Today is my father’s birthday. He would be 96. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s, which should probably be more important (he’s a LOT older, for one) to a poet. But it’s not.
I looked for poems about fathers, which seems appropriate. This one won, as I often want to ask my father about something, or share news with him…
Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Sherman Alexie
The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
– Richard Wilbur
The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.
I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?
Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because
He’s astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. “Hey, Ma,
I say, “Can I talk to Poppa?” She gasps,
And then I remember that my father
Has been dead for nearly a year. “Shit, Mom,”
I say. “I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—
How did I forget?” “It’s okay,” she says.
“I made him a cup of instant coffee
This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—
And I didn’t realize my mistake
Until this afternoon.” My mother laughs
At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days
And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.
Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.
Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.
– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19508#sthash.vvyE4TGm.dpuf
I confess to a huge crush on W.S. Merwin, begun long before I met him at a Nimrod Literary Journal weekend. His work is amazing. He’s a Buddhist from way back. And he’s trying very hard to restore & save a palm forest on Maui. Not to mention he’s just a lovely person, when you meet him. Brilliant, wryly witty, contemplative. He seems particularly appropriate for Earth Day, poetry month, and a Buddhist blog.
Icing on the cake for me: Merwin met Ezra Pound, a literary hero of mine. He sat with Pound at St. Elizabeth’s, where Pound was institutionalised. And I sat w/ Merwin at Nimrod. 🙂 That felt as much like being part of a literary tradition as anything I’ve had the good luck to enjoy.
And finally — today’s poem has bees in it! Here’s ‘The River of Bees” by W.S. Merwin:
The River of Bees
In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blind man followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older
Soon it will be fifteen years
He was old he will have fallen into his eyes
I took my eyes
A long way to the calenders
Room after room asking how shall I live
One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Images of hope
It was offered to me by name
Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say
He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass
I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay
He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water
We are the echo of the future
On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live
Even though it’s a bit briskish today (as my Aunt Bonnie would say…), you can tell it’s spring. The bees are working their fuzzy striped butts off. And there are fat peony buds in the walled garden, ready to burst open (probably while I’m gone next week).
Because I’m going to.. .Maui! Which is, of course, a kind of Eden. Not only that? I’m going to meet an old girlfriend! And stay with her at her mother’s place. How cool is that? Girls in the tropical ‘hood…
So watching bees is very much not something I can do today, as I’m madly packing, checking my lists (I’m suuuuch a list maker!), trying to anticipate weather, volume of pink suitcase, etc.
But there are sure to be bees — if not peonies — in Maui. And I fully intend to watch them stagger out of exotic flowers, laden w/ pollen & nectar. Wherever you are, you should make time to do the same. It’s a perfect exercise in the now of things. 🙂
Here’s the amazing Matsuo Bashō, translated by Robert Hass:
of the peony.
The poet Mona Van Duyn is another favourite. This is one of hers I hadn’t known previously — I actually was looking for another poem when I came across it. Being a sucker for bees (my first name, as many readers know, means ‘the bee’; my family might even go so far as to say I think it means the QUEEN bee…), I had to include it in this month’s line-up.
Van Duyn wrote all her life, even met her husband — another poet, at the time — at a writer’s workshop. Her poetry is deceptively quiet. It will sneak up on you. 🙂 She writes about everyday life: marriage (her poem ‘Late Loving’ is the one I was trying to find a copy of online), loneliness, friendship, aging. I think of her as very Buddhist, although I have no idea what — if any — spiritual tradition she followed.
Here’s her poem ‘A Time of Bees’:
A Time of Bees
Love is never strong enough to find the words befitting it.