Tag Archives: poetry

Snow Fool


Last week, my husband and my kids were taking a hot tub. I was in Florida doing some readings, and my daughter sent me this photo. I honestly cannot begin to understand how this image is a piece of prestidigitation. This is my son’s face. Pressed into the snow. EXACTLY his face. Perhaps it is so correct given his hot and sweaty skin from the tub. But how is it possible that it looks as if it is in relief? As if he is from the other side, pressing his face against the surface of the snow, skyward? Sometimes, I swear that kid is magic. This morning, I was worrying about the ice on our fairly vertical driveway descent. He was in the back seat. I uttered not one word, and he said, “Don’t worry, Mom.” I didn’t even confront the fact that he’d read my mind because he does it all the time. Is it because we share the same life and his thoughts leapfrog the same events and emotions that mine do? Is it because he knows me? I can tell you that plenty of people know me, but no one consistently says outloud what I’m thinking. Sometimes he’ll actually answer questions I’m thinking but haven’t yet spoken. It’s gotten to a point where I don’t even acknowledge that he’s done it in the first place. I just continue the dialogue as if it’s been verbal all along.

I used to be a cynic about stuff like this. And lately, I find myself open in ways I never have been. What is the purpose of cynicism? Does it keep us from being called a fool? I guess I don’t care about being called a fool anymore. I am a fool. I want to be a fool. Bring it on. I want to see faces in the snow. I want to hear a robin in the too-early late winter and think I’ve been chosen. I want to enter into the language of unspoken words. I want to see shooting stars and think that wishes come true. I want to believe, not doubt. I want to say yes. Here’s what Mary Oliver has to say about it:

Morning Poem
Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver

© Mary Oliver

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Silence


I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994″ by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.

May you find this silence in 2011.
yrs.
Laura

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Stumble

A flock of wild turkeys in Montana

I have a friend who says that he goes to church because something always happens. I take a walk in the woods at dusk for the same reason. It’s a little tricky this time of year in the snow. But this is what I came upon last night, wandering around. Where do they go in the cold? Why do they let me walk past them when they have likely been shot at by people of my shape and vertical stature and smell? How do they think of nighttime and darkness? How do we burden ourselves by being afraid of the dark? Or too cozy in our houses? May you go out into the dusk this weekend wherever you are. May you stumble upon something that stuns you into questions, and then better, into not knowing their answers. Peace.

 

Marching by Jim Harrison (my favorite writer)

At dawn I heard among bird calls
the billions of marching feet in the churn
and squeak of gravel, even tiny feet
still wet from the mother’s amniotic fluid,
and very old halting feet, the feet
of the very light and very heavy, all marching
but not together, criss-crossing at every angle
with sincere attempts not to touch, not to bump
into each other, walking in the doors of houses
and out the back door forty years later, finally
knowing that time collapses on a single
plateau where they were all their lives,
knowing that time stops when the heart stops
as they walk off the earth into the night air.

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Opposite. Same.

Yin is complimentary to Yang and vice versa. There does not exist any antagonism between opposites in Nature. They are always complimentary. The normal, healthy, functional, durable existence of everything in Nature depends on the mutual enhancement and beneficial interaction of opposite forces.

Day and night; summer and winter; work and rest; man and woman. On one level, when there is an antagonistic relationship between opposites this leads to destruction. However, from the larger perspective, the balance of Nature is always maintained.
Rock

Egg

Opposite.
Same.

Here’s how Conrad Aiken plays with rocks and eggs…

Sea Holly by Conrad Aiken

Begotten by the meeting of rock with rock,
The mating of rock and rock, rocks gnashing together;
Created so, and yet forgetful, walks
The seaward path, puts up her left hand, shades
Blue eyes, the eyes of rock, to see better
In slanting light the ancient sheep (which kneels
Biting the grass) the while her other hand,
Hooking the wicker handle, turns the basket
Of eggs. The sea is high to-day. The eggs
Are cheaper. The sea is blown from the southwest,
Confused, taking up sand and mud in waves,
The waves break, sluggish, in brown foam, the wind
Disperses (on the sheep and hawthorn) spray,—
And on her cheeks, the cheeks engendered of rock,
And eyes, the colour of rock. The left hand
Falls from the eyes, and undecided slides
Over the left breast on which muslin lightly
Rests, touching the nipple, and then down
The hollow side, virgin as rock, and bitterly
Caresses the blue hip.

It was for this,
This obtuse taking of the seaward path,
This stupid hearing of larks, this hooking
Of wicker, this absent observation of sheep
Kneeling in harsh sea-grass, the cool hand shading
The spray-stung eyes—it was for this the rock
Smote itself. The sea is higher to-day,
And eggs are cheaper. The eyes of rock take in
The seaward path that winds toward the sea,
The thistle-prodder, old woman under a bonnet,
Forking the thistles, her back against the sea,
Pausing, with hard hands on the handle, peering
With rock eyes from her bonnet.

It was for this,
This rock-lipped facing of brown waves, half sand
And half water, this tentative hand that slides
Over the breast of rock, and into the hollow
Soft side of muslin rock, and then fiercely
Almost as rock against the hip of rock—
It was for this in midnight the rocks met,
And dithered together, cracking and smoking.

It was for this
Barren beauty, barrenness of rock that aches
On the seaward path, seeing the fruitful sea,
Hearing the lark of rock that sings, smelling
The rock-flower of hawthorn, sweetness of rock—
It was for this, stone pain in the stony heart,
The rock loved and laboured; and all is lost.

Conrad Aiken, “Sea Holly” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1953 by Conrad Aiken. Reprinted with the permission of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.

Source: Collected Poems (Random House, Inc., 1970)

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Festival of the Book– Missoula, Montana 2010

I have always wanted to go to the Festival of the Book. Here is where literary titans of the Pacific Northwest convene in the Paris of Montana to share their work and pearls of wisdom with other writers and readers. I was honored to be included with the likes of William Kittredge, Rick DeMarinis, Kevin Canty, Frances McCue, and the hot young writer, Benjamin Percy to name a few. It was like a writerly Woodstock.

My fellow panelists sign books after our discussion about writing memoir.
L to R: Reiko Rizzuto (Hiroshima in the Morning), Ruth McLaughlin (Bound Like Grass), me, Buzzy Jackson (Shaking the Family Tree)

Here is a blow by blow re-cap of the event by David Abrams of The Quivering Pen.

Special thanks to Judy Klein, Kim Anderson and the folks at Humanities Montana for all their hard work making Festival of the Book the amazing event that it is!

My favorite part of the weekend, however, was in the bar at the Holiday Inn where a room full of people listened to the poetry by the late great Richard Hugo, in “karaoke” format. You could have heard a pin drop, but for the weeping. Where else in the world but Missoula! Here are some inspiring videos made by English students at the University of Montana in honor of Hugo. Just beautiful.

The last one is a wonderful Richard Hugo pilgrimage staring Annick Smith and Bill Kittredge– pure joy to watch.

Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg by Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs–
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

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A Mind of Winter

Every year that we get an early snow, this happens: I get low. I feel robbed. Fall is not finished. The Tamarack are still flaxen. The mornings are still bearable without a down parka and boots. I can still take brisk walks on terra firma. The lakes are still fluid and I am too.

And then Mother Nature decides to go as Snow for Halloween. My kids jump with glee and beg me to take them up the ski mountain for their first snowball fight. And I do. But the smile on my face is more the smile of someone looking at a good friend who has to leave town for better work. You know they have to go, but you love them. You will miss them. You are better for having them around. Today was my 18th time feeling this way. Wallace Stevens got it better than I ever could in his poem, “The Snowman.” Every year I re-read his poem, and every year he reminds me that there is much to receive in the “nothingness” of winter. The empty is full.

The Snowman

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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I love this poem.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)
–e.e. cummings

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Stop the Clocks

clock
Stop the Clocks
by Laura A. Munson
(for Erin and Caden)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

People die here in ways they probably don’t where you live. To grizzly bear. Mountain lion. Horse…mountain bike…mule pack…off a cliff, launching their humans, avian, for one last adrenaline rush. An avalanche. A capsized river raft or kayak and a class four rapid and a rock or a log jam. A tipped canoe too early or late in the season on a frigid lake. Tractors, chain saws, timbering trees in the forest, no wood for winter for the ones back home. Deer, elk, moose on the lightless almost-empty country roads…right through the window shield into suddenly pulse-less laps. It hurts to think of all the dead in those moments that go so readily from brave to gone. But we like to call these, somehow, good deaths.
People almost die here all the time, and there are hero’s tales at the bar every night that end in toasting and another round and bragging and laughter, like little boys who have stolen something from the school gym. What doesn’t kill you here, does not necessarily make you stronger. It makes you lucky that you got away with being so brave.
Sometimes it makes you a voyageur. Journey-man. Rich in maybe not moral compass, but clairvoyance when it comes to the ways of mountains, creatures, waters, trees, wind, snow, heavy machinery. But still, even with intuition and bravery, in this country, there is an element of dumb luck to your survival. Put it this way: An agoraphobe doesn’t last long in this neck of the woods.
However you choose to describe us in death, there are a lot of ashes sprinkling the forest floors here, sent from not-so-brave, not-so-unlucky hands. Grief hits hard in our little valley. So many ways to live. And die trying.
Shocking then, when the mountains, lakes, rivers, and creatures and trees and machines seem unimpressed. Cold. Cruel. They didn’t ask us to be here. It’s we who came to them. We who invented some things that made it possible to go where we weren’t supposed to go in the first place. Helicopters. Boots. Polypropylene. But they don’t always save us in the end.
You fool.
You beautiful brave unlucky fool. You had a good death. You died with purpose. Doing what you loved. Getting after it, people like to say around here. We’ll say that about you. We’ll need to. We’re getting good at it.
But what will we say about the lives we lost this last day of winter? What will we possibly say?
The Jehovah Witnesses knock at my door and I hide and am glad I’ve got requiem blaring from my stereo. I might not be the only house today that is playing funeral dirges. I hide, still in my pajamas, still without breakfast or clean teeth, and hope they don’t get stuck in the icy steep of my snow-bermed driveway. Again.
Last time I had to spend an hour with them waiting for the tow truck to talk their sedan back from the ridge where it had attempted to jump, head first. I felt like my angle on Jesus might have embarrassed them a little. Trespassing against us, such as they do.
Today the flyer that prowls though the crack in my door has a strapping, well-fed on red meat, Jesus on the cover holding an immodest glass of wine. Blood. Lots of blood in this Jesus.
A car scratches down the driveway without snow tires. I peer out the door at my golden retriever, wagging his tail after it. He liked the man in the long wool coat with the shiny leather shoes. But wonders why he didn’t lean down for a quick good dog and a pat on the head like the UPS driver, the propane guy, the Culligan guy, the FedEx guy, the neighbor who delivers the eggs, the teenager who brings wood with his buddy, mid-winter.
And I wonder if the Jehovah Witness thinks he’s brave. All those doors and dogs. And today, all the dirges. Maybe doors will fling open today, and weeping young people will lift fists at his shiny shoes on their winter-strewn front stoops. Rage at his red-blooded Jesus and all his wine.
There is nothing that helps us with these deaths. They’re deaths we aren’t used to. We have nothing to frame them by—no sense to make of them– nothing that will gather us at the side of a mountain or have us huddled in the woods, somehow thinking about good ways to die. People who didn’t believe in God, are mad at God. People who did believe in God are mad at God.
We reach to out-of-towners for solace and understanding– who live near highways…busy highways…highways that bear commuters and constant chains of serious voyageurs—people who know that there are weak links every day in that chain. It’s their common practice to expect the ringing phone to bring them news they dread…but will swallow…eventually, or maybe even at once, as the way of the world. There will be a proper burial with just family and close friends. They’ll gather in churches, in black, ashes to ashes in a little urn. A party afterward where people will drink wine and plenty of them will get drunk and cry, but no one will talk about a good death. It’s a normal death. A normal tragedy.
Not this.
This was no regular death. This was no normal death. Not to us. Just because it happened on the busiest strip of highway we know.
So I’ll refrain from telling you for a moment more, how she died. They died. How our pregnant she and her thirteen year old son died. On the last day of winter. Here where we live. Because I can’t bear your reaction: Well, accidents like that happen. Dime a dozen. Still, tragic.. And then you’ll launch into all your people, lost on pavement.
I don’t want to feel so normal.
I don’t.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

I’ll add to Auden because it’s the only way I can imagine being brave right now, hiding from the solicitors in a snowstorm on this second day of spring:
Pack up the machines. The inventions.
Bring out the bears.
Wake up and beckon us.
Make us come naked. Without boots.
Make us see how far we can get. And watch us stop and cry.
Because it’s not so very far without boots.
Then comfort us where we fall. By wandering past us.
Sniffing our punctured, leaking bravery. And what’s left of our luck.
Tell us you don’t have the appetite for fools. Even beautiful ones.
Make us listen to the shivering birds.
Who’ve come back, knowing there would be snow and little food.
Make us listen…to the shivering birds.
And mourn now. Normally.
Shivering in the woods.
Knowing that spring will unravel now.
Whether or not we join it.

For however else can we understand a head-on collision on the highway? When a purportedly suicidal sixteen year old, in a fight with her boyfriend, catapults her Pontiac Grand Am into oncoming traffic, and hits a Subaru Forester, holding a pregnant woman, and her thirteen year old son, coming back from a band concert on a Thursday night. In Montana. mother and babe

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