Spring and All, in the Aftermath

When I was 13 and knew everything, when I was jaundiced as only the very young can be jaundiced, I loved T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I loved its ennui. I loved the flowing, imaginative, and so very, very bored voice of the speaker, fiddling with peaches and coffee spoons, scattering couplets about for charm.

Now that I am 39 and know very little, I kind of want to punch T.S. Eliot in the face. But tonight, on a night in late April when horrific things have happened in the city where I live, when very little seems to make sense in the world — and yet, when I know I am simply experiencing for the first time what many other people live with every day — I find solace in the bare modernism of one of Eliot’s contemporaries.

William Carlos Williams was a country doctor in a small New Jersey town. He hung out with the avant-garde in New York City, back when it was still possible to drive 20 miles outside of New York City and be in a small town. I don’t know a tremendous amount about his personal life, and perhaps that is for the best. After all, I admired Eliot’s work for years without learning about his anti-semitism. All poets are flawed in some way; in the modern age, it’s usually the flaws that drive us to such an unrewarding medium of self-expression.

Tonight M and I walked the spiral path to the top of a hill in the Arboretum. Boston springtimes are very uncertain; I never stop bracing for another round of sleet until Memorial Day is over. But this week, while the city reeled from the force of two homemade bombs that exploded in a crowd of civilians, the trees began to unfurl their blossoms.

Springtime flowers in this city are tough. With some vegetable intelligence, some faith I cannot comprehend,

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Williams speaks in an unflinching way of cold and modern realities — realities that another poet might try to soften with rhyme and metaphors. And without the window dressing, he manages to drill down to the beauty of the thing itself.

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the scourge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast–a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish,
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines–

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches–

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined–
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance–Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

— William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems, ed. Charles Tomlinson. New York: New Directions, 1985. Page 39.

A Few Notes About April, National Poetry Month, and Related Topics

A few notes about April, National Poetry Month, and related or tangential topics:

  1. April is the cruelest month because it is neither one thing nor another. Especially in Boston, it is neither the callused braw of midwinter, nor the soft (and — thanks to climate change — rainy) flower-fest of spring. In February we laugh at freezing weather, we don our extra layers and our vaselined lips as a matter of course. In April, lulled into a sense of false security, we open our petals into the sunny breezes, decide to take out the summer dresses and the short-sleeved shirts. And then freeze and shiver in temperatures that felt warm to us in February.
  2. T.S. Eliot is a fussy little busybody who thought that shirtsleeves were sordid.
  3. This April, I want the fields to lay fallow. I walk the wavering line between abandonment and overpruning of my poetic garden.
  4. The sap rises up and I write, write, write, accumulating pages and pages of white, letter-sized writing pad, the blue lines running undercurrent beneath my  handwriting, sometimes scrawl and sometimes legible.
  5. The sap rises up and I want to run through the bogs screaming, expounding. The sap rises up and I rise with it, and then I return to the couch, or the breakfast table, looking at the birds who congregate at the feeder outside, along with the squirrels.
  6. How much longer can I keep both the squirrels and the woodpeckers — two downy, two red-bellied, none red-headed, in spite of the red head of the red-bellied woodpecker — in suet?
  7. The worst thing to do with the seedling is disturb it. Let it lay there, half in and half out of the ground. But when they start to crowd thick and green (because you never obey the seed-packet’s instructions, always spacing them too far or too close), then you must pluck and choose, which one will stay and which will go. Otherwise, they all die out, competing for the same scant patch of dirt and sun and rain.
  8. The squirrels and the chipmunks — and your own damn cats — will likely devour many of the flowers, even in their bloom. Look at the crocus, who finally bloomed only to become scattered-pink the next day, scattered and tragic petals among their white-and-green-striped arrow-leaves.
  9. Plant them anyway.
  10. Trust the wisdom of the numbered list.
  11. Stay in touch, whether casual, constant, or connubial, with those who understand the importance of a turn of phrase, the difference between Joe Green and Guiseppe Verde.
  12. Take it moment by moment.
  13. Remember to be of service — in both the meaningful work and the work that pays the bills.

Empty Pond, Full Sky

what does it mean to be empty
and what does it mean to be full?

empty air
over the still glass
surface of the pond

empty belly

geese make
full-throated calls,
expectant

on a monday after the clocks change–
magic hour of daylight
missing hour of sleep

banks empty
still winter-brown

the fluttering sound
of a goose
drinking from the pond
she glides across

empty water, swirling,
then still
after her passing

the park full
of people stunned
at the way winter falls away

the playground full
of children shouting
in foreign tongues

pen drops from my hand
over the empty boulder
into the clear water
rests on the empty bottom

my womb, empty again

this moment
full of silence

this mind
full of the moment
blessed
empty

March 7 Haiku: Rising Sap, First Warm Day of Spring

hug the trees awake
feel the sap rising within
outside, no jacket

March Haiu: Ares Winds

march like a song, sad sigh
sun beats from the cloudless sky
dry sinus, cold hands