Wordless

November 25th, 2008

Sometimes I get tired of words and want only to stroll the streets with my camera searching for the door to another world. I see things differently with the weight of the camera tapping me on the shoulder. (Was it Margaret Bourke-White who said that the camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without one?) Sometimes I get tired of my story. It seems I am always telling the same story. (Was it Maurice Sendak who said that all writers have one essential story and we tell it again and again?) Sometimes I want an image without an explanation, an illustration without a caption. I crave a door, an angle, a color.

On the second day

September 16th, 2008

We hiked from the Praetschli at 1908 meters to the summit of the Weisshorn at 2653 meters through alpine meadows holding on to the latest blooms of summer, bees search for every last golden dusting of pollen.

Butterflies, two dragonflies dancing over a grassy alpine pond. Weather out of a post card, unbelievable summer weather even though autumn is making her entrance through the reddening leaves of the Alpenrosen, the dried thistle starbursts.

The last hundred meters – in altitude, not distance – is a blasted granite landscape, the aftermath of a rock slide or simple geology. At 2600 meters I am suddenly walking on a dried out riverbed, the rocks sliding and rolling under my feet, not a plant to be seen. This is what it looks like when a glacier recedes, the wasted ground-up trail I do not, cannot, stop to get the camera out of my backpack.

I am at my end these last 30 minutes winding up around the summit, the rocks shifting beneath my each foot fall. Regina, 62 year-old Regina two years out from a hip operation, shames me with her steady methodical pace. She finds her rhythm and never needs a break, never stops to put her hands on the small of her back to widen her ribcage and so expand her lungs and take in deep gulps of fresh cool delicious air. Her friend Isabelle, too, marches on. At the top we slump into the restaurant, order big bowls of hearty Bündnergerstesuppe and glasses of Rivella Rot and take in the view from the picture windows, this view that we earned today. I have been here before, at the peak of the Weisshorn. I have come up with the gondola and skied back down. Today I climbed up on foot, through alpine meadows with tiny treasures and across a wasted moonscape.

And the view, it was more beautiful than I remembered.

On the first day

September 15th, 2008

Certain places speak to me. Over years, over decades, a small handful of places continue to lay claim to my heart. The list of places I want to see is as long as the atlas itself, but for all my wanderlust I find myself returning, like a salmon to its spawning grounds, to the places that speak to my heart.

I am in Arosa for the week, my favorite place – mein Lieblingsort – in Switzerland. I have been coming to Arosa since 1996 and I never tire of it. My heart has put down roots here. This place has become part of the story of my life. My husband wrote his first letter to me – a scant days after we met – sitting at a hotel bar in Arosa. I have come here as his girlfriend, his lover, his fiancé, his wife. I have come here as the mother of a son, as the mother of two. There are so many places in the world to see, but my heart calls me here. Here, where I spent my first Swiss New Year. Here, where I can walk past the restaurant where my older son tasted his first black olive. Here, where I can sit in my favorite café and in the moment before my cup of cappuccino with whipped cream reaches my lips the taste of it comes flooding back to me.

Here, where I’ve been coming since 1996 and yet today hiked to this waterfall for the first time.

 

We passed cairns at whose existence I never guessed

and ate lunch in a village I’ve passed through scores of times without stopping. I could come here the rest of my life and never reach the end of it. I hope to. Come here the rest of my life. And never be full of it.

Protected: Lather, rinse, repeat

June 23rd, 2008

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Poetic transformation

June 2nd, 2008

I wrote this poem about a year ago, in the Poetry Thursday days (I was writing on a different blog then) and have been trying to turn it into a villanelle (there’s a good discussion of  the form here). I almost always write in free verse; when I write to a form it seems to me that it’s pretty obvious that I’m not comfortable with the structure. My sonnets feel like diddys, my villanelles come out sing-songy. It takes a truly light hand to use forms to enhance the content rather than allow the content become slave to the form. I don’t think I have that touch.

With that in mind, this weeks’ ReadWritePoem prompt – to rewrite a formal poem in another form – was a perfect time to return to work on my villanelle; I’d set it aside a long time ago. Technically, I’m not quite responding to the prompt; we’re supposed to take a formal poem and transform it to another form and I’m taking free verse (but with a structure) and turning it into a formal poem. Still, it does demonstrate how changing the form transforms the poem.

Here’s the orignal free verse poem:

Fresh water fugue

My father was a fisherman.
The rivers he fished echo through the summers of my childhood like a fugue.
Their names are smooth and round in my mouth
like the river rocks I rolled in my hands as a child:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
I grew up bathed in the light of his long love affair
with the waters of the American west.
Trained by an angling eye, I learned to worship
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
He lived many miles from the headwaters of his heart
but summer after summer he fished those rivers
and summer after summer those rivers restored him:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
From him I learned the rhythms of happiness,
rhythms of happiness that flow at the pace of trout streams.
Like a cygnet I imprinted on the river valleys of
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
He gave me gifts that glistened like the scales of a brook trout,
gifts I used hard and fierce without thought to value
the way children use gifts, their measure taken only years later:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
Though I have watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon
and seen it set on the Swiss Alps
at night when I dream my heart dreams of
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

For my father was fisherman.
And perhaps there is river water in my blood
or some gene my father handed down.
Or perhaps it is simply that we love best those things that we loved first:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

#

Now here’s the villanelle:

Fresh water fugue

My father was a fisherman.
His heart began to beat
in autumn when the brook trout ran

churning river rocks and sand.
At the headwaters of his heart
my father was a fisherman.

His river home, the Madison
and river water in his blood
in autumn when the brook trout ran

pulled my father off the land.
At the headwaters of his heart
my father was a fisherman

all the years I knew the man.
He hatched his most honest self
in autumn when the brook trout ran.

It’s the single truth I know.
If but one memory holds:
my father was a fisherman
in autumn when the brook trout ran.

#

The orignal free verse poem is actually a cannibalized essay. I like that I’ve gone from 3000 words to 56 lines to 19 lines. I think by the time I get it right, by the time I say the one true thing about my father I’ve been trying to say since he died almost 20 years ago, it will be a haiku. It would satisfy the fly-fisherman in him for me to tell the greatest truth with the fewest words. He knew the pleasures of landing a big trout with a light touch. 

You can read more transformations here.

 

Saturday morning poetry

April 19th, 2008

 

Whatever else happens during the week, Saturday mornings are mine. My husband is in charge of the boys and I have two or three uninterrupted hours of my own. I usually head for a coffee shop and I usually work on my poetry. I only have a few hours because my baby will not take a bottle, not a bottle of breast milk and not a bottle of formula and it’s completely frustrating and we’re working on it. The hours are precious; I feel the minutes acutely as they pass and it’s time I can’t let slip away. One Saturday I was having trouble working, the words weren’t coming and when they did they were as graceful as a three-year old on ice skates. But because time alone is such a premium I can’t let it slide by unused. Here’s my journal entry from that morning:

 

“Having trouble working. Jumping around. Do some Goldberg 3 lines in 3 minutes.

 

[I looked out the window for inspiration]

 

The flag outside

waves goodbye

To winter

 

Blue sky tricked me.

I have my sunglasses

but it’s started to rain.

 

[I looked out the window again and noticed a stall at the market strung with Dream-Catchers and dangling crystals.]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

and dancing to the wind.

 

[I liked that and thought I could keep going]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

next to the wool socks

and dancing to the wind.

They are always in season

but sometimes hard to find

during the long March days.

She knows the secret places,

the hollow under the tree

on the north slope

and the thick mud of the river bottom.

You’d be surprised

the places she finds them:

the second floor of the sandstone building

next to the clock tower,

and her brother-in-law’s cellar.

She collects them all week

and sells them on Saturdays

rain or shine

setting up her stall next to the man with the spices and herbs

and across from the well-made wooden playthings from Germany.

She does a good business

in all kinds of weather.

People always want rainbows

with their steaming cup of coffee from the couple selling cobbler

and heady homemade cream.

It’s a sideline, selling rainbows,

Her real work is the greasy brown of dirty dishes

and ketchup stains

and people who seem to be tipping less these days.

The rainbows keep her in the black.

 

[at this point I can feel the poem is really breaking down and I think I have enough of an idea there to come back to and tear apart and revise later and maybe turn it into something. I stop the free-flow of writing and go back to read it over once and make the following minor changes. The real work of revision will come days or weeks later when I come back to it.]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

next to the wool socks

and dancing to the wind.

They are always in season

but sometimes hard to find

during on the long grey March days.

She knows the secret places,

the hollow under the tree

on the north slope

and the thick mud of the river bottom.

You’d be surprised

the places she finds them:

the second floor of the sandstone building

next to the clock tower,

and her brother-in-law’s cellar.

She collects them all week

and sells them on Saturdays

rain or shine

setting up her stall next to the man with the spices and herbs

and across from the well-made wooden playthings from Germany.

She does a good brisk business

in all kinds of weather.

People always want rainbows

with their steaming cup of coffee from the couple selling cobbler

and with heady homemade cream.

It’s a sideline, selling rainbows,

Her real work is week days are the greasy brown of dirty dishes

and ketchup gravy stains

and people who seem to be tipping less these days.

The rainbows keep her in the black.

 

 

At the line “she collects them all week” I’ve jotted “stumbles here” in the margin and starting at “It’s a sideline, selling rainbows” I’ve written “Breaks down here. Move this idea up top (and reworked)? Drop altogether?” At the bottom of the page I’ve noted “Cute but doesn’t go anywhere.”

 

I type up the drafts from my notebook and keep editing them; this draft is sitting on my desk, still cute, still not going anywhere, but still with a few good lines in there that might have a future.