Edward Kaplan (return to sender)

Baltimore Avenue looking west at sunset early these short days. Photo by Ed Kaplan 2020.

Two years ago in January Ed Kaplan, a good friend and fellow poet, died in his city of dreams, Philadelphia. He wrote this about himself:

“Ed Kaplan came ashore in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since then, his work has been published in well over a hundred magazines and journals – as well as books including Alvin (1974, Triton Press, Boulder Creek, CA), Seraphics (1980, Avalon Editions, Oxford), & Pancratia (1983, Swamp Press, Oneonta, NY). Educated as a boy living in Atlantic City, walking home by the ocean, participating in the roar of waves, inspired by the vastness and the grain of sand underfoot.”

Ed was influenced by the Beat poets, but his closest association was with Vincent Ferrini, the sprightly irritant and muse of the “Big Man,” Charles Olson. Ferrini was the grain of sand that caused Olson to form a pearl of words. Vinnie was a good poet himself, living by the sea in true urchin fashion in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1981, Ed and Vinnie and came to the poetry program I ran at St. Clement’s Church in Manhattan. After this, Ed read at the St. Marks Poetry Project with Ferrini and Joel Oppenheimer, saying this about it in 2020: we each were shades of that dynamic that asks… make a poem or be the poem? three different answers. back then, i didn’t get it at all; vinny did and joel wasn’t pushing it on me, kind of in the middle. but it was a great reading! tho vinny & me read at st. clements, hell’s kitchen (not lost on us). He told me in an email (after reading a draft of my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen) that Steve Levy, writer and journalist now with WIRED was in the St. Clement’s audience. Ed’s generosity, humor, and “poetry like weight-lifting” earned him respect in the writing community. He was not an academic poet, earning his living as an administrator; when I knew him in the 1980s he worked for a temple in New Jersey. In his later years he became a student of Zen and practiced meditation.

On December 27, 2020, Ed left a note on his Facebook page, saying, “ram dass was cremated, put in a cardboard box, marked . . . return to sender.” At the time his friends were unaware this was to be his last post.

He once told me the Facebook page would be an archive of his work. For the first year or so, I copied his posts and kept them on a computer file. Here are some of my favorites from those early posts as well as several of his poems.

first came the swimmers, lost on land, then the beatniks who commented, then the nudists then the fashion designers & models, poets, comedians, chefs & of course the players gangsters & spoilers, then modernists, then the big collider proved we are entangled, all one, not separate, then the music started & in 2525, we held hands and started over!!!!!!!!!

back from my morning ritual sending love to the street world…cold out there: one man, a regular of mine, refused gloves because his fingers are too swollen…one is too crazy to accept money (I think he may eat it). but the world rests there at that intersection of walnut street, 40th and love.

in the sabotaged ashes of my life, I sit; in the squandered pieces of my life, I sit; keeping my heart soft in spite of the complaining self, undeserving of this miracle, and at times, crying do over. I get it; I stay lost in it.

so much hatred manifest in our selfish melodramas, causes, opinions for the moment – judgments on everyone in the circus – awaking to this day, i seek to fill my heart with the good of people, their ability to change, to help each other with kindness, to drop the shouting, no matter how noble you think your path is – to honor the contradictions of being human while holding fast to the emptiness and the fullness of this too quick life.

still looking for something in the world – but it’s getting better – my story gets more ridiculous and less fantastic than I thought…and it’s perfect.

just a little history in zen about humor – sure, they smile those smiles, and the idea of “mu” or clown in Chinese Buddhism is dear to me, and in most traditions, real humor is in the background. You’d think that cosmic humor would sneak into any relevant theology. but zen isn’t theology. SO: as we turn a page on time everyday, another fiction, my prayer for the world is more laughing, vast laughters; laughter and wholeness before the big bang, and after, laughter in spite of, laughter because of, and laughter in the face of karma, just for a moment in our suffering. in between failed hopes & dashed dreams. at the site of hurting, directly on the wound. laughter at dying! give laughter a central role in your heart seeking. Apply a joke to your ambition. stick laughter on your frustrated relationships. watch children laugh like they are on fire!!

Ed Kaplan, poet, 2016
Power of Man
(from Table of the Permanent) 
a cold hand above the sea, to be immortal, he thinks
coals must be fed with stars, which, on eagles’ backs
lands in the rockslide sky like broken thunders.
he owns small cats & slate. he swallowed
the moon straight & it burned an albatross
inside his clumsy process from which he draws
his power of hammered gold & oyster foam.
poor men, he thinks, poor women: any of this earth
will survive your failure. his short days
have only flowers & no roots for memories
as he throws them into the open mouth
of his working riddle, the deep black guess
that somewhere he is considered the only one of his kind.
he cries better than anyone else. he staggers the mind.
he is the only wave that has come this far unbroken.
he is stubborn which means he crawls in her hair
shaking his fist in the soft face of the earth, arming himself
with dreams that only will be sold & gone & cold.
he is in front of a firing squad ready to prove otherwise.
he knows it's forever, that others will take everything
but that away. he touches the future which he keeps with him.
all these magnificent lies through which the little good
we do, one drop at a time, remains: he was a salesman or a
carpenter or a company man. he provides & clears his pride.

Power of Appointment

Indiana night driving in heavy snow
a single car stretched across route 74 at midnight
a truck two miles back slides out of the mirror
fierce wind & onelight houses by the highway
bones of prehistoric animals & lovers & theorists

100 miles of crowded solitude & jelly beans to stay awake
tossing cigarette ashes on the floor

we are salesmen in the thirties with belted luggage
we have families back home
it’s Thursday January 24
Indianapolis to Cincinnati

the brain is one third fat
two thirds extravagant gold sash

you are therefore never alone
angels are deft & spidery
drawn to drapes & lampshades
sit like parakeets on our shoulders or shadows

standing out in the cold between a satellite dish
and a double vision

as in love
as in death
as in the organized sex of our red bandanas
as in the serious theatre of her blood
as in being alone in the middle of a country at night
as in forest

I am surrounded by a ton or two of man’s rigor
peeling off into the organ moon as we always did
constantly surprized in our trauma
it’s a kingdom of crabs chains mace plums
emeralds brats and the unretrievable
the wood in the trees

the wind in the wind

As Olson lay convex

As Olson lay convex his liver

the ruling part

caught the attention of the Angel of Death

he tried deception
wanted to make the Angel
a fool
said
touch me & I will spoil

he tried accepting authority
Angel as physician
said
please don’t hurt me
you are a permanence
whose function it is
to terminate life on earth

he tried moving the cruel Angel
with his enormous need
to persuade her to shed a tear of mercy
he was a young girl
on the knees of an old gentleman
imploring
take her life instead of his

he used all the food at his table
his bones his animals his herbs his interior
a giant in the courtyard grabbing the fountain to his mouth
as if it would fit & quench

ran wild out of the ocean into jungles

a man who got taken in by lights & smoke

who was too damn heavy for the roof

he wouldn’t think of standing anywhere else

____

(I apologize for formatting problems. The first three and last three lines of “Olson lay convex” should be free-standing and single-spaced.)

The following video of the poem, “Seraphics,” about the issues around gun violence reflect his punchy style.

Songs of Winter

Blizzard January 1996 Hell’s Kitchen’s Ninth Avenue, NYC

Great winter poems include Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Can you think of others?

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden
 
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
 
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
 
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The Window

A storm blew in last night and knocked out
the electricity. When I looked
through the window, the trees were translucent

Read more of “The Window” by Raymond Carver from Ultramarine. © Vintage, 1986. 

In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind
by Mary Oliver
 
On cold evenings
my grandmother,
with ownership of half her mind-
the other half having flown back to Bohemia-
 
spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,
 
and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving.

Snow

by Kevin Hart

Some days
the snow has taken me in
to know the time of snow, to live
inside a world so quiet

i​ts music
is all a shimmering. Some evenings
when quite alone
I turn off every light

and watch the snow
enjoy the dark, moving lushly
through spiky air,
finding more time

in time
than when I stretch myself
and am
my father’s father. Oh yes,

there is
a sparkling choir, there surely is,
and dark ice air
through which we fall.

Sheep in the Winter Night
by Tom Hennen
 
Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought
of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian
religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.

The Past Glows, The New is Fire

Going from the old year to the new, we pause for reflection and try to envision the future. The present moment fills us at the passing of the old, and we believe in that moment the future has endless opportunities and perspectives as it stretches out before us, beckoning. What is the truth of our position in time? Fleeting or part of an eternal process? Both, I suspect. Whatever you believe the poets have communicated the transitory moment, our death, our loved ones’ deaths, changes that upheave our lives. They have celebrated birth, new life, continuity, and the bonds of love that defy even death.

Which brings us to Shakespeare and one of the greatest poems about the waning of life and human resiliency.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Recently, watching YouTube videos of poets reading their work, Garrison Keillor said W.S. Merwin said that poetry always begins and ends with listening. I wish I had learned that years ago! Here is Merwin reading, “Yesterday.”

W. S. Merwin reading his poem, “Yesterday,” on YouTube

Another way is talking to the reader (as if to yourself), which many current editors will tell you not to do (ignore them).

Lines For Winter
by Mark Strand
 
Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Another version of listening and talking is what I will title, “Generous.”

Sabbaths, 1993, I
by Wendell Berry
 
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

And the new season begins.

Wind Rising in the Alleys

by Lola Ridge

Wind, rising in the alleys,
My spirit lifts in you like a banner
   streaming free of hot walls.
You are full of unshaped dreams. . . .
You are laden with beginnings. . . .
There is hope in you. . . not sweet. . .
   acrid as blood in the mouth.
Come into my tossing dust
Scattering the peace of old deaths,
Wind rising out of the alleys,
Carrying stuff of flame.

Song at the Year’s Turning

by R. S. Thomas

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble; the familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart’s flower withers at the root.
Bury it then, in history’s sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.
Love deceived him; what is there to say
The mind brought you by a better way
To this despair? Lost in the world’s wood
You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
The earth sickens; under naked boughs
The frost comes to barb your broken vows.
Is there blessing? Light’s peculiar grace
In cold splendour robes this tortured place
For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
The new grass shall purge you in its flame.

Also, for poets especially, poets talking over a beer: https://www.poeticous.com/r-s-thomas/poetry-for-supper

And “Instructions on Not Giving Up,” by Ada Limon. Again the last line! That’s the other thing I’ve learned, and I hope the poets who read this blog will also pick up on this.

Most of all, love others and love what you are.

Basho haiku

“Of no account”
think not this of thy self,
Festival of Souls

Now, for a lyric video, “Earthlings,” with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Holiday Season & News

Mastodonbooks.net

I’ve joined Mastodon and pared down my time on Twitter. My blog and daily emails from friends comprise the greater part of my internet life. However, Twitter allowed me to keep up with current news, often from the affected people themselves, and with my fellow book lovers. I used it to promote my books as well. Now that I’m on Mastodon I am enjoying the richer engagement I’m having with other writers and reviewers. You can find me at @Mclark@mastodonbooks.net

My Kindle Vella adventure continues. Passages had 6 readers in the beginning but as soon as payment was required that fell to zero. The message I’ve taken from that is to make it more compelling. I’ve discovered on reviewing the rules that episodes on Kindle Vella are not to be published anywhere else on the internet for free. I have to chose between publishing on my blog or on Kindle Vella. I’ve decided to keep working on Kindle Vella to see if it works. At least for the next few months.

In the spirit of the season, here are two poems. The first by Maya Angelou is well-known. The second is by Sally Young, now Sally young-eslinger, an old friend of mine. We knew each other in New Jersey before I went to New York and she to Chicago and later Kentucky.

AMAZING PEACE:  A Christmas Poem
by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

IN THANKFULNESS
by Sally young-eslinger

Let me go!

Please! Let me go

Flying out along the city’s avenues

To observe all the gatherings and meetings,

To examine all the exchanges of everyone…

And I will find

The most certain way to honor you.

Let me go!

That particular regard seems outside

All my experience gathered to date.

There is no simple acknowledgement known

For all I have been given, even without asking.

Oh, surely, there are things I will find

Within the stronger, sweeter dedications

Among the all, one to another?

Humanity’s born caring brings touches of God. Oh,

Shall I discover all the notes of

Sincere appreciation to be enough?

Lately, my words try to reach you — even those

Torn from my heart — but only sound pretending.

I need to flee out

To stretch into the depths of all enfolding love

For that cache containing

The one thing that holds everything top

Place within it and pull from it

All the ways I may thank and honor you.

Perhaps, leaves will become diamonds

More quickly, but my being courses steadily on to

That some new day when I will come with witnesses

And I will honor you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Notable Books 2022

Notable Books

From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography, Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004)

I loved this book for its headstrong author who chooses to live on a windswept barrier island off Scotland’s west coast. She dedicates herself to preserving the old Gaelic folk songs and tales of the Hebrides. As part of the community, she documents their lives through writing and photography. She settles on the small island of Canna with her husband, where she hosts sailors from intrepid fishing ships, and writers and artists.

Ancient songs are often beautiful and surprisingly complex. Scarborough Fair dates to a royal decree in 1253. The song, “Scarborough Fair,” a traditional English ballad, has lyrics in common with a Scottish ballad, “The Elfin Knight,” traced back as far as 1670.

My Antonia, Willa Cather

My Antonia, Willa Cather

This book is part of my effort to read classic books I missed over the years. I’ve read her short stories but was wowed by the skill of this writing. She handles the plot and themes in a unique way. Although prairie life is sometimes romanticized, the pastoral scenes are a joy to read. Her descriptions of small-town life are cutting. She portrays the pull of city life in several of her characters, one succumbing to despair and isolation, another buoyed by whimsical humor, and the narrator by his choice. It was daring I think to tell the story of immigrants back  in the 1920s. Changes in the landscape, in farm life, and slowly, attitudes toward women, help tell the story. At times, I thought the narrative was overwrought and the pace too slow, but then I’m a modern reader!

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

Another one that deserves to be a classic American novel. It’s a brilliant expose of American life and its continuous debates between conservatism and liberalism, capitalism and socialism, diversity and racial segregation. The characters are wonderfully eccentric, full of vim and vigor even when half-starved and overworked, and obviously smelly from rarely taking a bath. Apparently, the young white girl can only smell black people though. At times in the portrayal of the black inhabitants of the small town, she refers to their smell. Sure. And sultry sexual undertones run through the story. Still, it’s a romp through the crazy land we call home.

Miss Benson’s Beetle, Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson’s Beetle, Rachel Joyce

An older woman finds herself alone and useless. One day she can’t take it anymore and throws the whole thing off. She takes her savings and decides to go in search of the golden beetle of New Caledonia. I enjoyed parts of this story more than others, but the good parts had a fine and may I say golden humor and epitomized the drive and love we feel at our best moments. I sincerely wanted her to find that beetle. Slogging through the jungle, up a mountain, fighting a crazed attacker, and knowing no one supported her, she had to do it by herself – but no, she had her assistant, the equally fascinating Enid Pretty. The ending is sad and brutal, but the denouement is funny and beautiful.

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo

This book mixes humor and tragedy, as the title suggests. “Welcome to Lagos” is a sarcastic remark, a knowing statement about the true conditions of this capital city. At the same time, it shows a resilient humor. I felt I was in the city with its traffic entanglements, homeless encampments, idealistic journalists, and scheming politicians.

Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy

From Amazon: “Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica.” The main character, Franny, is mentally unstable. The time is the near future, when mass extinctions have taken place, and humans seem to be next in line. The whole world is unstable. A frustrating book in that the reasons for her actions remain a mystery until late in the story and then seem contrived or questionable. It’s a sad story with a somewhat happy ending, intimating that we and other species may be able to hang on after all.

Strange as This Weather Has Been, Ann Pancake.

A family living in West Virginia battles the effects of coal mining while being dependent on the coal mines for a living. They live with the threat of having their homes washed away by slush ponds or crushed by mountaintop removal. Pancake tries to explain the attachment to the land and why people don’t move away, and why things don’t get better.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, Erin Litteken

The story of the famine known as Holodomor inflicted on Ukraine by Stalin and the Soviet Union before World War 2 is told in two parts, one contemporary and the other set in the time of the famine.

I Dreamed There Was No War #Ukraine

MY MAINE excerpts from Bette A. Stevens’s Poetry & Photography Collection

Wonderful book for Christmas by Bette Stevens, haiku for all seasons set in her beloved Maine

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author

 

MY MAINE, Haiku through the Seasons reflects the Maine I know and love. ~Bette A. Stevens, Maine author 
The haiku above written February 2022. Photo taken from back field (farmstead peeking through) on a perfect snowshoe day as winter’s landscape begins to transform itself into spring.

Below is a sampling from Winter Tales.  

Winter Tales 🌲

(Selections from— MY MAINE, Haiku Through the Seasons by Bette A. Stevens)

Sheets of diamonds
Glisten on frozen meadows
Perfect snowshoe day

Icicles weeping
Tears of joy from the rooftops
Winter jubilee

Dawning feels warmer
Daylight slowly grows longer
North tilts toward the sun

Afternoon shadows
Scrambling through frozen forests
Sing—Joy to the world

Black and white portraits
Etched below an azure sky
Disappear at dusk

Thanks so much for taking time to enjoy a bit of late winter in MY MAINE, Haiku Through the Seasons

Did You Know? 🌲

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Harvest Poems

This time of year as fall turns to winter I have a feeling of contemplation and a sense of endings after a hectic year. The “Harvest poems” I found online reflected that feeling and sense. I’ve chosen one that is celebratory of harvest, and several that are reflective about the meaning of our endeavors. Each is filled with a deep appreciation of the force of life. Here are a few of them, along with Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and the Native Song, “Ly O Lay Ale Loya” (Circle Dance).

Oh, ’tis sweet, when fields are ringing
With the merry cricket’s singing,
Oft to mark with curious eye
If the vine-tree’s time be nigh:
Here is now the fruit whose birth
Cost a throe to Mother Earth.
Sweet it is, too, to be telling,
How the luscious figs are swelling;
Then to riot without measure
In the rich, nectareous treasure,
While our grateful voices chime,–
Happy season! blessed time.

Aristophanes

Under the Harvest Moon

Under the harvest moon,

When the soft silver

Drips shimmering

Over the garden nights,

Death, the gray mocker,

Comes and whispers to you

As a beautiful friend

Who remembers.

  

Under the summer roses

When the flagrant crimson

Lurks in the dusk

Of the wild red leaves,

Love, with little hands,

Comes and touches you

With a thousand memories,

And asks you

Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Carl Sandburg

The Way In

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.

Sometimes the way in is a song.

But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,

and beauty.

To enter stone, be water.

To rise through hard earth, be plant

desiring sunlight, believing in water.

To enter fire, be dry.

To enter life, be food.

Linda Hogan

Source: Rounding the Human Corners (Coffee House Press, 2008)

Harvest

I walk among bands of wheat fields gold and red on a low road where clouds sweep overhead. I walk among mountains steep and high where golden rods of wheat strike the sky. I reach to catch the spear-stalks as they fly. As day yields to clouds gold and red, I grasp fleet arrows of wheat and watch each seed as it falls through my hand’s reaping beat.

I walk through streams of grass yellow and red where stone pillars mark the dead. I walk among hills azure and green by the sea where white birds sing, an echo coming back from eternity. I grasp the feathers and rise above the waves. As day turns to dreams, my spirit fishes for ways to be – bring the seeds, ride the waves, be the echo, this is the harvest of every day, of my heart, my soul, my body, my life.

Mary Clark

I recommend W. S. Merwin’s “Thanks” / Poetry Foundation and the Native Song, Ly O Lay Ale Loya (Circle Dance)

Distant Flickers, Stories of Identity & Loss

~ 8 Accomplished Authors
~ 10 Memorable Stories
~ Compelling Characters at a Crossroads
~ What Choices Will They Make?

The emotive stories in this anthology take readers to the streets of New York and San Francisco, to warm east coast beaches, rural Idaho, and Italy, from the early 1900s, through the 1970s, and into present day.

A sinister woman accustomed to getting everything she wants. A down-on-his luck cook who stumbles on goodness. A young mother who hides $10 she received from a stranger. The boy who collects secrets. A young woman stuck between youth and adulthood. Children who can’t understand why their mother disappears.

The distinct and varied characters in Distant Flickers stand at a juncture. The loss of a spouse, a parent, a child, oneself. Whether they arrived at this place through self-reflection, unexpected change, or new revelations—each one has a choice to make.

Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

Short Story Anthology

Universal Purchase Link

Book Trailer for Distant Flickers

Excerpt:

Opening Paragraph

“Diary Omissions: The House on Edgewood Road”

Elizabeth Gauffreau

April 17, 1907–June 1, 1907

Brother and I were still so very young the first time Father took Mother away, not long after we moved into the new house on Edgewood Road. Father had designed the house himself, and it was big—not as big as Uncle Henry and Aunt Lucy’s grand house on the hill, of course, but it was big for us, with four bedrooms, front and back porches, and a sunroom looking out through the trees. Father was so proud of that house. While it was being built, he would take us to see it every Sunday after church, all of us dressed in our Sunday best to gaze at the hole in the ground, then at the outlines of walls and roof empty against the sky.

Contributors’ Bios

Passages, Chapter 4, Maryanne

This is the second alternating chapter. As suggested by poet and reader Richard Spiegel, I’ve added information and clues to each chapter to illuminate further both characters and the overall story. In honor of Tuesday being Election Day, I’m including two songs from the late 1960s-early 1970s that would have been heard by Martin and Maryanne. The first, “Ruby Tuesday,” by the Rolling Stones, refers to a woman who won’t be defined or limited by others, (I’d wanted to include “She’s A Rainbow” for its psychedelic style, but this one is more appropriate for this chapter of the story.) The second, “Tuesday Afternoon,” by the Moody Blues, fits both the 1970s and our current times.

A year earlier. . .1974

My name is Maryanne and I’m tripping in my globe, an amniotic sac which expands as I go, but only so far before it explodes? I walk my dog. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog from my suburban New Jersey home to a public nine-hole golf course; colorless, on the bluff above, the country club. I know that if I fall, my neighbors will let me lie leeching life like the grass in the right-of-way.

A man yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

Young and skinny, sometimes I look beaten. Sometimes I shine and men find me attractive. I turn away, rebellious.

Where to take that rebellion? With my eyes turned inward to my pain, I’m blinded by my confusion. Vibrations and small popping short-circuits shock my brain, its casing fragile as an eggshell but also heavy as lead. People pass me, images projected on a screen. They move in slow motion. Their voices fill the air with sounds. Each one is listening only to herself. The world around me is a movie. One step beyond my reality. I cannot reach out and be a part of their world. I cannot live as these other people do.

I’m waiting for the sun. I wrote that when I was a teenager. Now I’m pushing, willing it to rise. I will have my own perception.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

In my dream, I’m playing softball in a field near a hill and country road. A large eagle circles above the hill, and as we play it soars ever closer. At a signal, the kids, mostly boys, pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among half-constructed buildings near the field. A huge shadow falls on the field. I look up to see the eagle, descending, talons outstretched. The others run away from the menace. I wait for the eagle, which lands outside my vision, but I sense it has transformed itself into another form.

I crouch behind a foundation wall. A man comes around the corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it away.

Who the hell am I?

In a world of countless people, I am alone. It’s raining as I walk among the trees. Stopping, I touch part of the perfectness. A bright leaf passes close and feels soft and gentle; a single finger traces a clear line in the dewlike wetness. Deep races the excitement from the second my finger shakes the cold even coat of rain until the leaf slips away. My feet stir the smell of leaf mold. In the rain-driven breeze, leaves dip and sway, but in the white noise, I cannot hear them singing. The trees, sidewalk, homes, all seem to be outlined: they stand out individually, sharply, distinctly, as though someone has taken a black pencil and traced a line around them. Etching stark, fine lines into my eyes. It is like finding myself where I belong. I want to be like that leaf. But where is a leaf in the world? It is lost. I am lost.

I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper, stop by to talk with the guidance counselor at my old high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of New Jersey. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Poor Eliot goes insane but saves the day by turning to his advantage the opposition of those corrupted by greed to do what he wanted in the first place: to help them. I told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his indignation. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like the character in how he reaches out to the lost like me, how he is different but has fashioned a role for himself in a small, traditional town.

My little town is a white suburb of a long-established city which was the scene of a “race riot” in the late 1960s. The city’s antique train station is heavily in use, along with its many-windowed modern library beside a park with towering oaks. A black part of town is hidden from tree-lined streets with Victorian mansions. Since the riot, all-white neighborhoods are changing population to black.

A Molotov cocktail through a back window set on fire one of the downtown bookstores. I worked in the new store during and after college. The store’s bookkeeper and her daughter, my friend Sally, live in the city in a modestly middle-class once white but changing neighborhood.

Sally invites me to a party at her neighbors. In the dark living room, one candle in a bowl, the stereo plays psychedelic music. White and black kids listen to Santana, smoke pot, drink Kool-Aid which we joke about being laced with LSD. I don’t smoke pot, but I drink the Kool-Aid. No effect. Or maybe I wouldn’t know, my brain does its own trips without drugs. Someone hands me Mao’s Little Red Book.

We talk about the killing of a young black man in a nearby town. Going home after dark, crossing a parking lot challenged by an officer, he ran away and was killed. Recently, a policeman in the city was ambushed, murdered in an empty church lot. The police accused the BLA. A young black man in the city specifically. The black kids say no. I believe them. Sally says she thinks they know who did it.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

New York City is interesting. Didn’t get lost!

On the way home, I pick up the car at the train station and turn on the radio. Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” The song doesn’t say living “in the city,” it’s “for the city,” it’s about the dream and how it can be subverted and dangerous, but the dream still drives you.

One publishing company calls. I’m offered a job typing. I type with random success. What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m upset at inaccessibility of the professions. I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to write a play, or have a book published, or travel to Paris.

Would it help if I reinvented myself?

I think about changing my name. More than a pseudonym. My father wanted to call me Mary Ann after a character in a book. My mother thought Marian was better, as in Maid Marian. Marnie was my parents’ third choice for a name. She’s the troubled woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy movie. I don’t think my parents saw the movie, but in any case, the name became popular. Marnie means “from the sea.” And they both wanted to live by the sea. The compromise was Maryanne.

I think I want to be called Valmarie. Val, for short.

That sounds courageous.

The books I’m reading. Why? The Way of the Sufi. Journey to the East. We make a fetish out of being wise: Confucius, Castañeda’s “Don Juan,” Siddhartha. All men. Amen. If the world was once matriarchal, have men been compelled to rebuild a world concept and reinterpret everything?

Now we have endless stories of men as “heroes.”

Women, in our distant pasts, might have put our feet squarely on the earth and our heads into the universal flow, and though we have no specific memory of what we knew then, archetypal imprints remain deep in our unconscious.

“Deep in our unconscious.”

Oh yes.

What a grab-bag phrase.

Mother Earth! We’re eating the earth’s power. Musky mung sprouts. This bean growing is the result of a Simon and Schuster salesman sending me three books: Journey to Ixtlan, Our Bodies, Ourselves which I already had, and The Beansprout Book.

All because I print a hundred copies of a community rag with book, theater and music reviews and poems on a mimeograph machine in the basement. I’ve also been trying to help publicize the works of an artist who lives nearby. Emmy was born in Moravia, studied in Vienna, learning the Old Master style and lithography, and had to flee that city with her husband when the Nazis came in. They stayed in India during World War 2. While there, she was introduced to Gandhi. Eventually, he allowed her to do life sketches. She painted a life-sized painting of him crossing the sea from Africa to India. She tells me of the epiphany of discovery in later life as she learned new techniques, how to use found objects and acrylics instead of oil. Some of her paintings depict factories at night, the romance of industry popular in the 1930s, others are scenes of people dancing outside in circles. All have her brash and sure style.

Spring.

I haven’t touched another person in months. Except for Robbie who lives on my street. A hug now and then, a squeeze of affection, desperate dry humping.

I am twenty-three and living with my parents. He is twenty-one and living with his parents. He is the crazy one. Everyone says.

My younger brother has a job and his own apartment. Our parents helped him finance a car. They won’t let me borrow the car in the evening after work to do volunteer work at the local theater. I joined the theater group for the company of human beings. To be around creative people. I did get tickets to see the “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at the playhouse. My mother will go with me.

Sally is writing fantasies set in local diners. People are good, warm-hearted, but live in a cold, sterile world. The only hope we have is to reach out to one another.  

I have a headache that goes away when I write.

I’m reaching out.

Is anyone listening?

Summer.

I visit Emmy in the hospital, frail and pert by the window as she presides in bed telling me stories from her childhood. Bright, breezy stories. She’s disappointed I don’t laugh more at her stories. How can I hide my worry seeing her like that? This woman who charges the walls of her home with electric paintings, vibrant, dancing, joyous.

Emmy was apparently a member of the privileged class. That was long ago. Still, she smiles, and she means it, she’s one of the survivors.

She took her paintings, the ones she could easily transport, and began a new life. How can I escape? I’m paying my parents’ a meager rent from my savings. My former psychotherapist, Dr. Leo Walker, is sending past due bills, but I have no money. I wonder if I can claim bankruptcy. That wouldn’t be fair to him. Somehow, I must earn the money to pay him.

My Psych friends took jobs with the state Probation and Parole departments. Some have gone on to graduate school, either working full or part-time.

I hear from child protection services that I’ve been scheduled for a job interview.

On a damp cloudy Tuesday, I walk into a government building. Weeping drifts down the empty hallway. I hesitate, look at the paper I’m carrying with the address and office number I’ve been given. This is the correct address. I walk down the hall. An open door. A man rises from a desk in a darkly furnished office, curtains drawn, and gestures to a chair (as if there’s no weeping.)  

He asks why I’m interested in this job. I can’t tell him of my own experience of abuse. I make it seem as if I’m concerned and want to help. The child psychology course I took was made memorable by the professor’s response to my thesis that fathers are just as important to children as mothers. No! he’d written across the top of the first page, they’re not. Mothers are most important! No grey areas, no discussion of time, that mothers in infancy might be more important, but as we grow, fathers can be as important. Especially if they start criticizing and beating you.

The interviewer tells a horror story of child abuse. He asks me what I would do about it. My answers seem to amuse him in a macabre way, as being unable to stop suffering is one of the lessons we must learn. He explains child services workers must work with the abusers and try to persuade them to accept help.

“Do you think you can do the job?”

Given my temper and my history, I doubt it. I want to lash out at that parent. To get that child away from her. Sometimes the best thing is to be taken away from your parents. I wish it had happened to me.

He says, “You hear that young man crying in the room down the hall?”

I nod.

“He thought he could do it.”

Is that what I want? A life in bureaucracy, years of drudge work not making people’s lives better? So that I can have a place to live.

August. A knock on the door at 7:30 a.m. An older couple, friends of Emmy on the doorstep, are the message.

“Emmy died last night.”

I imagine them being with her. The long wait ’til dawn to come here.  

“We’d like you to write her obituary for the local paper.”

I will. I feel inadequate to the job. How can I describe her flight from hatred and destruction and her indomitable spirit rising above them? Are they revealed in a listing of places and accomplishments?

I hand-deliver the obituary to the Central Jersey paper before noon.

In the world? News bulletin. President Nixon is close to resigning.

Watching TV. Watergate hearings. Cast of characters, personalities, allegiances, betrayals. Nixon is flailing, talking to himself. Power can make you crazy, loss of power can, too.

Watching TV. PBS shows, cinematic productions with British actor Ethan L. in major roles.

The way he moves his hands, the inflection of his voice, I am captured between the two. I follow his movements in time and space, cues and clues that I can feel. Like a hunger that has always existed, as though waiting for this moment.

He seems to me to be the man, the woman, the father, the mother, the lover I have always wanted. I conceive of him as round and soft, and watch his eyes half closed, suggesting, thinking, caring, misunderstood, misunderstanding, and understanding too much. I turn on the television and see my brother stare back at me. Ethan L. reminds me of my brother when he had the round, open face of a young boy. The little boy look, the older man, the alluring female, which in swift combination fall between —–:

charms me and threatens to end my ambivalence toward men. I stare at him as if we are alone in the same room. He is self-effacing and immodest at the same time. He crashes into acts of bravado. I laugh, knowing the feeling. I accept him happily, some harmless fantasy, someone I will never meet.

I write about it in what I call Celebrations (I don’t want to use that word too much, as though it’s sacred).

#

Also on Kindle Vella

Four Bench Poems

When the cubist hand

reaches around to touch

the shadows . . .

It’s a Picasso!

*

Blush of tulips fades

Blustering breeze in the long

unfolding of spring

Empty bench, cold day

hot coffee, brief walk in sun

snowstorm on its way

Where does our journey go?

Do we look back at the shadows,

cast in fear, and above all, sorrow,

and drink of the anguish in our passing-by.

Or listen to the joyful song,

exultation to vanquish sorrow,

turn to feats of love and honor

to signify gratitude at our passing-by.

*

Thanks to friend and poet Richard Spiegel for the Cubist reference.