Monday, February 1, 2016

how it all works together

Though the seasons are used to having poems written in their name, and certain months have the same honour, it's a little surprising to me that February has been so often written about in poems.

It always seems to me as though February is the month to get through. I turned to May Sarton and her journals to see how she wrote through the month. 

From Journal of a Solitude, February 13: "The house is full of spring flowers, Valentines. There is no month when I can imagine spring flowers being more of a delight. Yesterday the trees were sheathed in ice and it is bitterly cold; so the freshness, the aliveness of daffodils and iris and tulips indoors is quite overwhelming. Even the rich, green leaves and the scent in this frozen odourless world seem like marvels."

February 4th: "I did write a poem, so it was not a wholly wasted day, after all. And it occurs to me that there is a proper balance between not asking enough of oneself and asking or expecting too much. It may be that I set my sights too high and so repeatedly end a day in depression. Not easy to find the balance, for if one does not have wild dreams of achievement, there is no spur even to get the dishes washed. One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being. "

Black February

by Boris Pasternak

Black spring! Pick up your pen, and weeping,
Of February, in sobs and ink,
Write poems, while the slush in thunder
Is burning in the black of spring.

Through clanking wheels, through church bells ringing
A hired cab will take you where
The town has ended, where the showers
Are louder still than ink and tears.

Where rooks, like charred pears, from the branches
In thousands break away, and sweep
Into the melting snow, instilling
Dry sadness into eyes that weep.

Beneath — the earth is black in puddles,
The wind with croaking screeches throbs,
And–the more randomly, the surer
Poems are forming out of sobs.

- translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater

The poem, so full of emotion, was written after the death of Alexander Pushkin. And this is another dimension of the month, a blackness, dark and sad and sorrowing.

And here's another translation of the same poem, quite different, as you'll see. There are many variations floating around on the internet - but the first line in the one below seems the most popular.


by Boris Pasternak

It's February. Get ink. Weep.
Write the heart out about it, sing
Another song of February
While raucous slush burns black with spring.

Six grivnas for a buggy ride
Past booming bells, on screaming gears,
Out to a place where drizzles fall
Louder than any ink or tears

Where like a flock of charcoal pears,
A thousand blackbirds, ripped awry
From trees to puddles, knock dry grief
Into the deep end of the eye.

A thaw patch blackens underfoot.
The wind is gutted with a scream.
True verses are the most haphazard,
Rhyming the heart out on a theme.

And yet another translation ends thus:

Below, the wet black earth shows through,
With sudden cries the wind is pitted,
The more haphazard, the more true
The poetry that sobs its heart out.

Another look at the month:


by James Schuyler

A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can't see
making a bit of pink
I can't quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can't remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we'd gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They're just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She's so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It's getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It's the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It's the shape of a tulip.
It's the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It's a day like any other.

It's a day like any other, says Schuyler, and yet, "it all works together" - thoughts of the past arrive in the present, memories mingle with the scene of tulips in a drinking glass, and the colours of the sky seem to bring everything together into one fluid composition.

Here's a thing I'm going to do in February, I'm going to to look out for the yeses. I'm going to do just exactly what I want to do.

God Says Yes To Me

by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes


(can also be found in the lovely anthology Soul Food}

I'm saying yes to pink roses and to the light at 11:30 in the morning that reminds me how it all works together.

I'm going to start sentences about all those things I feel guilty or odd or lazy about with, "Is it okay if...." and I'm just going to answer them with yes.

I'm going to say yes to pink flowers, all month long.

You'll be surprised, perhaps, by how few photos I have of the great outdoors this week. You see, there was rain, and ice, and the paths are now treacherous and unpleasant. We've been relying on the snow in the field, and on the cleats we bought for our boots before Christmas. It seemed for a while that we wouldn't be needing them, but as it turns out they're a lifesaver at the moment.

One last poem, which takes us into spring (however far away that really is), and thoughts of what happiness might look like. How we might be experiencing it and not recognize it as such.

The Happiest Day

by Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.


I was driving somewhere one day, and music from this album was played on CBC. The album trailer is quite lovely. 

What have I been reading these days?

This interview with William Stafford in The Paris Review, where he says, "Well, I think language does bring us together. Fragile and misleading as it is, it’s the best communication we’ve got, and poetry is language at its most intense and potentially fulfilling. Poems do bring people together.

This article about book sales, and the refrain, so how many books have you sold?

Drinking coffee, from the Italian Centre in their cool new cups. (Or maybe they're not new, and we've just not had take-out coffee from there in a while...)

In other news, Rob has announced his upcoming show in Calgary. Details on his Facebook page.

Next book on my to-read list? My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

Guilty tv/Netflix pleasure: White Collar. There's art, there's forgery, there's crime. What's not to like.

Wishing you all a calm week, the happiest of days, bouquets of yeses.

- Shawna


  1. A bouquet of yeses to you too. February is my month to get through. It is the hottest month of the year in KwaZulu Natal. Love the painting of Chloe and the way you have arranged the objects and colours.

  2. The setting with the painting of Chloe, the table and flowers....!! Yes to this whole space, colors and light. It is fabulous!

  3. That lovely painting, or is it a textured photo of Chloe? If a photo, done by you; if a painting, done by Rob. I love it. Whenever I see images that are obvious (to me) as an Edmonton landmark or icon, I'm always awakened in the most soul-stirring way. The cup from the Italian Centre did that to me. One of my favourite places -- I grew up in the Italian neighbourhood as a little girl and both their locations have special meaning for me. A bouquet of pink yeses to you all month long.

  4. This is magical and delicious. I might need to snatch myself up a bouquet of pink flowers just because they look so gorgeous in these images. Thank you for this!

  5. What beautiful soft pink roses and I love how you placed them in various settings. I especially love them by that beautiful painting of Chloe and the one with Ace is just priceless! February is the month I most want to get through, I can relate to Sarton's words. I've heard good things about Strout's new book, putting it on my list. And now I'm heading to the grocery to see if I can find some pink flowers :)

  6. Wow, the world remains tiny -- I JUST finished Journal of a Solitude, as I love May Sarton, so much that I identify with & I fell in love with her work when my grandmother gave me "From May Sarton's Well" when I was an undergraduate many years ago. Thanks you as always for taking the time to share so much beauty -- and I firmly believe there should be NO guilt about White Collar -- Neil Caffrey is the best kind of eye candy (I love to watch a man who knows how to dress) & it's just a great show, I was so sad when I ran out of episodes!


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