Tag Archives: poetry

A Poem on Thoor Ballylee

BY DIANE KENDIG

Diane wrote this poem when she visited Ireland with her one-quarter Irish husband the summer of 2003, after nursing her younger sister for two years until she died of cancer. It it is based on a trip to Thoor Ballylee (County Galway), summer home of poet William Butler Yeats, about which he wrote the following poem:



  To Be Carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee

  I, the poet William Yeats,
  With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
  And smithy work from the Gort forge,

  Restored this tower for my wife George;
  
And may these characters remain
  When all is ruin once again.

Diane’s poem also refers to the Yeats Memorial on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin.


After standing in his long shadow
in a Dublin park, both of us heavy,
wearing loose long clothes, having lost
our dearests, I drove out
and wept upon arriving at this place,
reading its name on a plaque at the door,
here where he planted no bean rows
but came with his family, away from the war.
So we had that in common.

Then, I climbed the tower. 
I did not climb into his bed
as another writer told me she did.
I did not punch the buttons to hear
sonorous voices intoning his poems
against the stone stairs.

I climbed in the echo of my own steps
to the parapet, where, all around
I saw kilometers of green, blotted with white
so far off I couldn’t hear them bleat,
could not hear anything animal, nor
human, so far below, not a car
on gravel even. Not even wind.
Just a deep quiet, as of sleep, of rest.
I did not weep then but descended
ready to go all the way back, begin again.


This poem was previously published in the anthology Moments of the Soul (2010).  

Diane Kendig has worked as a poet, writer, translator and teacher for more than 40 years and authored four poetry collections, including The Places We Find Ourselves. A recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships, she has published recently in J Journal, Wordgathering, and qarrtsiluni. Find her on the web at  dianekendig.com and http://dianekendig.blogspot.com/.

With His Nora, O’Casey Strolled

With His Nora, O’Casey Strolled
Liz Dolan on Seán O’Casey
Dublin, Ireland

Seán O’Casey was born and raised in Dublin, but because his play The Plough and the Stars (third in a trilogy) received such a violent reaction at Dublin’s Abbey Theater, W. B. Yeats urged him to take his work to the world. He left, but sad to say, he never wrote anything as powerful as the trilogy of plays he wrote in the charming city of Dublin.


through the tall grasses of Stephen’s Green
and over the Liffey Bridge, sipped coffee
at Bewley’s on Upper Grafton Street.

She was a simple girl who needed not
his terrible dreams but a simple life.
Yet he felt as much at home with her
as when he chatted with his mother
by the fiery grate about the doings of the day.

Take your words to the world’s great cities,
Yeats urged. Beneath the shade
of the old ruined tower he took leave
of Dublin’s cobblestones and Nora
and his kin but could no longer
hear them talk a door off its hinge.

Liz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, was nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. A six-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of the Web, she has also won an established artist fellowship in poetry and two honorable mentions in prose from the Delaware Division of the Arts. She recently won the Nassau Prize for prose. She has received fellowships to attend residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and Martha’s Vineyard. Liz serves on the poetry board of Philadelphia Stories. Her nine grandkids, who live one block away, pepper her life.

In the Hands of the Weaver

In the Hands of the Weaver
Deborah Guzzi on Cesar Vallejo
El Salvador, Lima, Peru

The poetry of Cesar Vallejo and the search for Pachamama, Mother Earth, brought Deborah to Peru. Vallejo’s book of verse Black Messengers [Los Heraldos Negros, 1918] expressed well her own feelings after seeing the slums of Lima.

There are in life such hard blows . . . I don’t know!
Blows seemingly from God’s wrath; as if before them
the undertow of all our sufferings
is embedded in our souls . . . I don’t know!

– Excerpt from Black Messengers


 

The air is heavy like a dirty woolen blanket
each colorful strand pulled through the warp.
Horns blare, traffic skids and screeches
unborn accidents aborted
by fancy-pants cops.
City slickers in posh clothes
zip toward the outskirts avoiding
dirndl-shaped pollera skirts
and monteras hats
as if ashamed
of their own roots or the neglect.
The road to Lima’s slum city
weaves along rough Pacific shorelines,
wefts past fishing villages
and cement factories with tangerine groves
each lane bringing the colors of modern life.

The oranges, reds, and pinks of fine fabric repeat
in on the metal surfaces of trucks, buses, motor cabs.
Each person’s destiny pulled and pushed
by the action of man, earth, and tide, forward,
ever forward through the dunes of Lima’s desert.
Invaders hug the hillside, thousands upon thousands
of rural poor driven from the teat of the Mother
by earthquakes and the terror of the Shining Path.
Mao lives on in the upheaval. Yet so does ayni,
the helping hand of neighbor,
the brown-skinned hand, more used
to the bobbin than the gun.

Here in El Salvador, they have come in oneness
a finished soul on a backstrap loom
dyed and drying in the heat
of Lima’s desert
they bloom.

First published at the age of sixteen, Deborah Guzzi has continued to write for the past fifty years. Her work has appeared in the literary journals of Western Connecticut University; she has also published two illustrated volumes of poetry: The Healing Heart and Heaven and Hell in a Nutshell. She lives in Monroe, Connecticut.

El Capitán of Isla Negra

El Capitán of Isla Negra
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo on Pablo Neruda
Isla Negra, Chile

Though many know Neruda for his love poems and odes, Bermejo’s introduction to his work came with a collection of allegorical prose poems called The House in the Sand (1966), inspired by his home in the small fishing village of Isla Negra. His stone cottage, sitting along a rocky stretch of Pacific ocean, inspired his “mystic sea” in such poems as “The Key”: “That is how I lost my key, my hat, my head. They were carried off by the ocean in its swaying motion. I found them on a new morning. They are returned to me by the harbinger wave that deposits lost things at my door.” Bermejo notes that with all his interest in the sea and sailing, he never sailed his own boat, which sat grounded at the back of the house and, according to a tour guide, was used only as a makeshift bar now and again.


He was known as El Capitán of Isla Negra,
But never manned a ship, nor was his isla
An island or black. For his wife, his corazón,

He built a home out of wooden planks
And sails in sand. Filled it with gifts of butterfly
Wings, unicorn horns, and pearled seashells

Hand plucked from the beach. At dusk they sipped
Rich red wine poured from enormous bottles
Of tinted blue glass, and toasted to their good fortune

Of their Camelot by the sea. But this perfection
Left El Capitán’s spirit swaying like the rolling
Water he watched from a bedroom window.
They say he feared white frothy teeth biting
Fiercely on the shore, but it was his corazón that kept
El Capitán on the sand. He witnessed how the
Ocean discarded lost things at his door, felt
Loneliness shivering in his back, and knew
He or she could be just as easily swept away.

El Capitán bottled his desires like he bottled
His boats, which he lined against the windows
of the house in rows. And caught wooden maidens

From the heads of ships, and locked them in
The parlor of his sandy hull. The tears of his
Captives grew so fat that the wood planked house

Began to sink under the weight of wanting.
To save them the ocean roared up thrashing
The shore and storming the foundation of the house,

The windows, and doors. Like that the house lifted
From its earthly holdings. Floating on waves, this is how

They say El Capitán made his first ocean voyage.

An earlier version of this poem was first published in PALABRA, fall 2009, issue 5.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the poetry winner of the 2013 Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange. Her manuscript, Tonight She will Dream, is inspired by her grandmother, Los Angeles, and the Arizona borderlands. She is the creator and curator of Beyond Baroque’s quarterly reading series HITCHED and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Award. Her work has been published in The Los Angeles Review, PALABRA, CALYX, and The Acentos Review. A short dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Hollywood director and Chicano activist Jesus Trevino, can be seen at latinopia.com.

The Sky the Bay Her Eyes

The Sky the Bay Her Eyes
Liz Rose Dolan on Nathaniel Hawthorne
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

After reading Geraldine Brooks’ novel Caleb’s Crossing, which is set in Martha’s Vineyard, Liz visited the stunning island. She writes, “Rumor has it that Nataniel Hawthorne left the innkeeper’s daughter with child. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1847.”


Perhaps his trouser leg brushes
against her muslin skirt
in the Old Whaling Church
whose bells toll

each hour. Does he entice her
with an iced biscuit from the baker’s
on the dock where hardtack
is turned out for sailors?

All is Fra Angelico blue: the sky the bay her eyes.

Is he drunk on tangy, salt air tinged
with whiffs of hot metal and rigging tar
as they amble along the wharves
stacked with barrels of sperm oil?

Does he dare roll up his trousers
slip off her shoes and dip
their white, white feet
among clustered mussels, tangled kelp
in the sequined ripples of Nantucket Sound?

All is Fra Angelico blue: the sky the bay her eyes.

In this watery world does he forget himself
and with the smoothness of a ship
slipping into its berth
echo in her scallop-like ear, Come.

Liz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, which is seeking a publisher, was nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of the Web, she also won a $6,000 established artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts in 2009. She recently won $250 for prose from the Nassau Review. Her nine grandkids live one block away from her, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They pepper her life.

Walking with Elihu

Walking with Elihu
Taylor Graham on Elihu Burritt
Scotland

Born in Connecticut in 1810, Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith, taught himself mathematics, astronomy, geography, and 50 languages while working at a forge. He then turned to humanitarian causes, traveling to Europe, where he organized a series of international peace congresses. In the summer of 1863, he walked from London to the northern tip of Scotland to see how the common people fared in the Industrial Revolution. He arrived at John O’Groats in Scotland more than ten weeks and 700 miles after setting out. His journal of the trip is published as A Walk from London to John O’Groats (1864).


Trying to Reach Melrose

Lost the footpath, and for two hours clambered up and down.
– Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John O’Groats

The cliffs precipitous; a zigzag trail
cut into rock that overhangs the Tweed –
a man could lose his nerve, his courage fail.
By God’s grace, you’ve lost nothing but your way.
And so, by pitch and prayer, you still proceed
through these dark fastnesses. A doubtful gray
from sky or river fills the gorge, the path
cut into rock that overhangs the Tweed –
some spirit of the pagan wilds, its wrath
unmitigated in this lonely place –
as you climb hand in hand with God, clasped tight
against the wall’s unwelcoming, rough face.
At last you reach an open range, a height
with vista over panoramic space,
the world below you: hills and shadowed dale,
the cliffs precipitous, the zigzag trail.

 

Abbotsford House

The armoury is a miniature arsenal of all arms
ever wielded since the time of the Druids.
– Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John O’Groats

Wasn’t it Mark Twain who blamed Sir Walter
for the American Civil War? But still you come
here, Elihu, to Abbotsford on the Tweed,

a pilgrimage shrine. Scott’s home, built of a poet’s
gleanings from history – the Crusades, siege
of Torquilstone; the Jacobite rebellion. The author

adorned his walls with Border chieftains’ coats
of arms, cuirasses and greaves, halberds, Rob
Roy’s pistol. And in the visitors’ register you find

how bloody history goes on and on. Signatures
of your birth-land brothers – Americans all –
pledging allegiance “U.S.A.” on one hand, “C.S.A.”

on the other. Union or Confederate. The war
you wrote so many pages to avert: America, your
home in ruins, hung with swords.

And here you are now, half a world away.
Can you ever leave that loss behind, however
farther north you walk?

 

Sleeping Arrangements

Highlands or Lowlands, they came from Bible-lighted homes.
– Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John O’Groats

You’ve walked for miles through a treeless
waste, too barren even for heather, and come at last

to a village with no inn. Ten miles of wilderness
to the next town. Night has fallen. Where

will you sleep tonight? Here’s a cottage that might
feed a hungry traveler in a low-ceilinged

sitting room encumbered with two beds.
One bed is not yet spoken for. How fortunate!

You retire early. But before you’re quite asleep,
the two regulars who occupy the other bed

arrive – young men, no doubt strangers
thrown together by railroad work. They speak

so softly you can barely hear. Isn’t it human
nature to try to parse their words?
In full Scots accent, a “hard-rhymed
psalm” followed by a chapter from the Bible.

Then silence, as if prayer to bind this hostel
to their distant homes and families.

This three-part family in the midst of moor.
For one night, it soothes you into sleep.

In the morning, you’ll go separate ways.
No need to speak out loud the God-be-with-ye’s.

 

Storm off the North Sea

All day, wind and muddy roads. You shelter
from rain in wayside cottages or under fir-trees.
Heavy walking in the gale. Four miles short

of Inverness, evening coming on; cold wet feet
in leaky boots – you find an inn; settle
by the fire; pull off wet stockings. Outside,

the storm blows wilder. But hot tea never comes.
No oatcake or Scotch scones. No reason
given. There’s nothing at all

for a traveler, except four more miles
of storm. So dark you can hardly see the road.
Head-wind, drenching rain. At last

you reach Inverness. And here’s
a temperance inn to welcome pilgrims,
refugees, whoever’s washed up by a storm.

 

Journey’s End

Pilgrims to the shrine of this famous domicile
are liable to much disappointment at finding
so little remaining.
– Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John O’Groats

They say leaving is better than arriving,
arriving never as good as anticipation.
I felt it again, Elihu, turning your last few pages.
The Orkneys glowed across the Firth as if
to call you, but you weren’t going that far.
John O’Groats was enough,
even if its eight-sided legendary hall –
eight doors and octagonal table
designed for family peace – were gone,
its stones salvaged for a granary.

Still, you stuffed your pockets with sea-shells
and rejoiced. Elihu, who could be happy
with a few wave-worn shells?
If I listen to the conch of a childhood summer,
its message is nothing but the song
in my own ear. But you’d walked
700 miles to find a barren shore
with a mythic tale of Peace. You were glad
to arrive. Happiness must be a state
of mind and faith.

Taylor Graham is a volunteer search-and-rescue dog handler in the Sierra Nevada. She’s included in the anthology California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Santa Clara University, 2004). Her book The Downstairs Dance Floor was awarded the Robert Philips Poetry Chapbook Prize, and she’s a finalist in Poets & Writers’ California Writers Exchange. Her newest book, Walking with Elihu: Poems on Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith (Hot Pepper Press, 2010), is available on Amazon. “Trying to Reach Melrose,” “Abbotsford House,” and “Journey’s End” are included the book; “Storm off the North Sea” first appeared on Medusa’s Kitchen.

The Poet’s Face

The Poet’s Face
Linda McCauley Freeman on John Keats
Rome

A visit to the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, where Linda saw poet John Keats’ death mask, prompted this poem.


Keats’ plaster-of-Paris death mask
is remarkable under glass.

I lean over it until – no, not the guard
gesturing in Italian – my husband

touches my elbow, shakes his head.
But I am seeing a great poet dead,

imagine pouring plaster over his wan face,
watch it fill the hollowed surface.

Oh, the cursed illness
that bled his face of fullness

so young! My cheek against the glass,
I whisper, When old age shall this

generation waste, thou shalt remain.
His words from my mouth stain

the glass. Can I catch what you had?
My husband calls from the next room.

Look. Come, look at this.

When old age shall this genaration waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”–that is all
ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Excerpt from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
– John Keats, May 1819


Linda McCauley Freeman holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. A former poet-in-residence for the Putnam County Arts Council, she is a columnist for Living & Being magazine and a three-time winner of the Hudson Valley Talespinners short story contest. Her works have been published in literary journals and included in GIRLS: An Anthology. You can find her swing dancing in the Hudson Valley, NY. (http://www.got2lindy.com/)

Quiet Like a Canonized Saint

Quiet Like a Canonized Saint
Phylinda Moore on Stanley Kunitz
Provincetown, Massachusetts

On staying across the street from Stanley Kunitz’s Provincetown, Massachusetts, house
the week of his death in his 100th year.


The houses along the path kept a New England confection
of manageable yards,
turned poets’ meditation gardens.
He wasn’t home, he was in New York.
Unaware he was dying, I wanted
to absorb the landscape of his poetry,
see the garden’s wild tangle of delight.
There was a tile of two snakes set in the brick wall.
No breeze, the trees quiet like a canonized saint,
the bushes a green profusion.
A torn porch screen,
as a poet can’t always be bothered to seal doorways.
His world became his poem.

Seaweed, sand and air.
Light over bay turning golden before red, then dark.

I have walked through many lives,/ some of them my own,/ and I am not who I was,/ though a principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. . . no doubt the next chapter/ in my book of transformations/ is already written./ I am not done with my changes.

– Excerpt from “The Layers,” in Stanley Kunitz’s The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.)

Phylinda lives in Philadelphia. She has also lived in Oklahoma, Washington D.C., Malaysia, and New Orleans. Print and online publications include: Mastodon Dentist, Fuselit, The Rambler, and Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine. She holds an MFA from Rosemont College. Follow her on Twitter @phylindamoore.

At Inis Meàin He Rides to the Sea

At Inis Meàin He Rides to the Sea
Liz Rose Dolan on John Millington Synge
The Aran Islands, Ireland

The Arans are three islands off the coast of Connemara and Clare. Liz writes, “In high school, I was bowled over by both the tragedy and language of Riders to the Sea. I knew someday I would visit Aran, which I did on a summer Sunday in 1965. A wild place it was.”


Yeats led me to Aran. On the steamer nothing
could be seen but the mist curling in the rigging.
A blind man leads me to the well
of the four bountiful saints. God to you, says he.

Herself does be saying prayers half through the night,
and the Almighty God won’t leave her destitute with no son living.

Along a maze of winding roads and sheltered paths
speckled with marsh violet and blackthorn,
a ruddy-skinned maiden kicks up her red petticoat,
leads a white mare down and along the wrack line.

What is the price of a thousand horses
against a son where there is one son only?

From rocky hillsides deserted beaches flow
where long-legged pigs plow through the surf.
Crews of fisherman ride four-oared to the sea
in their tarred cow-hide curraghs.

There does be a power of young men floating round in the sea.
…for when a man is nine days in the sea, and the wind blowing
,
it’s hard set his own mother would be to say what man was it.

Clinging to the Atlantic cliff face to learn balance,
small boys fall to their death hundreds of feet below.
Tis a sin to pluck anyone from the sea after God has called them.

And no one to keen them but the black hags do be flying on the sea.

Under a beehive-roof, I blink with turf smoke,
relish the heat a bit of poteen brings to my blood.
I listen to the murmur of the old language
lost to all but to those who are here.

I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony,
and there was Michael upon it–with fine clothes on him,
and new shoes on his feet.

My poor words rattle against each other
like the last beach leaves on a winter branch.

 

(All italics are quotes from Riders to the Sea.)

Liz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, which is seeking a publisher, was nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of the Web, she also won a $6,000 established artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts in 2009. She recently won $250 for prose from the Nassau Review. Her nine grandkids live one block away from her, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They pepper her life.