Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fog Day Painting (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #382

The country fog made driving a bus dangerous,
So they cancelled school and the sky was clear by ten.
Some days we escape the day and flee, not often
Alone, but it’s fine not to be too generous.
She had the easel up by noon and a canvas,
Gessoed and ready, a blank window on a field
Of milk thistle, nimblewill, foxtail and bentgrass.
She wondered, will all this come to me, will it yield?
She left herself, wandered the field as she painted,
Circling back every hour or so to find
If her seeing was approximate or tainted,
If the scene was precisely limned or loosely lined. 
As she packed, she thought, it’s worthy of a fog day.
The photo let the easel and the painting stay.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On the Edge (Klee), Sonnet #381

Look now, it’s time to stop screwing around.
A crow’s cracked nails clawing the frozen ground,
His ceaseless caw cacking a frozen sound,
Writing sonnets is no merry-go-round.
Our faces seek us again and again,
But there’s nothing but the sun to explain —
No sun, no poem, no rose, no weather vane.
Forget the sun you can’t see for the rain!
Theorems are no more valid than a list.
A rhyme is a lot like a broken wrist —
Both need to knit up if you want a fist. 
Sonnets are lists of theorems with no gist.
So I think of Paul Klee as my brother.
He draws not one right thing, but another.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Euphorbia (African Milk Stripe Plant), Sonnet #380

For Ruth on Our 40th Wedding Anniversary, 11/27/77

I bought this for your 21st birthday
In September 1975.
It was just one slender emerald stem —
Our wedding still two years, two months away.
Not only did your care keep it alive,
There are now more than a dozen of them
Inside our home, grown as big as the first,
And yet more — all cut from the mother tree —
We’ve given to our friends and family.
They need little water and do not thirst
For much but light — yours and that of the sun.
The plant has spines more hurtful than a rose,
But I’ve never been pierced by one of those.
So much life, love. You are the only one.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

American Pied-Billed Dabchick (Audubon), Sonnet #379

I once wrote a child’s fairy tale
About birds that didn’t have feet.
Because they could not rest on land
They beat the wind into a gale
Which they coasted, a sleeping fleet,
Coaxing rain from the clouds they’d fanned.
The dabchick can’t fly from firm ground.
Landing on concrete he mistakes
For water, he is trapped, earth bound.
His legs drag behind like branches.
He can rise triumphant from lakes,
Rivers and ponds — when he launches
From the earth, he only stumbles.
So nature exalts and humbles.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

General Sherman, Sonnet #378

The “scorched earth” general has his own tree,
The largest living thing on the planet.
(Enough of such obvious irony.)
A man may live to be eighty, ninety,
Be a beggar or a Plantagenet,
Become a name or a nonentity,
While one tree can live two millennia,
Which we claim ours with some insignia.
After surviving its first century
Of insect threat and impedimenta,
Prone to fall to elemental fury,
An imperturbable concentration 
On growing each circular striation
Inside, the tree (like me) does not hurry.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hanshan and Shih-te (Sengai Gibon), Sonnet #377

Giggling Shih-te and the scribbler Hanshan
Scrub the scree and pebbles on Cold Mountain.
Shih-te moves them aside with his light broom,
Then brushes them back again to make room
For the emptiness between each small stone.
Dust rises like ghosts, silent and alone.
He laughs, delighted at the nothing he has done.
Hanshan washes each gem, rock, and boulder
With a brush dripping with sticky black ink.
If he can, he will make the mountain think
Thoughts not the oldest, but even older.
The work drives needles into his shoulder.
He calls to Shih-te, tells him of his pain.
Needles broomed, all is soon washed clean by rain.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), Albert Pinkham Ryder, Sonnet #376

Here the devil Death exults
(Pale horse drums the circle),
Flays the exhausted beast
With the flat of a scythe.
The racetrack's bet results
A dusty miracle:
Riding from west to east
The new dead cry and writhe.
The race they run is bound
By broken wooden fence,
Gray, imperfectly round,
And guarded by serpents.
All search for the end sign,
But there’s no finish line.