The Poem Goes On
I thought I'd write a poem, then
thought better of it and read one instead:
a painting, horses, a moor, her sadness.
Still later, a bridge, castles even, bare branches
which in poems often mean
that the poet is seeing the world as beauty
stripped of all excess. Whatever comes next
life will not be as it was.
The poem goes on. The sun lowers,
as it so often does in poems. Somehow
being lost is at the heart of things: loneliness
understood as that most peculiar
of pleasures. The poem is very long.
On and on it goes, all of it
a sadness unravelling
into joy, and then, finally,
it ends and she is left with its echo:
how she wanted something beyond words.
In the course of reading her poem
I sometimes looked up and away from the page.
I saw the rise and dip, the stalled drift
of an eagle. I saw the snowy hill,
the river covered in ice. A woman in a mask
walked toward the hospital. Above her
an oak tree's branches reached up like a note to God,
still unsent. I saw another woman
clutching a pink phone as if it were a raft:
without it who knows how long she would stay afloat.
Across the street, a broken balcony. Standing on it,
a man looked down and smiled at something only he saw.
I imagined he had a goldfish in a bowl.
I imagined he fed it every day,
swapping out cloudy water for clear.
I saw it all because her poem had seen it all.
It wasn't castles or bridges or bare branches
or a horse in Scotland, but it was what I had
and it was everything.
(Jennifer Grotz, ("Edinburgh Meditation")
20 Below, Valentine’s Day
Again and again, a man runs up the snowy hill across the street.
Again and again, I don't.
But I am grateful, even so, for the epitaph
on that ancient Greek grave:
oh, so very sweet your touch…
I burn, I flower.
As Usual, I’m Writing a Poem on my Birthday
Words will come this birthday, but shyly, like those swallows that sleep under the bridges in Venice. Once Gregory Corso and I shared a night together on my birthday in Venice. We met by accident. He wrote a love poem to JoAnn. Something about an angel. Who could blame him? He was wilder than me. But I don't mind being the shy swallow, wings folded, dozing in deep shadow under that bridge near Locanda Montin. Each hour the loud bells reverberate from the church by my bridge. I count hours. I find words. Bravely (for me), I write of love.
On a moonlit night one hundred ten years ago,
Winslow Homer went out to Cape Trinity.
It was a painting waiting to happen, black cliffs,
white clouds the color of paint gone almost opaque,
the water acting like a Japanese print from a hundred years
before Winslow Homer was born.
Was he lonely? Was he happy?
Was it enough to stand at the foot of beauty
and bring even more beauty into the world?
He had sketched his way through the battlefields
of the Civil War. Had seen Paris.
Had done the New York thing. Death was still
six years away. Pine trees, one more copse of darkness,
that cliff, among all the other daknesses.
It is time for me to come back
to his painting, six years, more
or less, from my own end. Now,
slowly. One pine tree at a time. One wave,
moonlit or no. I stand as close to the painting
as the guards will allow. The far shore
is exactly as dark as the near shore. The light
hits the water, then drops down inside it.
In case you didn't know, birds of paradise don't always live and die
in pots. There is a world. Forest fires, earthquakes,
birds of paradise: I live here now, sunlight and shadow. It is sweet
to be seduced so easily: a little warm dirt
underfoot and suddenly I am smiling as if
I get the joke to which I am the punchline.
My father was born thirty miles from here, near
where the ocean begins and most troubles
created by human kind no longer feel
as if they have a point. Along came the Depression
and grandfather had to sell the orange grove.
My father dropped out of his little college,
hitchhiked to Decatur, Illinois and that was that:
it turned out the world was flat, after all.
I grew up there, no bookstores, no birds
of paradise, no stone buddhas sitting quietly in gardens
next to cactii and persimmons, lavendar, and permission
to be. That smile of my father's, a little sweet,
a little distant, a little too easy to misread
as peaceful. I don't mind not minding
what comes next and I don't have anyone
left on earth to disappoint the way
sons can disappoint fathers.
His things were hunting ducks and genealogy, mine
is to disappear without leaving a trace. I'm ashamed
to be who I am. But there is no shame
in feeling shame, I tell myself,
now that I am a temporary Californian.
In California, I sit facing the sun. Sometimes
my jacket is not necessary. Birds of paradise,
persimmons, bare skin, shamelessness.
So Not Me!
To be a willow tree! In sunlight!
And leaning over a white picket fence!
Far away from everything
I think I understand about the world! To be born!
To be that old woman over there opening the wooden gate
to the garden behind which she lives! so blissfully
to open a door! So not me! To be the willow!
To know right from wrong! Sunlight from shadow!
Life from death! To know so much
and to forget it all!
To be forgotten
when the new moon has barely set!
Darkness! Ancient! Everywhere!