Monday, August 31, 2015

The Hand

This seems to be a picture of my grandmother, 
Susan Redd Butler. with her seven children. 
I don't know whose hand it is, but I think it makes the shot!
Front, left to right, my mother, Olga Hopper, Grandma Susie, Marita Brimhall.
Rear: Wendell (Windy) lady in blue--is this Hazel? --it doesn't look like her, 
but she is the only one missing-- Karl Douglas, Louise, and Merwin.
I hope some of my cousins will clear this up for me.

Arizona sun--
the siblings line up
one more time

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Usually I pick the picture first and link the poem to it somehow. 
But I was putting the Kooser away when I noticed I had marked this poem, 
so I went looking for blue. Or dawn. This Lily of the Nile is blue;
soon I will come back to its garden, but I will have missed the bloom this year.
I have always liked the way the sun strikes the dried sepal in this portrait,
making it look like a piece of wrinkled tan silk.


Freely chosen, discipline
is absolute freedom.--Ron Serino

The blue shadow of dawn settles
its awkward silks into the enamelled kitchen
and soon you will wake with me into the long
discipline of night and day--the morning sky
startled and starred with returning birds.
You half-whisper, half-sigh, "This will never stop."
And I say, "Look at the constellations
our keys and coins make, there,
on the polished sky of the dresser top."

From what sometimes seems an arbitrary
form of discipline often come two words
that rhyme and in the rhyming fully marry
the world of spoons and sheets and common birds
to another world that we have always known
where the waterfall of dawn does not drown
even the haloed gnats where we are shown
how to find and hold the pale day moon, round
and blessed in the silver lake of a coffee spoon.

Mekeel McBride

in Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual; practical advice for beginning poets, University of Nebraska Press, 2007, page 141.

Bonus picture; an actual blue dawn-tinted sky in Michigan!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Behold My Red Eye

Most of the Wood Ducks have moved on. But this guy remembers, 
and sometimes comes and sits on the end of the stair-rail. 
He is a duckling-of-this-year and may even be one of the 13 ducklings
that were the first batch to hatch. You can see how his adult face-markings 
are not quite complete, and he still has some juvenile body-feathers;
but he is getting there! I was very happy to see him today 
and moved very quietly to take his photograph.

Keeping It Together

For a start you use
tea and talk, the day's
first dark headlines
and your dreams go
numb--that looming face
pretending to be a ripe
harvest moon stands still,
then fades to a dot 
like a TV turned off.
Next your delicacy gathers
in the eggs you carry
to the stove--the shells
are so thin these days,
they break into
such small pieces.
You drive over those pieces
to the delights of key,
office, mail and the heady
vertigo buried in
the heart of grammar.
(Oh, be with me now,
muse of the commasplice!)
Such rich incident carries
you to three, though the clock
is so hesitant, pausing so long,
as if holding its breath
before its nervous leap forward.
And finally the omens:
Scrawny birds on that 
skimpy tree out your window,
the exit marked Graceless,
and rain whispering
its million run-on sentences.

Vern Rutsala       (February 5, 1934 – April 2, 2014)

How We Spent Our Time
University of Akron Press, 2006, pages 41-42.
This book is also inscribed 
to the former owner in teensy writing: 
                                                                                                                 All the best, Vern Rutsala

This generation of poets is fast leaving the planet. If you meant 
to write any fan letters, now might be the time. 
I wish I had thanked them more...

Friday, August 28, 2015

a few words in my ear . . .

Shining white mother and child on a late summer afternoon boat ride 
with my grandsons on the Indian River, July, 2009.
On some days, the light is right and you just get lucky!
An idea came to me for a photograph . . .


An idea came to me
for a rhyme? A poem?
Well--fine--I say, stay awhile, we'll talk
Tell me a little more about yourself.
       So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Ah, so that's the story--I say--intriguing.
These matters have long weighed upon my heart.
But a poem about them? I don't think so.
        So it whispered a few words in my ear.
It may seem that way--I reply--
But you overestimate my gifts and powers.
I wouldn't even know where to start.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
You're wrong--I say--a short, pithy poem
is much harder than a long one.
Don't pester me, don't nag, it won't turn out.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
All right then, I'll try, since you insist.
But don't say I didn't warn you.
I write, tear it up, and toss it out.
         So it whispered a few words in my ear.
You're right, I say, there are always other poets.
Some of them can do it better.
I'll give you names and addresses.
          So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Of course I'll envy them.
We envy even the weak poems.
But this one should . . . it ought to have . . .
           So it whispered a few words in my ear.
Exactly, to have the qualities you've listed.
So let's change the subject.
How about a cup of coffee?

           It just sighed.

           And started vanishing.

           And vanished.

Wislawa Szymborska

Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

HERE, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, page 11,13.

This delightful. light-touch-yet-serious poem about writing and inspiration by Nobelist Szymborska has an interesting structure. Almost every line is a complete sentence. And the line about whispering is repeated seven times, with three lines between each repetition after the first time. But I wish we had the poem that almost got written . . .

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Each Day

It is hard for me to resist playing with that Waterlogue app!
This is the Little Union Canal, one of the homes of my heart.


Forest shade, lake shade, poplar shade, highway shade,
backyard shade, café shade, down-behind-the-high-school
shade, cow shade, carport shade, blowing shade, dappled
shade, shade darkened by rain above, shade under ships,
shade along banks of snow, shade beneath the one tree in a
bright place, shade by the ice cream truck, shade in the new-
car sales room, shade in halls of the palace as all the electric
lights turn on, shade in a stairwell, shade in tea barrels, shade
in books, shade of clouds running over a distant landscape,
shade on bales in the barn, shade in the pantry, shade in the
icehouse (the smell of shade), shade under runner blades,
shade along branches, shade at night (a difficult research),
shade on rungs of a ladder, shade on pats of butter sculpted
to look like scallop shells, shade to holler from, shade in the
chill of bamboo, shade at the core of an apple, confessional
shade, shade of hair salons, shade in a joke, shade in the town
hall, shade descending from legendary ancient hills, shade
under the jaws of a dog with a bird in its mouth trotting
along to the master’s voice, shade at the back of the choir,
shade in pleats, shade clinging to arrows in the quiver, shade
in scars.
Anne Carson

The New Yorker, August 10 & 17, 2015.

This is an interesting poem, and I was very glad to find it in The New Yorker! Try making a list of something like this and using it as the basis for several different forms of poem!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

as we leave dreams to the night

The squirrel finally knocked this feeder down enough times to break the bottom off.
I was able to hang it upside down, and today I bought some more sunflower seeds 
for the short time remaining here, Upside-down or right-side-up, it is very popular,
both with the squirrel and the house finches you see here.
I also bought a sack of something called dove and quail mix, and it is doing
very well in the other feeder. I love the bright afternoon light in this picture.


A thousand times
we've read words of parting
a hundred times
seen paintings of the same
it is you and I
who cross this old threshold
offer no wishes
say no goodbyes
these are like acting
silence is best
concealment's never false
leave memories to the future
as we leave dreams to the night
leave tears to the oceans
and wind to your sails
Gu Cheng

Nameless Flowers; selected poems of Gu Cheng
George Braziller, 2005, page 49.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brother with Cat

This is my brother Robert William Hopper (1945-1997)
He was good with animals, good with little kids, good with his students.
He was a teacher and student of words and the way we speak to one another.
And he liked my poems!
I still think of him all the time.

The Dwelling of the Past

This poem believes in the work
ethic, believes you fashion
your own route through memory
and wilderness, blazing low
trails that dissolve overnight,
the wilderness rebuilding itself
on footprints and the bones
of travellers.
                      But for guide
we have only the horseshoe bends
of pages --- to the bottom and then
the perilous turn to the next,
adding lines, scattering the inky
gravel, the road fading behind us,
losing its way without our will
tamping it in place between
the shoulders.
                       That gravel is these
broken syllables, the last we have
of words, their residue, the squawks
and grunts, their rock-language
baby talk.
                 Yet with them we build
the dwelling of the past, word
by word, our flashcard house rising
like a tower in spite of winter
wind, in spite of darkness.
Without these words night will
enter bringing all its casualties.

Tonight they hang back, and all
things meet now on the round table
mixing like the grain of oak.
But the early light dims
                                       goes dirty
toward darkness, a murk descending
and water muddy where I dredge.
And now I find only the muddy
boot of cliche, the dump
                                         of stereotype,
They swarm our countryside, fleeing
from the burning hills of our
neighbors' dreams.
                               But this poem believes
in the work ethic, I want
the crackpot plan, my perpetual motion
machine in a bottle, my yacht
in the cellar. I'm sick
                                   of the medieval
walls of junk our cities grow,
sick of how we're forced to tug our
forelocks until we're bald, sick
of how our masters permit some
pleasure now and then, some bread ---
a fleabag circus under the banner:
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.
Which is why I travel toward my
private beefsteak mine, my
shadow home of memory. I have
the shares, I own fifty-one percent.

Backtracking, Story Line Press, 1985, pages 45-46.

(My copy was used when I got it and has the author's signature 
and inscription in tiny, tiny, tiny writing. This is what it says:

                                                    To Sandy --
                                                         With all good wishes on
                                                          a good night in 
                                                          Tacoma --
                                                                              Vern Rutsala

I am thinking now that
                                        "On a Good Night in Tacoma"
would be an interesting title or poem prompt. I think Vern left it here for me.

I like the way that this poem travels down the page: making something like a stanza-break
at the ends of some sentences and in the middle of others, causing our attention to focus
on the word after the break. Another strategy to try. Good Night!