Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sledding in Cape Breton

        Sledding in Wichita

     As cars pass, laboring through the slush,
     a boy, bundled against the stiff wind
     in his snow suit, gloves, and scarf,
     leans on his upright toboggan,
     waiting his turn atop
     the snow-packed overpass—
     the highest point in town.
     First one car exits, and then another,
     each creeping down the icy ramp.
     The brown grass pokes through
     the two grooves carved in the short hill.
     As the second car fishtails to a stop at the bottom,
     brake lights glowing on the dirty snow,
     the boy’s turn comes.
     His trip to the bottom is swift—
     only a second or two—
     and he bails out just before the curb.
     It’s not much, but it’s sledding in Wichita. 
              -- by Casey Pycior




Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Billy Collins and shovelling snow

Been doing two things lately, more than two of course, but these two came together nicely. After pummelling frozen & icy snow, the equivalent of snow concrete, and lifting the chunks and throwing them over the snow bank just so we could shovel the snow under it, I made some tea and sat to read Billy Collins' book Picnic, Lightning. Came to this poem and thought I should share it with everyone else shovelling extreme amounts of snow this winter because it says it all and it says it more kindly and sweetly than I would have. 

        Shoveling Snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

-- Billy Collins

Thursday, January 1, 2015

January 1, 2015: Starting here, what do you want to remember

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift to the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

     -- William Stafford

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

          Hokusai says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you

            - Roger Keyes
* Hokusai was the Japanese artist best known for his print “The Wave off Kanagawa”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Morning waves, North Shore

I awoke this morning to a dull roar coming through the open bedroom window. At sunrise, Honey & I went down to the water to investigate. Part of the noise was an early morning scallop dragger moving through the water and part was the breaking of low-tide waves over rocks and pebbles along the shore.   

Sonnet 60: Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore

Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

--   William Shakespeare

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kent Haruf: novelist


Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up. When the sun reached the top of the windmill, for a while he watched what it was doing, that increased reddening of sunrise along the steel blades and the tail vane above the wooden platform. After a time he put out the cigarette and went upstairs and walked past the closed door behind which she lay in bed in the darkened guest room sleeping or not and went down the hall to the glassy room over the kitchen where the two boys were. 

The room was an old sleeping porch with uncurtained windows on three sides, airy-looking and open, with a pinewood floor. Across the way they were still asleep, together in the same bed under the north windows, cuddled up, although it was still early fall and not yet cold. They had been sleeping in the same bed for the past month and now the older boy had one hand stretched above his brother's head as if he hoped to shove something away and thereby save them both. They were nine and ten, with dark brown hair and unmarked faces, cheeks that were still as pure and dear as a girl's face. 

And so begins Kent Haruf's lovely, quiet, masterful novel Plainsong. Kant Haruf died on Sunday night, another of my favourite authors gone. 

Plainsong begins a trilogy of novels including Eventide and Benediction set in Holt, Colorado, telling and expanding on the stories and the lives of people like Tom Guthrie and his sons Ike and Bobby, his unhappy wife, Ella. There's Victoria Robideaux, a pregnant teenager and her new friend Maggie Jones. And there are the McPheron brothers, bachelor farmers Harold and Raymond. We're allowed to live with these compassionate, imperfect people, be with them as their lives change and their hearts crack open.

 Apparently Kent Haruf has left us a last novel to be published next year. I'm glad he didn't leave us all alone. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mark Strand: poet

         The Triumph of the Infinite
          I got up in the night and went to the end of the hall. Over the
          door in large letters it said, "This is the next life. Please come
          in." I opened the door. Across the room a bearded man in a
          pale-green suit turned to me and said, "Better get ready, we're
          taking the long way." "Now I'll wake up," I thought, but I was
          wrong. We began our journey over golden tundra and patches
          of ice. Then there was nothing for miles around, and all I could
          hear was my heart pumping and pumping so hard I thought I
          would die all over again.

                   -- Mark Strand, from Almost Invisible

Mark Strand, one of my favourite poets, died this weekend. He was 80 years old. 

I'm a subscriber to the New Yorker and when I'm finished with each magazine I clip the poems I like and paste them wherever I seem to be pasting things: my Commonplace books, my writing notebooks, journals that I start  and never (ever) keep up, or I stuff them in files to save for the right occasion and if I really like them, I stick them on the fridge. Mark Strand's poems live on in all those places. 

Andy and I particularly liked his poem Our Masterpiece is Private Life and we used it on a collage we sent to friends to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Here it is for you to read.

          Our Masterpiece is the Private Life

Is there something down by the water, keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?

Our happiness says we should not care, that desire,
If it wished, could cast its rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin, and with its measure fill the crystal

Reaches of the air. Why look for anything else?
Why not in the brightness of such weather allow ourselves to be
Astonished by the music and the privilege of our passing?

And now, my love, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.

True, the light is artificial, and we are not well dressed,
But the heart of the matter is often beside the point.
We like it here. We like the bullocks of the field next door,

We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,
In that low voice, our late-night disclosures…  Why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.

Standing at the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Emaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling

Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed

Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences which in the old days
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road

Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep…

                       -- Mark Strand