My dreams are dandelion seed-fluffs
I want to be
a mullein plant.
My dreams are dandelion seed-fluffs
I want to be
a mullein plant.
Photo by Debbie Broderick
I was thinking
about how still the air was
and the trees
and how there are
those hot, still days when you are a kid
and time is just a suggestion
and every summer day is forty hours long
and summer is forever.
Then somehow knowing better
and starting to mark time with the best of them.
Go out to the garden. Watch
a dragonfly stir the air
with black net wings like stockings
stretched over filament wire. Smell
bee-balm to see what draws
the bees. Draw
the open door,
an autumnal wind–
across the floor–
and she, breezing
through that space,
in a bright red dress.
While I have a few posts I am dying to write up, I’m busy working on another project. In the meantime, here are a couple of related poems about a relationship, the end of summer, and champagne.
FOR A MEMORY
The humidity of rain
and sun mingled. The taste
could only be this:
The first sip of sweet champagne,
virgin tongue to the taste
of that best wine.
I could have kissed you
But there was the grass,
fragrant and spilling over
the hill at our toes.
The sky? I didn’t really notice.
If I could dip my hand
into the months of summer–fizzing, bubbling–
and bottle the smiles,
I’d give you the cork for a memory.
OF APPLES AND CROWS AND AUTUMN COMING
It’s the first day of Autumn.
The apples are ripe
on gnarled, brown trees,
and crows call
from outrageous branches.
The cornstalks shake and die
on top; harvest comes
in these cold nights
and days of sun slanting through foliage.
It never was our season–Fall.
We took our inspiration
from the Spring. We sipped
April sun like champagne
until our mouths were sweet.
I drink coffee now.
I watch large flocks of birds
against a blue-bell sky…
All love comes to Fall,
flaming brilliantly only for a season.
A couple months ago, I wrote a poem about sitting outside on a glorious, summer Sunday morning. I called it “Sunday Morning.”
This week while organizing my filing cabinet, I discovered an old poem I wrote around 1996. Guess what it was called? “Sunday Morning.”
I see so many similarities between these two poems, and it kinda freaks me out. Has my inner landscape changed so little in sixteen years? No wonder I still feel twenty-something!
I will share both of these poems with you this morning . . . this Sunday morning Outside the Box.
SUNDAY MORNING (2012)
Outside, the pollen drops
from the trees, and dew
sparks tiny fires in the grass.
Shadows and heat
play tug of war
on the lawn while a lone
madrigal, solitary musician,
lights the air with sharp,
clear notes. The branches
of beech trees are lines on a page
and the bird’s song rides
up and down–
earnest, imperative composition.
“Find me, please, find me;
I am here, see, I am here, here, here.”
The dog pants hot on the porch.
A hummingbird sips
from the buds of pink Salvia
in the garden box.
I write while the others sleep
tucked into upstairs bedrooms.
SUNDAY MORNING (1996)
The faint whisper of some inner voice
left over from childhood
like dislike of beets
tells me I should be, oh, somewhere
in church nodding with the pious
over a particularly strong invective
from the pulpit
or else joining in a thunderous “AMEN!”
meant to shake the devil
from my very soul; I ache
instead to plunge wrist-deep
into this potting soil;
damp, dirt smell filling my nostrils,
sliding over my skin
like a caress
or a good baptism.
I worship these newborn flowers
with earth I tamped around them
and leaves still damp
from the fecund humidity of the greenhouse.
Infant pansies not yet come to bud
and flushed-pink impatiens
the color of a baby’s mouth.
Geraniums, dianthus, basil.
Lettuce leaves frill against the tiny
white-lace blossoms I cannot name.
One of the cats stalks
among the flower pots, sniffs
from each one delicately
before settling down for a wash.
I try to clear my head
of voices that can wait
This is my Sunday morning
spent with many flowers and one wish–
to write my quiet moments into existence
before moving on to other worlds.
So we’ve had one of those kind of springs. An overcast, rainy, drizzly, foggy, chilly, turn-on-the-furnace, will-the-sun-ever-come-out, I’m-gonna-stick-my-head-in-an-oven-if-it-doesn’t-clear-up-soon spring. Despite the lack of sunlight, I fell in love with Spring this year. The beauty overwhelmed me.
The budding leaves on the trees glowed neon green. Every window in my house framed dazzling squares of bright, yellowy-green glaze, and every trip into town offered views of wide, verdant expanses from the ridges overlooking lush valleys of oak and maple and birch and beech trees budding out after a long, snowy winter.
My Reiki instructor reminded me that green is the color of the heart chakra, the energy center that corresponds with compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness, faith, receptivity, and acceptance. Either all that green was feeding my heart chakra, or my heart chakra was so energized I was drawn to all that green, or perhaps the energy and the color and the season were all just aligned for me this year so that despite the rain and gloom I was able to feel hope and love and faith for a brighter future.
Later in the season, the light color will deepen into emerald and forest and moss, but this early spring . . . well, it was all golden-green, the color Robert Frost wrote about in his short poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Award-winning poet, Dana Gioia, wrote an excellent essay about Frost’s 1923 poem. In the essay,“On Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Gioia contrasts this type of short poem with more the formalized forms of sonnets and epigrams. He talks about the construction of the poem, simplicity of the words Frost chose to use, and the movement from nature themes to philosophical observation about the passage of time.
This poem could be depressing, like the rainy weather, a note on the ephemeral qualities of youth giving way to duller attributes. Okay, true, but here’s the thing about life–it goes in cycles. Yes, this rainy yet somehow bright green spring will yield to summer and heat and dust and shady spots beneath the mature leaves of the trees. And, yes, the leaves will dry up and fall in autumn, and the branches will seem bare and dead through another long winter, but then . . . Spring, once again!Nowhere is this more apparent than in my perennial flower beds. Year after year, these plants die back in the fall and then come back to life once again in the spring, bursting out of the cold wet ground and spreading themselves up and out to catch the fall of rain and (theoretically this year) the rays of sunlight.
Most of these plants are divisions from friends’ and my mother’s flower beds, and because I’ve never been too interested in the science of horticulture (I’m more interested in having pretty gardens) I rarely even bother to find out the names of the plants. A quick search this morning for “purple flowers ground covers” brought up pictures that seemed to match my bunchy cluster of purple flowers with heart-shaped leaves that grows on the north-east side of my front steps. If I’m right, this is Lamium maculatum, a ground-cover than does well in partial shade. It has come back bigger and better than ever each year. I highly recommend this hardy perennial if you are more of a putterer and less of a horticulturalist in the garden.This is another Lamium, with the more characteristic dark-rimmed silvery foliage and pink flowers. I love the way it looks against the rock, so delicate and pretty. Meanwhile, out in Nature’s garden, otherwise known as “the woods” or “the side of the road,” this red Trillium briefly blazed like the red star she is. My friend Sandi (check out her Waughtercolors artwork on deviantART) and I noticed these beautiful ephemerals while on an early-morning bike ride one cloudy-but-not-quite-rainy spring day. Spring ephemerals are woodland plants that bloom and go to seed very quickly. Like Frost’s spring gold, they quickly fade to something less spectacular, but while they are here, oh boy! Beautiful. And maybe all the more appreciated because of their ephemeral quality?
Like youth and poetry. For me, a poem is an ephemeral thing, capturing a brief moment in time, a fleeting feeling, an impression.
When I was newly graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington, I got it into my head to write a sonnet sequence. I was inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE.
I was young. I was in love, newly married. I wanted to chronicle that time in my life. So I wrote 48 poems. Three are lost. I think I sent them to a magazine and when they were returned in my SASE, I failed to put them back in the pile. I didn’t know back then that my urge to create poetry would fade, like the browning blossoms I wrote about that spring in 1992. Lately, though, that poetic part of me has regenerated, perhaps part of a creative cycle like Gaia’s seasons?
Anyway, most of the sonnets are horrible (I keep them for sentimental reasons), but I’ll share one not so horrible one that seems appropriate to the season. Enjoy this brief season, Dear Reader. Summer is right around the corner.
A FEW BLOOMS BROWNING
I used to climb into the apple trees,
their white-pink blossoms browning in the heat
of waning spring, and dangling dusty feet
and toes in childish peace among the leaves,
I began to dream of love. The breeze
that swayed the branch was new and sweet
with whispers I would blow to meet
the wind. How easily it was to please
the innocence of me until I sighed
another moment at the solitary sound
a songbird made upon an upper bough.
Weighted with the song, I sat and cried
because that sad and sudden beauty tore
from me the child that I had been before.
Spring has brought daffodils to my flower beds, leaves cluttering my lawn, owls hunting for peepers in the boggy places, and a chance for me to bottle feed a baby goat at Downhome Farm (isn’t that the cutest white baby goat?).
Spring also brought me back to 1987, freshman year at the University of Maine at Farmington, the season I took my first (and only) poetry class, ate Gifford’s ice-cream for the first time, took beginner rides on the back of a motorcycle, and began the slow process of falling in love with the man who would eventually become my husband.
And I DID fall in love. With the town. I’m still smitten.
This month, I drove up to UMF to meet my college roommate and two of our friends from down the hall in Scott South, the all-female dormitory where we ended up freshman year–me because my parents wanted to protect me from co-ed distractions and the other three by chance, I think. We lived on the first floor, not a bad set-up, and because we were the only all-female dorm, we also had the only co-ed bathroom on campus (for the visiting boyfriends to use). Oh, the irony.
We were to meet in the Gifford’s Ice Cream parking lot. Arriving early, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a new cafe “overtown” where a pizza place used to be, walked around the block to stretch my legs, admired the gazebo still standing in the tiny park. I drove back past the big, old Main Street houses, now repainted and divided up into apartments, and parked my vehicle in front of Giffords to watch the traffic turning onto the Intervale Road. There were kids playing tennis on the courts beside Hippach Field and a group of Little League players trying out the baseball diamond where my father and uncle played for the Farmington State Teacher’s College team in the mid 1960’s.
(Farmington State became UMF later on, but it still remained primarily a training college for future educators. Now it presents itself as “the liberal arts college of the UMaine System.” Once there were first-generation-to college Mainers wearing sweatpants and L.L. Bean boots to class. Now, it’s topless parades to protest inequality for women. No matter. It’s still UMF. The “Beach” in front of the main dining hall may be called something else now, but it is still the same old hangout. There’s a great athletic center with a pool, indoor tennis courts, weight rooms, and the like. The library has been slightly remodeled. A beautiful education center was constructed where the little white psychology building used to be, and I hear a new art gallery is going in. It’s all good.)
Down to Giffords, I stared, dreamy-eyed, at the yellow Victorian Chester Greenwood mansion high up on the hill overlooking the Sandy River. I gazed at the square, brick campus building, remembering Alice Bloom’s booming musical rendition of a poem by Blake, remembering watching THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on Sunday movie night in the auditorium there, remembering the buzzing of a lawn mower and the scent of fresh-cut grass while trying to pay attention during Russian history class my final spring at UMF.
I glanced over at the golden arches of the McDonald’s where a bunch of us used to walk after a Wednesday evening children’s lit class. Remembering. Remembering. Remembering and missing the Farmington Diner where my parents met, where my husband-to-be treated me to giant platters of fried clams and french fries loaded with ketchup while we listened to lame eighties hits on the individual jukeboxes situated at every booth. “Lady in Red” and “Lean on Me” and “Maggie May.”
Heart-bursting love for everything.
I rolled down my window and sniffed . . . yes, Farmington has its own scent, probably something to do with the river water but maybe also the farmland surrounding the town and once in awhile, when the wind is right, a whiff of the paper mills in Jay. I recognized this smell. It was the smell of home. Or of a homeplace.
I have family roots deep in Farmington and the surrounding towns. While I was growing up, my grandparents lived here, in a white-sided farmhouse built by my grandfather’s father out on Rt. 4 in West Farmington, on an embankment next to a cornfield beside Temple Stream. My parents took my sister and me to visit often, and for two years of college, I rented a room in the house, sipped camomile tea out on the granite steps, typed up college papers in the old, screen porch office at the front shaded by big old oaks that dropped so many acorns it hurt to run across the lawn in bare feet.
My grandmother’s family tree goes all the way back to some of the first settlers of the area, the Butterfields, who built homesteads up on Porter Hill. My grandfather’s family goes back aways, too, though I don’t know as much about them. My mother grew up here. My parents met here. I met my husband here. I dream of moving back, someday. Maybe.Mostly, though, I just want to continue to love this town with its human-scale Main Street shops, its steepled churches, its college campus, its river. Others have moved here and felt its magic pull. On our recent visit, my friends and I ducked into Twice Sold Tales, a wonderful used bookshop housed in part of the old Newberry’s five-and-dime store, and I picked up Bill Roorbach’s memoir, TEMPLE STREAM. Professor Roorbach came to UMF to teach just after I graduated, but I enjoyed his first memoir SUMMERS WITH JULIET and wished I could have taken a class taught by him.
With the new book, Roorbach had me at the title, but I was impressed on every single page. Funny, insightful, informative, and warm, TEMPLE STREAM made me fall in love with the area all over again. Thank you, Mr. Roorbach.
The visit, the spring season, the memoir all worked a kind of magic and inspired me to write a new poem. I will leave you with the new, spring-inspired poem plus an old, winter-inspired poem written back when I was in college. Both are about the Sandy River in Farmington, Maine. Happy Spring, Dear Reader!
WINTER WATER (old poem)
It is not black
but deepest blue
piercing the whiteness
of snow crusted over
a somnolent river . . .
water gurgling beneath
that hardened surface, I imagine . . .
Walking this bridge
from there to there
and wondering how it would be
to be a stone
rolling on an icy current,
opaque whiteness for a sky . . .
POETRY & FARMING (new poem)
There is something
about this town
poetry & farming.
Town born of a river
rushing thick in spring
& mud & thrown-away
stuff like bottles, rubber tires,
Does the rushing & roaring
of the water seep
into the brain cells?
Permeable membranes susceptible to river notes,
gurgles like syllables,
voice of water whispering
“This and This and Thus” &
“Write it Down! Remember!”
After the floods in spring
the river draws back
gifting the plains
with organic riches, minerals
dredged from the riverbed or scraped
with a scour of deep ice.
This river made
lush green fields shot through
with meandering streams
like fool’s-gold threads. In later Spring,
swaths of pasture grass are dotted
with buttercups & milkweed & vetch.
The dairy cows lie beside
the water, listen
and chew while their udders fill
with sweet, white milk.
Another new poem. Hmmm. Has my muse decided to get off her chaise lounge? She must be fat and lazy after 13 years lolling about in her silk negligee, smoking her Gauloises cigarettes, and drinking all the good Champagne bottles down there in the cellar (see Stephen King’s thoughts on muses and their living arrangements in basements), but I dare not diss her. I wouldn’t want her to get angry at me and go back to bed for another decade.
Where are the heirs of the dignified farmers
of old; dirt and seed
pressed into the corrugated, molded soles
of steel-toed boots, earth beneath
fingernails, and round yellow callouses
on the palm of hands familiar
with the hoe and the rake and the gears
of heavy equipment out in the barn?
Where are the daughters of farmers wives,
jam bubbling and popping on the stove,
while a cheesecloth drips whey
into a bowl, dull tin biscuit cutter
with the ruffled edge pressed down
into the resilient dough on the board,
and the push of cold, soaked clothes
through wringer washing machines in the kitchen?
Have they passed now
into a forgotten time, never to return and leaving
behind dry, empty husks
like corn stalks shaking in an autumn wind?
Like chaff scattered and crushed
beneath a rough heel?
Or are the farmer and farmer’s wife sunk deep
into the skin? Hiding in the bones
and muscle, the very living cells, the twisted
ladder of DNA, coursing somehow in the veins,
vessels, holding onto knowledge
until a time when need ignites
some inherited, instinctual knowledge
of soil and seed and whey and sugar
boiled to sweet, viscous jam,
red and vital like blood,
I would prefer you wear
preppy plaid skirts and sweet
button-up blouses with little
round collars; sensible
shoes to cushion your feet
and warm sweaters to drape
over your cool shoulders.
But you like snug
in complicated designs, tiny
skirts worn over footless tights,
skinny jeans, some with rips,
wide belts; glittery
jewelry wrapped around your neck
and ballerina slippers
So thin and hard
they must hurt
your heels. Every day
you create yourself from a palette
of cotton, glitter, and strands
of plastic neon-colored hair
and fingernail polish in every color.
I’m awed by your persistence
and your capacity for hurt
in pursuit of image.
To me you’d be beautiful
in any sort of clothes . . .
even wrapped in lengths of silk
even plain dark wool
For all the daughters trying to fit in, trying to figure out who they are, trying to make a splash and just trying to get by; And for all the mothers trying to understand, trying to figure out who they are, trying to make a stand, and just trying to get by. Blessings to you all.
At noon, I tromp across a pristine field
of white; new snow fell silently last night
to startle me again. It is a shield
of crystal, cold and alabaster light.
No school today (although I’m through with school),
explains the voices shrieking down a hill
behind this row of trees. I sit. A pool
of shadow from a fir, the sudden shrill
a blue-jay makes to answer back
the sound a plane inscribes upon the sky:
It is the noon of winter, too. This stack
of wood I sit upon sinks inch by
inch, storm by storm. I fall into the snow,
an angel, like those winters long ago.