Grace

Photo: Maliz Ong, released to public domain

There is a qualitative difference between grace and its near relative, luck. Luck, for good or for ill, is bestowed randomly by an indifferent universe. Grace feels like a personal gift from one who knows your inmost desire.

Grace

Sometimes while a storm still rages
the sun shouts out from the horizon.
Sometimes the locked door pounded on
a hundred times before is found ajar.

There is no way to make it so. So,
wait for it, wait more, and love life.
A long season runs between planting
and harvest. Anything could happen.

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Flowers Dress to Please the Bees

Bee in bee balm. Photo: Maia C, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

People, and poets in particular, easily fall into thinking that the beaty of the world is created just for their pleasure. Yeah, but no.

Flowers Dress to Please the Bees

Few regard the sundew deep in the marsh
or delight in the night-blooming datura. Pity.
Even deep in undergrowth, tiny florets may
be discovered by one who bends the knee.

Flowers – we imagine their allure is meant for us,
the way men imagine women dress to please them.
But flowers dress to please the bees, the midwives
to their love lives. Our great hulks just block the light.

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Parenting

Elenea, celebrating on the roof top.

Here’s another poem from an April poem-a-day challenge, 2010, maybe. Our daughter Elena was grown and flown, building a life for herself in the Boston area.

Parenting

Hanging out in your old room 
propped up on your pillows
staring at the same low ceiling
that occupied your gaze while 
you plotted how to deal with the
Gang of Two–impossible Mom,
infuriating Dad– I get it.
Two-to-one odds called for
powerful measures. And I’ll admit—
it’s not as if we weren’t in need 
of a little home improvement.

But now that we have had a hand in
shaping you and you have had a whack
at shaping us, I like to think we’re all a little 
rounder ’round the edges–if not totally 
tickety-boo, safe at least to be let out loose.

That’s the deal, I guess, the way it’s all
supposed to work out. You’ve gone far
and long, but still are stamped on the bones
of our lives. We’re way back home but
still appear behind you sometimes
when you look in the bathroom mirror.
And here’s how I know this: when I look
in the bathroom mirror, I still see mine.

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Fluid Dynamics

Photo: David O’Hare, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Just ran across a draft of this written back when I was doing an April poem-a-s-day challenge. I think it cleans up nicely.

Fluid Dynamics

The whirlpool behind Sugar Island dam
where snowmelt drops to the penstock
sends ripples back across the flow,
breaking up the reflection of clouds
trying to move east against the current.

The vortex runs white for a moment,
shredding cumulus, then resumes draining
the sky of blue. The penstock runs north
to the powerhouse, to wring the water’s
watts. What does it wring from the sky?

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The Stones of the Village

Along the Red Sandstone Trail upstream from my house. Photo (detail): Michael C. Rygel, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

When I was young, there were still a few quarry-trained masons working with Potsdam sandstone. As young men they rode the narrow-gauge rail line from the quarry five miles downstream to the stone yard. Memories fade out over time, which may explain the desire to build things in stone in the first place.

The Stones of the Village

This was once the shoreline of the Cambrian Sea, 
so far back in time the bedrock holds no visible fossils.
Ancient dunes immobilized by moss, grass and pines
are underlaid by thick layers of Potsdam sandstone.

It was quarried for building stone from the time
of white settlement until the 1930s, much of it from
the southeast corner of the small family dairy farm
of which our house was once the farmhouse.

The stone was used everywhere for everything down
In the village: sidewalks, foundations, hitching posts
mounting blocks, tombstones, upscale homes, churches,
and civic buildings from the town hall to the town jail.

And it got around, too. You can see bits of it in Ottawa
accenting the buildings of Parliament. And the county 
courthouse, in an obvious political compromise, was built
half from sandstone and half from Gouverneur marble.

It’s everywhere still around my house–the sidewalks,
the flower beds, the foundation, the wellhead patio,
as well as loose stone “quarried” from the long-vanished
barn foundation. Can’t dig a hole without finding more.

Fresh cut, it’s the exact color of salmon; oxidized 
by coal smoke and acid rain it settles into a rusty red
mixed with gray and black. There will be no more of it;
the old quarries were dynamited for ornamental gravel.

Or they were sunk beneath the hydro reservoirs swelling
the Raquette River every couple of miles from the foothills
on down to the St. Lawrence. Now every scrap of the stone
is builder’s gold. We miss the past once we’ve done it in.

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An English Major Explains the Universe

Deepest infrared image of the Universe yet. Photo: NASA’s Webb Telescope, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

I once read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” Heavy sledding, but there was this one bright moment when it all became perfectly clear. My hair stood on end for about five seconds, and then it all fell apart again. I am a big-time science wienie and was struck by an article in this morning’s EarthSky e-newsletter. My abstract that follows explains how 95% of everything is beyond our ken.

An English Major Explains the Universe

Astrophysicists tell us that everything we perceive,
from the end of our noses to the edge of the universe,
using all of our senses and all our high technology–
that’s five percent of what there is. All the matter 
and the light by which we see it, is less than the tip
of the iceberg. We might have suspected this all along.

Twenty-seven percent they say is made of dark matter, 
about which we know nothing except that it has mass.
And all the rest, sixty-eight percent, that’s dark energy.
And we know nothing about that except that it pushes
everything apart better than gravity holds it together.
If you think about it, we could have suspected that, too.

The astrophysicists think dark energy comes from
supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies,
is dark light that shines from dark stars, one might say.
Easy to believe come nightfall that darkness outweighs
the light; it pours out thick and heavy from shadowed woods.
But the dawn still comes to chase all the darkness away.

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Why Guys Don’t Need Purses

A pocket toolbox.

This could be Appendix A to “A North Country Guy’s Guide to North Country Guys.” 

Why Guys Don’t Need Purses

Everything a guy needs fits into his pockets.
Wallet in the right rear, comb in the left–
so he can buy beer, or tame the crazy hair.

One front pocket holds a jackknife, a dime
and a length of string. These three can replace
an entire toolbox. The other pocket holds
car keys, house keys and a pencil stub, 
for listing hardware needs on a gas receipt.

What about the smart phone? Leave it home.
Your buddies know where to look for you
and everybody else can go to hell.

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Bad Karma Sutra

Japanese lady beetle. There’s never just one. Photo: Dann Thombs,Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

The doctrine of karma can be pretty discouraging. This may be why so many, given the choice, prefer a merciful God to a just one.

Bad Karma Sutra

Aside from doing nothing, there’s nothing you can do
to avoid it. Think of all those bugs on the windshield,
the road through the marsh covered in hopping frogs.
And then there are all the inadvertent slights, the little
mean moments. Face it. Life is the reverse of a prayer
wheel, daily accruing bad karma to your account.

This is why, no matter how often you vacuum, more
Japanese lady beetles will always crawl out, landing
in the tea mug, walking on the butter dish, finding
a way down the neck of the shirt. The more you fight
them, the greater the stench. And if you ever let up,
they swarm across walls and windows like a case of DTs.

In your heart you know you deserve this, the way you
earned this pot belly through sloth, this raspy breath
through habitual greed. These aches and pains may be
the consequence of mouse traps or BB guns. If not that,
the leather in the jacket or the 10,000 chicken dinners.
But it will work itself out, if not in this life, maybe the next.

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Cold Village

Photo: stuart anthony, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Being cold a lot is good for the ingenuity. There a lot of ways to get warm, both literally and figuratively. Ignore the folks from more blessed climes who try to tell you that it’s like hitting yourself with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. So what.

Cold Village

I can’t lie; it’s not paradise. Winter is too long,
too cold, with more than our fair share of snow
(though not quite so much as in years past).
I was reminded of it this week by a little thing.

The thermometer went to 30 below overnight,
and didn’t rise above zero all the next day—
old-school cold. And there I was again, dressing
myself while standing on top of the heat vent. 

I worry little about the cold these days, having 
a reliable furnace and sufficient funds to fuel it.
It also helps to avoid going outdoors too much
between Thanksgiving and Mothers’ Day.

But having enough heat passes for prosperity
in a northern winter. Just ask anyone without it.
Though a woodstove and woodlot can do in lieu
of income. Nothing like cold feet up on a boot rail.

Winter got set into my bones when I was knee high.
Out sledding, fingers so froze I cried as they thawed.
Hypothermia from biking the paper route. Waking
to an icy heat vent when the coal stoker crapped out.

Which it did on a regular basis– mid-century tech
welded to a 1920s cellar monster. And walls filled
with 1800s insulation, bricks stacked in between studs.
You could hang a wind chime in front of the window draft.

These days two-incomes keep us warm and cozy, mostly,
though it’s never safe to take that for granted. For instance,
when sleet fell for a week straight in 1998 we had no power,
no cook stove, no water. And all of the trees were falling.

Everyone poor and cold again–except, of course, the Amish.
Luckily we found ourselves rich in friends, who took us in,
and warmed by the way folks pitched in and helped out
all over the North Country to make it whole once more.

It all comes back to mind, triggered by that moment—
bare feet on a warn steel grate, warm air billowing
up my bathrobe, looking out into the whiteness 
through hoar-frosted glass at the creaking tress.

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The Elusive Familiar

Photo: Lihoman, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Artists of all kinds are often accused of prettifying the world, cleaning up its faults and scars to make an artificial beauty. But the opposite is more often true. What the world presents, what nature does of its own accord surpasses our ability to depict. That is why we keep editing, revising, overpainting, reframing, chipping away at our offerings to make them as worthy of regard as the ordinary furnishings of life.

The Elusive Familiar

The woods are all pen-and-ink, each black limb
limned with unstained snow. Would that my own
pen could pen woods so fragile, so simple, so true.

This out-the-window world defies my reach
to render into speech. I can only point, and rue —
can only say “Look. Have you ever seen such light?”

Note: unpublished draft

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