Thursday, April 30, 2015

19th Letter: Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas invented the English language.
At sixteen, finding him, I shouted
Eureka and hosanna! Here was a spirit-blaze
Consuming every lesser poetic idol.
He made me hear my native tongue
As if it were for the first time.

I fear you would not like my venerated Dylan;
Perhaps you'd find him obscure,
Coarse or overblown or just plain sloppy.
But I have loved his words
For thirty years and counting! How can I not?

A working-class lad from the "provinces"
With what we'd call a tenth-grade education
Bullying his way to immortality
With an unrelenting pulse of bardic bombast,
A young dog roaring like a druid lion,
A verbal Merlin on a pagan sabbath
Glorying the grass, brooks, nooks, dales, vales,
The oceans above, alive and bright with stars; --
Hymnographer of a bellicose century,
Voice of a curly cardigan'd angel
Thundering peace to the coal-black veins of the earth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

17th Letter: Exercises

A steep challenge, an uphill climb:
Writing in rhyme.


He spouts a wicked epigram:
The old ham.


Coffee, lots of it, and black:
That's what I lack.


It keeps the brain cozy and warm:
This little form.


Sunday morning in Arlington:
Is winter done?


At St Lucy's, I can conclude my search
For good music in church.


I wish I could write like Merrill and McClatchy:
My things are patchy.


The firefly spark of insight:
Sudden light!


Stacked in closets, on windowsill and floor:
Books by the score.


A poem about alcohol? Dear Lord,
I must be bored.


Inveterate lover of diaries, he keeps
Reading Sam Pepys.


The barmaid never wears a pair of shoes
That shows her toes.


Springtime: the birds exult, the flowers bloom!
I leave my room.

Monday, April 27, 2015

16th Letter: Sometimes I Sit

Sometimes I sit, and Silence
has its say.

True wisdom moves its words
out of the way!


Spend twenty peaceful minutes
in a chair

and possibly you will have
entered prayer.


Alert, receptive,
let me always be:

willing to let my sight
be taught to see!


Lead me to listen,
quiet light,
dear soul,

to the Voice that makes
all broken spirits

Sunday, April 26, 2015

14th Letter: O Close and Distant Sister

O close and distant
sister in the art,
I have lately prayed for you
by using one of my many
well-thumbed rosaries.

And now I wonder
if you object, dear friend,
to being prayed for
so popishly! After all, were there
rosaries among the Apostles?

But much like an Apostle
at Pentecost, I do keep close
to the Virgin of Nazareth,
St Mary of the Magnificat.
Wasn't it after several days

of praying with the Mother of the Lord
that the Spirit descended
upon the timid Twelve,
blazing their hearts and tongues
to an unwonted boldness?

Your theology and my theology
might look at each other
respectfully askance.
And I have to confess:
I can be bigoted

on matters of religion.
But charity transcends
all differences, and learns,
ideally, to delight in them.
So please pray for me

howsoever you choose,
and I shall commend you
to the Lord of Earth and Heaven,
and to the one whom Wordsworth called
our tainted nature's solitary boast.

Olive-wood rosary from the Holy Land

Saturday, April 25, 2015

13th Letter: Oh, the Litanies

Oh, the litanies
of specificity
in your letters!
the names
of birds
and of flowers!

A city boy,
I'm deprived;
my knowledge of
avian life is
for the birds!
I know pigeons
and sparrows
and starlings
and those nameless
sunrise singers
kept by Mrs Álvarez
down the hall.

For flowers,
I know roses
and tulips and carnations
and daisies and daffodils
and not much else.
Tiger lily.
And I know one more,
thanks to the lupine festival
in Sugar Hill,
New Hampshire.

But you, dear friend,
bring life to life
with your descriptions
of the Windy City
and of memorable

You sing the hearts
of  weary wanderers
to joy incontrovertible,
to a subtle and
subversive gladness,
to a zest for grace,
for a glory
that no politician
(be he ever so vile)
can steal.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

12th Letter: Let Me Retreat

Let me retreat from social media;
from newspaper headlines,
from two hundred fifty channels;
from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue;
from smartphone and texting,
from Kindle and laptop;
from viral video clips on YouTube.

Let me retreat, as far as possible,
from the teeming forum,
from the bustling marketplace;
from the vexations of the "well-meaning" crowd;
from trivial blather about celebrities;
from heated disputes about urgent issues;
from friends whose politics are incorrigible!

Let me recharge, renew, refresh,
away from the deadening noises
of our restless century.

Let me be still. Let me listen.
Let me renounce all cares.

Let me retreat into that quasi-monastic space,
that remote rural field where a lone explorer
might stumble across a fieldstone hermitage --

Let me find a solitary kindred spirit
in that small house among the rolling hills,
the softly swaying grasses --

perhaps here I can stop and rest;
perhaps here a kindly soul
will draw from her well
"clear water, cold, so cold";

perhaps here I will find life --
life in all of its tenderness and splendor;
joy more clean and pure than fleeting pleasures;
fulfillment that transcends all acquisition;
hope that overflows in reckless abundance!

Monday, April 20, 2015

11th Letter: Is That You?

Is that you, barn-swallow,
answering my recent note
with yellow exclamations
of newborn forsythia?

Is that you (I'm sure it is)
brightening this gray morning
with the pure song of April,
as green-and-golden
as Dylan's Fern Hill?

Is that you (it certainly must be!)
shaking up slumbering senses,
stirring a winter-weary soul
from grumbling to gratitude?

10th Letter: Rays of Sun

Rays of sun fan out,
breaking to brilliance from beneath
gray-blue masses of cloud in a sky
like an evangelical photograph
of uplifting intent.

Underneath the nimbus,
one can almost discern
an italicized verse
from the 23rd Psalm!

I drink instant coffee
and wonder if my prayers
(while I stand or sit,
while I kneel or lie down)
are case-sensitive passwords
dependent on my posture
for their acceptability.

No, I suspect that even when they're careless,
sloppily presented,
articulated crudely or in haste,
Someone gets them, hears them,
and approves.

* * * * *

PS: Thank you,
O poet-friend,
for your reply!

Friday, April 17, 2015

8th Letter: You Should Have Been There

You should have been there, barn swallow,
    at the poetry workshop in Cambridge!
Modestly you would have schooled us all
    in lyric, in image, in patience.

You would have been the youngest –
    by five or six years, at least! --
but you would have made the crafty veterans
    sit up and take notice.

You would gentled the April night
    with your subtle, sensitive music.
You would have refreshed parched spirits
    thirsting for sudden grace.


It's early Friday morning,
    before dawn, before bird-mattins.
I sit here writing to you
    over a cup of instant coffee.

Today I have to shop for groceries.
    Today, a dentist's appointment.
Out of such dailiness,
    poems and lives are made.

I think of you here, where I work on verse.
    And I think of you whenever I see
plucky flowers nudging up
    through stiff New England soil.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

7th Letter: An Undeniable Grace

It is an undeniable grace
to be awake at 3 a.m. and read
words written by that most adroit left hand --
or (likelier) tapped with both hands at the keyboard.

Sometimes we expect an excellence
only to have our feeble expectations
gloriously bested, splendidly surpassed!

How can I stifle the note of celebration
when I read your words?

I remember T. S. Eliot stealing from Dante
to dub Ezra Pound il miglior fabbro.
In such a light I see you, quiet attentive shaper
of poems that breathe freely,
that live fearlessly.

In scarcely more than thirty years, you've learned
more than my older but undisciplined
mind will ever comprehend.
You've taught me much about this art, this life;
pray for me, that I may learn to listen.

Friday, April 10, 2015

6th Letter: When I Was Ten

When I was ten,
it was my family's
first summer in Franconia.
I fell in love with New Hampshire's White Mountains
as Dad navigated the '76 Monte Carlo
(a collegiate shade of crimson!)
over the gentle roller-coaster
of 93 North.

Sometimes, on evening drives
from Franconia to Littleton,
eight miles away,
the setting sun would grace the pine-green hills
with something like glory.
In the back seat, as in a womb,
a poet was slowly growing toward birth!

But beauty, like poetry,
never quite satisfies.
La sete natural che mai non sazia --
the natural thirst
that never gets quenched.