Apheresis

The easy part is the digging –
snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil.
 
Dirt hardly parts – but sighs!
Eucharine breath, epicene oil.
The lissome lisp of shovel slipped
into winesoftened silt.
 
The easy part is the digging –
straight-grained shaft stung
by stone, bonequiver knock
on bone and out the crown
emptied unto Heaven
with every chuck and throw.
 
The easy part is the digging –
brute-sunk shovel in soil.
Psalm-sung singing of sinew.
 
Instrument to sentiment.
Lie-less rhythm without end.
Monument to sediment.
Lie-less rhythm without end

This Autumn Friday

A plagueless day

The flame in our gas fireplace doesn’t get very high. For a couple of years it also took a long time to light. We’d flip the switch and wait, and step back a little bit, and watch with that jack-in-the-box tension building until it suddenly blasted on with a force that rattled the glass. It was a situation that hinted not very subtly at eventual disaster, and I did the usual thing: Searched the internet for quick fixes to my problem, and found none. Then I searched around for local gas fireplace services, found a few but balked at the probable price tag, combined with the (at the time) possibility that they wouldn’t even come into our house anyway. I eventually figured out what the problem was and what needed to be fixed (that internet again. If you don’t have one yet…), ordered a couple of parts that arrived in 2 days, installed them and got our fire turning on in a way that can probably be best described with a clever British turn of phrase that begins with “right as” and invokes biscuits, the Queen’s ankles, or something seaworthy. Or a combination of the three. “Right as eating biscuits off the Queen’s ankles in a cuddy boat.” Something. Like. That.

So now we don’t have to run out of the house when we turn the fire on and wait for it to ignite, but the flame isn’t any bigger. I assume that with more flame there would be more heat, but it rarely gets anything like cold here in Seattle, so It isn’t a real concern. As it is, the low flame makes for a really nice morning mood. Any hotter and I wouldn’t want the blanket. Any brighter and I wouldn’t be quite so relaxed. As much as I would love a real fire, part of what I love about the dark winter mornings is the quiet and solitude. If I had to rattle irons and logs, and wrestle with a flue catch, and kick up a burning wood smell in the house, it would probably just wake everyone up.

Robert Hayden knew about waking up with fire:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?


I wrote a paper about that poem a few years ago. Organized it into three sections, each one focused on one word in the title. It was one of those papers that was more fun than work.

Mailing It In

Give to get, get to give/

I love forgetting about something until it shows up in the mail. You don’t really get to do that much in this blissful epoch of two-day and even sometimes same-day deliveries. But a while back I was offered a thing and I – wisely – accepted. I chided the sender once, then left off, and yesterday it arrived. “That’s odd handwriting.” I knew it wasn’t my mom’s, thought it could have been my dad’s, if he was in a hurry, then I looked at the return address and remembered that Miss Dickinson had been on her way, as she says in #324, Some Keep the Sabbath, “all along.” Thanks go out to Gerard for the best of gifts: a book with a personalized inscription:

It’s a gambit of sorts, because I gain more from it than this book. It means that I, like Gerard before he sent it, now have two copies and can send one off to anyone who wants it. Raise your hand in the comments and we can work it out.

There’s a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do this: Sanding the deck (it’s done, BTW, we’ll stain this weekend) inevitably, finally, reminded me of this poem:

Cut

There are days you learn things
like —
 
the real feel of sawdust,
downy in plush piles
No trace of the pain
of its bellicose birthing
 
Days you learn that things  
you don’t long look at —
things made when two mean pieces meet
and one must give —
are too quickly swept away
 
The first time you smelled it —
a tidy slice that bled
all freshness from the dying
whine of the chopsaw
(hard named thing!)
was in the garage, probably,
or a cobwebbed shed or even
in the bright back woods,
under a stiff wind
that moved whole seasons
and could not help but carry
the fruit of hewn history
straight into you
 
That first time it was only looking —
 
A place to live
A home forever
 
We know it now not
as the smell of the jobs of our fathers —
jobs that didn’t seem enough
 
We know it now
as the smell instead
of the work they did
that we silent saw
(and they more silent did)
 
 
Work that was rough,
that was mean,
that mother sometimes seemed to think
wasn’t good for much
 
That it was only the work —
just that, merely the work —
that made them,
merely, men
 
But now we know that Mama knew
and nothing good was left unseen.
We know that she knew that
 
Papa had to be the silent thing
to clear a little holy space
for a little violent shepherding
 
Now we KNOW that Mama knew
what rough cuts made the dust,
and how she must not just sweep it up
but that she must
(hard fought stuff!)
form piles —
neat peaks to bear up the brutes,
the boys, the noise-born boys!
whose shouts we shussshhhh —
 
stamp right out.
 
Believing —
 
we can polish the mean teeth
of the saw,
pad the menacing head
of the hammer,
quench the fires blasting
in the bellies,
And still have a house to live in
 
Mama —
who made us
know
Who made us
whole —
sees us act
 
as if we could make all the hard things soft and the loud things
quiet and the mean things nice and never once put tooth to tree.
 
As if we could have the
(yes, messy)
blessing of the dust
without the saw
 
We never saw that
mama cuts things, too
 
She lifts her blade while papa
(who always mutely knew)
swings his, severing, down
 
We stand between, above —
smelling home with every
swipe and hack

The PVP Diaries #59

“A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it?”

– The Elder Zosima, The Brothers K.

Here’s a reprint for a day that’s simply one too many:

Soft Armor

Guard against the joylessness -
the shout
the sloganed cry.
Guard against the chanted curse
and truthful-seeming lie.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the sheepish fright.
Guard against the mirthless marches
that wilt without the light
(a truly righteous Army thrives
even out of sight).

Guard against the joylessness -
the hunt
the blue bird’s noose.
Guard against the flashing placards
that turn a lynching loose.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the textbook heart.
Guard against the low momentum
of the classroom’s faded arts
(the ivory’s crumbling fastest
at the over-polished parts).

Guard against the joylessness
my son,
my girl child,
by suiting up in Mother’s grace
and by wielding Father’s smile