KEEPING–a Sheldon Museum Poem

Three years ago, the Spring St. Poets wrote poems about objects in the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont. The items were then exhibited, along with the poems, and we did a reading. I wrote this one about a chunk of woodwork that Henry Sheldon had rescued, presumably from some renovation done at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.   

 

KEEPING

~the carving from St. Stephens, found in a cupboard in the barn

One autumn day many years ago I stole

an antique book with a tan leather cover

embossed in gold. The thin pages smelt of mice.

It was in a pile of many heaped

in a corner in a muddled room

on the condemned third floor of a gothic

sandstone castle awaiting remodeling

including–and this is important–new wiring.

It was a building I loved.

When spring came, it all burned up.

Nothing remained but a stone shell and they

bulldozed that into the foundation hole

and built a garage on the spot. I wish

I had taken all the books.

Henry Sheldon would have–

and a juice glass from the dining room and

a candlestick and the pump organ and

a chunk of the chapel window woodwork

and the horsehair sofa from the library

and the doughnut jar from the kitchen and

the mantlepiece from the common room and

the shield that hung above it and the tower

bell that fell and no one ever found and

a railing from the front porch where we used

to sit in the moonlight and sing or kiss.

What is this about? —

to love places, to care about things, to care

what happens to them, to be wary of change,

to want to remember, to want everyone

to remember, to believe that history

matters, to want to keep something, keep many

things, the everyday bits:

shoes and razors and appleboxes and doorframes,

chairs and violins and cupboards and spinning wheels

and dishes and cannonballs and hacksaws and drums

and books that no one will ever read.

 

TO MY SISTER SUE

TO MY SISTER SUE

November 29, 1955—June 27, 1993

After you died, I determined to live

more worthy, left work I was not

sure about, took up my pen.

 

It’s been twenty-four years.

I’ve spiraled back toward something

maybe like god, but not

 

the one I thought I knew,

for how could that one

have let you die despite

 

our prayers. How could it

allow so damned much pain.

The pottery monk you gave me

 

stands with his folded hands,

beautific smile, next to a jade tree

in a green pot. Your photo hangs

 

on my study wall, your face

pensive, dark eyes gazing

toward something I cannot see.

 

June 27, 2017

EQUANIMITY

EQUANIMITY

Something happened back when I wasn’t

looking, or maybe I was looking and didn’t care.

Maybe it happens to everyone by a certain age,

or it doesn’t matter. Or it’s what is meant

by equanimity and it’s something to strive for

only I didn’t, or at least I don’t think I did,

and yet, maybe it’s the fruit of all that prayer,

the hours on the front step with my cup,

watching the sun come up, or set.

 

 

~Solstice 2017

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

 

about the path in the forest

and what you’d find if you strayed.

How manners matter,

respect for elders, kindness

to strangers, even giving them

your last crumb. When it comes

to the point, respect, too, for animals,

because you never know.

About how careful you must be

when you make promises and

what happens if you don’t keep them.

How dangerous it is to offend old women.

(Never, ever, offend old women.)

They told what happened

if you lied, stole from the poor.

They told what always happened

to people who wanted to be like god.

WHAT IS TRUTH?

WHAT IS TRUTH?
 
Truth has a tranquility to it,
a kind of ease that no artifice
can equal. There is nothing frantic
about truth, nothing bombastic.
Complex now and then, but not
so hard to untangle, not so hard
to recollect. It doesn’t make
itself up for preservation.
As comprehension grows,
there is a duty to correct.
It listens for clarity.
It can look you in the eye.

NOMINATIVE CASE: a found poem

 

Longmans’ English Grammar, now 100 years old, is fabulous, especially the examples. Here are a few:

 

NOMINATIVE CASE

found in Longmans’ English Grammar, 1917

Exult, ye proud patricians.

Tom’s brother will come tomorrow.

Highest queen of state, great Juno comes.

Was the garden gate closed just now?

 

The Hudson is a beautiful river.

Put on they strength, O Zion!

Have those new houses been let already?

Pretty flowers grow in my garden.

 

The tall trees are shaking in the wind.

The golden corn was waving in the sun.

The great bell is tolling slowly.

Art thou he that should come?

 

Is the little child sleeping?

Have you been waiting long?

It was the lark, the herald of the morn.

O night and darkness, ye are wondrous strong.

 

Old King Cole was a merry old soul.

The hunters killed Bruin, the bear.

Art thou that traitor angel?

We have been friends for many years.

 

The careless girl was looking off her book.

I hope that I shall be a scholar some day.

I am going to Chicago next week.

I’m to be queen of the May.

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

~after the Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time, there was a fisherman who lived in a vinegar jug by the seaside. Every day he went out fishing. Some days he caught enough fish to sell, some days he caught only enough to eat, some days he caught nothing.

But one beautiful morning, when the sea was calm and the sun was shining brightly, he caught a little golden fish, the likes of which he had never seen. “Ah,” he thought to himself, “I can sell this fish for a pretty penny.”

But as he pulled the hook from the fish’s mouth, the fish spoke. “Fisherman! If you let me go, I will grant you a wish. Anything you desire.”

Of course the fisherman had never heard a fish speak. “Why should I let you go?” he said.  “I can sell you and get rich! A golden fish that talks!”

“But you can wish for all the riches you like,” said the fish, “if you let me go.”

“Well, all right,” said the fisherman, who still did not quite trust the fish. “I would like a nice cottage instead of a vinegar jug.”

“Go home then,” said the fish. “It is as you wished.”

So the fisherman rowed his little boat home, and there, just as the fish had said, was a little cottage where the vinegar jug had been. There were two rooms, the kitchen with a good stove and a neat table, all complete, and a bedroom with a neat cot covered with a featherbed. Outside was a bit of garden, with cabbages and onions planted in rows. The fisherman was well pleased, and for many days he lived contented in his cottage.

But one day he began to think, “Why did I not ask for a mansion? Surely the fish could have granted me that. I’ll go back and see.”

He rowed his little boat back out into sea. There were clouds over the sun, and ripples in the water, but the fisherman was used to bad weather. He rowed out to where he had first caught the fish, and he called, “Fish! Fish! I have another wish!”

The fish immediately poked its head from the water, and the fisherman thought it looked a bit larger than it had at first.  “Yes? What is it?” asked the fish.

“I would like a mansion. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” said the fish, “I can. Go back home and you will have a mansion.”

The fisherman rowed home, and there where the cottage had been was a big stone mansion with beautiful gardens and a barn and a stable full of horses and carriages. The mansion had a hundred rooms and a great hall and a gallery and servants to look after it all. The fisherman was very pleased. He liked the beautiful things in the mansion, and he liked telling the servants what to do. And he stopped going down to the sea to fish.

And one day, after he had ordered his servants to prepare a bath and a picnic lunch for him, and had watched them busy themselves with his orders, he thought, “I could be king. If I were king, I would have more servants, and the lords and ladies all around would have to obey me, too. I will order my yacht to take me back to the fish, and I will tell it that I want to be king.”

So he ordered his yachtsman to make ready, and down to the sea he went. The sky was covered in cloud then, and there were whitecaps on the water, but the fisherman was not worried at all. He knew about all kinds of weather. “Fish! Fish!” he called. “I have another wish!”

The fish appeared then, poking her head out of the water. Yes, she was definitely larger than before, thought the fisherman, but the fisherman did not worry. As he grew more powerful, he thought, of course the fish would grow, too.  “What do you want? the fish asked.

“I want to be king,” said the fish.

“Of course you do,” said the fish. “Go back now. You are king.”

The fisherman had the yacht bring him back to the shore, and sure enough, the mansion was gone and in its place was a castle. It had a moat, and towers and flags flying in the brisk wind. The fisherman was greeted at the shore by a herald blowing a trumpet, and by a golden coach pulled by eight white horses, and the people lining the road waved and cheered as he passed on his way.

The castle was as magnificent as he could have imagined, and he was attended by lords and ladies who were happy to do his bidding. He had fine food to eat and fine clothes to wear, and wanted for nothing. But one day. . . “If I were emperor,” thought the fisherman, I would have kings and queens to attend me instead of mere lords and ladies. I will go back to the fish and tell it that I want to be emperor.

So he ordered his royal fleet to escort him to the spot where he had first met the fish. The wind was high and the rain had started to fall when they reached the spot, so the fisherman had his herald blow a trumpet to summon the fish.

She reared out of the water before him, half the size of his royal ship. “What is it now?” she asked.

“I want to be emperor,” said the fisherman. “Make me emperor.”

“Go,” said the fish. “You are emperor.”

This time when the fisherman disembarked, he was met by six golden coaches, each with a king or queen inside. His own coach was three times larger than their coaches, and was pulled by twenty black horses. As the kings and queens escorted him back to the palace that had taken the place of his castle, the people again lined the road and waved and cheered. It was raining and the wind was howling, and it pleased the fisherman that the people were standing in the rain to greet him.

And so his life went on. Kings and queens waited on him, and did his bidding. Anything he wished to have, he had, anything he wished to do, he did, and no one could stop him, or even stand in his way. But one morning as he looked out the window of his private chamber, he saw the sun shining over his lands, and he said, “I would like to make the sun come up when I want it to. I want to make it set at my pleasure. I want to be god.” The kings and queens attending him were horrified, but they said nothing. The fisherman ordered his coach and attendants to take him to the sea, and his imperial fleet went with his imperial flagship out into the water. The clouds were towering, and the rain falling in great sheets, and the wind was blowing a gale. Two of the ships in his fleet were capsized and the sailors drowned, but the fisherman did not mind. He himself stood at the bow of the ship and called the fish. “I command you!” he shouted. “Come forth!”

The fish emerged from the water, her great golden form looming above the ship. Everyone but the fisherman fell to their knees. “What do you want?” said the fish.

“I want to be god!” said the fisherman.

“Go then,” said the fish. “Go.” And the fish slid back into the water. The sea was suddenly dreadfully calm, and the ships vanished, and the fisherman found himself on the shore where there was no palace, or castle, or mansion or cottage. There was nothing but a vinegar jug, and there the fisherman lived alone for the rest of his days.