Friday, May 26, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Denis Johnson

The literary world is mourning Denis Johnson today. He was a poet, a novelist and a playwright, and winner of the National Book Award in 2007 for his novel, Tree of Smoke. Of his poetic influences, Johnson claimed "My ear for the diction and rhythms of poetry was trained by—in chronological order—Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and T.S. Eliot."

Johnson passed away yesterday, at the age of 67. Biographical information available here.

A Poem about Baseballs

by Denis Johnson (1949-2017)

for years the scenes bustled   
through him as he dreamed he was   
alive. then he felt real, and slammed

awake in the wet sheets screaming   
too fast, everything moves
too fast, and the edges of things   
are gone. four blocks away

a baseball was a dot against   
the sky, and he thought, my   
glove is too big, i will

drop the ball and it will be   
a home run. the snow falls   
too fast from the clouds,   
and night is dropped and

snatched back like a huge
joke. is that the ball, or is
it just a bird, and the ball is
somewhere else, and i will
miss it? and the edges are gone, my

hands melt into the walls, my   
hands do not end where the wall   
begins. should i move
forward, or back, or will the ball

come right to me? i know i will   
miss, because i always miss when it
takes so long. the wall has no   
surface, no edge, the wall

fades into the air and the air is   
my hand, and i am the wall. my   
arm is the syringe and thus I

become the nurse, i am you,   
nurse. if he gets
around the bases before the   
ball comes down, is it a home

run, even if i catch it? if we could   
slow down, and stop, we
would be one fused mass careening   
at too great a speed through
the emptiness. if i catch

the ball, our side will
be up, and i will have to bat,   
and i might strike out.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Georgia Douglas Johnson

Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966) was an African-American poet, one of the earliest African-American female playwrights, and part of the Harlem Renaissance. In 2009, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Her biography is here.
The Heart of a Woman
by Georgia Douglas Johnson
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thoughts on Mothering

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I found myself remembering, amongst countless memories I’ve been blessed with since becoming a mother, this single moment: July 31, 2002, the day Geneva came home from the hospital, thirteen days after she and her brothers were born. Since the 18th, we had been shuttling back and forth to the hospital, feeding and holding them as often as we could. Geneva was a pound lighter than the boys and took longer to breathe fully on her own and eat the amounts they wanted. Teagan, a champion eater from the start (still true), had come home after ten days and Satchel at eleven. So many families visiting the NICU weren’t as lucky as we were, but those two weeks were among the hardest we’d ever had. Then, finally, she was home. I placed her in the crib between her brothers and felt an amazing calm, like a smooth ripple expanding in turbulent water. Finally, everyone was together, and home, and our family was complete.
There is a saying: a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child. I think that’s true. There is a constant monitoring when you have children; you’re the barometer of their whereabouts, their health, their happiness. Even when they have grown taller than you are, you take note of what and how much they’ve eaten, and how long they slept (much to their annoyance). So having everyone home on that summer day in 2002, their six tiny feet lined up in the crib, was a relief of the most basic sort.

You wonder, when you’re pregnant the second time and having three babies (and I guess, when you’re having just one), if you’ll love them all as much as your first, precious child. Another miracle of motherhood, I suppose, is that you will, and you do, from that first moment. At least that’s how it was with me. That unconditional, unceasing love is the reason we all love our own mothers so much, because we know they have it for us. And it’s something you don’t appreciate, sometimes, until you’re a little older and maybe just the tiniest bit wiser.
So thanks, universe, for my four miracles and for joining their life forces to mine. Thanks, kids, for loving me through my grumbling and impatience, despite my imperfections and mistakes. I can’t imagine who I’d be without you, without all of us here, together.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was a an American poet, writer, and editor, and the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. "Limited" is from his first collection Chicago Poems. More about Sandburg here.


by Carl Sandburg

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
     of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
     go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
     and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
     pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
     answers: "Omaha."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Jane Kenyon

The poet Jane Kenyon battled depression for most of her adult life, and her poetry often explored the inner life and the "mysteries of home life." She was New Hampshire's poet laureate when she died, too young, in 1995. Find her biography here.


by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka