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For The Harvesters

500px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder-_The_Harvesters_-_Google_Art_Project

 

 

written after The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

–Ecclesiastes 3, 1-2

 

Bless those who attune to ripening,

those who hoist baskets, who wield

 

hoes, pitchforks. Bless those who

cut and stack and carry. Bless those

 

who pick and gather and sort. Meanwhile,

all around them, others play and lounge,

 

engage in callous sport. But bless those

who notice the work to be done

 

and do it. Bless those who feel

the sweet press of days and allow

 

the hours to avail them. Bless those

who sense the fullness of time,

 

who say yes to the moment

and rise to meet it.

 

The Wayfarer Speaks

Hieronymus-Bosch-Wayfarer-600

written after viewing The Wayfarer by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500

 

 

I have learned to love the broken world,

the holes in the roof, the shutters unhinged.

I have learned to love the tapped out barrel

and shattered panes and the stench of men.

And I, I love being a man, which is why, I suppose,

even now as I walk toward some new life,

some life as yet unknown, I turn.

I turn, but do not stop. I turn to see

the life I’ve loved, my home, my friends,

my ochre lot. And trust my feet to lead me,

trust my hidden heart. Trust the bird outside

the cage who guides me through the dust.

And though I know there will be struggle,

though I’m lost to where I’m going,

I begin to fall in love again, this time

with the unknowing.

The Conjurer Speaks

after The Conjurer by Hieronymous Bosch, 1475

The-Conjuror

No one is so much a fool as a willful fool.

            Flemish proverb

 

 

Most people don’t know where to look—

they’re easy to distract. Some simple patter

can confuse their eyes and cloud their

clarity. “You see this pearl,” I say,

“so luminous,” and hold it up to gather light.

And while they look, a hand can do what hands

can do. And if something should disappear—

a ball, a purse, a trust—I tell myself

it is a fool who’s always credulous.

And in the end, it’s just another empty pocket.

Just another empty cup. Just another

empty promise in a world

with shame enough. So call it magic.

Call it theft. They’re both just rearranging.

One ends in astonishment.

The other in a hanging.

It’s plain survival, this secret art,

this instinct to deceive.

Thank God for fools, their froggish blear,

their longing to believe.

 

 

Dear poetry friends,

 

I’ve never before posted a poem here on A Hundred Falling Veils by someone else, but I was so moved by this poem written this week by my poetry student and friend Phyllis Klein that I asked her if I could post it here, and she agreed.

 

I’m particularly moved by the way that she tells this story in a way that is clearly apropos to this week’s news, but is also so universal.

 

Dedicated to Christine and all survivors.

 

 

 

Life is Glass

–Phyllis Klein

 

There are so many fragile things, after all. 

People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.

Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things

 

 

 

Breaking:  Buzz of a bone fractured, burst of a bowl hitting the floor,

boom of a heart splitting. Please like me. A dream as it shatters.

Please think I’m good. Whistle of a word as it severs from itself into the air.

Of a scream demolished.

 

Moments of breaking:

Hand over the mouth, gagging, pushed into a room, door locked from

the inside. Parties, drinking. Why did I do that? The seconds it takes to get

lost. Smash of consciousness as it disappears. Disillusion’s waking

croak. Where are my clothes? Fragmentation into terror.

 

How it happens:  remembering, forgetting. Was I drugged?

After school, at a party, pungency of impact, taste without

permission. No proof. In the sacristy, in a back seat, a hotel

or a bedroom, did it happen?

 

Breaking: dust of collision, whiff of dreams burning, nightmares strike,

cymbals snarl in the brain. I’m repulsive. Floating above it

all in a disappeared body.

 

Why she didn’t tell: Pretend. It didn’t happen.

No one will swallow it. He threatened, laughed, was stronger, bigger.

It’s my fault. They won’t believe me. Pretend. Have to see him sneer.

Hide it.

 

What happens next: Cracks. Panic, a plane taking off in the gut.

Armor, as involuntary as neurons saying run but all there is is a

wall. Looking ok, nobody knows. Get over it. What is PTSD? The thing

that won’t leave, the image, the smell, the taste that’s a plague.

 

The crush of shame. Lack of sleep. When is it over?

Feeling it, numbing it. Not understanding yet that greatness

comes from damage.

The All Of It

 

 

 

just sing, little darling, sing with me.

—Emmylou, First Aid Kit

 

 

The song does not understand

the word forsake. Though it

dances with silence, it always

returns, like petals, like morning,

like waves. The song will never

leave you. When you cannot

hear it—when the song

seems lost to your lips—

that is when it is ripening.

Let us add our voices

to the song, the song that

is singing us awake.

And let us add our silences

to it, too. How beautifully

it holds us, becomes stem,

becomes sun, becomes oar.

 

 

 

 

 

And though I can’t remember

what I wrote last night, which seems

like ten years ago, I rattle off,

a body at rest remains at rest and

a body in motion remains in motion

until acted upon by an external force,

and then, mid-sentence, I have some small

fantasy about being a body at rest,

a body at rest that stays at rest, a body

at rest that is somehow entirely unacted upon,

not by breakfast, not by school, not by work,

not by mewling cats or errant bears

traversing the porch, not by nightmares

nor bladder nor hot flash nor chill,

and I think to myself that Newton

was really, really on to something,

some sweet world he posits

that I now long for, a world

where a woman might find

such rest, might be such a body.

Holding It All Up

 

 

And when Montaigne turned thirty-eight,

he began to paint inscriptions on the roof beams

in his library. Words of Socrates.

Euripedes. Sophocles. Horace. Ecclesiastes.

Theognis. Epictetus. Lucretius. As if to keep

himself looking up. As if to remember

where the world has been. As if to know

himself as part of this glorious conversation.

 

And who have I painted on the roof beams

of my heart? Rumi. Neruda. Mira. Rilke.

Szymborska. Hopkins. Ahkmatova. Bass.

Every day, I climb into that tower and trace

their words with my thoughts, wander

their paths, let them hold my hand. Sometimes

they take me by the face, the way a mother

or a lover would, and hold me there as if to say,

Now listen. I mean this. I mean you.  

Sometimes they stand passive, and

force me to find my own way in.

 

These are beams that never will burn,

the kind that hold up the sky.

Montaigne inscribed Horace, who

tells us: shelter where the storm drives you.

And wherever the storm, these beams

are there. Meanwhile, the thunder, the crackle

of lightning, the scent of the coming rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Her Spine

 

 

 

not just turning the pages

of her life to the next chapter,

but choosing to leap

out of the pages

into a new book

Black Out

 

 

A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.

            —Marcus Aurelius

 

 

Let me be fire.

Let everything

ignite me.

Let the whole world

be kindling.

I’ll take all fuel.

Let me flash.

Let me flare.

Let me make brightness.

Give me the dark.

Let me blaze there.

Longtime Traveler

 

 

 

Once I knew it by heart,

that song about leaving

the earth and traveling on,

but tonight, I just hum

through the verse I’ve forgotten,

grateful the tune still knows

how to find me, grateful

to still have lips, breath.

Grateful to be a traveler

here, my feet still finding

the road.

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