Friday, October 31, 2008


I love the way these two leaves found each other and aligned themselves when they fell from different trees. As I walked past, their perfect shapes and contrasting colors caught my eye. I literally stopped, walked backward a few steps, and reached down to claim them. I had almost kept going, but couldn’t resist gathering them for closer admiration. I relish the way they pop against the gray patterns in the wood.

Rainer Maria Rilke had this to say about falling leaves in the beginning of his poem entitled “Autumn,” from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Robert Bly:

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling. …

There’s something shivery about picturing that, about Rilke’s flesh and blood hand moving through the air, about all of us falling together through time.

Some days everything you read and write falls together, converges on one theme or idea. In a strange volume of photographs and essays by Jonathan Williams called A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude, there are a couple pages on Frederick Sommer. The essay ends with a quote from Sommer that cinches the falling and alignment thoughts:

I have five pebbles, not too different in size and weight, yet a randomness about them. If I drop them on the carpet they will scatter. Now we could run an experiment and we would find that we cannot put these pebbles in shapes that would be as elegant and as nicely related and with as great a variety as every time they fall. It is better than anything we could do. I have great respect for the way I find things. Every time something falls I look. I cannot believe the relationships. The intricacy. You hear a noise and you say “What is that?” Respect for the affirmation of the unexpected.


Off on another shivery tangent, here’s a photo I’ve been specifically saving for you, for Halloween. It’s the scary, mask-like face of a statue discovered on a street corner in Rhinebeck, New York.

The little candy bars are in the house.

Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke was published by Harper & Row in 1981. The full text of "Autumn" can be found on page 89. A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude was published by David R. Godine in 2002. The essay about Sommer, as well as his portrait, can be found on pages 88-89.

The leaves were found on my road and photographed on 10/26/08. The statue was photographed in Rhinebeck on 10/07/08. Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Brittle Snap

When I first read “Life by Halves," a poem by Mexican poet Alberto Blanco, the ending gave me a corresponding brittle snap in the heart. On this rainy day, here it is, from his bilingual collection, A Cage of Transparent Words:


We were in such a rush and it was raining …
a few rays of light filtered through
the dark branches of the trees.

The rusted chain was cold
and the padlock weighed like a heart
in the middle of the night.

You stuck the key into the lock
and began to force it.

A few minutes later
– and after a brittle snap –
you showed me the broken key.

The small stupidities
that seem to happen without warning
concentrated in a gesture of impatience.

Such is life:
a house locked up with chains,
one half of the key in our hand,
the other half in our chest.

– Alberto Blanco
– Translated by Elise Miller

A Cage of Transparent Words was published in 2007 by The Bitter Oleander Press. The pieces appear in both the original Spanish and, on facing pages, in English translations by Judith Infante, Joan Lindgren, Elise Miller, Edgardo Moctezuma, Gustavo V. Segade, Anthony Seidman, John Oliver Siimon, and Kathleen Snodgrass.

W.S. Merwin wrote one of the blurbs:

Alberto Blanco’s poems, over several decades, have revealed with precision and delicacy an original imaginative landscape, in language and imagery that are at once intimate, spacious, and rooted in the rich ground of Mexican poetry. There should certainly be a bilingual selection that represents his full range.

“Life by Halves” is reprinted here with the permission of Alberto Blanco and Bitter Oleander Press. I was honored to have my book, Stirring the Mirror, come out from BOP the same year as Alberto’s.

The photograph of a key that belonged to my grandmother was taken 10/26/08.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wild, Bristled Calligraphy

Who could resist the wild, bristled calligraphy of these poppy stems? Captive in their allotted space at the botanical garden, they claim their original inscription on the world. Intertwined, they embellish the air with unpredictable twists and loops, writing toward purple-black blossoms.

Discussing the domesticated in Walking, Henry David Thoreau writes:

I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights, – any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor, as when my neighbor’s cow breaks out of her pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray tide, … swollen by the melted snow .… The seeds of instinct are preserved under the thick hides of cattle and horses, like seeds in the bowels of the earth ….

In the same extended essay, Thoreau writes this vivid passage:

He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him, who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them, -- transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half-smothered between two musty leaves in a library ….

That’s the goal of the poet, isn’t it? Let me type -- again -- his description of the real poet: “…who derived his words as often as he used them, – transplanted them to his page with the earth adhering to their roots …”

Unearth that living language, deep and true, already groping for the welcoming page with its fantastic, hungry roots.

The quotes are from a combined volume called Nature Walking (Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walking by Henry David Thoreau) from Beacon Press. Walking was originally published in Atlantic magazine in 1862. The first passage was from page 107, the second from page 104. The photograph was taken at The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, on Mother's Day, 5/11/08.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Speaking of Gold ...

Go out of the house to see the moon, and 't is mere tinsel; it will not please as when its light shines upon your necessary journey. The beauty that shimmers in the yellow afternoons of October, who ever could clutch it? Go forth to find it, and it is gone: ‘t is only a mirage as you look from the windows of diligence.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

The tiny pearl levitating between the branches in the top shot is actually the Hunters’ Moon. Or almost the Full Hunters’ Moon. The official Full Hunters’ Moon, which is the first full moon to follow the Harvest Moon, was on 10/14/08. The photo was taken in Connecticut on 10/15/08. For more full moon information, a list of colorful names and dates for 2008, and a sky calendar, visit Full Worm Moon?!

The bottom photograph was taken while hiking with a friend at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, NY on 10/11/08. Shivery gold. Click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Love Your Blog

Many thanks to Kristen Hovet at Vesper's Escape for nominating my blog for, well, ... "I Love Your Blog!"

Here are the rules, as posted on Vesper's Escape:

1 - Add the logo to your blog.
2 - Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3 - Nominate at least 7 other bloggers.
4 - Add links to their blogs.
5 - Leave a comment for your nominees on their blogs!

Vesper's Escape has obviously already received the award, or I'd enthusiastically nominate it. Here's a list of four (so far) intriguing blogs that I nominate for the honor:

Madam Mayo -- Translator and award-winning writer (as well as my personal literary guiding light!), C. M. Mayo, writes this enlightening and entertaining literary blog. Visit her site for a wealth of book news, writing exercises and tips, guest blogger posts and recommendations, and more fascinating links than you can click on. (And I highly praise her collection, Sky Over El Nido, which won The Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.)

A Walk Around the Lake -- Poet Pamela Hart writes beautifully about poetry and poets, as well as art, nature, books, and ... life. To give you a taste of the deep writing on her blog, here's a tiny sample from a recent post: "I like the grid, the horizon line, the fragment, the shard. I like Rothko's blocks of color. And Diebenkorn's cartographies of blotched and colored land mass. I adore Agnes Martin quilted grids. I don't mind at all if a poem is broken. I can sometimes knit the poet's language together, or not. I prefer it when a poem isn't made neatly, even though I do this myself occasionally. I am not an orderly person." I savor the dialogue between our blogs.

Stu Jenks: Fezziwig Photography -- Multi-talented photographer Stu Jenks sums up the themes for his blog as "Toy, Nocturnal, Digital & Sport Photography; Stories of The Road; Stories of The Land; Stories about Photography and The Process." Check out his gorgeous pictures and lively, heartfelt stories. As I wrote about Stu's work in a 4/1/08 post on my blog, "It's fascinating to read what he writes on his blog about his creative process, to follow his evolving methods, to witness his discoveries about the landscape, the people, and himself. He places himself at the intersection of planned location and beautiful accident. He's open to what arrives and captures it on film."

Will. Love. Logic -- Artist Elin Waterston is making a block print every day in 2008, "on accounta because it's a leap year." She is posting them daily on her blog. After scrolling through them, travel back in time, pre-print project, to discover other visual entertainment, arty anecdotes, family insights and funny stuff.

Thanks again, Vesper's Escape, and congratulations to the first four nominees!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gathering the Glowing World

October. She lets the leaves drift loose from her scalp, surrounding herself with gold. Inside her mind, a perfect silence grows where rustling thoughts had clung. She gathers the glowing world in its thirsty well.

Okay, okay -- I know -- enough already with the Renwal dolls. I can't help myself. I carried her in my pocket late yesterday afternoon while walking with a neighbor on our road. The photo opportunity suddenly materialized at the top of the hill, gold everywhere. Click on image to enlarge.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Abode of Illusion"

withering wind
is the fragrance still attached
to the late-blooming flower


withering wind
has it been colored by
a late-blooming flower

– Matsuo Basho

Imagine people so eager to have a poet stay in the area that they would find him a home or build a special house for him. In the summer of 1690, Basho was treated to that honor and lived in a house on Lake Biwa called “The Abode of Illusion” or “The Unreal Hut.” It had a panoramic view overlooking the lake and the Seta River.

This intriguing biographical fact and a wealth of others appear in Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated by Jane Reichhold, just out in 2008. Tomoe Sumi at Kodansha America sent me a lovely hardcover copy with artwork by Shiro Tsujimura. The book includes Reichhold’s translations of Matsuo Basho’s haiku, literal translations, original Japanese versions, biographical information, a chronology of Matsuo Basho’s life, an appendix of haiku techniques, a glossary of literary terms, and notes to clarify and enhance the work. For instance, beyond the two versions of the above poem, if one refers to it by number (760) in the notes, there is this explanation:

1691 – autumn. The idea behind the first version of this poem is that the cold, strong wind should have blown away something as delicate as the scent of the flower. Nioi can also be translated as “color,” hence the second version of the poem. Traditionally, the cold autumn wind is described as white.

Where I live, the October sky is now pearly gray, dusk approaching. I’ll leave you with another Basho haiku from this extensive and deep collection. He wrote this poem after the Priest Unchiku, a famous calligrapher from Kyoto, showed Basho a portrait (likely his own) with the face looking away. He asked him to write a poem on it. Basho responded, “You are sixty years old and I am almost fifty. Life was like a dream just as Chuang Tzu said. The portrait looks like a dream and now I am adding sleep talk to it.”

turn this way
I am also lonely
this autumn evening

– Matsuo Basho

This last haiku is #681. For more about Basho, go to “Wine Berries,” the July 14th post.

The photograph was taken on a visit to Watkins Glen, New York, with my younger daughter on 9/23/08. We loved the intricate rock formations, the waterfalls, and the teal water collecting in amoeba-shaped pools. Just click on the image to enlarge it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blue Light

"Blue," a poem by Aliki Barnstone, unveils the power, mystery and serenity of the many shades of blue. These few lines from the piece transport the reader to another more vivid, more peaceful world:

Blue light comes from the island in my brain // where sunflowers crook their necks, weary of time. / Sunflowers, your wild fire hair burns in blue.

"Blue" appears in The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry, edited by Aliki Barnstone. The photo was taken 10/7/08.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

One-Handed Prayer

I recently discovered wigleaf, an intriguing online magazine of “very short fictions,” all works under 1,000 words. Since I love writing prose poetry and flash fiction, I decided to submit work to the editor, Scott Garson. Today wigleaf posted my accepted story, “One-Handed Prayer,” as well as an author “postcard.” As an extra feature, Scott asks contributors to write a postcard to the readers of the magazine. The entertaining premise is that the readers are the ones who are far away, and the postcard-writing author is writing to them from home. If you feel inspired, do visit the Web site by clicking on wigleaf. There are many stories, postcards, and photographs to explore. Thanks to Scott for the editing suggestions.

Here's the first line of "One-Handed Prayer":

When he lifted the shag rug, he found a hand, palm down, flat as a rose pressed in a bible.

The photo of Renwal dolls was taken 6/30/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska writes poems that keep blossoming, that open new worlds – right up to the last line – for the entranced reader. Just when you feel a Szymborska poem has no more petals to reveal, there you are, at the center of her words, surrounded by red-black perfume. And let’s not forget the waking points of glistening thorns, sometimes softened with grim humor. Winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, she is on my list of favorite poets.

There is a wonderful poem, “I am too close for him…” in her collection, Miracle Fair. In this version, the translation into English was done by Joanna Trzeciak. I found the same piece, title translated to “I Am Too Near,” in an anthology of women’s spiritual poetry. This version was translated by Czeslaw Milosz, another extraordinary Polish poet, also on my list. I prefer the Milosz translation, so will share several final lines from “I Am Too Near” below, to pique your interest in Wislawa Szymborska’s beautiful and startling poetry:

…I am too near
to fall to him from the sky. My scream
could wake him up. Poor thing
I am, limited to my shape,
I who was a birch, who was a lizard,
who would come out of my cocoons
shimmering the colors of my skins. Who possessed
the grace of disappearing from astonished eyes,
which is a wealth of wealths. I am near,
too near for him to dream of me.
I slide my arm from under the sleeper’s head
and it is numb, full of swarming pins,
on the tip of each, waiting to be counted,
the fallen angels sit.

The above lines are from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, edited by Aliki Barnstone, from Shambhala, 2002. “I Am Too Near” first appeared in the 1962 Szymborska collection, Salt, then in Milosz’s anthology, Postwar Polish Poetry, in 1965.

The photograph was taken at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, NY on 8/28/08. Click on image to enlarge.