind to shake them loose and return them to the mother.

But if you take the long view you see what’s happening under those dead leaves. Violets right there in the woods! And is that poison ivy peeking out with shiny face?

It all starts over. Any child will remind you of that.

The other day I spent a few hours walking around a pond with two young children who have just witnessed their first death, that of Uncle Ed as we all called him, though he was grand-uncle to them.

“I’m sad,” the little one, who is four going on five. We were walking along picking up rocks and winging them into the water

“Why are you sad?” I asked him.

“I’m sad because Uncle Ed died.”

“Ah I’m sad about that too!” I said. “But lots of people think we go right to Heaven when we die and see all our favorite people. The ones who died before us I mean.”

“And lots of people think you come back as a baby.” he said.

“That’s right! Lots of people believe in that. They call that reincarnation.”

“I think this is what happens,” he said brightening. “You’re a baby, then you’re a kid, then you’re a grownup, then you’re an uncle and then you die. Then you start again: baby, kid, teenager, (I forgot teenager)  grownup, uncle!”  I didn’t have the heart to interrupt and point out that his own actual uncle is a young guys in his 20s. “I think you come back and come back  – again and again!”

“Wouldnt that be wonderful!” I said and suddenly those lines from Birches came into my mind where the speaker in that Robert Frost poem says, “Earth’s the right place; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

The right place for love and the right place for letting go,  I thought .

I’ve been having a hard time with that second part but I find comfort in company like this, meaning the company of Frost and these children.

Here are the children from our day together:

The little one is the one with all this talk. The big one just said “TT, well your brain never dies. We know that!”

And then I thought of this poem, also by Frost, that wrote itself on my own spongy grey hard drive back when I was a girl and read poetry the way other people eat. It’s called In Hardwood Groves.

The same leaves over and over again! They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.
Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed. 

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is way in ours.  
All I can say is thank God for the young, who see things the rest of us miss.


Bringing the Distant Close

All day yesterday I thought about how I saw Orion the other night, as proud in that sword-wielding pose as a six-year-old. It so comforted me to see him Sunday night, not poised menacingly over us but lying on his side as he was on that first cold night of this fast-aging autumn. It reminded me of ‘Choose Something Like a Star’ by Robert Frost with words that cphill me every time, evoking as they do the star’s distant and taciturn quality, its serene sense of remove from the messy woes below.

When I began looking for it here on the web I came instead upon ‘The Star Splitter’, also by Frost and what do you know? Frost also speaks of Orion’s close-to-the-horizon position, only his image is even more animated. Rather than saying Orion is merely reclining, he has him heaving one leg up over the tops of trees. The words suggest great energy and at the same time call to mind the image of a man sleeping, as some men do, with one leg thrown over his partner’s flank.

As to this poem, it is set in a small country town and tells of the man who burned his house down and used the insurance money to buy a telescope.

I was going to quote a little of it here until I found this link that has the poem and the voice of Frost himself when you touch the “play’ symbol; of Frost dead these nearly 50 years, but still here reading! Reading to us in that memorable folksy voice the phrases that sound so much like those of a man come to town for a keg of nails you can hardly tell that they’re part of a poem.

Click the link even if you only for a moment and listen; just listen to that voice. I did and was able to catch hold of them and hitchhike my way clear back into my own family’s past on a lonely farm in the mid-1860s. I did and was transported back to the dimly remembered day when as a little girl I saw a young president take the oath of office while an old poet squinted to see the page he was to read from, then gave up and recited an even better poem he knew by heart.

What you hear is Frost’s own mortal voice, And this, this is his ‘Choose Something’ poem, here set to Randall Thompson’s music and paired with images captured by the Hubble telescope in those close and distant heavens.

Stopping by Woods

I shot a long video of my mother some 20 minutes before she died though no one imagined she was anything but healthy that fateful afternoon. It’s a mercy my battery died before she did or the video would be utterly unbearable to watch instead of merely painful. But where do the dead GO? And why don’t any one of them ever write? My Great Aunt Mame used to get so exasperated as she started naming all her dead: mother,  father, all nine siblings, her friend the town’s postmistress, the parish priest Father O’Brien …. “Not even a postcard!” she’d bluster disgustedly before laughing at the folly of her anger.

I once bought an audio tape of Robert Frost reading his own poems that I treasure because there it is, his very voice. And now thanks to the artistry of British videographer Jim Clark, here he is again, reciting for me every time I press the ‘Play’ icon below.

I realize there must be plenty of film of him reading when he was on the circuit  but by that point in his life he had suffered and darkened; anyway even at the best of times he was no showman. But you touch ‘Play’ now too and see that even in this photo taken when his eyes were closed,  he appears lost in thought merely, as if composing the words on the spot. Here then: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” for us all at week’s beginning with miles to go before we sleep too.

Sensitive Wallpaper

ivy at the window(This is the ivy at my window today…..)

So what if I just SAID HOW I FELT here every day and added yet another layer of sensitive wallpaper to the walls of this Enormous Room the Internet. Sensitive wallpaper: that’s what Garrison Keillor calls personal narrative of the kind everybody’s writing these days, me on my post-nasal drip, you on the heartbreak of psoriasis, me on my inability to kick prescription laughing-gas, you on how you’re stuck in traffic and OK yes my two examples are fictional.  My faucets are all that drip but they drip all the time – we finally had to install a cat under each one because in this house the cats drink right from the faucets babe – come on over for supper, we’re running a special on bacteria! – so no, no nasal drip really, and who needs laughing gas when life is funny enough in a world where you can come down to breakfast one morning, reach for your vitamins, quick lift the bottle to your mouth to shake one loose and find a tiny BAT snoozing inside the thing, all folded up neat as Jiminy Cricket’s umbrella.

That happened to me once.  And here’s what happened yesterday:

I drove six hours so Uncle Ed, on the lip of his 90th year, could see the full-on New Hampshire-in-autumn foliage maybe for the last time. His body is aflame with the pain of arthritis and I have some sort of freshly revealed case of scoliosis that has my own little skeleton starting to sink and torque downward like the Wicked Witch of the West in her big meting scene. End result: this morning we’re both pretty sore but it was worth it because we saw those leaves. And because they made me remember the poem Robert Frost wrote about this season.  Read it and just see if it doesn’t express what we’re all feeling right now here in these northern latitudes. It’s called “October” and it’s from The Complete Poems of Robert Frost. 1916:

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost–
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

View From the Edge of the Bed

Well my Tuesday posting about the Skinny Guy in a Diaper sure did offend one person, who wasted no time letting me know as much, and in a public forum. She said if all I knew to do with the Bible was make fun of it, mocking the son of God in whom a whole lot of people believe then it was a sad state of affairs and why didn’t I get out my Bible and go right to the Book of John now, to see if I couldn’t wise up my sorry blaspheming self.

I wrote right back of course to say that I never make fun of anyone else, either human OR divine, but only mock myself and that’s the sure-enough truth. In fact the one time I did make fun of somebody else was when I said of Elizabeth Taylor that at least one of her chins was still pointy. Boy did I get a lecture that time!” Who do you think you are?” this woman from Bridgewater MA thundered in an angrily scrawled hand. “Where do you get off making fun of others when I can see by your picture that your eyes are beady, your teeth look false and your hair is out of style!” Ouch!

But instead of dwelling on the insults that have come my way over the years I have comforted myself today by going into the bedroom to really look at the wall where little Eddie saw this crucifix that once hung inside my mother’s casket; and I’m wondering now what kinds of things other people put near their beds, what cherished tokens to serve as the last thing(s) they will see at night and the first they will see in the morning. Maybe someone will click on ‘comments’ and offer answer.

Anyway here are “labels” for what you see in this photo:

1) that crucifix, which also hung inside the casket-lid of my mother’s father, a man born in the 1870s but one who lived long enough for me to have sat beside him at every supper, every single day until he died when he died in ’58.

2) Two watercolors that this same man bought in Montreal in the winter of ’23 when he brought his whole family there for a trip, just months a before a death came that permanently darkened all their lives.

3.) And those gorgeous orange lilies? Those lilies were done by David’s great-uncle, we think, an amateur botanist and man of letters born in the early 1890s . He and Robert Frost were friends for a time in their early manhood, exchanging letters and jokey poem, and one of Frost’s recent biographers speculates that the two lovers for a time before awkwardness or circumstance made a breach in the friendship. (Maybe David’s elder brother Toby will weigh in here with the details on that. Toby?)

It’s this last picture that really has my attention right now because it just seems to tie me to my husband and to all his people, making his side of the family my side of the family too, in the miraculous-yet-everyday sense that through the three babies we made and the ten zillion germs we have swapped this man of mine and I really are now related.

4) Oh! and that little teeny picture tucked in beside the birch chest is a snapshot of my mom, taken in 1927 when she was a humorous but secretly shy girl just on the brink of flunking out of college.

Every morning I hang my head off the edge of the bed, chiropractor’s orders, and look and look at these objects – until they shimmer and grow so nearly transparent that I seem to pass right through them, exiting the present moment altogether and joining these here remembered in whatever place it is that they now dwell, where no offense is intended and none is ever taken. is ever taken.