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Nest of Songs

I want to nestle you in the songs of orioles,

Weaving mating calls across the maples

Their voices concolorous, suasive,

Wheedling leaves from enchanted trees.

This house withstood the test of isolation

Four seasons and one more

With just some paint peeling off the walls,

But not you; you whittled in silence

With the wall of one sentence: “I do not know.”

Yet, here we are, above the ground,

Suspended between spring songs tangling

In air all around the garden and the streets,

Palms of the magnolia opening to say, “Hold this.”

                                    31 March 2021

This October, winnowing

The day has shortened, hours are

Books between tightened bookends,

Light slants into the under-growth.

The sun places its last kiss on the roses

As insects devour their dying leaves.

And so the summer sighs into fall:

This is the autumn I have no words for.

Apple picking, meals with friends—

Distant memory. Fear gnaws at the heart.

The virus, like a sickness of the conscience

Has spread together with the war among

The righteous. Hope rattles its inflamed lungs.

Justice coughs, kindness wheezes and spits,

Faith plays double game with oath

And governance, truth has lost both legs.

*

I see us dancing in the kitchen years ago,

Salted vine leaves on the wooden board, herbs,

Mother holding house the way the breast-bone

Covers the heart from whatever could strike,

Father calling for the music, “Children, where

Is the cassette?” We were on Helen Street.

There are calls. There is silence during

The calls. There are quiet walks in the garden

After the calls. The virus roams.

The sun has shortened its working hours.

Time pushes its bookends of light closer

Together. Many will not see the winter.

*

We walk around the yew tree. Blue jays

Hide inside tight-wound branches.

The back garden is a busy landing strip.

A cardinal perches on the kitchen rails,

The chipmunk family argues in the gutters

By the stairs, crickets in widened cracks

Sing away the nights in the basement,

As I pace upstairs in the dark kitchen;

A wood-pecker knocks on the dormer:

Here is the harvest brought by these

Visiting creatures—memories squirreling

Their freedoms away:

Now I see her, never happy on her own

But glowing whenever we were with her,

I see her taking her smile from our faces.

                                       –October 2020

Finding Stability in Literary language

 

23 Feb 2017 10:21 AMSanda Ionescu (Administrator)

Guest post from former GWG member, instructor and great friend Carmen Bugan, now living in the US. For a beautiful review of her latest collection of poetry, see here. You can buy her book here. Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy this brief meditation on the redeeming power of language in literature.

I have said elsewhere that today’s English language suffers, and I keep returning to that thought because the evidence is everywhere.  Our language suffers from materialism, texting-talk, marketing-speak, slogans, an obsession with celebrity, a fear of ‘the other’.  You could say it reflects our character which craves a fast answer for every want and constantly searches for the easiest way out, a quick scheme to get rich and a magical recipe to eternal youth.  I wonder how much this contributed to the recent election, and more-over, to keeping in the White House a man who makes life-changing political pronouncements via Twitter. We are all better than that and deserve more than being tossed from one quick promise to another. We are capable of self-reflection.  Signs of this abound in the endless stream of protests on the streets where you could feel America is more alive than ever before.

The English language itself has resources that could help us heal.  One of these is stability of meaning expressed in fiercely beautiful words.  I am returning to classics and here I want to quote an excerpt from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which I know will mean different things to different people:

‘There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise.  And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time.  He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew and that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in  movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.’

Metaphorical as it is, literary language constitutes a major resource.  The protests on the streets of this country, the loud town-halls that are becoming a force of nature, might be touching the nerve of life as ordinary people are feeling ‘war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter.’  Maybe the spirit of America is Buck, ‘leading the pack’, ‘sounding the deeps of his nature’ harking back to freedom.  Or maybe readers will find the resilient spirit of this country in other books, in other stories, in other metaphors, in other words equally filled with ‘the tidal wave of being’.  In the current political situation, which is chaotic and mad, there are books which we can open and could open us and perhaps, for the moment, they could be our first aid by keeping us steady.

 

FOR MY FATHER

You sign your full name with a stick on the freshly poured

Path of cement: the end of the last letter returns to

your first name In the wet dust. Around, a slew of peonies

Hurry to bloom before the bluebells, before you plant them.

You surprise me with dill seeds from Grandmother

That you kept since our last trip home.

You brought her in this soil and now we are together

Through plants we touched in different countries.

Remember? A cart full of red and white grapes at the head

Of our vineyard, red wine pressed years before,

Goat’s cheese and tomatoes spread under the oak tree

And horses let loose for children whose voices ripened the earth.

*

I have the picture in which you crossed yourself in front of St Mary’s icon at Vatra.

 It was the first week of chemotherapy when we had the service with

Seven candles and seven prayers and seven readings from the Gospels.

Seven times we walked to the altar where the priest painted crosses with holy oil

On our cheeks, on our foreheads, and the backs of our hands.  For we must sin

With our minds, hurt others with our hands, and carry our shame on our faces.

So we try to redeem ourselves with our minds, and hands, and clean our cheeks.

I look at your pale profile, at your balding head in front of those candles

And ask what the mother in red and her child in white,

carefully placed In the whitest of wood frames, will do for you.

We cried with you: Mother, I, and a congregation of exiles

Dreaming their own into the smoke of the censer.

*

We are small gardens in strange places, small voices –

Prayers weakening with age and heavy accents hammering wrong syllables:

Does God understand us in English or our own language still?

You choose the path with handwriting that marks your name and year

And I carry your garden in my head, along with the memory of you and Mother

Embracing on the doorstep the day we received the news:

In the months to come what binds us is the most silent of prayers, unuttered still.

Orthodox Easter, 2022

By now even the faith has got it wrong,

The Patriarch held hands with the invader

And praised the unjust war, with crossed candles.

The faithful broke ranks, the filigreed eggs

Sat in baskets like stones, the sweet bread

Laid on the table like a closed book.

And us, aghast at what love means

In different homes, to different people,

Unable to choose a place to pray,

Except God’s true garden: the forests,

And the sea marshes where perfect

Great white herons dance in pairs

Just above our heads, their sinewy necks

Above still water: love in mirrors—free,

Wild, calling out the pink crab apple blooms.

The dwarf pines send forth long cones,

An offering of candles lit by the sun.

Christ rises on great heron’s wings.

A Prayer for Europe

The warring language floats in the winter air

At the words of one dictator. People forget

Preparations for Clean Monday to begin the war.

Across the border, children wake up

In the night, to the sound of bombs,

A neighborhood grocery store will turn to ruin,

And old men, together with young women

Will take up their guns, to join the army.

Old mistrust rises poisoning words.

If I could halt the madness with a call

To prayer, a reminder of old kindnesses

We all so easily tend to forget.

*

Today Europe is a woman

Whose body has been sliced by the birthing

Knife, over and over, her cesarean

Wound badly patched birth after birth,

Her womb crisscrossed; flesh hardened

Along ridges of history written in blood.

Protect its life-giving womb, slice her no more.

Consider the early patches of snowdrops

Under the wheels of the tanks.

Would those who fly the bomber planes

Notice the change of seasons in the sky

For the peace it could bring, and fly back home?

Will neighborly kindness revisit memory?

The world lifts its hands in prayer as Europe

Suffers. This is no birth.

Stony Brook, 27 February 2022