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.

Florida Poems

I grew up in Florida and know the state has many layers. It’s a complex place with a long history, going back to ancient indigenous civilizations and early Spanish explorers in search of treasure and the Fountain of Youth.

Florida gets a bad rap in the media and recent events haven’t helped dispel the reputation of the state as a place where people do crazy things. When I was 12, I began to write about it. What evolved was a long poem, “The Sailor Circus,” named for the Sarasota high school afterschool circus program (which still exists). In my 20s, an agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the poem, but she later decided not to take it on. For many years both the poem and novel languished among my papers and computer files. A few years ago I used much of it in a novella, Covenant: Growing up in Florida’s Lost Paradise. These past few weeks I added in more of the original words, adapting them when needed to fit the narrative. And then, I took parts of it and made this poem. I’m offering it to give people a different perspective on the great state, the elusive and always transforming, place called Florida.

Florida

Visions of Atlantis.
The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy.
Sailing, circling, orbiting, we ride the tides,
before we merge with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, 
will we circle around to the other side,
     will we come back alive?
The resort town lies weblike on Florida’s Gulf Coast,
banyan roots in backland glades,
points of anchorage, where gravity takes hold,
rolls the city up each night like a window-shade.
Each morning beneath a peg-leg, pirate's sun,
the land unfurls, surfaces beneath the surface of the sky.
Mirages and miracles: buildings, beaches, marinas, 
     alligator farms, the circus. 

White pelicans mirror the clouds, 
moonflowers glow, passion vine 
and coral bells flourish, herons nest,
and a mockingbird sings of paradise. 
Ghost towns in morning glory and dust, 
carnivals and suburban malls in the marshes.
On the southern Gulf Coast, burial grounds
     of forgotten civilizations.

Echoes of Atlantis. 
Lost worlds, new worlds spiral, drop,
      rise and soar in a divine glare.

Gulf Coast’s angels’ wings and rare Juno shells,
a sea of dreams, with all things sailing
we navigate by the sun and moon,
flowing into ports of call, 
sailing with grief and ecstasy,
     the circuitous circus.

The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy—
the heavy vessels of the past empty their holds
and are refilled, flowing to the future with a purpose—
we carry precious cargo: hope, love.
Swinging across the globe, in tumult and calm,
we circle with the joy of fulfillment in time,
creating designs so potent
     they shape eternity.

Copyright 1974-revised 2022 by Mary Clark

The song, “A Salty Piece of Land,” by Jimmy Buffet, who pioneered Caribbean Rock’n’Roll in Key West, Florida, communicates the allure of a place, the sense of freedom, on the boundless sea.

Mary Clark’s fiction and poetry, all set in Florida:

Children of Light, poetry novel, Ten Penny Players/Bard Press

Covenant, Growing Up in Florida’s Lost Paradise (kindle only)

The Horizon Seekers, Amazon/Kindle

Racing The Sun, The Horizon Seekers Series Volume 2, Amazon/Kindle and Smashwords

Ekphrastic Poetry: Photos inspire Poems

An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. Source: Poetry Foundation

American Daguerreotype: Ekphrastic Poems by James Penha

James Penha has penned a narrative that explores American character in the mid-1800s, a turbulent and pivotal time when new technologies of photography and communication revolutionized how we saw ourselves and shared information. He choses his subjects from a spectrum of income, education, and status of freedom. Writers Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emily Dickinson, artist James McNeil Whistler, anti-slave activists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, are accompanied by a slave named Caesar (three poems spanning a century), a man whittling, a group of school children, and several others. Each daguerreotype has been given proper attribution, with its date, if known. And for each subject there is historical material, including writings by Poe, Hawthorne, and Douglass on the advent of the new technology. Douglass said, “Morse has brought the ends of the Earth together, and Daguerre has made it a picture gallery.” (“Pictures and Progress”, 1864)

In the poem accompanying Douglass’s portrait from the 1840s showing him looking to one side and gazing down, Penha writes:

... he looks aside of it, demanding
that we recollect and admire
his naked bondage 
but with eyes as well on the verge 
not merely of the mountain top 
but the view from its apex, vast and glorious expanse…

The poem ends with:

These miraculous pictures 
will be clasped, he knows 
in frames of truth and lies.

Edgar Allen Poe’s photograph was taken by an unknown artist, late May or early June 1849. Poe said of the new medium: “For, in truth, the Daguerreotyped plate is infinitely (we use the term advisedly) is infinitely more accurate in its representation than any painting by human hand. … The results of the invention cannot, even remotely, be seen – but all experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely. It is a theorem almost demonstrated, that the consequences of any new scientific invention will, at the present day exceed, by very much, the wildest expectations of the most imaginative.” Poe, “The Daguerreotype,” Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, 15 January 1840.

Penha imagines Poe realizing the camera’s power as the photo is being taken, as he bends to the left as if to escape being captured “accurately, infinitely…”

One of my favorites is the poem accompanying Henry David Thoreau’s photograph, taken in 1856 by Benjamin D. Maxham. In his poem, Penha notes the tousled hair, “so uncivil, So thoroughly disobedient, we must wonder if he tousled it on purpose for posterity.” The ending again, as with many of these poems, is excellent. (No spoiler.)

National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most telling is the self-portrait by Robert Cornelius, believed to be earliest extant American portrait photo, circa 1839. The first “Selfie” evokes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call to the ordinary man, to the “gleam of light” in each of us. Cornelius stares directly at the camera, daring the new power to echo his own. 

Grief Songs by Elizabeth Gauffreau

In a series of poems, Liz Gauffreau chronicles her family’s history, providing photographs that often both reveal and hide the truth. Her brother’s carefree teenage stance, posed family portraits, moments captured at gatherings, show life’s vivid impressions, but the poems inform us of the mischief, tantrums, and long-lasting bonds. The poems, in tanka format, add to the senses: sound, smell, taste, feel.

clam bake on the beach
driftwood fire crackles, smokes
Michael row the boat
Mummy sings, guitar strumming
five hundred miles from our home

In one she remembers a picnic on a beach, but years later she is the only survivor of that family scene. These poems and photographs mirror the resilience needed to move beyond grief to full appreciation of those we love.

Please also visit Annika Perry’s blog for her review.

Recently, I’ve been doing a photographic study of a bench outside my apartment building. Here’s one with an accompanying haiku.

Natural patterns
circle and bind, bonding us
and frees the world's grace

Poetry 2022

I’m going to do poetry posts for a while. I think we’ll need it in 2022! Next up, I’ll name some of my favorite poets, including some of their poems.

Basho

In praise of Matsuo Basho, the famous Japanese haiku poet:

Frog, jump in the pond,

when the ripples are no more,

are you in the pond?


The original Basho haiku:

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ Mizu no oto

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

Grandma Wing

KatherineMiller_Florida

Grandma lived in Winter Park,
near Lake Osceola and Rollins College.
The house was two stories, and wide
windows looked out on a fountain
in the circle of the road
On the front porch she waited for us,
shoulders bent forward and in,
but willfully resolute, and keen-eyed;
I felt her cool arthritic palm
Once inside sunlight blazed beyond
Venetian blinds, antiques and a lifetime’s finds,
crystal and china shone in measured light,
and overhead fans kept the rooms cool;
matching the tapestry of her garden
She was never bored: I read,
I think and daydream. At my age
these are the things I do best.

I saw the joys and sorrows of a long life
imprinted on her face, in a window’s sunspot
when we settled in for a game
of double solitaire;
but when she asked me to stay with her
a day or two I made excuses:
parents’ disapproval, homework, school
Don’t you want to?
Yes, I nodded. But I already knew
some wished-for things will never be.
Help me in the garden, she said,
rising from her wing chair
A delicate aroma of tropical flowers
washed over me: I want to stay with you,
I thought, of days in this garden
backlit by water-dappled clouds
She showed me how to water roses
and there’s a right way and all other ways
are nonsense. And we are always there
with the blue beyond us, the blue around us,
the blue within us, and the roses

 

Mary Clark

DIY Printed Art

cbridge

EPHEMERA was a type of printed art and writing produced by fine printers in the late 19th ad early 20th century. They could be postcard-sized, leaflets, and broadsides.

This is a modern example: “Sunset in Waves,” composed of a few stanzas from my epic poem, Children of Light. The document can be downloaded, and the font and color changed, printed on cardstock or colored paper, to be used as a card or note in person or online. Use an excerpt of the poem (with attribution) if you like.

You can find many examples of modern ephemera, ready to print, on Pinterest. Here’s my Printable Ephemera Board.

A Visit to Monticello: Two Poems

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Monticello’s Dome

Was it 200, or 400,
or 600 unsung voices
I heard singing
in the bell
of Monticello’s dome?

Why is it closed off?
Why is everything so orchestrated
As if Jefferson felt he could direct
The course of nations
More easily than his legacy
Like a pair of doors that close
Together in accord by his hand

Ode to 1441

whoopersm

We opened the pens and let them out
On the Florida prairie, the young whooping cranes,
They were so beautiful in that early light,
As I watched them walk into an amber mist,
Their cinnamon and beige feathers melding with
The delicate reds and golds of the marsh grass,
Before they disappeared in the morning glimmer
That flashed like sparks from the lake

My mother raised me and my older brother
After my father died, teaching me the ways
Of the wild she had learned over a decade,
Having been born in captivity, released from a pen,
A one year old with no survival skills,
A small instinctual handbook carried beneath her wings,
And she taught me and my brother to be wary,
Look both ways, and stay close by her side

I loved to stalk through the marsh, and romp
In the prairie grass, splash in the swamp,
Fly with my brother, hang ten
With the Sandhills coming in to evening roost
And my mother said they looked like our shadows,
Friendly ghosts, who would help keep away the terror
That comes in the night, but when I was six
The terror came and took my brother

My mother and brother built a nest
And we were surrounded by eyes cold
With moonlight, as he stood with wings outspread
To defend us, and the nest, our future,
But they lept and dragged him away.
Soon after I saw the large figures scrambling around
The marsh, and then they cried out
And took away his body

You can’t imagine the surprise my pilot and I felt
When we flew over a marsh by Lake Okeechobee
The little plane making a small insignificant shadow
On the vast expanse of water and marshlands,
And saw two cranes nesting in the wildest
Of wild places, and when we landed we saw
The older female, and with her, a younger female
By a decimated nest

Okeechobee is not a safe place to be, to nest,
To thrive, and we found the young male
Or what was left of him, thanks to the transmitter
And as we left we hoped the other two
Would abandon this place, and fly north
To the ranches and preserves of Osceola County,
And again we agonized over the death toll
Of this experimental flock

My mother and I flew back and forth from the big lake
To the smaller one, and spent our days feeding
From the troughs alongside the cattle, in spite of the odor,
And whenever the large figures would appear,
Holding black objects and huddling or darting around,
Sometimes my mother would say, ignore them,
And other times, let’s go,
They’re getting on my nerves

I watched the cranes for another five years,
The older female was over 20, a good
Long life for a captive-raised crane in the wild,
And her daughter, 1441, was over 10,
Without a mate and only her mother
For a companion; sparks of crimson
And brilliant white
In the tall green grass at sunset

And then I saw her, alone, on Canoe Creek Road
Radiant on the ranches and farms of Lake Kissimmee,
The younger female, now in her prime,
And I went home, only to wake up in the dead
Of night, and think of that whooping crane:
How people who see her will whoop
With pride at having seen her in the wild,
And how resilient she is, and how vulnerable

And what does it matter, one lonely bird
On one lonely road
When there are people dying in Syria,
When there’s the scourge of cancer,
When children are caught in the crossfire?
But I can’t help thinking of you,
1441,
On this dark night

Copyright 2017 by Mary A. Clark

289 whooping cranes were released into the wild in Central Florida between 1993 and 2004 in an effort to create a non-migratory flock. In 2008 about 30 were still alive. The project was ended due to the high mortality and lack of success raising chicks. As of 2017 only fourteen survive. Four chicks born in the wild survived to adulthood. 1441 is one of them.

Memories are Fossils

WalkAway

Memories are fossils, she said,

And left him on the strand

The carnival was whirling around

Food, family and dancing

On the Day of the Dead

He walked to the sand

And ran for miles, apocalypso miles,

Tumbling down to the exposed bone,

Curving bone that rims the sea

And there memory came as a tsunami

And all the fossils on the shore

Were particles of I;

After love has swept by,

Memories are fossils and I