I Will Arise and Go Now . . .

IMG_1026After the whirlwind that was our visit to Dublin for the Penn State football game, we were eager for a change. It was wonderful for a few days but we’re the quiet types, introverts, really. We needed an antidote to the noise and crowds and . . . well, the noise and crowds.

We found it on the beaches and islands and hilltops.

And we found it in Yeats country.

I’m not knowledgeable about poetry. I don’t read much of it, and I understand less, but I do love what little I know by William Butler Yeats.

When I was still working full time and living in a big city, I kept a framed copy of Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” in my room. I even have an old record of Yeats reading his poem!

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Innisfree always made me think of “camp,” and our lake, and quiet, still summers away from the world. Just reading the poem could transport me to that place where “peace comes dropping slow.”

Now, we live year-round in the equivalent of Yeats’ “bee-loud glade” and I try, always, to consciously appreciate how lucky we are.

So, as we drove through Sligo, I really, really wanted to visit this special isle. My long-suffering spouse acquiesced and we drove around Lough Gill.

First we found Dooney Rock, which inspired my other favorite Yeats poem, “The Fiddler of Dooney.

Dooney Rock

Dooney Rock

Then we drove down long, single-lane roads until we could see tiny Innisfree sitting just slightly off shore, tantalizingly close but inaccessible.

We couldn’t get to it. We couldn’t walk on it. But, that’s okay—that very inaccessibility preserves the solitude and the mystery and the magic.

Just looking at Innisfree, with Yeats’ words sounding in my head, was enough. I felt it in my deep heart’s core. Where is your Innisfree?

IMG_1027

Loving Words from Home: My Mother’s Poems

IMG_3787So I’d better keep composing

(While the muse is still in touch)

And produce a minor sonnet,

Though it won’t impress you much—

 

It’s not Shakespeare, Donne or Kipling

It’s not Edgar Allen Poe

Just a little rhyme from Mommy,

Just a verse to let you know:

 

You’re tremendously important/

Entertaining/pretty/dear–

And I’ll write you (if you’re patient)

A much better “pome” next year.

I’ve mentioned before that my mother is a serial crafter. She’s had a number of creative hobbies over the years–she does them intensely (not to say obsessively!), and then stops. And I do mean stops. Completely. Never to return to that craft again no matter how good she was at it or how much her family begs.

Only one of her creative endeavors has stood the test of time.

When I was a child, sewing was her passion. She made her clothes and the clothes for my sister and me. She made beautiful things, including my favorite–a bottle-green velvet prom gown, a glamorous sheath with 40 velvet-covered buttons down the back. My sister and I never had to worry that we’d get caught wearing the same boring old store-bought dress as someone else at a party!

Then she knit beautiful sweaters. She remembers reading knitting patterns in bed, to fall asleep, and using the best parts of many patterns to create her own designs. She re-upholstered furniture. She had a polymer clay phase (who didn’t?!), and so on.

All the time she was immersed in these creative outlets, she was a full-time teacher of first graders. She was the one who taught those little kids how to read and write; she introduced them to the power of language and helped them become “arthurs,” in the classic words of one of her little authors.

The thrill she got in teaching children to write, to express themselves in words, may explain the one creative outlet that she has pursued all her adult life. She may have been a serial crafter but she has been a persistent, prolific wordsmith, commemorating many of our family’s highs, and a few lows, in her poems.*

My mother is not a poet in the Yeats or cummings or Browning vein. She has always favored the Dr. Seuss school of verse, wordplay and impeccable rhyme, cleverness and fun. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Dickinson or Keats.

Where other poets seek to write timeless words that transcend an individual meaning to speak to humanity, my mother’s poetry has always been very personal, very tailored to the recipient, and very heavy on family in-jokes and code. As I’ve been re-reading them, I was interested to see how many it would be pointless to share because no one outside the family would get the jokes!

She has written dozens of poems over the years. starting, as she recalls, with one written for a boy she dated way back when. We don’t have a copy of that poem but we have many of the others and it is incredible fun to re-read them and recall the details of where we were in our lives at the time of that poem’s creation.

She wrote one poem, for instance, in 1982, that reminds me just how long I have had my “hands at home” orientation. A portion of the poem:

At easel, brush in

Hand, she toils

With watercolors

(Rarely oils.)

She sketches—charcoal

Pen and pencil;

(She’d never trace or

Use a stencil!)

 

And as for jewelry,

Lovely things—

Pendants, pins and

Clever rings—

Designed in copper,

Silver, gold,

Or fashioned from

A waxen mold.

 

She bought a fleece

Right after shearing

And played around

With pioneering;

She washed it, carded,

Combed it, too.

(I’d call it silly,

Wouldn’t ewe?)

 

Did that deter her?

Not a minute—

Built a wheel and

Learned to spin it!

When I finally (and finally is the only word to use here) finished my doctoral dissertation, she found 19 words to rhyme with “dissertation”:

After years of tribulation

(Some have called “procrastination”)

Comes the moment of elation:

Kerry’s done her dissertation!

 

Times of struggle and frustration,

Overwhelming complication,

Feelings close to resignation,

Loss of drive and concentration . . .

You get the idea!

Her gift for words has proven useful at untold birthdays and holidays, especially when she didn’t have quite the right gift or had a gift that needed explaining. She’s written some poems for landmark birthdays, like this favorite from when my husband turned 55:

You’ve got a lot

To celebrate

Look forward to,

Anticipate.

So, let me now

Reiterate:

It’s not the time to

Vegetate.

We really cannot

Overstate

Nor let ourselves

Procrastinate!

We really must

Appreciate

The chance to

Superannuate!

We have the time

To demonstrate

Nutrition will

Rejuvenate,

And exercise

Facilitate,

As eagerly we

Contemplate

The years and years

Of feeling great!

But she’s also commemorated odd birthdays, like me at 23 and my sister at 26. She’s used the poems to bolster us up when we’ve been having a rough time, assuring us the next job will come, the weight gain doesn’t have to be permanent, someday our princes will come. And when my prince did come, she wrote a superb poem, describing our tiny, private wedding on the lake, and included a verse about the three white ducks who came by to serve as bridesmaids:

Then the “bridesmaids” waddled over,

And participated proudly,

Dressed in matching white ensembles

And, as always, quacking loudly.

My sister’s brain surgery, my mother’s own torn rotator cuff, the scary mistakes made by the doctors when the ONLY grandchild was born . . . all have been commemorated in verse. Commemorating them this way, after the worst was over, served to focus attention on the happy outcomes and turn the trials into new family stories of perseverance and triumph!

It is because of my mother that we are a family that loves words—she’s passed this down to her girls. I love to write (no! really?) and my mother was, I think, happier than I was when my book and articles were published.

My sister uses words in crazy, funny, inventive ways that have passed into family lore. And all of us have multiple bizarre nicknames that she has bestowed on us: Do-Bob, Bucket, Mumba-qua-drumba—we know who we are!

The “only grandchild” has a lot of pressure on her but she gives every indication of being prepared to live up to expectations. She is already well known for the personal and loving messages she writes her family on birthdays and has a quiet, deadly, and intelligent sense of humor.

The people we bring into the circle need to be at the top of their word skills, too. I married a man who makes up numbers to tell me how much he loves me (ochenta-noventa-ciento-mil1000) and cries when he sings songs with sad words.

And at 80, after 41 years a widow, my mother married a man, a retired newscaster, who loves words as we all do. He uses them in ways that are precise, funny, sly, and that make us think. And he cries at sad songs, too.

Together, they live on the lake near us in summer and in Florida in winter. They do crossword puzzles, read, and enjoy witty repartee. They now have their shared moments of perfection, worthy of commemoration:

The sunsets we watched on the water,

The snowstorm of geese in their flight,

The horoscope-readings at breakfast,

The absolute darkness of night.

My mother is now 82. She worries that the words don’t come as easily as they once did and she sometimes struggles to find the right one. This happens as one grows older but it has to be especially frustrating for her, to whom words were always best friends.

She hasn’t written a poem in a while, and we miss them. But, still, we have years’ worth of her thoughts, and memories, and love to re-visit whenever we need a little boost and a laugh. How many people are so lucky?

Loving words from home . . . .

___________________________________________________

* My mother has often called these “pomes,” not poems, in part, she says, because it’s easier to find a rhyme for “pome.” I’ve never cared for that substitution, rhyme-worthiness notwithstanding, because I think it trivializes what she does!

evel & girls

Unharvested

deadfall-2Have you taken a walk, in an area you thought was purely natural and untouched, only to find evidence of previous habitation? Where humans go, we leave our imprint. Very often that’s an unpleasant sight—candy wrappers or cigarette butts in an otherwise pristine landscape. But sometimes we come across a sign that humans lived here and sought to beautify their world.

If you find day lilies, a lilac bush, or an apple tree in a field, it’s a good sign that people once lived on that spot and tried to make it their own.

As I take walks in my rural setting, I love finding an old apple tree, heavy with fruit and surrounded by deadfall. I know it means that, at some point, someone planted that tree and encouraged it along, and the tree is still providing as best it can.

Some people hate the sight of deadfall. They see it as sad, because the people are gone and the tree is producing for no one. Or they see it as wasteful. I read a blog a couple of months ago, in which the author wrote, fairly indignantly, about how awful it was that fruit was allowed to sit on the ground and rot when it could feed hungry people.

But I don’t see deadfall as sad or wasteful. The tree is doing what it was designed to do and, even though the humans who planted it are gone, the fruit is feeding innumerable birds and animals, as well as re-feeding the very ground in which the tree grows. And it provides an unanticipated sense of community to any person who happens by, and recognizes the human hand behind the tree’s existence on that spot.

I love the poem “Unharvested” by Robert Frost. I don’t know if I love it because it expresses my feelings about these old trees or if my feelings about the trees derive from the poem. It’s not as well known as his other poem about apples, “After Apple Picking,” but it is a much more hopeful poem.

Unharvested–Robert Frost

 

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

As humans, we plant and we harvest. We monitor the seasons and try to account for every little thing. We become difficult to surprise or delight. The discovery of an unexpected deadfall, the sweetness in the air and the color on the ground, becomes our reminder that nature still has the ability to outwit us and surprise us, and to outlast us.

So, should we see it as deadfall, and a waste, or a lively, and uplifting, lesson about being open to the unplanned and nature’s ability to catch us off guard?

deadfall-1