My Old Friend

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for all of my old friends

My old friend lives far away
from me and
I live far away
from my old friend.
We send email back and forth
from time to time,
a photo, a song, or
something in the news.
I am a part of my
old friend’s life,
only a part,
and my old friend is a
part of my life, too,
but just
a part.
We share good memories.
One day my email will not be answered.
Or perhaps
one day I will not
be here to open
my old friend’s message.
One of us will become
pure memory.
Sooner or later
both of us will
disappear into the
land of eternal forgetting.

Faculty Meeting

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We’re all aware of the math teacher’s problems.
The PE guy gets exercised over the smallest things.
The history teacher can’t forget his past.
The English teacher has choice words for everyone.
The geography teacher knows his place.
The biology teacher loves life, but hates frogs.
The computer science guy is bug-eyed.
The chemistry teacher overreacts to the slightest change.
The physics teacher is energetic, but no one understands him.
The art teacher claims he’s been framed.
Put the Home Ec teacher together with the Crisis Management Counselor and you have a recipe for disaster.

—ca. 2003

“Mending Wall,” by Robert Frost

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Number Sestina

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Cooking for one

is, strangely, more difficult than cooking for two

although one ingredient may suffice for one, whereas three

ingredients may not be enough for two. But four

pounds of, say, beef, can be consumed pretty quickly by five

people, or six,

 

whereas even six

ounces of certain ingredients might spoil, waiting for one

person to use them up. Time is another factor. Some eat breakfast at five

in the morning, though this is unusual. Two

people who want to share meals must agree on such matters. Four

people who want to share meals will find this even more challenging, but if three

 

of them are children, it’s easier. Three

adults, however, will have trouble agreeing about anything. Dinner at six?

Some will find this quite sensible, as it provides the stomach four

hours’ digestion time before sleeping. But one

person in the group who insists on eating two

hours later—or earlier—will wreck the plan entirely. Five

 

o’clock is a bit early for the evening meal, since many people work until five.

Three students who share meals might have lunch at three,

since many students routinely stay up until two

a.m. or later, and hardly any of them wake up at six.

There may be one

somewhere, but for each of those there are four—

 

—or eight, or more—who sleep until noon. Musicians may not awake until four

p.m. if they don’t finish work until, say, five

in the morning. One

guy I knew finished his first gig at three

a.m. then went to another club and jammed until six.

You wouldn’t expect a guy like that to wake up much before two

 

in the afternoon, at the earliest. Even two

in the afternoon would give him less than six hours’ sleep. Four

p.m. would be more likely, and some in that situation would sleep until six.

Personally, that kind of schedule would finish me off in five

days, max. At my age, I couldn’t do it even for three

days. To be honest, I couldn’t do it for one.

 

A man my age can’t stay awake until two, much less five,

And getting up at four in the afternoon, or even three,

Is no way to live. Give me dinner at six, thanks. For one.

Poetry vs. Horses and Dogs

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Found in John Merriman, Modern Europe: Volume One, From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon (1st edition, 1996):

Literature flourishes in Italy and princes there are not ashamed to listen to, and themselves to know, poetry. But in Germany princes pay more attention to horses and dogs than to poets—and thus neglecting the arts they die unremembered like their own beasts.

—Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464)

After reading Miranda Carter’s wonderful George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, it is difficult not to connect Pius’s remark to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a.k.a. the House of Windsor, Britain’s royals, whose country houses were—are?—filled with dogs and hunting parties. Kaiser Wilhelm II was also an avid hunter. Carter describes Wilhelm’s enthusiasm for hunting, and that of his royal British cousin, the future King George V:

Wilhelm . . . kept a list of everything he’d ever killed: by 1897 it totalled 33,967 animals, beginning with “two aurochs, 7 elks” and ending with “694 herons and cormorants and 581 unspecified beasts.” George could bring down 1,000 pheasants in one day. At [the Windsors’ country estate] Sandringham the quantities of game shot were positively obscene.

Positively.

And in case you think this is all in the past, do an image search for “British royals with dogs and horses.”

Things fall apart

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—from “The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats

Bridges. Airplanes. Political systems. Things fall apart.

Instructions for Making Compost

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From a certain perspective,

compost is all about death.

Decay.

Decomposition.

That final descent from beauty

into a chaos of crumbs.

 

On the other hand,

compost is all about life.

New life, forming at the ground level

of the vast, intricate, beautiful ecology that makes us possible.

Microbes, worms, insects, fungi

all perform miraculous transformations

to produce the soil in which

our life is rooted.

 

Compost can be poetic.

Not too much; not too little.

Not too wet; not too dry.

Not too hot, not too cold.

Not too slow, not too fast.

Balance.

Nothing overmuch.

The yin and the yang doing their eternal dance

in perfect counterpoise.

 

When the balance is lost, compost stinks.

Use your nose,

restore the balance,

turn the pile,

add what’s lacking,

remove that which offends.

The rest is patience.

The Poet

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The poet has no talent.

Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Cannot play a musical instrument. Can’t juggle. Can’t paint.

The poet has only words.

And so the poet uses words to sing, to dance, to make music—and other sounds.

Juggles with words.

Paints with words.

Creates motion, odors, tastes, physical sensations of all sorts.

Unlocks our memories. Makes us aware of what we have previously sensed only dimly.

Makes us wonder . . . about so many things.

All of this with words alone.

For the poet, alas, has no talent.

Rebirth

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Everything is—not perfect, but cosy
When suddenly there’s a big lurch
That you can’t explain
Or control.

At first you think, no worries,
We’ll be back on course in a moment.
But we aren’t.

Then more lurches, some big
Some small
And long stretches in between.

Waiting.

Thinking, can’t we just go back
To where we were?
Trying to work out how this could happen
While that other voice is saying
Forget it pal; we’re done here.

And then more waiting.

Wondering where this is leading.
Somewhere new and different, of course,
But how, exactly?

No way to know.

—December 2006

Poem: The empire was attacked

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The empire

was attacked.

Babies cried, or lay lifeless

Mothers sprawled awkwardly

Young men, old men, old women, girls and boys

Body parts and fluids everywhere.

Only whimpers, or dazed silence as the sun shone indifferently.

 

It struck back.

Babies cried, or lay lifeless

Mothers sprawled awkwardly

Young men, old men, old women, girls and boys

Body parts and fluids everywhere.

Only whimpers, or dazed silence as the sun shone indifferently.

 

Somewhere, crowds cheered in triumph.

Somewhere, crowds screamed in rage.

 

The empire lumbered on.

—6 May 2011