Monday, April 20, 2015

Through the night-blue fields

I have loved viewing the sky over this six-acre field, which is now for sale.
It has long been planted in a mixture of alfalfa and other hays, irrigated using
an historic "water-right" for flooded irrigation. Since it is surrounded 
on all sides by housing and commerce, and a road newly extended on its north side,
I very much fear for its loss as a space to see the open sky in all weathers.

The Merchant's Song

after "Foxfire" by Hiroshige

Through the night-blue fields, with lanterns, we go,
under the leafless ayenoki,
and the ghostly foxes
shelter under dry branches and unwinking stars.
Toward the distant houses of Oji,
toward the slopes covered with pine
we make our way,
and we wish our lanterns are
flames in air, the burning aether.
We come to collect the unpaid bills,
for the new year is upon us,
and those not paid this last night of December
must wait until April.
Here, in the cropped fields of Oji,
among encampments of foxes,
their slender ears and ankles,
the stooks which stand like silent peasants,
we take our rest,
for there are those among us
who have died this year,
and must wander tonight, forever,
unseen, except as flames among the foxes,
collecting bills which will not be paid
in April, or ever.

Roo Borson

McClelland & Stewart Inc., Ontario, 1989, page 30.

The Canadian poet, Roo Borson, is one of my very favorite poets, whose work I have featured before. This is an example of an ekphrastic poem, one which is based on a work of art, in this case a Japanese woodcut by Hiroshige. In this century when images and background information are so easy to find with a computer, there is more reason than ever to try this type of poem. You could even set yourself the task of writing a series of poems on related images, or works by the same painter. 

Here is a link to EKPHRASIS, a biannual, printed poetry journal that publishes only such poems. You might find a home for your poems there.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Check Marks the Spot

 The man with the check over his head is my father, Jack Hicks Hopper, 
the year he was captain of the Polo Team at the University of Arizona!
Circa 1932-1933
I just about wore these yearbooks out; 
they were always in the tall shelf at the bottom of the bookcase.

And here is the song my brother, Robert (1945-1997) 
wrote about my father and often sang with his guitar.
Look for the Polo Pony Ace!

Briefcase with Initials
                                                      for jhh

You were high and handsome, I was two feet tall.
You were strong and skillful, I was weak and small.
You held your shoulders high above the ground.
Your red-faced laughing hearty warming sound.
Your thick black hair, your broad Clark Gable face
set off a picture slim and fair to see.
Some yearbook picture polo pony ace
looks through his rimless glasses down at me.

            A father is to son as big to small;
            it’s hard to get to know the man at all.

Double-breasted suits and bright red ties,
a special voice for praying deep and wise,
 you kept your distance from our hazy days.
You brought surprising punishment and praise.
A briefcase with initials on the side,
a block of ice for doing homemade ice cream,
some land a hundred forty acres wide,
I help you in the garden in my dream.
You know I love you Dad, sometimes I told you.
You grew small and frail then when my long arms hold you.
You never told me what, and rarely showed me how.
I see the world through your steel blue eyes now.

Now kids look up at me and smile and lie.
I ask them can’t they please go play outside.
They ask to look at pictures from back when.
They look like I look ten feet tall to them.
Say Dad, did they have cars when you were small?
Did you know Mom when you were a kid?
 How old is our Granddaddy after all?
Do we do things that you and your daddy did?

            A father is to son as big to small.
            It’s hard to get to know the man at all.’

                                              1977, 1987; Sing in C
Robert Hopper

And here is the rest of the team!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

In Evening Light

Grass is springing now beside the stream; last night
the water looked like hammered metal. jhh
My Life by Water

My life
  by water—

  first frog
    or board

out on the cold


to wild green
  arts and letters

  my lettuce
    One boat

  pointed toward
    my shore

thru birdstart

of the soft
  and serious—

Lorine Niedecker

The Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehman, Oxford University Press, 2006. page 482.

The life of Lorine Niedecker was full of trial. The biographies by Jenny Penberthy and Margot Peters are both well-written. As well as making you (if you are a woman poet, especially) glad you live now, they give an insight into her era of poets. Her complete works are available, and a selected poems, The Granite Pail, is a wonderful grouping. I am particularly fond of Lake Superior, a unique blend of poetry, prose and history, beautifully presented by the publisher in a soft white paper cover, wonderful to touch.

An examination of this poem will give a poet several strategies to try. I love the short lines, the repeated indentations, the abandoned punctuation, and most especially the fresh compound-words, often presented without hyphens. Use these strategies in writing about someplace you particularly love when you set yourself the task of a new poem. Good night, Lorine, rest well!

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Fiery Glee

At the faery paradise of the Farnworth Farm in Northern California
you never know what you are going to see, but it is always terrific!
This was several years ago in springtime; I hope to get back soon!

The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can’t explain.

It’s good if you can accept your life—you’ll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can’t believe how much you’ve changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you’ve ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can’t quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He’s been hungry for miles,
Doesn’t particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

Robert Bly

The Oxford Book of American Poetry; edited by David Lehman,
Oxford University Press, 2006, page 744.

Oh, that Robert Bly! Five three-line stanzas of philosophy and a sparrow! I don't know what to say about this poem, other than that it really tickles me. I never intended to have this life. . . 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


In the last light, I went down to see the bees, and the new leaves on the willow 
and the light on the water of the Little Union Canal.

Willow in the Rain

Tangled even further
in the wind
that dries them---
threads of green willow
wet with rain

Saigyo       (1118-1190)
trans. by Burton Watson

Saigyo; Poems from a Mountain Home
Columbia University Press, 1991, page 33.

This poem is in the form of a waka, or tanka, an ancient Japanese five-line poetic form that still has power. Many of the people who write English language haiku also try this form. Many translators have worked to bring these elegant poems into versions in English. I am finding that when I use them here, I often prefer Burton Watson's English renditions of Saigyo and of other poets, too. As here, there is often a thought-break between the first three lines and the final two lines. Another task: try writing in this form, perhaps after a walk outdoors, or on a rainy afternoon on the porch.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Visiting Family; a memory thread

Liberty, Idaho (mid-1960s) in front of Aunt Ella's house. Adults, left to right:
Aunt Ella Matthews Hymas, Scott Simpson Hymas, Eva Hymas, Luella Matthews Hymas,
Front, my older children: Kimberli Susan Hymas, Scott Bradford Hymas.
Aunt Ella is Luella's aunt and Eva's mother. Luella and Ella are married to brothers.
Luella is the mother of Scott and the grandmother of Kimberli and Scott Bradford.
I am taking the picture; it's a nice one, don't you think?



The calendar is full but the future is blank.
The wires hum the folk-tune of some forgotten land.
Snow-fall on the lead-still sea. Shadows
           scrabble on the pier.


In the middle of life, death comes
to take your measurements. The visit
is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit
             is being sewn on the sly.

Tomas Transtromer

The Deleted World; versions by Robin Robertson, 
Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2111, page 31.

Don't get mad at me because death is in this poem! Don't freak out! It's really everywhere . . .

This is a poem in two parts of merely eight lines. But what a freight it carries. 
Pay special attention to the consonant sounds, particularly the sound of the letter l.
Say the last two lines of the first section over several times. Listen!
Look at the elegant and simple beauty of the poem's arrangement on the page.

And remember to visit your family whenever you can!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hoping for the bee-loud glade

It was finally time to install the bees and today the queen arrived with a few minions. 
And now they are hopefully settling in to the new hive so they can forage along the canal.
And I am reading on the Internet about their care.

The China Painters

They have set aside their black tin boxes,
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;
and have gone in fashion and with grace
into the clouds of loose, lush roses,
narcissus, pansies, columbine,
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers.

Ted Kooser

Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004, Kindle Location 143

Although Ted Kooser is three years younger than I am, he was exposed to a kind of community life that I never knew. His books are rich with it! My parents had come East from Arizona and I never saw anyone painting china. There was a fair amount of knitting, and many people sewed at least some of their own clothes. Rarely, one can find a China-painted cup or saucer in a thrift store; it always pleases me and makes me a little sad at the same time. And of course, I put this here for the bees.