Two amazing poets died this week, W. S. Merwin and Linda Gregg. I have posted several of Merwin’s poems before. Somehow though, I never have posted a poem by Linda Gregg. Here’s a sample:
Death Looks Down
Death looks down on the salmon A male and female in two pools one above the other The female turns back along the path of water to the male does not touch him and returns to the place she had been I know what Death will do Their bodies already sour and ragged Blood has risen to the surface under the scales One side of his jaw is unhinged Death will pick them up Put them away under his coat against his skin and belt them there He will walk away up to the path through the bay trees Through the dry grass of California to where the mountain begins Where a few deer almost the color of the hills will look up until he is under the trees again Where the road ends and there is a gate He will climb over that with his treasure It will be dark by then But for now, he does nothing He does not disturb the silence at all Nor the occasional sound of leaves of ferns touching of grass or stream For now he looks down at the salmon Large and whole Motionless days and nights in the cold water Lying still Always facing the constant motion
This wonderful poet is coming to read here next week. I have posted one of her poems before, but thought I’d post another, from her book “The Dig.” This poem, as many in the book describe a childhood at the edge, with unreliable caretakers. The description of “wringing of every cent from every dollar,” resonated with me, and I love the details of the description.
The Red Kimono
I stare at the brass scarred by beating until it is as bright and uneven as a lake in August when the sun melts all reflections into one wide gold zero, when the sky itself is wide, is hot as the bell that this schoolmaster, inappropriately strict, tips to summon the children from the unrelenting heat of noon. The long tape unrolls from the teeth of the adding machine onto the scarred deal. Over and over the budget unreels and spills, liberated from the sprockets and machinery of will. My mother sits with a pencil and ticks her teeth, we are broke, every avenue of escape is closed, even the car tires at the curb are fat black zeros, all the scheming and coaxing, the wringing of every cent from every dollar, has come to nothing. I watch my mother swab up the dust, her hair tied in a rag, her naked feet, nails bloodied by a tiny brush. Misery, misery, the cranes of good luck hunch at the snowy mountain of her left breast as she bends to set the empties on the step in the housecoat the landlady lent.
I have been wanting to see Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze spiders at the remodeled San Francisco Modern Museum of Art, and finally got there this week. They were as wonderful as I expected, muscular, dynamic, fun.
The bonus was the Vija Celmins retrospective. Her work starts as representations of single objects (very moving, somehow, painted with love on gray backgrounds) and moves into meticulous graphite representations of the ocean, the desert floor, the night sky. All very tenderly, lovingly done.
Barbara Reynolds runs a reading series the second Sunday of the month at Britt Marie’s, a wine bar on Solano. I am reading there March 10th at 3:30. But here is Barb herself, speaking one of her poems. This is the first in a series of three.
If you are living with Larry, he might say to you from time to time, “I have something funny to show you.” And it will be very funny. Here was today’s offering, which you get to share just by reading this blog.
Ted Kooser was US Poet Laureate in 2004. His poems often deal with the farming communities of the midwest, like this one, which does a great job of capturing a moment and a perspective.
Flying at Night
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations. Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn back into the little system of his care. All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
I haven’t been able to do much in the garden since my encounter with the Land Rover, but this week I hired some help and we dug potatoes, weeded, spread compost and mulch. We left the parseley and a few onions.
Here is the first bed, ready for planting. Then the rains came and settled everything in. Soon this bed will have peas, lettuces and maybe a tomato or two.
Before the days of self service, when you never had to pump your own gas, I was the one who did it for you, the girl who stepped out at the sound of a bell with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back in a straight, unlovely ponytail. This was before automatic shut-offs and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank, I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas backed up, came arcing out of the hole in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts, belly and legs. And I had to hurry back to the booth, the small employee bathroom with the broken lock, to change my uniform, peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin and wash myself in the sink. Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt pure and amazed — the way the amber gas glazed my flesh, the searing, subterranean pain of it, how my skin shimmered and ached, glowed like rainbowed oil on the pavement. I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall, for the first time, in love, that man waiting patiently in my future like a red leaf on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty that asks to be noticed. How was I to know it would begin this way: every cell of my body burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me a nimbus of light that would carry me through the days, how when he found me, weeks later, he would find me like that, an ordinary woman who could rise in flame, all he would have to do is come close and touch me.