Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

day #19 of National Poetry Month (‘we must love one another or die’) ~

compassion

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie…

Today I tried to eat my lunch beneath a TV set blazing with the latest tragic news from Boston. From Watertown. From hatred.

No one knows why the bombers in Boston chose to murder innocent victims. The home-made bombs certainly haven’t stirred support for Chechnya, or helped to allay American fears of Muslim terrorism. They were acts of hatred, created in hatred, and they will be met, I’m certain, with more hatred. Because so many people in this world believe that compassion is a weakness, and that hate is the only ‘just’ response to evil.

It isn’t, of course. But it’s hard to hear the quiet pleas for restraint, for compassion, above the howls of righteous anger, the keening of loss, the bewildered horror. So today’s poem is one I’ve long loved, timely once again as hate ignites, and political posturing strong-arms genuine attempts at dialogue. It remains the most scathing indictment I know of expedient & reactionary hatred.

Here’s W.H. Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939′:

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

 

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

 

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.

 

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

 

From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

“I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

 

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

 

day 18 of National Poetry Month ~

Today is Poem In Your Pocket Day. Just a big FYI. :) It also was Poetry for Peace Day at a local community college. I was lucky enough to be a reader, along w/ several talented student poets and a couple of stellar colleagues. My friend Allen — a long-time social activist — organised it.

Each of us read a poem, most of us our own. But there were also poems to put in your pocket — after all, it is Poem In Your Pocket Day. And this was one I had forgotten, by a man I respect & admire deeply. His objectives sometimes are at odds with my own, but he has never wavered in his faith, or in his mission to save lives. All lives. Poetry was his language long before protest, and remains one of his most lasting legacies.

Here is Daniel Berrigan’s ‘Prayer for the Morning Headlines’:

PRAYER FOR THE MORNING HEADLINES

MERCIFULLY GRANT PEACE IN OUR DAYS. THROUGH YOUR HELP MAY WE BE FREED FROM PRESENT DISTRESS. HAVE MERCY ON WOMEN AND CHILDREN, HOMELESS IN FOUL WEATHER, RANTING LIKE BEES AMONG GUTTED BARNS AND STILES. HAVE MERCY ON THOSE (LIKE US) CLINGING ONE TO ANOTHER UNDER FIRE. HAVE MERCY ON THE DEAD, BEFOULED, TRODDEN LIKE SNOW IN HEDGES AND THICKETS. HAVE MERCY, DEAD MAN, WHOSE GRANDIOSE GENTLE HOPE DIED ON THE WING, WHOSE BODY STOOD LIKE A TREE BETWEEN STRIKE AND FALL, STOOD LIKE A CRIPPLE ON HIS WOODEN CRUTCH. WE CRY: HALT! WE CRY: PASSWORD! DISHONORED HEART, REMEMBER AND REMIND, THE OPEN SESAME: FROM THERE TO HERE, FROM INNOCENCE TO US: HIROSHIMA DRESDEN GUERNICA SELMA SHARPEVILLE COVENTRY DACHAU VIETNAM AFGHANISTAN IRAQ. INTO OUR HISTORY, PASS! SEED HOPE. FLOWER PEACE.

day #17 of National Poetry Month ~

Martin Richard, victim of the Boston Marathon bombings

Poetry always helps me with grief. With rage at injustice, with loss. With all the sorrows — as well as joys — of human existence. Today’s poem is for the many victims rippling out from the horrific centre of the Boston Marathon bombings. It’s a poem by a poet who absolutely understood ugly hate, as well as war and loss.It’s also a poem of hope.

Here’s an excerpt from Stanley Kunitz’s ‘Night Letter’:

Night Letter (an excerpt)

Violence shakes my dreams; I am so cold,
Chilled by the persecuting wind abroad,
The oratory of the rodent’s tooth,
The slaughter of the blue-eyed open towns,
And principle disgraced, and art denied.
My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
and laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, “Let us be good to one another”?
The lamps go singly out; the valley sleeps;
I tend the last light shining on the farms
And keep for you the thought of love alive,
As scholars dungeoned in an ignorant age
Tended the embers of the Trojan fire.
Cities shall suffer siege and some shall fall,
But man’s not taken. What the deep heart means,
Its message of the big, round, childish hand,
Its wonder, its simple lonely cry,
The bloodied envelope addressed to you,
Is history, that wide and mortal pang

 

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