Keeping Vigil

the-flight-into-egyptBy Suzanne M. Wolfe

These are dark times.

Here in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its lowest point in the sky; the winter solstice is still weeks away.

I’m sitting outside on my elderly mother’s kitchen step. I’ve come to England three times this year to take care of her. I came before and after her heart operation. A few weeks after I’d been home she fell and broke her elbow and so I’m back again.

My mother does not do well in the darkness of winter; she becomes agitated and depressed.  As I look out at her garden, I see an objective correlative of her physical and mental state since the onset of her illness a year ago.

I see bare branches with a few shriveled leaves clinging to them, vibrating forlornly in the chill air sweeping south from Iceland. I see frost-burned grass and plants. The herbs I planted for her in the spring look dead.

I know that once our planet begins its ancient, slow tilt towards the sun again, all will be resurrected. I try to keep that in mind as I huddle on the steps, smoke a cigarette or two and pray for God’s mercy to my mother at the end of her life, pray that she will find peace and joy and beauty.

I pray that spring will come to a life spent mostly in deepest winter. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part II

14374480496_991ff96353_zContinued from yesterday.

The dollhouse my father was building for me was still unfinished when he draped a boat tarpaulin over the top, to protect it against the summer rain. The doctor had told my parents that there was a tumor in his lung. He was being sent to the M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, along with my mother.

My oldest, married, sister was coming home to take care of me temporarily, along with my 22-year-older brother, who had bottomed out back home after a period of college-dropout wandering. Together, they cobbled together a backyard party for my eighth birthday, and in the now-faded, garish color of the Kodachrome prints, the unfinished, covered dollhouse is visible.

Four months later, my father was dead. It was the coldest winter there had been in my lifetime. For the first time, a crust of sugar snow dusted the brown pecan leaves that had scattered, unraked, across the yard. [Read more…]

Adam Zagajewski’s Trench Warfare

15221101821_df7492d443_z“Writing poems is a duel / that no one wins…” As I’m reading the poem that opens with these words, I think: this could be describing my life.

The poem is called “Writing Poems.” It’s by the superb contemporary Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, in his new collection, Unseen Hand. And in fact, nearly all the poems in this collection could be describing my life—because the “duel” that Zagajewski refers to is between opposites that battle each other, or sometimes balance each other, or sometimes swing back and forth between each other.

This is Zagajewski’s vision not only of writing poems but of living life. And it’s my own experience of living.

My husband has ongoing and seemingly interminable heart disease dis-ease, yet he delights in a phone call from our son and laughs heartily (hmmm, interesting pun) during a friend’s visit. His days are like Zagajewski’s poem-writing: [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Manifestation” by Richard Jones

Starlit homeI’m a poet and believer. If anyone should spend an evening gazing at a meteor shower, it should be me: dreamer, connector. Hidden under the fingernails of God.

But those Zone 5A clouds seem ever near in August, when the air thickens with cicada song. And to be honest, I’m relieved. The day’s tasks of laundry and writing and breaking up children’s fights is enough to make me collapse in bed or at least loll in front of the flickering lights of Netflix for an hour or so. Knowing it’s too cloudy or late to see the Perseids (must be on time to church!) earns me the right to be lazy of awe.

But Richard Jones’s poem, “Manifestation,” wakes me up.

The speaker insists on abiding with  “glory beyond measure,” even in the late hour and thick fog. Even at the point of despair. But it’s the last three lines I read over and over, the reminder of the mundane wonder that burns every night, at least until it’s extinguished.

Tania Runyan


“The Manifestation” by Richard Jones

The night of the Perseid shower,
thick fog descended
but I would not be denied.
I had put the children to bed,
knelt with them,
and later
in the quiet kitchen
as tall red candles
burned on the table between us,
I’d listened to my wife’s sweet imprecations,
her entreaties to see a physician.
But at the peak hour—
after she had gone to bed,
and neighboring houses
stood solemn and dark—
I felt no human obligation
and went without hope into the yard.
In the white mist
beneath the soaked and dripping trees,
I lifted my eyes
into a blind nothingness of sky
and shivered in a white robe.
I couldn’t see the outline
of the neighbor’s willows,
much less the host of streaking meteorites
no bigger than grains of sand
blazing across the sky.
I questioned the mind, my troubled thinking,
and chided myself to go in,
but looking up,
I thought of the earth
on which I stood,
my own
scanty plot of ground,
and as the lights passed unseen
I imagined glory beyond all measure.
Then I turned to the lights in the windows—
the children’s nightlights,
and my wife’s reading lamp, still burning.

 

Image above is by Brandon Atkinson, licensed by Creative Commons.

Richard Jones is the author of seven books of poems, including Apropos of Nothing, The Blessing, and The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning, all from Copper Canyon Press. Editor of the literary journal Poetry East, he is a professor of English at DePaul University in Chicago.

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Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]