Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: A Holler, Not a Smile


Today's the 4th of July! 

When I was a kid I said "Today's the 4th of July" with a mix of delight and terror. I knew the day would be loud, it would be beautiful, it would be a little out of control, and it would ride roughshod over all those polite holidays like Easter, the day of white gloves, white patent leather shoes, white purse, white hat. The 4th of July was all about shorts, bare feet, sunburn, skin that tasted like salt if I licked it - which I did - and somewhere in the distance, cherry bombs and bottle rockets going off.  Easter was a sugary smile, the 4th of July was a holler.


It was also my grandfather's birthday. Walter Vane Wagner, married to my grandmother for more than sixty years. He tattooed a couple of his knuckles --- a spider and a butterfly ---- with a sharp pen knife and some ink when he was a teenager back in the late 1910's - and when I sat on his lap as a kid, I would make him show them to me. He was a man too thin for his name, so everyone just called him "Skinny" --- if it hadn't been for a good set of suspenders, his pants would have been down around his knees each day. He worked his whole life as a lumberjack for the Weyerhaeuser Co., back when trees were big


When we all got together for our 4th of July picnics, it was my grandfather who was the center of attention rather than anything as abstract as America. He was one of those complicated men who made it through the Great Depression on pure grit and willpower, and he wasn't sweet - my grandmother, Mary Alice, took those honors. Gramp was...what was he? For me, he was a combination, of fascinating, scary and magnetic. He smoked - in fact, he was the only smoker in our big, extended family - and from a young age I associated cigarettes with long, lean men of the Wild West. My grandfather beat Marlboro cigarettes to the punch on that. Now my grandfather's great-grandson - my youngest son, Mike - has a tattoo of a tree all the way up his arm from wrist to elbow. My eldest son, Josh, has a tattoo of Mt. Rainier at sunrise. Both are gentle souls. Neither one smokes.

Skinny, Mary Alice, my Aunt Gloria (who was called Gee) and my cousins Randy and Colleen, my dad John, my mom Lorene, (everyone called her Peach) and the three of us - Johnny, Mary, me - on the beach for the 4th of July: When I close my eyes, I can still see it, smell it, taste it. Later, my own kids got added into the scene - Josh and Mike and my daughter, Mary, always the bravest of the bunch, turning over rocks to discover crabs, or swimming with her Aunt Mary and her Great-Aunt Gloria in the freezing water of Puget Sound.



Gad, I loved those warm days and those picnics, sharing laughs, sharing food. There were always hot dogs cooked on sticks over a beach fire, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, dill pickles, olives, maybe some A&W root beer to wash it down, always plenty of coffee in heavy, glass-lined thermoses, strawberry shortcake to round it all out. Gramp - Skinny - could out-eat everyone.



As the dark came on, there were boxes of sparklers - we would run across the grass creating trails of light, or sail lit sparklers out onto the saltwater, stuck straight up into big driftwood logs. When I was a kid "the beach" was in front of the cabin my grandmother's parents built on Elger Bay, half way down Camano Island. During the years my family lived in California, we substituted the fireworks at Spartan Stadium in San Jose for the beach, but it wasn't the same. Eventually, we all moved back - first my husband and me, then my mom and dad, then my brother and his family, then my sister. Once we were back in the Northwest, the beach became Rosario Beach on Whidbey Island, home now to the Maiden of Deception Pass.


And for the years my parents had their own home on Whidbey Island's Penn Cove, we had our picnics there in front of the house.


It seems we stayed out from dawn (sunlight coming up over the Cascade mountains) to dark (sun going down behind the Olympic mountains.) The day would end with s'mores around a beach fire and all of us getting sleepy staring at the embers.

Since it's Poetry Friday, I'm going to post the lyrics for America the Beautiful. Whenever I hear this song, it un-glues me. But I don't think of this country the way I thought of it when I was little.


America the Beautiful: a holler rather than a smile. A little out of control. Not always sweet. Magnetic but scary. Riding roughshod. Yes, we have spacious skies and purple mountains' majesty, but just like the 4th of July, in America there always seems to be the sound of something exploding in the distance.

Happy 4th of July, everybody.
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If you're interested in seeing what other people have posted for Poetry Friday, head over to Heidi Mordhurst's My Juicy Little Universe. You'll find the round-up there. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Portrait of a Pig by Jamie Wyeth
 Well, it's not quite Poetry Friday, but I'm going to write this up early (Wednesday) and schedule it to post on Friday. I'm headed down to Eugene, Oregon, for a few days - who knows whether I'll have time to post it later.  My daughter and her husband are going to run there in the Dirty Dash (mud at the home stretch) and my seven-year-old grandson is running in the Piglet Plunge. A muddy time is guaranteed for all, photos are sure to follow. In honor of all things piggy - and hoggish -  I offer up this original poem for your reading pleasure.



SONG OF THE HOG

It’s true, I grunt. I’m low. I lurk.
I roll in mud. I muck about. 
When dinner comes, no matter what,
I scarf it up and soil my snout
and gulp with such abandon that
my cousin pigsters get left out.
Ferocious Me!  That’s who I am –
I nip the runts and make them shout,
“O, Rotund One! O, Royal Swine!
You are the barnyard’s Master Lout.
We’re curly-tailed and pink and squealy,
but you are the Porcine King, no doubt! “
Quite right! Quite right!  I understand
what being a Hog is all about! 

I think Jamie Wyeth, whose "Portrait of a Pig" heads up this post, painted the swiney guy I was thinking of. Here's a bit of trivia: The real-life subject of this painting ate seventeen tubes of the artist's paint while no one was looking. O, Rotund One!






 
 



Friday, June 13, 2014

Poetry Friday: Goodbye to Russell Edson


A young Russell Edson....
It's Poetry Friday, and I'm going to send you over to Poetry Northwest to read an essay (you might call it a mix of memoir and essay) I wrote about the late poet Russell Edson and my first encounter with his work. If you already love Edson's sly, curious prose poems, you'll know why I mourn his passing. If you don't know his work, oh -  run out, find it, read it, let it sink in, try to imitate it, see what he's doing, see if you can do it. You'll have some fun, but it goes deeper than that. As the essay says, I used to think his work was all about whimsy - but no, as I've learned more about life, I see it's not. Click here for the link.

And if you're in the mood for a less autobiographical reflection, you'll want to read Cody Walker's farewell tribute to Edson. Cody exactly captures what it is about the poet that is most exciting and strange - over at The Kenyon Review blog.
...and older.
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The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week by Catherine Johnson.  Head over to her blog to see what other people have posted.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Poetry Friday: Worriers, Wood Drakes and Wendell Berry

Wood Drake at the Bronx Zoo

I seem to worry more than I used to. Does it come on stronger - this capacity for worry - as we age? That's counter-intuitive - we should have a more relaxed attitude and a little less to worry about, the older we get, no? Shouldn't the ability to say "I'm sure it will be fine" get easier?

Yesterday my friend Laura sent me this poem by Wendell Berry.  It's a good poem for worriers. I'll save it for a rainy day or - much better - memorize it and say it each night, like a prayer.


The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

                                         - Wendell Berry 

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Today's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted at Carol's Corner. Head over there to see what other people have posted. 



Friday, May 23, 2014

Poetry Friday: Josephine Jacobsen's "Birthday Party"



I've posted this week over at Books Around the Table, the blog I contribute to with fellow writers Julie Paschkis, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Laura Kvasnosky and Bonny Becker. Please head over there to see my thoughts on a writer's relationship to delight, despair - and musical chairs! I love Josephine Jacobsen's work and hope to have an essay up sometime in July over at Numero Cinq about her. Will update here with a link to that essay as soon as it gets posted. 

The Birthday Party

The sounds are the sea, breaking out of sight,
and down the green slope the children’s voices
that celebrate the fact of being eight.

One too few chairs are for desperate forces:
when the music hushes, the children drop
into their arms, except for one caught by choices.

In a circle gallops the shrinking crop
to leave a single sitter in hubris
when the adult finger tells them: stop.

There is a treasure, somewhere easy to miss.
In the blooms? by the pineapple-palms’ bark?
somewhere, hidden, the shape of bliss.

Onto the pitted sand comes highwater mark.
Waves older than eight begin a retreat;
they will come, the children gone, the slope dark.

One of the gifts was a year, complete.
There will be others: those not eight
will come to be eight, bar a dire defeat.

On the green grass there is a delicate
change; there is a change in the sun
though certainly it is not truly late,

and still caught up in the scary fun,
like a muddle of flowers blown around.
For treasure, for triumph, the children run

and the wind carries the steady pound,
and salty weight that falls, and dies,
and falls. The wind carries the sound

of the children’s light high clear cries.
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The Poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Violet Nesdoly. Head over to her blog to see what other people have posted.