WORDS: THREE BOLD ATTEMPTS cricket illustrate tone pearl snap quilt THE GAME Last summer, I studied cricket. Not the insects in August, their crispy vibrations adding tone to the fading garden, but the sport. I like the langauge. Let me illustrate: Overs (six balls per), Stumps and Maidens and Leg Before Wicket. Innings, not as in baseball, is both singular and plural. That’s tea. That’s drinks. Declaring before All Out. Sixes and fours and centuries. Ducks and Golden Ducks. Silly mid-on. Test (the best) and ODI. Howzzat? I followed the World Cup in the Guardian online. They did OBO coverage. England won, to their surprise. I want to see a game someday, a whole five-day test. I want to hear the snap of leather on willow. I’ll bring a quilted vest and a thermos. I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, and pearls. I’ll wait for an umpire to Offer the Light, Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen The summer palace in Oslo. The Queen in residence, a conversation on the terrace. No birds, no crickets singing. The dining room in the palace: candles in the windows, late sun through the windows, green leaves outside the windows. Paintings on the walls—illustrations of green. No furniture but the black piano. The pianist wore striped socks. The soprano wore a green gown, no diamonds, no pearls. A silent audience on screens. No applause. The studio in New York. Monitors and clocks. Christine Goerke’s sad and gracious tone: A difficult time for singers and thank you. The program a carefully stitched quilt: Wagner and Norway’s Grieg, and Strauss, the snap of Kalman’s “Heia, Heia!” The peace of Ronald’s “O Lovely night.” Zuihitsu for the end of a terrible summer 1. Crickets drone away in the dark. I used to love them. This year, I find their rasping cricks most annoying. 2. Last night I watched a moon like a yellow pearl poke through a torn quilt of cloud and leaf. 3. My voice has taken on a querulous tone. I can’t help it. I am possessed by a tired and hot and hungry and frustrated three-year-old child. 4. The purple snap beans I grew do not snap. They are blotchy and stringy and not particularly flavorful. The purple blossoms, however, are lovely, and hummingbirds feed from them, so growing them was not a total waste of water and space. 5. The tone of this zuihitsu illustrates the way I have felt about this summer. A few times only, I have glimpsed something lovely, far away, and still.
rigid draw meadow peer lemon cap
(another one with those words)
SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
1. A rigid plastic lawn chair, one of four that my parents kept on the deck of their condominium. I keep it on the front step from spring till snow. I sit there at sunrise and sunset, watching the yellow light flicker like sparks between the leaves.
2. The white linen cap I bought in Traverse City in a shop that sold hats and, unexpectedly, wine-making supplies. A young friend told me that when I wear it, I remind him of Yoko Ono. I wear it often.
3. Our backyard. It was forest, then meadow, then lawn, and it is now growing up again into forest. We’ve reserved a patch of grass around the house, and bits for vegetables and flowers, but what was barren lawn is filling up with grasses and goldenrod, bramble and sumac, gray dogwood and pine and oak. Five years ago, I planted one solemn young chestnut tree as an act of defiance.
4.The drawing of a cat we had for a few months. Her name was Nanette, and she was tri-colored, and very small. The old woman who gave her to us could not keep her. “There’s something wrong with her,” she told us, and there was. In the drawing, Nanette is curled, sleeping, in a chair that once was in the living room and is now in the kitchen. The drawing was made by an artist friend who stayed with us for a summer—along with her husband and three children—in the room that once was our guest room, and is now the study where I write.
5. The lemons I always have by me. Here is a new maxim I try to live by: When in doubt, add lemon. To vegetables, to pastas, to soda water, to soup. The scent of lemon revives me and a lick of lemon opens my senses to all the good in the world that remains.
6. Ursula Le Guin wrote “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.” I treasure a company of peers—poets, artists, women who keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
cap rigid lemon peer draw meadow
SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020
Like a drawing by Van Gogh,
I stand rigid in the meadow. I wear my white cap.
I peel a lemon, and peer at the trees.
I wear my white cap
though the brim is too rigid
for me to bend against the lemon-
brightness of the sun. I stand alone, peer
into the middle distance like a drawing
by Van Gogh of a woman in a meadow.
It is August, and the earth is dry. The meadow
crackles with brown grasses capped
with seeds. The summer draws
to a close. Have we yet let go our rigid
sense of what is real? My peers
cannot guess. News sours me, like lemon.
When I was young, I wore lemon
cologne. I lay in this meadow
beside a man—my peerless
lover—who wore a Greek fishing cap.
But our bones have gone rigid
with the years. We have drawn
living water so long. Now we draw
water grown bitter, like lemon
rind, and brackish, from a rigid
bottle. A butterfly wavers over the meadow
searching for one plant to cap
with one pale egg. I peer
at her with shaded eyes, my only peer
now in this tight-drawn
season, this heated season, capped
with grasses the color of dried lemon
peel. Under my feet, the meadow
soil is hard, cracked, rigid
with the hard rigidity
of this rainless summer, a peerless
summer of an anxiety that a meadow
cannot know. The trees live on, drawing
their life from deeper water. The lemon
sun beats and beats on my white cap.
VARIATIONS: FOUR WORDS, THREE STANZAS
The raven has been flying to and fro
over the earth. She has returned.
I think it will rain again.
Do you know the meaning of grace?
The word you say before you eat;
the way a dancer walks in her pointed shoes.
The bear has been seen again.
We say “the bear” as if there were only one
running through the woods between our houses.
It’s enough to make me believe
in Satan’s test of Job.
How much more can they bear?
The talking raven will not be silent.
Over and over she says
“What’s the point? What’s the point?’
Like Hecate preceding and following Persephone,
grace precedes and follows us.
The question remains, “When?”
Once I found a raven grazed by a car.
I set her in the grass, covered her with leaves.
The next day, in the same place,
a raven circled me three times.
The acknowledgement was almost more
than I could bear. And I’ve wondered
since if the point was not gratitude but
taunt. “You cached me in the grass,
foul human, but see! I live.”
A raven pair tumbles over the yard
and the dog will not stop barking.
A bear climbs the fence and the dog is silent.
Raven is a trickster.
Bear is a god.
Is there a difference.
Walk the shore to the farthest point,
the place where sand turns to stone.
There is no limit to grace.
WITHOUT EVENT—A ZUIHITSU AGAIN
~with thanks to Ray for showing me the form
Our son sent a photo of our grandson at his pre-school graduation ceremony. He’s sitting in the backseat of the car wearing a cardboard hat with “2020” painted on in glitter. He looks so happy and proud. I’ve heard there are juniors at the High School here who want to do a drive-in graduation next year, because it is so much more “personal.”
I have seen—has the world seen?—the photo of a black grandfather carrying a wounded white racist to safety. ‘I’m protecting our kids,” he said. Take up your cross and follow me.
I don’t have Big Girl Underpants—mine are all the same—so this morning I put on my Big Girl Lipstick and brushed my hair behind my ears and took the dog for a walk again.
In the late 1880s, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem in honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. This is how it ends:
. . . . . .while there went/ Those years and years by of world without event/ That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
The prayer beads I carry in the pocket of my jeans are mostly wooden relics of my old Camp Fire Girl days. Four onyx beads. Two pewter suns salvaged from broken earrings. A tiny diary key. And an onyx cross, maybe half an inch long.
Ever since that first Gulf War I’ve had doubts about intercessory prayer. What about all those people who don’t get prayed for except in a generic way (Dear God, bless all the people in the world.)? I pray in a generic way these days. May all beings be free from suffering. At least that reminds me that I’m not alone, which may be the whole point.
As I walked this morning, I noticed a tiger swallow-tail fluttering along the roadside, parallel to my path. She seemed to be looking for flowers, which are fairly scarce along that shady stretch. She ignored a patch of spindly buttercups, landed finally on a plant I didn’t recognize, and began feeding on what I would hardly call flowers, just nubs of pale greenish white, hanging in clusters at the ends of the leaves.
ANOTHER ZUIHITSU because I have to write something
It’s as if someone is deliberately making things so bad that nobody can stand it. Almost enough to make me believe in the Beast, the AntiChrist, or something like that.
We hoard dark roasted coffee beans in little brown bags in the freezer. I think I have enough now.
I’ve been trying not to look at the news every hour, but I can’t help it. It’s the only way I can participate, living here, in this little green bowl.
Chipmunks live under the front steps. They scurry out to get food, scurry back in for fear of hawks and weasels and our dog. But they’re never safe from weasels.
A very satisfying conputer game: drag random clusters of jewels into rows and columns on a board laid out in squares. When I place a cluster, I hear a lovely “click.” When I complete a row or column, I hear a very satisfying “ping.” I can’t stop playing this game even though it makes my neck sore.
I had to get coffee beans out of the freezer last night. They were so hard that I couldn’t grind them till this morning. I know that some people don’t like to freeze beans, and some people say one should grind the beans right before brewing, but I don’t care.
I have painted a piece of cardboard with a color called “Tea Room”—one of those small samples of paint available for a dollar at the paint store. When the paint was dry, I drew square tiles with a black marker and installed it in the cardboard box castle we made to illustrate fairy tales for the grandchildren.
The Great Crested Flycatcher sits on a high perch to hunt for insects. If she misses an insect on her first pass, she pursues it in the air. Unless her nestlings object, she offers the whole insect, wings and all. If they do object, she pummels the insect until the offending wings break off.
Many twigs, new-leafed, blew off the trees last night in the wind. When I walked the dog down the driveway early this morniung, I picked them up—at least, most of them—and tossed them back among the trees so they wouldn’t have to dry and turn to dust on the driveway stones.
ZUIHITSU for a day when there should be no words
After the scanty rainfall yesterday (or was it the day before?), I planted beans. Six rows of black beans. I crawled along on my hands and knees to set them in the furrows and cover them with soil. As I patted the soil in place, I left my handprints to show that I’d been there.
On our morning walk, the dog and I noticed a red-tailed hawk watching us from a power line. As we approached, she took flight and landed in a dead elm tree beside the newly cut hayfield on the other side of the road.
Most days, I walk a bit farther than four miles. Today I was cold and wanted to get home to start the laundry. When the washing is all in the machine, perhaps I’ll vacuum the rug. That seems about all I can manage these days: walks and housework.
Tomorrow—no—the next day—tomorrow is Tuesday—my husband and I will sit in my study and wait for the computer tingle that signals our son’s weekly call. It will be good to see the children. The three-year old tries to touch us through the screen. She has skin like a bisque doll, and enormous blue eyes. There are so many things she will never have to know.
1. Five beautiful things: Yarn for a blanket. A gallon of maple syrup. Ruthie’s blue eyes. The white-throated sparrow’s song. A fragment of a poem written on an old bookmark.
2. Four unusual things: A hairbrush with broken bristles. A tulip bent by the snow. A rabbit hiding under the sandbox. The tube of tomato paste moved to the vegetable bin.
3. Three things to do: Plant three ramps in the woods. Fill the watering can. Write a note to David.
4. Four unpleasant things: A hollow feeling. The smell of gasoline. A sore thumb. Horsetails in the garden.
Zuihitsu for the 51st Day
1. I have never paced when I am in distress. I stand, rooted, staring, generally out the kitchen window at whatever birds I can notice eating the suet that we hang in little wire baskets from the canopy supports on the deck. This morning, I saw a pair of white-throated sparrows and a pair of catbirds and a pair of cardinals and a single male downy woodpecker.
2. The route of my morning walk is flat for awhile, then slopes gently downhill to a worn-out barn on the brink of a gully. Jim keeps old-fashioned electric Christmas candles in the barn windows. The road then slants uphill until on the left there is an unpaved side road going farther up past an old hillfarm cemetery before connecting back to a main road. My road flattens out again to a swamp where grackles and red-winged black birds and swamp sparrows are nesting now.
3. Our granddaughter extended her hand toward the web camera to show us a book. She recited Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Swing Song” for me. My mother, for whom she is named, taught it to me when I was three, and our son taught it to our grandchildren.
4. I wish I could come up with an idea for a big project: a play, or a series of poems. I simply don’t have enough energy to extend myself much beyond the usual “poem a day,” and even those are getting sillier.
5. Nettles are creeping down the driveway from the little patch I planted ten years ago so I could harvest them for tea. I don’t harvest them. I’m trying to pull them up by the roots so they won’t take over the whole place. “Remember . . /the nettles that methodically overgrow /the abandoned homes of exiles.” (Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)
6. I told our grandson I heard a towhee this morning. Our son asked him if he remembered what they say. “Drink your tee hee hee hee,” he answered, smiling his slanty little smile.
7. My husband is extending his trip out into the world today—not just the usual route to the grocery store and home again, but a side trip to the pharmacy to get medicine for the cat’s hair loss and more milk thistle and vitamin D for us. He brought two pairs of gloves.
8. Linda emailed a poem to me, “the one she’s been waiting for,” she said. Nadine Anne Hura wrote it, “for Papatuanuku, Mother Earth.” She calls on the Mother to “Breathe easy and settle,” and tells her “We’ll stop, we’ll cease/We’ll slow down and stay home” It would be a change of pace—hell, it would be a change of everything these days to have a president who shares poetry with us, or who even reads poetry. Or anything, for that matter.
9. Just after sunset, I took Julie down the driveway as usual. It was clear and pleasant, so I did not hurry, but strolled along at her doggy pace. Watching her check the smells—deer? rabbits? that bear our neighbor saw?—along the way puts a fresh slant on things.
A zuihitsu is a Japanese form, consisting of loosely connected fragments written mostly in response to the writer’s surroundings. The word means “follow the brushstroke.” For more see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pillow_Book
`Japanese brush painting, artist unknown
His shoulder bones sharp,
he is a lion drinking
from a white clay bowl.