Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

I didn’t mean to take the rest of the year off.  June through December 2014 had much to tell, but much of it difficult and best left untold. Mostly though, all are well and ready to tackle 2015.

There were joys however: there was a wedding in September, the highlight of the year, and that deserved a blog post. But photos are up on Jeri’s Facebook page at least, and maybe I’ll post a few here someday.

For a New Year prayer, here’s what I found on a friend’s blog: it’s attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but may be more contemporary. No matter, it’s here, and very un-American.st-francis1 reversed

Most of the versions on the web omit the final verse but I include it as a benediction. St. Francis would approve.

Is it a blessing or a curse?

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you
and remain with you, this day and forevermore.


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Young doctor goes to Alaska to find himself, also to pay off his medical school debt. There’s a story in there somewhere.

In the case of Northern Exposure, the TV series back in the early ’90s, the youngNorthern Exposure - Joel and moose doc was Joel Fleischman, who clearly found himself out of his east-coast element and refused to conform to his new environment.

In another story, currently in progress, the doc is a young woman from an island off the coast of Maine, who finds Alaska somewhat her element, only more so. Bigger. Farther. Colder, and darker. She was too little back in the early ’90s to stay up with Mom and Dad and watch the TV show, and she has no idea what I’m talking about.

Darkness. Yes, that’s partly what it’s about this time of year, especially nearer to the Arctic Circle. Stay indoors under the fluorescent lights of the hospital and you’ll never know the difference, but your brain will burn out. Get out under the stars, under the moon, light a bonfire, a Swedish torch, make a snow lantern and email a photo of it to Sarah and Dick. Do something out in the cold and feel alive. After tonight Spring is on the way.

Light. That’s what it’s really about. Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. The menorah gets lit, the Advent candles too. Jesus is the light of the world, we remind ourselves at Christmas. God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light.

The earlier years of Northern Exposure gave us some of the best TV around, and no doubt the series aided Alaska’s tourism. Great character development, great story lines, great scenery, fun-loving Tlingit people.

Here in the video Chris, the part-time philosopher and full-time disc-jockey at KBHR Radio, hosts the turning of the season from darkness into light. It’s makeshift, it’s a fire warden’s nightmare, but it’s a party.

Plug in the Christmas tree lights and have an eggnog. Spring is on the way.

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“A painter first, and a musician second.”  This is how Joni has described herself, but what a musician!  SheJoni Mitchell 2 has also said that her music  was meant at first to pay her way through art school and to buy cigarettes.  Her voice has lowered over the years, possibly from smoking, although she might say it was from age.  Her incredible vocal range has narrowed, but she still dazzles in torch singing and jazz.

My first awareness of Joni’s music was in 1971 while lobster fishing as a teenager with my father.  That summer, the coolest song that ever came over that boring old AM radio station (I think Dad kept it on only so he wouldn’t miss Paul Harvey News) began with the lyrics, “The wind is in from Africa; last night I couldn’t sleep” and it turned out to be Joni’s song “Carey”.  I re-discovered it a few years ago with her “Blue” CD, and recently I’ve burned a copy and listen in the car.  It’s new every time I hear it.

Joni Mitchell - olderLobstering on my own now, I’ve since made a fan out of at least one crew member, a friend from Switzerland—there was a folk program that used to come on every week (different radio station, and sadly no more Paul Harvey) and the host would open each time with a Joni Mitchell song.  I’d shove the poor guy out of my way and scramble for the volume knob and crank it up.  He got the hint and bought me her “Travelogue” CD for Christmas, just released that year and featuring her artwork and music about the September 11 tragedy.

Joni Mitchell painting - window


Joni’s  lyrics really grab my attention.  She writes about life—joys and sorrows, broken relationships, and having fun (“Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down”).  Growing up conservative, the smashing of wine glasses didn’t make sense, but by now I can appreciate the act in the song at least (still, who is supposed to clean that up?).  Like good literature, she says more with fewer words, painting a picture in the mind (if not on canvas), whether writing about giving her baby up for adoption (“Little Green”) or breaking up with a man, possibly Leonard Cohen (“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine; you taste so bitter and so sweet.  Oh, I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet”), or worrying about a friend mixed up in the occult (“I think of rain, I think of roses blue; I think of Rose, my heart begins to tremble, to see the place she’s lately gotten to, gotten to, gotten to”).

I’m less conservative now, or perhaps more so; and I see grace in more places than I used to because God’s in charge of it and he’s not as stingy as we are.  Joni’s music points me to the joy and caring and truth that only comes from grace, whether she is aware of it or not.  Oh, there are other musicians that do that for me too, some of Joni Mitchell - at easelthem unfit to mention (some might think) in a conversation about grace; but this is Joni’s three-score and ten and I thank God she’s made it this far.

The video was recorded in 1970.  She describes her role in Woodstock the year before:  she didn’t make it there,  but wrote this song that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young made famous.



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Waiting for the Barbarians

by Constantine Petrou Cavafy, 1864-1933


What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

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This folk song by Sydney Carter (1915-2004) has been making its way around the web lately, thanks in part to that ‘Sixties rebel N.T. Wright (see my post of May 12th).

I won’t play the video of Bishop Wright singing it (there comes a time when, as one realizes that YouTube is half one’s act, one should lighten up on the videos).

Andrea Mantegna, Calvary 1457-59

These lyrics to “Friday Morning” by Sydney Carter tell the story from Luke 23 of one of the thieves on the cross, the one who didn’t insult Jesus for getting strung up there with them. Maybe next year on Good Friday I’ll post the video. It does work better with music.


It was on a Friday morning that they took me from the cell
and I saw they had a carpenter to crucify as well.
You can blame it on to Pilate; you can blame it on the Jews.
You can blame it on the Devil, but it’s God that I accuse.
“It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

You can blame it on to Adam; you can blame it on to Eve.
You can blame it on the apple, but that I can’t believe.
It was God that made the Devil, and the woman and the man.
And there wouldn’t be an apple if it wasn’t in the plan.
“It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

Now Barabbas was a killer, and they let Barabbas go.
But you are being crucified for nothing that I know.
And your God is up in Heaven and He doesn’t do a thing
With a million angels watching, and they never move a wing.
”It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

“To hell with Jehovah,” to the carpenter I said;
“I wish that a carpenter had made the world instead.
Goodbye and good luck to you; our ways will soon divide.
Remember me in heaven, the man you hung beside.
”It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

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self-portrait from Both Sides Now

In the “any excuse for Joni Mitchell” category, Canada Day will do nicely.  

Here are the lyrics to “A Case of You” followed by a black-and-white slide show of my favorite Canadian singing this classic from her “Blue” album.

It’s not clear whom she wrote this song about, who it was that got into her blood like holy wine.  Graham Nash?  Leonard Cohen?

O Joni;  so bitter and so sweet. 

A Case of You

by Joni Mitchell

Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid

I remember that time you told me you said
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
“Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”

Oh but you are in my blood
You’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

© 1970; Joni Mitchell 


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While I was growing up The Bomb hung over our heads like the Sword of Damocles.  Or like that Pendulum in a story by Poe (it’s still hanging over us, but by now we’re used to it).  And Khrushchev said that he’d bury us, but I know he meant it affectionately.  It was a cheerful time for parents to raise little kids.   

And if those metaphors weren’t enough, we had Tom Lehrer to make up some more:

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry. 

This post, of course, is to cheer us on through The End on Saturday the 21st.  If you missed out on Tom Lehrer in the ‘Sixties, you still have a few hours left.


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It’s been one year today.  One hundred thirty-one posts,  no death threats (but no job offers either), not too much spam, an encouraging number of hits (6300, with the daily average climbing) and just enough positive feedback to fool me into thinking I’m not wasting my time.  So far so good.

My first blogpost, Dylan Thomas’s poem And Death Shall Have No Dominion, came about because three people I knew had just died of cancer, all of them in their forties or fifties.  Two of them were friends from nearby Bar Harbor and the third, Michael Spencer, had authored a blog called InternetMonk.com that I had become hooked on.  Shortly before his death some good friends took over the helm and later helped to publish his nearly-completed book Mere Churchianity

The iMonk blog, taglined “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness”, continues with a dedicated online community, lots of challenging topics for various kinds of Christians and non-believers too, and the new authors have continued remarkably well in Michael Spencer’s tradition.    

So Dylan Thomas was right:  death shall have no dominion.  I like to think that Thomas echoed the apostle Paul in First Corinthians 15:55:  “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

As the birth of my own blog had its genesis in death—and in a poem about death—I’m prepared to post a couple more:  Dylan Thomas’s “other” death poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and (in my opinion) its counter-weight Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson—a classic written in 1889 and recited at countless funerals since. 

Where Tennyson says, “May there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea,” Thomas says, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day.” 

Where Tennyson says, “May there be no sadness of farewell when I embark,” Thomas says, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Who is right?  Beethoven or Bach?  Picasso or Rockwell?  Thomas or Tennyson?  Let’s keep asking the questions in order to arrive at the answers.  It’s all art.

Here’s to the next year.


To life.


Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,   

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Crossing the Bar

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,

      And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

      When I put out to sea,


   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

      Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

      Turns again home.


   Twilight and evening bell,

      And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

      When I embark;


   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

      The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

      When I have crost the bar.

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Sorry I can’t be there, guys!  But I’ve set this to post automatically while I’m gone.  Have a great weekend. 


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The Joy of Poetry

Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you have never heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay you know at least one of her poems:

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!”
And now that you can place a name with the poem, go to the Northeast Harbor Library tonight (February 4 at 7 p.m.) for the First Friday Coffeehouse and hear Edna’s work as it needs to be recited. 
Our island postmaster (lobsterwoman, popover chef, knitter, kayaker, dancer, chihuahua mama, Hemingway aficionado) Joy Sprague will be there to wow the crowd with her interpretations of Edna’s work.  It’ll be fun.    


Joy Sprague

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

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The Beatitudes — Matthew 5:1-12

Untitled poem by Mike Mercer (“Chaplain Mike” at internetmonk.com)

so many people here to hear him
from everywhere, of every kind
no religious crowd this one!

check out that bloke over there
“loser” if i’ve ever seen one
not an ounce of righteousness in him
wouldn’t know a tithe from a toothbrush
couldn’t find genesis if you handed him a bible
a rough time of it, he’s had
surely the teacher won’t waste any time on him

and look over there, what a pitiful wretch
if it weren’t for bad luck, she’d have no luck
grim reaper took her husband
then came after her child
it got so nobody knew what to say to her
couldn’t take hearin’ another bit o’ bad news
you rarely see her out and about any more

and have you seen all the yokels?
brought ‘em out of their shacks, he did
i’ll wager they’re lookin’ for a free show—
funny talk, a miracle or two—
keep ‘em happy for a year!
sure thing they don’t have much more
i’m surprised their masters gave ‘em an afternoon

hey, there’s the widow lady from town
she sure got a bad shake didn’t she?
thought her husband had set things up for her
then some shyster tricked her out of it
got her to sign some paper
thinkin’ she was makin’ her money secure
secure in his pocket, all right!

and there’s a bunch of people here
been tryin’ to help these folks
takin’ pity on ‘em
tryin’ to make ‘em religious
tryin’ to get ‘em to quit their fightin’
carin’ even when the door gets slammed in their faces
spinning’ their wheels, gettin’ nowhere

seems like what we have here
is a big ol’ loser’s convention
not your ideal crowd, i’d say

then jesus stood up
looked around, and said to the lot of them
“you, above all, are blessed”

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It’s official.  After a paperwork mixup, Daughter Number Three finally made it to Italy, the first of our family since her great-grandparents emigrated from there a hundred years ago. 

We hadn’t heard from her since Tuesday after she cleared airport security  in Boston.  But, unless she had been wandering around the airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, we assumed that she made it OK. 

We just received an email from her this morning, Friday:

Hi mom/dad,
I’m here, it is fabulous!!  I have limited internet access; this was the first time I was able to send out an email.  To keep it short though, all is well and Siena is beautiful!
love you,

Heather will be studying in Siena this semester, her second year in college.  Siena is located somewhere between Florence and Rome, so she will have no excuse to be bored. 

What will she study?  Italy, of course.  It’s a semester abroad, after all.  Italian language; art history; and literature ( I think).  Dante, in any case, because he lives there: 

La gloria di colui che tutto move per l’universo penetra, e risplende

"Dante and Beatrice" by Ary Scheffer 1851


Nel ciel che più de la sua luce prende

fu’ io, e vidi cose che ridire

né sa né può chi di là sù discende;


perché appressando sé al suo disire,

nostro intelletto si profonda tanto,

che dietro la memoria non può ire.


Veramente quant’io del regno santo

ne la mia mente potei far tesoro,

sarà ora materia del mio canto. 

(The opening lines of Paradiso, Canto I)


Longfellow translation: 

The glory of Him who moveth everything

Doth penetrate the universe, and shine

In one part more and in another less.


Within that heaven which most his light receives

Was I, and things beheld which to repeat

Nor knows, nor can, who from above descends;


Because in drawing near to its desire

Our intellect ingulphs itself so far,

That after it the memory cannot go.


Truly whatever of the holy realm

I had the power to treasure in my mind

Shall now become the subject of my song.


That’s about it.  Study well, Heather.  Maybe we’ll see you over there? 

Love, Daddy


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“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

—Luke 2:8-14

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”



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If you’ve had enough of the commercialism already, and with Christmas yet a week away, be assured that you’re not the only one.  Try to keep your cool.  Keep it simple.  Sing traditional carols with family and friends.  Eat some chocolate, pour whipped cream with cinnamon into your fair-trade coffee, and read the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke.  In short, insist upon your sanity.

And stay away from the malls. 

To further our “any excuse to play Joni Mitchell” commitment, her song “River” flows along every year at this time to help put Christmas into perspective for those of us who really do have sensitive antennae against the desecration of the holiday.

I’ll include this post in the categories of “poetry” and “literature” too.  I often point out, when talking about writing in a workshop or in conversation, that Joni demonstrates the proverb “Show, don’t tell,” when describing her feelings.  Instead of saying, “I get depressed around the holidays,” she paints a picture:

It’s comin’ on Christmas,

They’re cuttin’ down trees.

They’re puttin’ up reindeer,

Singin’ songs of Joy and Peace.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

Me and Joni are gonna lace up our spiritual skates.  Join us!  Boycott the frenzy, overturn the tables in the Temple and try to save Christmas for yourself before it’s too late.  Others may follow.





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