Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

day #23 of National Poetry Month ~

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

day #22 of National Poetry Month ~

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

day #21 of National Poetry Month ~

bee on peonyEven 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:

A bee

A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

 

day 20 of National Poetry Month ~

bee sketchThe 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.
CAMUS

All day my husband pounds on the upstairs porch.
Screeches and grunts of wood as the wall is opened
keep the whole house tormented. He is trying to reach
the bees, he is after bees. This is the climax, an end
to two summers of small operations with sprays and ladders.
Last June on the porch floor I found them dead,
a sprinkle of dusty bugs, and next day a still worse
death, until, like falling in love, bee-haunted,
I swept up bigger and bigger loads of some hatch,
I thought, sickened, and sickening me, from what origin?
My life centered on bees, all floors were suspect. The search
was hopeless. Windows were shut. I never find
where anything comes from. But in June my husband’s fierce
sallies began, inspections, cracks located
and sealed, insecticides shot; outside, the bees’ course

 

watched, charted; books on bees read.
I tell you I swept up bodies every day on the porch.
Then they’d stop, the problem was solved; then they were there again,
as the feelings make themselves known again, as they beseech
sleepers who live innocently in will and mind.
It is no surprise to those who walk with their tigers
that the bees were back, no surprise to me. But they had
left themselves so lack-luster, their black and gold furs
so deathly faded. Gray bugs that the broom hunted
were like a thousand little stops when some great lurch
of heart takes place, or a great shift of season.
November it came to an end. No bees. And I could watch
the floor, clean and cool, and, from windows, the cold land.
But this spring the thing began again, and his curse
went upstairs again, and his tinkering and reasoning and pride.
It is the man who takes hold. I lived from bees, but his force
went out after bees and found them in the wall where they hid.
And now in July he is tearing out the wall, and each
board ripped brings them closer to his hunting hand.
It is quiet, has been quiet for a while. He calls me, and I march
from a dream of bees to see them, winged and unwinged,
such a mess of interrupted life dumped on newspapers—
dirty clots of grubs, sawdust, stuck fliers, all smeared
together with old honey, they writhe, some of them, but who cares?
They go to the garbage, it is over, everything has been said.
But there is more. Wouldn’t you think the bees had suffered
enough? This evening we go to a party, the breeze
dies, late, we are sticky in our old friendships and light-headed.
We tell our funny story about the bees.
At two in the morning we come home, and a friend,
a scientist, comes with us, in his car. We’re going to save
the idea of the thing, a hundred bees, if we can find
so many unrotted, still warm but harmless, and leave
the rest. We hope that the neighbors are safe in bed,
taking no note of these private catastrophes.
He wants an enzyme in the flight-wing muscle. Not a bad
thing to look into. In the night we rattle and raise
the lid of the garbage can. Flashlights in hand,
we open newspapers, and the men reach in a salve
of happenings. I can’t touch it. I hate the self-examined
who’ve killed the self. The dead are darker, but the others have
moved in the ooze toward the next moment. My God
one half-worm gets its wings right before our eyes.
Searching fingers sort and lay bare, they need
the idea of bees—and yet, under their touch, the craze
for life gets stronger in the squirming, whitish kind.
The men do it. Making a claim on the future, as love
makes a claim on the future, grasping. And I, underhand,
I feel it start, a terrible, lifelong heave
taking direction. Unpleading, the men prod
till all that grubby softness wants to give, to give.
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