A poem is the old house
on your street,
front door unlocked,
dark until you enter.
Let your eyes adjust,
pull aside the curtains
and leave open the door.
The poet knows how darkness obscures, and darkness magnifies.
You might find this room cozy
or cavernous and cold.
You’ll move room to room.
Some rooms enlighten or confuse;
this house holds artifacts of another life.
An old piano fills one lilac-scented room;
on the worn plank floor, sheets of ragtime and Bach
waiting for you.
After an unsettling turn, you’ll find a grand room,
one staircase candlelit, the other dark.
Explore them now, or return
with a friend.
When you are ready,
the door’s unlocked.
The poet built the house;
you bring light.
Fidelity These days are not grey as I will remember. These days of low fresco skies watercolor apples bruised life, still life. These nights not empty as I will remember, of silver moons, cinnamon light. So much depends on forgetting. But one promise I will remember every day each jewel of light grinds down to cool darkness.
Begins as it ends
Radiant lemonade sky
Grows heavy gray wool
Molten air blows thick
This masterpiece “One Art” by Ellen Bass (1976) taught me about loss as well as the possibilities of a poem.
I’ve been thinking about why I read and write poems, and what they mean to me. Aren’t those questions as old as poetry?
Matsuo Bashō was a 17th century Japanese master of haiku and poetry. This line comes from a passage he wrote on the meaning of poetry.
The moon flower
opens in moonlight
fades in bald daylight
endures each dark new moon.
How can it know
the moon will return
after one dark night?
no other moon
no other light.
May your day be such a day.
The simple maple table, where I first saw my father cry, my mother’s hand on his, he searched her eyes, asking why his brother should be first to die; I did not hear her whispered reply;
where toast and eggs was the answer to what’s for breakfast, before arms-legs-feet pedaled into my first delightful frightful cicada day, a throbbing buzz of red-eyed zombies – my mother said most would die;
where in spring sprouted Easter baskets, lilacs and daffodils, baby bottles, three city papers, Superman comic books, and my father’s copy of The Rubaiyat, artifacts of our family’s hearts and minds;
that stood in reach of the white enamel double sink where partners washed and dried side by side – I knew cigarettes and sweat was father, mud and blood my brother, and grandmother, clean cotton and roses;
that anchored the kitchen and our home so small I could reach through the window, touch our neighbor’s red brick bungalow, and in fifteen bounding steps cross our hardpan yard from lush pink peonies to harsh chain-link fence;
but when I taxied my black X-15 fighter plane for take-off from its kitchen table runway, the nose of my jet pushed the boundary of my bungalow universe faster than sound into starlight across the galaxy, my course, destination, adventure breathlessly recounted to my baby sister following each soft safe touchdown between the breakfast dishes.