Stone by stone, reply by reply

Evidence

Sometime in 2013 (the exact date escapes me because, like so many other firsts, I didn’t realize it would be a significant first), I met Ruth.

Well, when I say “met,” I mean something more like “became aware of via a friend via a friend in the online world.” We started to chat online, visiting and commenting each other’s blogs, getting to know each other as much as you can get to know someone who lives on the other side of the ocean.

Which is to say very well, and hardly at all.

Field pinks

What I knew at first is that she’s a terrific artist. What I came to learn later is that she’s also a terrific writer. And a sweet, caring, funny, smart, and thoughtful friend.

It’s also a plus that she loves cheese. And the outdoors. And animals. And Scotland.

Field golds

At some point (another unrecorded date), we started talking about doing a project together. What sort of project we didn’t know, but it seemed like it would be fun to collaborate.

More recently (and now we have a date: July 2014!), inspired by other long-distance, online collaborations (see, for example 3191 Miles Apart and Let Us Go Then You and I), we decided to launch a project that we’ve called And then she replied.

It’s a conversation. An open-ended, meandering conversation where she’ll post something and then I’ll respond somehow, and then she’ll reply to that, and so on.

Ruth started with a mountain. We’ll reply in turn, as it suits (usually within two weeks of the previous post).

Field whites

As I said, Ruth has a way with pen and ink, and paintbrushes, and words; and she experiments with all sort of other art forms, from weaving to ceramics.

As for me, my natural instinct is to reply in words, but I’ve been known to dabble in the dark arts of origami, photography, and sourdough.

Like any real conversation, we have no idea where this will lead or how long it will last, but won’t it be fun to see?

If you’d like to follow the conversation, visit us over at And then she replied. To start at the beginning of the conversation, scroll down to the bottom to see Ruth’s mountain, and then scroll up to see the replies building upon and circling each other. You can join in the conversation, too, by commenting on any of our replies.

Ruth’s last reply was a wink. A way of seeing. I’m ruminating on my reply…

Open to the rain and flowers

Wind and rain

Crabapple buds

Golden Russet bud

What happened between the time that poetry month started and now is that spring arrived. The piles of snow are long gone. The birds are raising a ruckus at dawn and dusk. There’s a bird at twilight whose call is a creaking thing, like a complaint, or an unoiled door hinge. We don’t know what that bird is, but we enjoy making its noise back to it. A conversation for us, if not for him or her.

What happened is that the brown buds on the fruit trees have turned furry and are peeling themselves open to reveal pink. Spring is coming slowly, as it should, and the blooms are pacing themselves accordingly.

What happened is that I’ve been basking in poems every day and spinning lines in my head, and sometimes even scribbling them down in my notebook. These are blooming slowly, too.

What happened is someone long from home finally returned to where she should be.

What happened is, on a spring evening, there were three of us, driving on a road parallel to the river just after dark, music on the stereo, and we were there. I was in the back seat, with my teeth in my mouth.

Everything is beautiful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One last poem for this month of poems.

This one is written by my friend, Mary Kane. Her book Door was published earlier this year and I love her words. I’ve had a hard time choosing just one poem to post, but I finally decided to share the last one in the book, because today the rain is pattering, and the world is getting green.

There Will Be a Woman Written in as a Wren

I’m collecting folding chairs for use in the very big poem I
am getting ready to write, something about the size of a small
auditorium, only open to the rain and flowers. You wouldn’t
believe the way the look of a young cherry tree or a street or
a husband can be altered by even a single day without speech.
I might use a broom to paint the corners of the poem, and
there’ll be a young boy tossing a baseball in the air, higher
and higher, always catching it in his glove. I have shells in
my throat. It makes it easy to sit by the window watching the
world get green in the rain, not making any sound. The young
boy with his ball and glove has no fear of the sound of his name.

–Mary Kane, from Door, Copyright © 2013 by Mary Kane

April, come she will

Poetry

We’re here at last.

The landscape still says winter, but it’s April on my calendar and in my heart. There’s a smidge of lightening in the air, the urge to dust the cobwebs away, to air the comforters and sweep the stairs.

M and I spent time over the past week sorting through all our books. We took each one down from its shelf, decided its fate (donate, sell, or keep), then sorted the keepers into categories and reshelved them. At least temporarily, all of the poetry is in one place, filling two whole shelves. That’s a nice way to start April: knowing where the poetry is. And just in time for National Poetry Month, too.

In addition to working on my own poetry every day, I’ll celebrate as I’ve done in past years, by updating this post with a link to a new poem each day in April.

How will you celebrate? Read a poem a day. Share a poem you love in the comments here. Write a poem. Put it in your pocket. Put it in a letter. Send the words out to the world.

Love unfolded then, like crumpled petals
opening into sunlight,
unfurling at the stroke of spring

as we walked the seven miles of estuary,
reaching, after long mudflats, the beach,
the windless bay, the candle of the lighthouse,
waxen in the hazy air that hung like gauze
between us and the islands

and through an undertow of sea-mist
came the warmth of April sun
nuzzling at our dazzled, new-born skin

–from “Solway”, by Elizabeth Burns

April 1 ~ Solway, by Elizabeth Burns
April 2 ~ Jack, by Maxine Kumiin
April 3 ~ Lares and Penates, by Caki Wilkinson
April 4 ~ Tam Lin, Scottish ballad (see also, Fairport Convention’s version, with Sandy Denny singing)
April 5 ~ Maple Syrup, by Donald Hall
April 6 ~ La Tortuga, by Pablo Neruda
April 7 ~ Spring, The Sky Rippled with Geese, by Ted Kooser
April 8 ~ Tell the Bees, by Sarah Lindsay
April 9 ~ The Sick Wife, by Jane Kenyon
April 10 ~ Surrounded by Wild Turkeys, by Gary Snyder
April 11 ~ Dirt Cowboy Café, by Cynthia Huntington
April 12 ~ Carrefour, by Amy Lowell
April 13 ~ The Underground, by Seamus Heaney
April 14 ~ To Earthward, by Robert Frost
April 15 ~ The Long Meadow, by Vijay Seshadri
April 16 ~ The Hive, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
April 17 ~ Walking in the Woods, by Grace Paley
April 18 ~ Brokeheart, Just like that, by Patrick Rosal
April 19 ~ The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz
April 20 ~ Animals, by Frank O’Hara
April 21 ~ Involution, by Cullen Bailey Burns
April 22 ~ In Breton, by Ian Stephen
April 23 ~ Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I, and The Bees, by William Shakespeare
April 24 ~ Levin in Love, by Anne-Marie Turza
April 25 ~ I started Early – Took my Dog – , by Emily Dickinson
April 26 ~ Blueberry, by Diane Lockward
April 27 ~ Silence, by Marianne Moore
April 28 ~ Palindrome, by Lisel Mueller
April 29 ~ On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble, by A. E. Housman
April 30 ~ A Woman Written in as a Wren, by Mary Kane

52 Photos ~ Round

Round

Once More, the Round

What’s greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.

Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love’s sake;

And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.

–Theodore Roethke

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

October, beguile us in the way you know

Connecticut River

October

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

–Robert Frost, from A Boy’s Will, 1913

Smudge

Ghosts

Lone

Reflected

Inlet

Morning

Bridge

Caught off guard

House and fog

Fall notice

Dew veil

Liberty apples

Strings

Bread & Butter

Valençay - 2 weeks old

The end of August.

Just two weeks ago we were in the full langour of summer. And now? It’s decidedly fall. You’d think after all these years I’d be used to the sudden tilt toward September, but it takes me by surprise every year.

Unlike the linear transition from spring to summer, this time of year has a somewhat Möbius logic, the seasons fighting each other for possession of each day.

The mornings begin in a cool autumnal fog, the ground between the house and the barn littered with freshly fallen maple leaves, the filmy webs in the grass speckled with dew. By mid-morning, the sun’s burnt through the fog and the slanting light glances off the apple trees’ browning leaves. In the afternoon, the puffy clouds are riding the hill ridge, and the air is warm and humid. Thunderstorms are possible. And cookouts. Summer teases again until the early sunset when the cool air rushes in. Fall again.

This time of year, I feel like I’m sitting on the pin of a hinge. Neither here nor there. I can see in both directions: backward to the long lazy days and the porch-sitting nights; forward to the apple pies and glowing pumpkins. I like both views. It would be nice to be able to stay here for awhile and savor the vista.

But, as it always does, time rushes forward and we must get to doing things.

School has begun. High school, mind you. And it’s grand. So far.

I didn’t take a first-day-of-school picture of H this year because it just didn’t seem right. She was in a hurry out the door in the morning and seemed too grown up for that. But I have a picture in my heart, snapped in the school parking lot at the end of the first day: her close-mouthed (grown up), wide smile, a pair of uplifted eyebrows, and a “thumbs up” sign. “I LOVE high school!”

And with that, the end of August has kicked us into action. The firewood is all stacked (oh, I have pictures to show you, I do!), M’s been building things. We made jars and jars of pickles. And we’re finally back to making real cheese. Tomato jam, we made that, too, and have been wondering if there’s anything it wouldn’t taste good on (so far, the answer is “no”, although Avgolemeno is probably an unlikely pairing).

And did I tell you I actually got brave enough to meet with a cello teacher, and I’ve now had two lessons and last lesson I played a whole song accompanied on piano by my cello teacher? A whole song.

Last fall, I remember feeling a sense of promise at this change of season, and I’m feeling it again. This is not like me, but it seems to be becoming me. I’d just like to linger here for awhile, feeling freshly woken from a warm, slumbery season. I wish it would last.

~~~~~~

What I wrote above, I wrote on Thursday, full of optimism. And on Friday, I learned that Seamus Heaney had died, and I was heartbroken.

I suppose that could seem odd. After all, I didn’t know him personally. I did meet him once, when he was visiting my university, a guest of my Irish literature professor. He briefly visited our class; he gave a reading later that week. I have the date, time, and classroom number penned into my copy of his collected poems. It was the beginning of my new relationship with poetry. When I learned what a poem could do to your head and your heart, how it could unscrew your scalp and let the universe pour in.

No, I didn’t know him personally, but I think it won’t surprise you to know that I felt I knew him personally, or, rather, that his poems became personal to me, and that he and they became a thread woven through my life, our lives. The books and the readings (three in all I was lucky enough to attend, two with Michael). The orange and white kitten I named after him. The leather-bound volume M gave me one year for my birthday. The paperback copy of Seeing Things we bought in a bookstore in Dublin on our honeymoon. Precious because it was purchased in Ireland, and one of the few non-essential things I allowed space in my backpack.

RSiegel_week3

Seamus Sleeping ca. 1990

But all those things aside, of course, it was the poems.

To think there will never be another one from him is part of what breaks my heart. I know I shouldn’t be so greedy. He’s already given us so many. And still I want more. To have my heart feel airy and full of wonder, huge and embracing, tender and concrete, filling with the air of September or October, neither here nor there, blown open by his words.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

–Seamus Heaney, from The Spirit Level (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)

Plink!

photo courtesy of Fashionslide (via Wikipedia)
photo courtesy of Fashionslide (via Wikipedia)

The Pachinko Machine

If I remember it right
they found it at a Sears store
incongruous
among the hammers
lawn mowers
washing machines
garden hoses
rain jackets

(remember the Sears nut counter, where you could buy a warm paper bag of red-skinned peanuts while you shopped for nails and screws?)

They stood, looking at it,
for a sweet long time
talking to the salesman.
The pachinko machine
stood there, mute,
exotic, beautiful, unnecessary.

(how did it get here, from Japan to this midwestern hardware store? who signed his name to this shipment?)

My parents were generally
frugal and practical. This was not
the sort of thing they bought.
My grammar school heart raced:
“Please oh please oh please.”

I imagined hours of joy,
pressing that lever,
rocketing the shiny metal balls
to the top of the game
then watching them fall like hail,
plinking and jumping
among the wire pins,
willing them along the certain path
to release a fortune in shiny metal balls.

My heartbeat pleas
plinked in my chest.
“Please do this one wild thing”.

~~~~~~~~~
This is my offering for last week’s summer writing camp prompt: Plink.

This week’s prompt (if you happen to be playing along): Persuasion…

52 Photos ~ Crop It

Crop it - after

Crow’s Fall

When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white.
He decided it glared much too whitely.
He decided to attack it and defeat it.

He got his strength up flush and in full glitter.
He clawed and fluffed his rage up.
He aimed his beak direct at the sun’s centre.

He laughed himself to the centre of himself

And attacked.

At his battle cry trees grew suddenly old,
Shadows flattened.

But the sun brightened—
It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.

He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.

“Up there,” he managed,
“Where white is black and black is white, I won.”

–Ted Hughes, from Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow, Copyright © 1974 by Ted Hughes

~~~~~~
Note: The photo above is a cropped (and black and white, and fiddled with) version of the original, which you can see here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

The shape of the air

The last day of April and the air feels mildly thicker than it did a week ago, settling like a welcome lightweight wool blanket in the chilly evenings and mornings, but not yet stifling, as it will likely feel in another month.

The air curves around the house. Around the fragile new leaves. The air reshapes itself daily around the round goat (who is due to deliver her kids any day now), easing back slightly each day to leave her more space. The air lifts up the blades of grass that have been lying brown and compressed under the snow for months and then claims its space between the upright blades.

The air fills our mouths, shapes itself to our throats, makes words, makes songs.

~~~~~~~~
In honor of the last day of April, the last day of National Poetry Month, and writer Annie Dillard’s birthday, here’s a part of a poem by Annie Dillard called “The Shape of the Air”. (You can see the full list of poems I’ve selected this month here.)

This is the final part of a four-part poem. The first describes the idea of the shape of the air, as it lies across the land, folds itself into objects and animals, slides under, around, and through. The second describes the interaction between wind and the shape of air. The third introduces the image of a birchbark canoe in an unnamed museum’s Hall of the Americas (perhaps the American Museum of Natural History?):

The girl
climbed in the museum’s birchbark canoe
in April, and has lived there since.
Crowds came, and thinned.
Visitors leave food.

In the final part, we have the air and the girl and the birchbark canoe.

The Shape of the Air
Around the Girl in the Birchbark Canoe

Willow and skins
make a calm-water bullboat;
it raises a bowlful of air from the floor.
There’s a thorn
of tipi up in the air, a splinter
of kayak. The top of the air
loops like an acrobat around the rough
sides of a forty-man dugout
hung from the roof.

The keel of the birchbark canoe
is pitched with resin;
the keel of the museum’s air still smells
of the volatile oils of pine.
The air around the birchbark canoe
is a spoon through the part in her lips.
Air makes inlets up her fingers,
grooves, transparent.

When she moves,
the air sways and fills.
Air cups at her eyes.
Warm slabs of air
from her shoulders rise,
spread to the plaster dome.
Broadside,
concentric arcs of air
swell in a cone
of her mother
her father
calling out
across wild white water.

–Annie Dillard, from “The Shape of Air”, Tickets For a Prayer Wheel, Copyright © 1974 by Annie Dillard