The World In Which We Write
Haikus on Being Stung by Things at Tower Hill
State Park, Wisconsin, August 21, 2000
Pink, my temple throbs
Wasp-written with a sharp pen
Its hot message: "Don't."
Shot at the shot tower
This: The other sort of lead
That only writes pain.
"G.F.," "Cindy," "Zach"
Immortal in limestone cliffs
Piqued, I claw at "Zach"
Reflections on our conference
I'm glad I came to this conference. It has been a relaxing time in a beautiful setting, and it has given me a splendid opportunity to get to know some of our relatively newer faculty better. And, happily, I've also gained from our discussions about the writing process and possible ways to better facilitate the improvement of writing skills in our students.
I'm proud of our writing across the curriculum program, and believe that it does a pretty good job in an imperfect world. I believe we can probably even improve it some, but changes need to be done with care or we could inadvertently jeopardize the success of our program.
For me personally, I've gained some new ideas I'd like to try, including, for example, minimal marking and a term paper designed to follow a structure similar at least in spirit to the one presented by Wendy Bashant. But perhaps as least as important as these is the fact that I feel a bit re-energized by our discussions and feel I am among friends and fellow sufferers who sometimes share my frustrations or understand the joy of my occasional successes. As a result I find the conference has helped me get ready for the fall semester and the tasks ahead.
A week ago I was in Oregon
Walking in spires of Douglass Fir and Spruce
Whose severed, varnished trunks
Festoon these ossuary walls,
Gifts brought from a timbered, exotic land
For the delectation of us urbanites.
Frozen in time like photographs,
Obedient to the screech of the saw blade,
They hang in silence,
A reliquary to themselves.
Last night at the play I thought of you.
All those faces from Madison, your town,
Those Tevas and ponytails and tattoos.
Which of them might you have passed
At farmer's market some morning
Before we met?
Maybe you flipped one of them off
Across the intersection
Or fell in love with one of them
Who holds your picture even now
In her tree-ringed heart,
Long after you yelled, "Timber!"
If I cannot revise the past,
Why do I revisit it?
The infelicitous clear cut,
Hastily replanted with ghosts, memories, words.
August at Spring Green
What inspires Queen Anne's Lace and Red Clover?
and summer kindling its slow fires on hillsides?
the insidious felicity of purple thriller?
red admirals and sulfur yellows who have the gift
for subversion? They are obedient to sun and wind
and to no human.
A Devil's Disciple
With death the knot in my heart untwists.
I was Primrose before you boxed me up in the Dudgeon. Had I married Peter as my heart prompted, my name would have been Dungeon, but I'd not have been transformed into the very word, the personification of wrath.
And I'd not be damned to rage on stage for a third of the play, while strangers laugh at my failures to transcend the choice you imposed on me.
"Many the good brother," you said; and I obeyed. And when the knot was tied, I found it was a chain--a stool in a corner. Thirty years later, the good brother stood between me and our children once more--willing away my life's labor and allowing me less than I brought him--a fixed proportion of the income from my property. I die of that.
But I am doomed to return to the fire of the flesh and never while there to renounce or denounce.
There's Ersie, the motherless daughter who should have been mine. Dick, the son I must hate because he twins uncle Peter.
No revision of the "good" you made me choose.
No admission that the choice killed my ardent heart.
Sometimes when blood and bones fall away into silence, I hope that someone in the audience sees that I did not willingly choose this Devil. My strength turned love to hate because indifference was impossible. Perhaps someone understands and pities.
But then there is thunder on the stage.
Ersie is with me in rain and wind.
And before I can take my heart's daughter into my arms, anger pours into me.
My heart goes hard.
And laughter lifts up beyond the lights.
Uphill, beyond the dying Queen Anneís lace,
A solitary woman mans a farm.
A two-year old, lithe as the kitten she
Torments, visits her daily, romping through
Leaf-heavy oak in the uncertain heat.
I ask the child what they talk about."Cats,"
She says."Cats."† When I ask the catís name,
She tells me Winter Storm is called Squeeler.
What does she tell the woman with the dry-baked,
Tannin skin, sunk chest & corded forearms.
The glacier must have missed this place. Instead
Of ice, river & rain, with slow malice,
Have eroded the bedded limestone to cliffs,
To the grey, knobbed tor that stands sentinel,
Above oak & pine, at the valley mouth.
My friend & I talk on the guest house porch.
Sheís just back from Toronto. I mention
The granite that hangs like storm cloud above
That slice of Canada where people live,
Pretending death & winter donít exist.
St Anne de Beau Pre, near Quebec, huddles
Beneath this same granite shield, a church where
The lame in acts of faith have discarded
Iron leg-braces, canes, sweat-dark crutches,
Wheel chairs in an ecstasy of hope.
Talking, I hear the granite speak home truths,
In its laconic way - home truths about
Flowers that struggle to find root north of here,
The glacial ice waiting for the granite
To cease assent, the frailty of the flesh.
Someday, I will look uphill & see ice,
Cliff-like, behind the oak, hear outbuildings
Splinter. The woman will be overwhelmed,
Will vanish in ice, not to reappear
Until the second coming of the heat.
But we are too old for such talk. The child,
Come back from the farm, climbs across my legs.
She wants to fasten her blue plastic beads
Around my neck. She eyes my eyes to know
If itís ok. I donít ask what she sees.
How It Happens
I am a desert beneath cloudy skies
Full of dry roots and uncertainty.
I am an astrologer in August,
Eyes turned upward,
Looking for shooting stars.
I am a nail in a Skippy's jar,
Nestled with a hundred other nails,
All feeling our points too pointedly,
Our bluish shine, our unstruck straightness,
I am an elderly bachelor on Halloween,
Far from family and with few friends.
My dish of candy is at the ready.
I've tested the doorbell twice.
On the street outside I hear their giggles and the crinkle of bags.
I am a mousetrap
Whose cheese is darkened to a crust.
My spring is still solid
But do I have what a mouse wants?
And is that a squeak I hear in the crawlspace?
I am a lover's bed
Made up while they're on a honeymoon.
Did I miscount the days
Or are they overdue?
In two weeks so much can change.
What if they bring home footsteps but no laughter?
I am waiting for words. ††††††††††††††††††††††
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