Happiness is. . .

Happiness is. . .

A late winter day
bright but cold,
wind light and
sky blue.
Splitting locust logs,
ice storm deadfall,
for next year’s fires,
swinging the ax,
winter-stiff muscles
warm and flex.
Coat and hat
get too warm.
A bluebird
beginning to sport
summer color
flutters away.
A cardinal on a branch
sings his heart out
for love.
The slant of the sun
says that spring is soon.
Sing your heart out
for love.

But I digress. . .

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Good Poem #7 – Grass

Carl Sandburg had an ear for America. One of my favorites of his poems is “Grass” which was  first published in 1918.  Listen to Sandburg read the poem himself in his lilting voice with Scandinavian tones.  Note in the oral version an addition to the poem made after World War II.

I am the grass.  Let me work.

Grass

– Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work
 I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
   What place is this?
                                                                    Where are we now?
                                                                       I am the grass.
                                                                        Let me work.

Underappreciated Movie #6 – Man on Wire

Another in a series of overlooked but unforgettable movies…

6.  Man on Wire

“At some point you have to shift your weight from the building onto the wire.”

Many people, including me, tend to shy away from documentaries.  However, often they turn out to be wonderful, unforgettable viewing experiences, like Young@Heart or Harlan County, U.S.A. or Man on Wire.  Man on Wire (2008) recounts the story of French aerialist Phillipe Petit who in 1974 managed to rig a wire between the tops of the two towers of the World Trade Center and then without a safety harness walked from one tower to the other. You will have your heart in  your throat even though you know the outcome.  Man on Wire won the 2009 documentary Academy Award and is suitable for all ages. Watch the trailer.

Man on Wire

Man on Wire

If you really want to hear about it . . .

“If you really want to here about it . . .”

JD Salinger

JD Salinger

Anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary American literature should watch the PBS American Masters documentary on JD Salinger. Catcher in the Rye continues to attract new readers as Holden Caulfield still speaks to the hearts of young  (and not so young) readers. As Holden would perhaps have done, after having achieved literary fame, Salinger escaped the phonies by seeking seclusion for decades in the woods of New Hampshire.  Nevertheless, he continued to write daily.  His works are now owned by a trust and new books are to appear beginning in 2016, six years after Salinger’s death.  One of the books is to be an account of Salinger’s WWII service, including combat in the D-Day invasion and liberation of France.  Interestingly, the trust provides that no movie based on a Salinger work can ever be made.  So, something to look forward in 2016.  In the meanwhile, let’s get reacquainted with the Salinger stories in Franny and Zooey, Seymour: An Introduction, Nine Stories and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.

But I digress . . .

Good Poem #6 – At the Swings

Henry Taylor is one of my favorite working poets.  He won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for his book of poetry, The Flying Change.  Here’s my favorite poem from that work. It describes an ordinary moment and captures its universality.  It will resonate for anyone who’s been a parent or a child. Poets write for the love of the work, but they also like to be validated by having people buy their books (not to mention being able to pay the mortgage) so buy their books when you can:  The Flying Change.

At the Swings

By Henry Taylor

Henry Taylor

Henry Taylor

Midafternoon in Norfolk,
late July. I am taking our two sons for a walk
away from their grandparents’ house; we have
directions to a miniature playground,
and I have plans to wear them down
toward a nap at five,

when my wife and I
will leave them awhile with her father. A few blocks
south of here, my wife’s mother drifts from us
beneath hospital sheets, her small strength bent
to the poisons and the rays they use
against a spreading cancer.

In their house now, deep love
is studying to live with deepening impatience
as each day gives our hopes a different form
and household tasks rise like a powdery mist
of restless fatigue. Still, at five
my wife and I will dress

and take the boulevard
across the river to a church where two dear friends
will marry; rings will be blessed, promises kept
and made, and while our sons lie down to sleep,
the groom’s niece, as the flower girl,
will almost steal the show.

But here the boys have made
an endless procession on the sides, shrieking down
slick steel almost too hot to touch; and now
they charge the swings. I push them from the front,
one with each hand, until at last
the rhythm, and the sunlight

that splashes through live oak
and crape myrtle, dappling dead leaves on the ground,
lull me away from this world toward a state
still and remote as an old photograph
in which I am standing somewhere
I may have been before:

there was this air, this light,
a day of thorough and forgetful happiness;
where was it, or how long ago? I try
to place it, but it has gone for good,
to leave me gazing at these swings,
thinking of something else

I may have recognized—
an irrecoverable certainty that now,
and now, this perfect afternoon, while friends
are struggling to put on their cutaways
or bridal gowns, and my wife’s mother,
dearer still, is dozing

after her medicine,
or turning a small thing in her mind, like someone
worrying a ring of keys to make small sounds
against great silence, and while these two boys
swing back and forth against my hand,
time’s crosshairs quarter me

no matter where I turn.
Now it is time to go. The boys are tired enough,
and my wife and I must dress and go to church.
Because I love our friends, and ceremony,
the usual words will make me weep:
hearing the human prayers

for holy permanence
will remind me that a life is much to ask
of anyone, yet not too much to give
to love. And once or twice, as I stand there,
that dappled moment at the swings
will rise between the lines,

when I beheld our sons
as, in the ways of things, they will not be again,
though even years from now their hair may lift
a little in the breeze, as if they stood
somewhere along their way from us,
poised for a steep return.

Underappreciated Movie #5 – Cinema Paradiso

Another in a series of overlooked but unforgettable movies …

5.  Cinema Paradiso

This Italian Academy Award winner from 1988 focuses on a small-town movie theater to tell the story of a fatherless boy who loves movies, befriends the movie projectionist and grows up to become a movie director.  Great bittersweet story of time gone by.  Perfect haunting theme song by Ennio Morricone.  Watch the trailer.

Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso

Rule for Living #5 – Don’t Clean a Fish before Church

A father’s advice:  Life lessons accumulated over years of trial and error (mostly) for the benefit (I hope) of my kids and maybe a few others.

Rule for Living #5.  Never Clean a Fish before Church

It is an extremely bad practice to clean a fish before going to church.  I learned the hard way; you could ask the people sitting around me.  If you doubt it, give it a try.

Reincarnation? Really?

I thought that I’d put wondering about the supernatural behind me when The Twilight Zone went off the air.  However, I just finished an article in the winter edition of the University of Virginia Magazine by Jim Tucker, a UVa professor. For 10 years, Professor Tucker has been director of the UVa Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic and for even longer has studied reincarnation as a phenomenon.

According to Professor Tucker, developments in quantum physics have lent a scientific basis for reincarnation. His research, he says, has uncovered cases of children actually recalling memories from prior lives. One boy in Oklahoma had told his mother that he used to be someone else, someone who lived in Hollywood.  His mother then got some books on Hollywood from the library.  Thumbing through one of them, the boy found a picture of his prior self as a movie extra.

Hoax?  Superstition? Wishful thinking?  I would ordinarily say that the only province for such stories is the magazines at Kroger’s, but this has all appearances of a reputable study.  If this can be true, what can’t be?

Dr. Tucker’s book, Return to Life, is now available.

But I digress (or was that in a prior life?)  . . .

Homegrown Poem #2 – A Quick Study in Horseshoes

For your consideration:

A Quick Study in Horseshoes

ELG ­­– February, 2014

When my father was a boy,
on the main street of his hardscrabble home town
still stood a blacksmith shop.

On warm weather days
the smith would rig an awning up out back
and work outside.

He would take out his tools,
his tongs, his hammer and his anvil to forge horseshoes
there in the open air.

 Children on their way home from
school would stop and lean on the low fence to watch
the blacksmith at his work.

The smithy would take the shoe
orange-hot from the forge, clank it tight to the anvil’s horn,
and hammer it into shape.

He then took the tongs and
tossed the shoe into a small barrel of rainwater
kept there by the fence.

 The shoe sank into the water
with a satisfying hiss to the bottom of the barrel while the smith
worked on the next shoe blank.

After a while one boy
can’t stand it any longer and leans down to reach
into the water and pick up the shoe.

 When the boy grabs it,
the shoe hasn’t cooled yet in the water of course
so it’s still blistering hot.

The water masks the feeling.
The burn doesn’t register at once. Then it does. The boy yelps
and flings the shoe across the yard.

Hot, ain’t it, grins the smith.
Nah, says the boy.  It just don’t take me long
to look at a horseshoe.