Randomness & poems

The past weeks unloaded upon the blogger a host of responsibilities and reasons for reflection: reams of student essays to read and grade, piles of snow and the resultant delays and work closure leading to backlogs, and such usual complaints. In addition, the dropping-of-everything while attending to the death of our no-longer-resident nonagenarian, not to mention the bureaucratic heaps of forms and notifications that follow a passing.

I’m writing poems. It seems to be what I need to do at present, despite the state of my household environment and the backlog at work.Untitled-writer

~

The blizzard put my gardening on hold, though I remembered to purchase some seeds and thus can get to the tomato-starting process within a week or so. Before the snow came, I did get outside to prune and deadhead a bit while the weather was unseasonably warm. A little at a time. Such things are sustaining to me, emotionally.

And watching the birdfeeders has been soothing and delightful. Today a small nuthatch joined the party. My youngest cat spends large segments of his day crouched by the window, as fascinated as I am (but for different reasons, I suppose).

scoot window

~

I am thinking of a friend-in-poetry who has need of special care and financial assistance while going through and recuperating from some extremely painful, delicate, dangerous and potentially-disabling surgery-&-rehab. She will need more than the initial $4K this GoFundMe portal suggests, so if any of my readers feel inclined toward a random act of (financial) kindness: Jessamyn’s Medical Fundraiser. Thanks.

~

Addendum: Yes, I’m sticking to my determination to read more poetry. And it is helping. Most recently, re-reading early Li-Young Lee, Mark Doty’s Deep Lane, Dave Bonta’s Ice Mountain: An Elegy, and a really wonderful new collection by Kim Roberts: The Scientific Method.

 

Advertisements

How to start

My students often get confused at the beginning of their essays; a common complaint is “I don’t know how to start!”

I feel for them. Beginnings are difficult. Recently I was wondering why that is so.

~

Driving home during a blizzard–concentrating on seeing the road, staying off the shoulder, anticipating the curves, watching for oncoming vehicles. Tense, I’m trying not to clutch the steering wheel. Eight miles home seems long when the visibility is nearly zero and the back roads have not been plowed. And then a blur of activity to my right, a thunk against the passenger side window, and a sweeping shape looms in front of me, veers; a fan, dark stripes, pale breast-feathers, strikingly yellow claws. I’ve nearly hit a broad-winged hawk. And that thunk was a smaller bird that had been harrying it through the snow.

Broad-winged Hawk Flying

A startling incident, that experience heightened my awareness of where I am (in the world), in which environments (natural and human-made), and when (now!).

Sometimes, happenstances such as this evolve into, or figure in, poems that I will eventually write. The image, the occurrence, offers a way in.

~

Returning to my question about how to start: the blockade many people make for themselves is that they think they have to know what they want to say before they write anything. “What is it I am trying to say?” the writer asks. We have been instructed to keep in mind our aims when we write.

I suggest it may be a mistake, though, to figure out what one wants to say before trying to write. When my student writers are truly stuck at the start, I ask them to write what they notice, what they experience, what they hear. Just write it down, describe it: the soft thud of the sparrow (if it was a sparrow–allow for speculation), the sound of wind against the car body, the clearly-visible buteo in the windshield where before there had been near-whiteout. What is it I want to say about the drive, the shock, the tension, the world of natural things? I don’t yet know, but I am writing.

~

Thanks to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Raptor Preserve, Kempton PA.

Negotiating the storm

I have lived and driven vehicles in regions that receive a great deal of snow, but it has been awhile–and I am not as spry as I once was–and I don’t even own a pair of cross-country skis anymore (a favorite winter activity). Being responsible for keeping a house and property and cars and pets maintained while the ice comes down and the snow piles up and the heat stops working and the power goes off has also somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for snowy winters. Plowing and shoveling are no substitute for XC skiing, and harder on the back. Worries about possible frozen pipes or whether the oil truck can get down the driveway (which resembles a bobsled run) shove more leisurely, more inspired thinking out of mind.

iceimage~

Nonetheless, I cannot ignore the beauty of fields and trees in snow or branches rimmed with ice or–as tonight–the cold, bright moon above the cold, white earth. I remind myself that snow is the best mulch. I think of the crocus and narcissus bulbs snug and dormant below the deep drifts. The house we built does its job of upholding us and protecting us. The house, wearing its white hat…

~

A poem from 2007, an experiment in sapphics, that seems appropriate.

Negotiating the Storm

Dawn. I curl away from the ice storm toward you,
your breath cools my face and my hair, the warm room;
Love, we’ve had too few of these moments lately—
other storms plague us.

Ice assaults the windows with droves of needles,
gusts shove over pines and flatten the birches.
I am glad for the weather’s impersonal aspect:
nothing to blame there.

Sleep. The sleet does not suffer indecision.
You don’t have to touch me, just breathing is plenty.
Walls and roof are stolidly doing their jobs,
power is on yet.

Let’s recuse ourselves from the task of judging
guilt or merits the past twelve moths have garnered,
forge a drowsy peace between us and also the
guileless brute outside.

~

© 2007 Ann E. Michael

Snow scene

photo Ann E. Michael

winterhazel

Temperate regions in zones 5 and 6 benefit from snow cover, which moistens soil as it melts and insulates the living things that depend upon soil–a cold “open” winter is particularly hard on plants. Except for an unusual late-autumn blizzard, this season has been mild; so I welcome today’s snow even as signs of spring become visible: a few blooms on the hazel boughs, some snowdrops, reddening stems in the hedgerow shrubs.

phot Ann E. Michael

winterberries

Winterberries are beginning to shrivel, and soon bluebirds and the earliest robins will pick them off for sustenance before the grubs and insects are plentiful. Today, as winter gently asserts itself, there are revelations in the outlines of white against shadow. The squirrel dreys are visible, loaded with dollops of snow, amid treetops. The deer paths and deer beds are more obvious because those areas are flattened by use and thus blanketed more evenly than the surrounding grassy spots.

Meadow’s stalks droop in criss-crossed patterns. If I look closely enough, I can identify the species, dry and broken, tangled together and covered in snow: solidago, eupatoria, aster, clematis, ryegrass, penstemon, milkweed. The snow’s ephemeral, yet I find myself thinking of Steve Tobin’s Earth Bronzes.

The ways shrubs and trees collect snow fascinate me, too; I love the fractal sketching of dogwood and Japanese maple, the calligraphic hatchwork of long-needled pines and the way thorns embrace little cups of ice along vine-y stems. I love the larch and birch that create the perfect image of lacework when a light snow coats their branches:

photo by Ann E. Michael

larch and birch

Overhead, vines rope trees together, creepers that take on a creepy mien, ghostly and dripping, when snow-covered. Vines have become a hazard in our region, with both native varieties (poinon ivy, wild grape) and non-natives (too many to name!) choking wooded areas, killing off tree crowns, usurping the niches of native plants, and adding to the hazards of storm damage.

Maybe that is why the ice-draped vines appear sinister to me.

And yet. A plant is neutral, alive, neither good nor bad, possesses no conscience, cannot be evil, plays its role in the environment–and can serve as inspiration. One woody tendril sways high above the ground, a line drawn against the featureless sky. Using a stick, I copy its shape in the snow at my feet. It might be part of an alphabet I do not know, an ideogram I have yet to decipher, the course of a river. Imagination steers from that point on: I take up my pen and write.

Interruptions

The recent freak snowstorm brought silence to my house in the form of power losses: no refrigerator humming, no dishwasher or washing machine, no furnace fan, no well-pump running, no electronic sounds. After working outside to clear fallen boughs and cut back broken shrubs, I felt physically tired each evening.

I find that physical exhaustion often inspires me to write because I am mentally alert but able to find physical stillness. I can pick  up a notebook and a pen and stay in a cozy chair–or under a pile of warm blankets–and jot down poems and ideas. I don’t get as “antsy” as I do when I have not exerted myself so much.

Today, the power came on again after almost three days. I had cut back the broken buddleia stems and cleaned the house. I had a few quiet hours for reading and concentration.

I was interrupted by picoides pubescens, the downy woodpecker. A pretty bird that hammers at our wood-sided house, especially when the weather’s been nasty. I find it difficult to get my thoughts onto paper when a one-ounce feathered creature is pounding away at the cornerboards, drilling 2-inch holes into the cedar and distracting the writer at her work.

Blame the bird for my lack of productiveness today? Well, maybe I needed to mull over my ideas a bit longer.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/downy_woodpecker/videos