Only open arms will do.

I love my husband. Let me state that right off. But he’s frighteningly up to date when it comes to tragic stories, and has this habit of broadcasting horrifying news bits that he’s read online. For instance, shortly after Vincent fell out the window last summer, he told me about a 9 month old in Boston or thereabouts who fell out a window and died. This I did not need.

And recently there was the story of the mom who let go of her son’s hand for a second in the store in order to pay, and when she turned around he was gone. Turned out that he’d run down the street, gotten on the subway, and ridden it for 2 miles before someone noticed the oddity of a little guy (2/3 yrs old) riding the subway solo. Thankfully this story had a happy ending.

But this is just the sort of thing Vincent would do. Despite his scary experience with the window, he continues to be fearless. I have, however, discovered something very interesting: if he’s walking further ahead of me than I like, and I kneel down and hold out my hands while calling for him to look at me, Vincent will run right back to give me a hug and a kiss. It never fails. I find it endlessly fascinating, endlessly comforting that the one gesture that will keep my son safely by me is a display of love.

The Haircut

When the boy’s head is heavy with his own secret
cap of hair, his mother calls him to her,
asking him to tell her about his day.
When last she called him from the depths
of the wood and combed with slender fingers
the golden current of his hair, the white
of his hidden brow, like a headstone,
had made her almost cry.
After she cut his hair, his head was quick
as a deer turning in a field to face new danger.
By the light raining down in a field in August’s waste,
by the antique vase about to be knocked over
by his child’s elbow, by her own perfume
lasting in the room after they leave,
can she explain her pity for him,
his forehead full of blond mysteries?

Carol Frost, from her collection, The Fearful Child (Ithaca House, 1983).

CPS & the Brat Lit Fest

Not only did I have the great fortune to see and hear Carol Frost and Michael Waters at the Collected Poets Series reading this past Thursday, but then I was able repeat the experience as they both took part in the Brattleboro Literary Festival this weekend. In addition to the comedy duo of Alan Cheuse and Robert Pinsky (truly, these old friends really know how to riff together!), they were my favorite readings of the day.

Michael has a confident, dramatic delivery that really brings his poems alive, while Carol’s voice is softer. She read some new poems from a series she’s working on, which she describes as a collaboration with her mother, who has dementia.  I think of them as an expansion, a deepening of her “Apiary” poems included in The Queen’s Desertion.  Really moving work.  I can’t wait to see them all collected together in the pages of a book.

I love the picture of her below, how it captures her impish generosity. Between poems she told the briefest of stories, flashed that smile. In fact, both she and Michael showed the utmost consideration to their audience and fellow readers, taking not a minute longer than their allotted times, graciously sharing the stage and the spotlight. It always surprises me when poets showboat or try to upstage one another, but not a whit of it came from Carol or Michael.

And I really enjoyed meeting Richard Frost, Carol’s husband, and Mihaela Moscaliuc, Michael’s wife, who are also poets in their own rights — and just as generous and welcoming as their spouses. I hope we will all meet again before too longcarol-frost.jpg

This poem by Carol, which she read today and described as a sort of fractured pantoum, is from her collection, Love & Scorn: New and Collected Poems (2001):

Matins


I

I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory,
in the unleavened garden
disgorged the lies and scared away with a stick a snake.
What made me covet that which I could not have?

I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs,
I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory.
Even the falling leaves gesture their renunciation.
I disgorge the lies and abhor the serpent’s hiss.

I remember seasons, things I bring from far away,
and grieve. I walk in catacombs.
In gardens now, by the stone walls, sunlight closes,
the falling leaves gesture their renunciation.

I remember being in a field touching a man’s body.
I remember seasons, things I bring from far away
and things that hold their breath for shame.
His skin was soft as a girl’s and he closed his eyes.

I placed apple petals on his eyelids;
we were lying in a field and I touched his body.
Then there were clouds, an uncanny silence,
as when in a green place the air holds its breath for shame.

What made me covet what I could not have?
Ill with the power and glory, a thrashing in my chest,
I remember the unleavened gardens,
petals falling singly, the yellow snake disgorging lies.


II

I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs.
I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory,
power and glory–
a thrashing in my rib cage.

I’ve gone into the unleavened spring garden,
disgorged the lies,
and scared away with a stick a snake.
I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs.

What made me covet that which I could not have?
I’ve felt undeserving. In this bright land
that changes from yellow to green and back to yellow,
I remember seasons, things I bring with me from far away

and things that hold their breath as if for shame.
I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.
I’ve gone into the unleavened garden
and startled a yellow snake

disgorging lies. A thrashing in my rib cage.
What made me covet what I could not have?
I remember seasons. Things that hold their breath for shame.
Things I bring with me from far away.


III

I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.
I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.


The Collected Poets Series, Oct. Edition.

Thursday night we begin a new season of the Collected Poets Series with the phenomenal Carol Frost and Michael Waters. For more information, directions, and a glimpse of the upcoming schedule, visit the new website!

I’ve lent all my Carol Frost books out, but here’s a timely poem from Michael Waters’ collection, Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems (BOA 2001):

Apples

I was the clumsy child
who stole apples
from your favorite tree
to toss them into the lake.

I have no excuse, but
those apples were never lost.
Each night, while you slept,
as apples bobbed in moonlight,

I waited in shallow water
until the apples washed ashore.
Each night I gave you an apple.
Sometimes I remember that desire

to take whatever belongs to you
so I can return it.
Now, on windless nights,
when the lake lies still,

I have another dream:
I gather you in my arms,
after death, and ease you
like a basketful of apples

into the moonlit water,
and we float home,
with an awkward grace,
to a continent dark with apples.

A Preponderance of Grief.

Not only did I get the two reviews I’d committed to writing written (one on Carol Frost, the other on Ellen Bryant Voigt), but I got them done early, a minor miracle. So they were published early. Reading them in printed form, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed in the absorption of writing — both reviews reference grief an inordinate number of times.

There have been so many losses of late — David Foster Wallace, Reginald Shepherd — great talents, young talents, I can’t get my heart or mind around them. I’ve also learned that a dear customer of mine, not a young man by any stretch of the imagination, but a great-grandfather, a retired professor who continued to teach his fellow residents in a retirement community (his fall class was to be on Milton), is riddled with terminal cancer.

Tragedy leaves me inarticulate, with a mouthful of banalities. As usual, I can only let poetry speak for me.

By Connie Wanek, from her collection, Hartley Field (Holy Cow! Press, 2002):

A Field of Barley

Wind passes over a field of barley.
Nothing could be more lyrical.
Why God favored Abel’s burnt meat
I’ll never understand.

Sometimes I imagine the hills of Nod
covered with barley, and Cain standing alone,
dark with sunburn, wondering
what more he must do to be forgiven.

Years ago I visited a blooming orchard
on the east slope of the mountains
watered by its own spring, and I thought
I’d surely found Eden.

At night we saw city lights glowing
far out in the plain,
but the dark rock rose behind the farm,
eternal and absolute.

Up there one could see tragedy
long before it arrived,
foreshadowed in the first act.
Dust swelled behind its four wheels.

Dread is our inheritance.
But what sprouts out of the earth
is our consolation, the good yellow grain,
heavy in our arms.