As I write this I hear the red hen, Penny, calling again and again to the flock that will not answer. I've been up since 3:30 this morning when I heard bird cries through the window. I grabbed a dim flashlight and ran to the hen house in boots and pajamas. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to scream if I saw it - the creature who had torn these bodies and lay them out in the pen yard. Some bodies were missing, some looked as if they were killed for sport, their beautiful feathers plucked and left in the mud.
Two birds looked dead at first, but upon further inspection I could see they were breathing. They are inside and I'm hoping for the best. Two chicks found a crack in the wall to hide in. Their bodies were so stiff with fear I thought them dead at first. I put them in my shirt while I searched for survivors. Three adults looked at me from high in their perch.
As the sun came up the morning birds threw their songs back and forth in the trees above. My path back to the hen house was paved with dandelions; some of them rose and flew away - goldfinches - I wasn't paying attention. I was thinking about telling the kids. I hurried them out the front door to the bus this morning. I wasn't ready for the tears. The birds we have had for close to three years are gone. All but two of the teenagers are gone. Belly feathers fell from the sky - sparrows were collecting them for nests. The survivors got a drink of water. I grabbed the rake and started to cleaning.
This week the southeastern storms washed away many of my seedlings setting back the garden by weeks. My hen house, inside a fence within a larger fence was ravaged. Around town I've listened to the stories of lambs being dragged off, wild dogs killing kid goats, and hen house slaughters. I wondered if I could escape the experience - it seemed everyone with livestock had their story. How can you ask to be this close to life and only accept one side of the coin? This is the baptism -this is the "jump-in".
I've posted my childhood prayer for animals before. We'll say it at their grave today:
Dear mother hear and bless thy beasts and singing birds and guard with tenderness small things that have no words.
I've had poems dancing around upstairs as I go about my work - ideas for post that must wait. It's a critical time for preparing the beds and getting baby animals off to a good start around here. As helpful as the kids intend to be, we are learning a lot of new things, so chore are more like lessons and as much as my blogging helps keep me on track creatively (and with the chores) it must wait at times.
To catch-up with my poetry month posts I'll enjoy some Edna St. Vincent Millay. She's a poet who lived like a rock star.
lover...but I'm happy I didn't know any of that when I first dove into her writing. The story unfolded in the poems. I guess I could say it was like finding a vein in the collective unconscious - and that's the magic of it all, right?
The first poem is not Edna's, but it honors all the great poets who let us ride for a moment on their delivery of understanding.
Little time now
and so much hasn’t
been put down as I
should have done it.
But does it matter?
It’s all been written
so well by my betters,
and what they wrote
has been my joy.
- James Laughlin
And now, Edna.
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
The Plaid Dress
Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear?—
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence high judgments given here in haste;
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?
No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;
All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Lining the subtle gown. . .it is not seen,
But it is there.
Invocation to the Muses
Read by the poet at The Public Ceremonial of The Naional Institute
of Arts and Letters at Carnegie Hall, New York, January 18th, 1941.
Great Muse, that from this hall absent for long
Hast never been,
Great Muse of Song,
Colossal Muse of mighty Melody,
With thine august and contrapuntal brow
And thy vast throat builded for Harmony,
For the strict monumental pure design,
And the melodic line:
Be thou tonight with all beneath these rafters—be with me.
If I address thee in archaic style—
Words obsolete, words obsolescent,
It is that for a little while
The heart must, oh indeed must from this angry and out-rageous present
Into some past in which most crooked Evil,
Although quite certainly conceived and born, was not as yet the Law.
Archaic, or obsolescent at the least,
Be thy grave speaking and the careful words of thy clear song,
For the time wrongs us, and the words most common to our speech today
Salute and welcome to the feast
Conspicuous Evil— or against him all day long
Cry out, telling of ugly deeds and most uncommon wrong.
Be thou tonight with all beneath these rafters—be with me
But oh, be more with those who are not free.
Who, herded into prison camps all shame must suffer and all outrage see.
Where music is not played nor sung,
Though the great voice be there, no sound from the dry throat across the thickened tongue
Comes forth; nor has he heart for it.
Beauty in all things—no, we cannot hope for that; but some place set apart for it.
Here it may dwell;
And with your aid, Melpomene
And all thy sister-muses (for ye are, I think, daughters of Memory)
Within the tortured mind as well.
Reaped are those fields with dragon's-teeth so lately sown;
Many the heaped men dying there - so close, hip touches thigh; yet each man dies alone.
Music, what overtone
For the soft ultimate sigh or the unheeded groan
Hast thou—to make death decent, where men slip
Down blood to death, no service of grieved heart or ritual lip
Transferring what was recently a man and still is warm—
Transferring his obedient limbs into the shallow grave where not again a friend shall greet him,
Nor hatred do him harm . . .
Nor true love run to meet him?
In the last hours of him who lies untended
On a cold field at night, and sees the hard bright stars
Above his upturned face, and says aloud "How strange . . . my life is ended."—
If in the past he loved great music much, and knew it well,
Let not his lapsing mind be teased by well-beloved but ill- remembered bars —
Let the full symphony across the blood-soaked field
By him be heard, most pure in every part,
The lonely horror of whose painful death is thus repealed,
Who dies with quiet tears upon his upturned face, making to glow with softness the hard stars.
And bring to those who knew great poetry well
Page after page that they have loved but have not learned by heart!
We who in comfort to well-lighted shelves
Can turn for all the poets ever wrote,
Beseech you: Bear to those
Who love high art no less than we ourselves,
Those who lie wounded, those who in prison cast
Strive to recall, to ease them, some great ode, and every stanza save the last.
Recall—oh, in the dark, restore them
The unremembered lines; make bright the page before them!
Page after page present to these,
In prison concentrated, watched by barbs of bayonet and wire,
Give ye to them their hearts' intense desire—
The words of Shelley, Virgil, Sophocles.
And thou, O lovely and not sad,
Euterpe, be thou in this hall tonight!
Bid us remember all we ever had
Of sweet and gay delight—
We who are free,
But cannot quite be glad,
Thinking of huge, abrupt disaster brought
Upon so many of our kind
Who treasure as do we the vivid look on the unfrightened face,
The careless happy stride from place to place,
And the unbounded regions of untrammelled thought
Open as interstellar space
To the exploring and excited mind.
O Muses, O immortal Nine!—
Or do ye languish? Can ye die?
Must all go under?—
How shall we heal without your help a world
By these wild horses torn asunder?
How shall we build anew? — How start again?
How cure, how even moderate this pain
Without you, and you strong?
And if ye sleep, then waken!
And if ye sicken and do plan to die,
Do not that now!
Hear us, in what sharp need we cry!
For we have help nowhere
If not in you!
Pity can much, and so a mighty mind, but cannot all things do!—
By you forsaken,
We shall be scattered, we shall be overtaken!
Oh, come! Renew in us the ancient wonder,
The grace of life, its courage, and its joy!
Weave us those garlands nothing can destroy!
Come! with your radiant eyes! — with your throats of thunder!
The new chicks came in two groups. The first ones are getting their adult feathers and have just gone out to the coop; the younger ones are still in the house under the brooder light. My daughter's new speckled Sussex, Vicky came back inside last night during the storm because she is still quite downy and would enjoy being under the light on a blustery night. I was worried she might bully the little guys, but we were surprised to see maternal instincts kindled by the little peeps already. She raises her wings for the little ones to cuddle under and gently preens them. She is an excellent adoptive/teen mama and an all-around beautiful little hen.
Here are a couple of the little ones. They are both the same age; one is a standard chick and one is a bantam.
And because it's National Poetry month I'll celebrate the arrival of our new friends with a poem:
Chicks By Carl Sandburg
The chick in the egg picks at the shell, cracks open one
oval world, and enters another oval world.
“Cheep… cheep… cheep” is the salutation of the newcomer, the emigrant, the casual at the gates of the new world.
“Cheep… cheep” … from oval to oval, sunset to sunset, star to star.
It is at the door of this house, this teeny weeny egg- shell exit, it is here men say a riddle and jeer each other: who are you ? where do you go from here?
(In the academies many books, at the circus many sacks of peanuts, at the club rooms many cigar butts.)
“Cheep… cheep” … from oval to oval, sunset to sunset, star to star.
I want to place these two poems next to each other. They are both favorites, and in my mind related. One leaves me shouting a satisfied - Amen! The other leaves my thoughts looping. Do they challenge each other, or are they honoring the same things?
To Be Of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
- Marge Piercy
I Stop Writing the Poem
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.
Have I been reading too much news lately? Maybe. It's one of those times when politics are stirring and we're talking more about the direction our country is taking. I question and I hope, but I admit that sometimes I fear. Too much disappointment turns to apathy. If I had to diagnose an antidote for this loss of hope it would be to read Walt Whitman's Preface to Leaves of Grass. What a beautiful image of a vibrant, thriving nation forever on a path of discovery.
I'll try to keep it close for the next year or so.
And now to address the other end - the breath. In the midst of daily living I'm always grateful for a reminder to enjoy stillness and to be conscious of how I'm actually breathing. Nothing more complicated than that - just to be still and feel my breath.
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat. My shoulder is against yours. you will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals: not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly -- you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.
It is done by us all, as God disposes, from the least cast of worm to what must have been in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor of considerable heft, something awesome.
We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are. I think these things each morning with shovel and rake, drawing the risen brown buns toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,
or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed to take a serviceable form, as putty does, so as to lift out entire from the stall.
And wheeling to it, storming up the slope, I think of the angle of repose the manure pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick the redelivered grain, how inky-cap
coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour. I think of what drops from us and must then be moved to make way for the next and next. However much we stain the world, spatter
it with our leavings, make stenches, defile the great formal oceans with what leaks down, trundling off today's last barrowful, I honor shit for saying: We go on.
In my adult life I have mothered three children who at one time were all under the age of five and never lived in a home without pets. It could be said (to borrow a friend's term) I am a poop engineer. Here on the farm I pick, move and pile a variety of excrement every day - I collect it in piles to turn again to rich black earth. By now I could safely identify seven species by blind smell test. Finding the beauty in it is a must.
Here's My visual response - a quick mixed media piece inspired by the delivery system.
taken with my phone because the dog ate the camera
Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. I'm delighted. I love the way the brain works when it's reading poetry and when it's trying to write it - the same way it works when I'm painting - editing, distilling and reintroducing. I enjoy the challenge of simplicity.
Poetry. Problem solving. Words tied together sparingly - chiming against each other with a song called, true.
For the month of April I'm going to challenge myself to list a poem a day with a piece inspired by it.