Sunday, March 29, 2015

The dream, like a minnow

Surely it must be time for wood ducks again, like these
from the late autumn just past.
They gathered under the willow 
and often arranged themselves like this,
facing in opposite directions.


How heavy it is, this bucket
drawn out of the lake of sleep
with a dream spilling over,
so heavy that on some mornings
you can’t quite pull it free
so let it slip back under,
back into the darkness where
the water is warm, even warmer,
but the dream, like a minnow,
has swum away and is merely
a flash in the murky distance,
and the weight of waking up
seems even heavier. But somehow
you lift it again, its handle
biting into your fingers,
and haul it out and set it down
still rippling, a weighty thing
like life itself, in which you dip
the leaky cup of your hands
and drink.

Ted Kooser
Splitting an Order, Copper Canyon Press, 2014, page 72

I went through this wonderful short book again tonight and wound up reading several poems aloud. This is the kind of elegant, unthreatening small book that would make an ideal gift for many sorts of people, perhaps most especially those like me who remember the zinc lids on canning jars! Or those like my daughter who taught herself to plow with a horse! I have marked a bunch more Kooser to offer on this blog from time to time!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A visit near the Pacific

Long, long ago, at the end of another century, my brother Dave 
and his wife Peggy brought Mom to California for a visit and
we all went up to youngest sister Marjory's place near Mendocino. 
Here we were looking out over the ocean and I looked back at them! 
I have always liked this picture of Peggy, who is a person 
who really knows how to create good fun wherever she is. 
My Mom loved this trip! 
I also like the way the light comes through the trees
in the background; it is very "California" and reminds me 
of woodcuts done by Western artists early in the 20th century.

Swinging from Parents

The child walks between her father and mother, 
holding their hands.She makes the shape of the
at the end of infancy, and lifts her feet 
the way the y pulls up its feet, and swings 
like the v in love, between an o and an e
who are strong and steady and as far as she knows
will be there to swing from forever. Sometimes 
her father, using his free hand, points to something 
and says its name, the way the arm of the
points into the future at the end of father.
Or the r at the end of forever. It’s that forever 
the child puts her trust in, lifting her knees, 
swinging her feet out over the world.

Ted Kooser
Splitting an Order, Copper Canyon Press, 2014, page 12.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Taking a Stance

Last night's post showed my father holding a baby in his arms in front 
of the houses on First Street in Scotia, where first our family grew.
That baby was my brother, Richard. Here, we have moved to the farm
and he demonstrates his sparring stance.
This picture is also very interesting to me because of the furniture 
I can see in it; my mother went to lots of farm sales for furniture. 
The large cabinet below the bellows hanging on the wall 
is a Victorian design called a Bonnetiere, because of the space
behind double doors at the top, where ladies could store their bonnets.
My father refinished this to the natural wood color; my brother Dave has it now.
Atop the Bonnetiere is a washbowl with a brown design, which
we later used in the front hall in Shaker Heights for incoming mail.
Robert wrote a poem about that called The Mail Bowl, which I must look for.
The heavy mahogany piece with the square mirror was cut in half by Dad. 
We hung the mirror in the hall, and kept boots and rubbers under the lid of the seat. 
My niece, Bethany, has it now, I think. 
Later, my father lifted the wide-sawn floorboards under Richard's feet. 
They were fastened with antique square-headed nails, which Mom made him save 
and straighten and use again on the floorboards, which he re-installed 
with the hundred-year-old boards turned over, unused side up.

Richard was the one of us who learned to play the piano well, 
although Susan did master Fir Elise. I have just learned that Tomas Transtromer,
one of my all-time favorite poets, has passed away. When a stroke robbed him of speech,
he gave his Nobel Prize lecture by playing music written for the left hand.


The silent rage scribbles on the wall inward.
Fruit trees in blossom, the cuckoo calls.
It's spring's narcosis, but the silent rage
paints its slogans backward in the garages.

We see all and nothing, but straight as periscopes
wielded by the underground's shy crew.
It's the war of the minutes. The blazing sun
stands above the hospital, sufferings's parking place.

We living nails hammered down in society!
One day we shall loosen from everything.
We shall feel death's air under our wings
and become milder and wilder than we ever were.

Tomas Transtromer

translated by Robin Fulton
The Great Enigma, New Directions, 2006, page 187.

Amazingly enough, this poem turns out to have both death and nails (probably not hand-forged ones) in it--after I picked it out.
Such are the things that happen when one plays with words. 
Look for Transtromer's poems, they are world-class!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hopper Family: the first four

This picture was taken about 1943. I think we posed here because we just bought the house that doesn't show to the left of the photo. The house we lived in since I was a baby is shown behind us; we rented the flat on the lower floor for $35 per month. (David found this out recently when they released the 1940 US Census.) The house we are buying (you can see just a bit of its stone retaining wall, which Dad will take down so Mom can plant a rock garden on the slope) costs $6000. My parents have been warned that they will never manage to pay for such an expensive house. Here is what they got: A two-apartment house with front porch, with a basement and attic on four city lots, which run through to Second street. Mature maple trees, rhododendrons, lilacs, daffodils, apple tree, Queen Anne cherry tree, garage, a row of four or five rental garages ($5 per month) When we sold it to move to the farm in 1950, we got $11,000. We have thrashed some things, like the upstairs apartment when the boys began to living in it. (Dad took out the stove, but the rest of the kitchen was still the same.) And Dad rewired the whole house. So there!
I am standing between my parents, Dad is holding baby Richard, 
and Susan and John are standing in front. There are three children still to come. Stay tuned.
When I looked up this house on Google Earth, the retaining wall had been rebuilt.


Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
            I am grateful.

Then, by the end of morning,
he's gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings, Penguin Group, 2012, page 62.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Four Brothers, with boutonnieres

Left to right: Richard Butler Hopper, Robert William Hopper,
David Wendell Hopper, John Douglas Hopper.
Photo by famly friend Burns Hansen.

You can see that only John (born 1941) has escaped my father's neat-and-clean buzz cuts. Richard (1943) demonstrates how he has always been at ease in any situation and happy about that! Robert (1945) is looking at you shyly and wants to be your friend. David is jolly and probably That's a scab on his arm, as he was often wounded. And John, as the oldest, and a charmer, is probably up for anything!


Time--the lizard in the sunlight. It doesn't move, but its eyes are wide open. They love to gaze into our faces and hearken to our discourse.

     It's because the very first men were lizards. If you don't believe me, go grab one by the tail and see it come right off.

Charles Simic
The World Doesn't End; Prose Poems, 
Harcourt, Brace, 1990. page 75.

This is from a little book by Charles Simic that impresses me more and more. Reading these pieces quite makes my brain ringgggg.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In Green Meadows

I've told you before that a baby goat will improve almost any day!
This is my grandson, Trey, with the black goat with white ears, 
a beauty they had a couple of dozen years ago.

How oft in school-boy days

How oft in schoolboy-days, from the school’s sway
Have I run forth to Nature as to a friend,—
With some pretext of o’erwrought sight, to spend
My school-time in green meadows far away!
Careless of summoning bell, or clocks that strike,
I marked with flowers the minutes of my day:
For still the eye that shrank from hated hours,
Dazzled with decimal and dividend,
Knew each bleached alder-root that plashed across
The bubbling brook, and every mass of moss;
Could tell the month, too, by the vervain-spike,—
How far the ring of purple tiny flowers
Had climbed; just starting, may-be, with the May,
Half-light, or tapering off at Summer’s end.

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873)
The Oxford Book of American Poetry; edited by David Lehman,
Oxford University Press

Tuckerman published only one book of sonnets. It was not successful, and he did not publish another. His workwas rediscovered much later. His work has been championed by Yvor Winters as being second only to Whitman in the description of natural detail .Four of these sonnets are included in this Oxford Book; I like them all and had trouble deciding which one to use. Have you ever tried writing a sonnet? I've been afraid.

Monday, March 23, 2015

As Now We See Them

My father, Jack Hicks Hopper, with his older sister, Mary Lillian. This picture was probably taken when their aunt took them back from New Mexico (where my grandfather had moved his family in hopes that it would help his weak lungs) to Arkansas to visit other relatives. I visited my father in January of 1987 (he died in April of the same year) and during a long slow, quiet afternoon, he told me many stories. One of them was about this train trip: he was in the restroom when the train stopped at a station. To keep people from hiding there and riding for free, the restrooms were automatically locked by the conductor as the train pulled into a station. Dad still remembered his terror when he found he could not get back to the others; because of the noise of the station, no one heard him yelling. It was quite some time until he was freed. He still remembered the terrible fear more than seventy years later.
Winter Landscape

The three men coming down the winter hill
In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
Past the five figures at the burning straw,
Returning cold and silent to their town,

Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
Lively with children, to the older men,
The long companions they can never reach,
The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,

Are not aware that in the sandy time
To come, the evil waste of history
Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
Of that same hill: when all their company
Will have been irrecoverably lost,

These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion

Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.

John Berryman
Oxford Book of American Poetry, Oxford Univ. Press, page 603-4.

Five five-line stanzas is a good size for a poem. This is enough room to tell a story with lively details and to expound on the meaning of this line of thought for the poet. While there is no strict rhyme scheme, there are traces of it in some of the end words. The phrase "the evil waste of history" covers a lot of territory. Your task: find a painting and tell its story and move out from there / / /