Monday, August 1, 2016

sitting in the middle of perfect possibility

It's terrible, but let's begin with not writing. Which is where I've been for most of the summer. 

Not Writing

by Jane Kenyon

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

Not writing, is part of writing, I keep telling myself. And while I'm not writing, I've been trying to be productive in other areas, so that when I am writing come September, there will be fewer distractions.

I've been cleaning, I've been paring down. I've been organizing our daughter for college. I've been daydreaming and rethinking a few things. I've been peering into the unknown - wondering what it's going to be like when she's away. And wondering how I'm going to reconfigure this life of mine. (Though I know a lot of it's going to be out of my control).

"Pare down to the essence
but don't remove
the poetry."

- Leonard Koren


I've been thinking about how to get more poetry into my life, how to make life itself more poetic.

Also, more soul. I, too, believe in the soul.

The Old World

by Charles Simic

I believe in the soul; so far
It hasn’t made much difference.
I remember an afternoon in Sicily.
The ruins of some temple.
Columns fallen in the grass like naked lovers.

The olives and goat cheese tasted delicious
And so did the wine
With which I toasted the coming night,
The darting swallows,
The Saracen wind and moon.

It got darker. There was something
Long before there were words;
The evening meal of shepherds…
A fleeting whiteness among the trees…
Eternity eavesdropping on time.

The goddess going to bathe in the sea.
She must not be followed.
These rocks, these cypress trees,
May be her old lovers.
Oh to be one of them, the wine whispered to me.

More poetry, more soul, more flowers.....that's what I wish for.

I suppose I could use a butterfly or two right now.

This summer I feel as though I'm searching for that elusive something and never quite striking upon it....

The Elusive Something

by Charles Simic

Was it in the smell of freshly baked bread
That came out to meet me in the street?
The face of a girl carrying a white dress
From the cleaners with her eyes half closed?

The sight of a building blackened by fire
Where once I went to look for work?
The toothless old man passing out leaflets
For a clothing store going out of business?

Or was it the woman pushing a baby carriage
About to turn the corner? I ran after,
As if the little one lying in it was known to me,
And found myself alone on a busy street

I didn’t recognize, feeling like someone
Out for the first time after a long illness,
Who sees the world with his heart,
Then hurries home to forget how it felt.

Is there poetry in a pile of eggplants? This week I kept putting things on tables and looking at them. Watching the light swing into the kitchen at different angles through the day.

Afternoon in the House 

by Jane Kenyon

It’s quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
the geranium leans this way
to see if I’m writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let’s not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cats request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats—and even so, I’m frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect

And yes, I've been bringing in flowers from our garden. There's never enough time to enjoy them. Once inside, they take on other shapes, and other qualities are more evident. The way they cast shadows on gray walls, for example.

Isn't it true, though, that we are all of us always sitting in the middle of perfect possibility.

The measure of your life is the amount of beauty and happiness of which you are aware.

- Agnes Martin

O stay where you are! Here
in the uncertain hour of a late afternoon
looking outward and looking in
I see this beauty
all I see is beauty.
Something that convinces, asks to be seen,
though it does nothing, just stays where it is,
and merely by existing wins me over.

- Patrizia Cavalli

Someone told me
of course my poems
won't change the world.

I say yes of course
my poems 
won't change the world.

- Patrizia Cavalli

Yes of course.

And next, a long walk along the fence near the highway.

Well, and "what a thing it would be, if we all could fly." Yes.

The Burning Kite

by Ouyang Jianghe

What a thing it would be, if we all could fly.
But to rise on air does not make you a bird.

I’m sick of the hiss of champagne bubbles.
It’s spring, and everyone’s got something to puke.

The things we puke: flights of stairs,
a skyscraper soaring from the gut,

the bills blow by on the April breeze
followed by flurries of razor blades in May.

It’s true, a free life is made of words.
You can crumple it, toss it in the trash,

or fold it between the bodies of angels, attaining
a permanent address in the sky.

The postman hands you your flight of birds
persisting in the original shape of wind.

Whether they’re winging toward the scissors’ V
or printed and plastered on every wall

or bound and trussed, bamboo frames wound with wire
or sentenced to death by fire

you are, first
and always, ash.

Broken wire, a hurricane at each end.
Fire trucks scream across the earth.

But this blaze is a thing of the air.
Raise your glass higher, toss it up and away.

Few know this kind of dizzy glee:
an empty sky, a pair of burning wings.


I will be the poet watching the crows play in the air, or listening to a bird. I will be the poet taking photographs of weeds growing by a fence. And you?

Lives of the Poets
by Kim Addonizio

One stood among the violets
listening to a bird. One went to the toilet
and was struck by the moon. One felt hopeless
until a trumpet crash, and then lo,
he became a diamond. I have a shovel.
Can I turn it into a poem? On my stove
I’m boiling some milk thistle.
I hope it will turn into a winged thesis
before you stop reading. Look, I’m topless!
Listen: approaching hooves!
One drowned in a swimming pool.
One removed his shoes
and yearned off a bridge. One lives
with Alzheimer’s in a state facility, spittle
in his white beard. It
turns out words are no help.
But here I am with my shovel
digging like a fool
beside the spilth and splosh
of the ungirdled sea. I can’t stop.
The horses are coming, the thieves.
I still haven’t found lasting love.
I still want to hear viols
in the little beach hotel
that’s torn down and gone.
I want to see again the fish
schooling and glittering like a veil
where the waves shove
against the breakwater. Gone
is the girl in her white slip
testing the chill with one bare foot.
It’s too cold, but she goes in, so
carefully, oh.

Interesting to compare this poem to the one we've read before by C.D. Wright, titled The Obscure Lives of the Poets.

A few last photos of one morning and then another.

The cherry tree is very nearly ready to be picked....this week upcoming we must find some time.

Last things.

Ekphrastic writing in Jane Austen. Two of my favourite things to think about.

If you haven't read any Wislawa Szymborska, this review should convince.

I'll be participating on a panel for the Alberta Readers Choice Award this Tuesday evening. More details here.

Wishing you all calm things in the week ahead. May you find happiness, beauty, and find yourself sitting in the middle of perfect possibility.

- Shawna


  1. Spectacular post. The poetry was just sublime. and your photographs only added to the magic.

  2. there are some photos here that are breathtakingly intriguing. And I'm borrowing the Agnes Martin quote too. I wonder why people no longer name their girls Agnes? The name is lovely and sounds so nice when spoken aloud don't you think?

  3. Seems that summer is the perfect time not to write but to sit back and observe. When my sons went off to college, I felt it was the "end of an era", a bittersweet time. There is definitely an adjustment period.

    Your images are stunning as always. I especially love the one with your Bell flowers in front of Rob's painting, exquisite!

    Almost finished "The Door". It's a book that is definitely going to stay with me for a long time.


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