Saturday Songs, and Poems in the Park

You and your crazyIt’s rare that I actually take a Saturday off, and so waking up slowly, coffee in hand I found myself reviewing some old videos, wondering why I’ve let some of them survive, when the recording quality was so bad. But sometimes it’s just the beauty of a live moment captured, not posed for, that really moves me.

Recently at the Cross Keys Poetry’s Art in the Garden (which ended up inside the library due to Thunderstorms), the theme was related to cats, and so for my contribution to the evening I recited Theodore Roethke’s “The Kitty Cat Bird,” a poem I did not yet know by heart back in 2012 when this poem was recorded.

This morning I stumbled across this video from three years ago. We might have been a bit flat, but this was my crazy family with chalk and guitar celebrating a Saturday of National Poetry month in the local park on King Street, across from the library, before I worked there. In many ways it was not unlike a normal day on the porch or anywhere with our crew. We  weren’t planned or poised; we were just enjoying ourselves on a sunny day in April. So here we are, without makeup and off key, but happy.

The poem in chalk was a bit from Dr. Seuss, “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”

Mom Meant Well, a Poem Called “Stray”

English: Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony van Dy...

Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony van Dyck. (Toronto) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just like Daedalus advising his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, your parents meant well when they told you not to talk to strangers. But I remember questioning this when I was quite young. Isn’t it colder the higher you go? Wouldn’t he have to leave the atmosphere in order to get close enough to the sun to melt the wax? Yes, I watched Star Trek. And even, as a child I was bothered by the science, or more precisely, the lack of science in the Icarus story. But undoubtedly, his dad and my mom meant well.

As Kyle Hill from Discover Magazine told us last time, flying as close to the sun as possible (presuming that means not flying so high we can’t breathe) is actually what we should do. Wax at low altitudes will melt under the sun’s heat much faster than it will in the frigid upper atmosphere. So while it’s good to be cautious, being irrationally so is dangerous in the real world–even if the danger is in never trying, out of fear, and therefore never learning how high you can fly.

Similarly, while caution has its place, and your parents once had the right to tell you what to do, you will miss out on so much by being timid. Not talking to strangers is among the rules, along with not flying too high, that you should learn how to break. You’re a grown up now, better able to assess risk and reward. Work it out for yourself and trust yourself. Take the leap. I have met some of the most beautiful souls on the planet by waving aside the cautions against talking to strangers. As a matter of fact, my best friends were all once far away strangers, and had I not dared to trust my own instinct in such matters, well this would be a lonely life.

So, yes, look both ways before you cross the street, but go swimming right after you eat. Be curious. And whenever you get the chance, talk to strangers. You’re life will be so much more beautiful by doing so. And if you should land in the sea, you can learn how to swim.

This poem first appeared in Contemporary American Voices last year in June alongside the poetry of Brian Fanelli and Jason Allen.

Stray

In the Bible it happened—Fishermen, Levites
They just went away and kept on going
.
—William Stafford, from “Saint Mathew and All”

He asks me with a grin,
What advantage do you
young guys have over me
?

He stands there with his neat blue
cap and casual shoulders.
I cannot think of one.

Certainly not smarts, I say.
Wisdom would be the word, but seems
too cliché, too patronizing.

Not charm, for sure. I follow him
toward the door, while a clerk
shouts to me, holding up my bag.

He smiles and waits
as I retrieve my groceries.
When I was a boy, he says,

my mother’d make a list,
and I sat reading comic books
while the grocer filled the sack
.

We pass a few moments in the parking lot,
lingering for what reason, wondering aloud
where we had parked. I could leave
more than what I’d bought.

Someone else would eventually find
the car. My inadvertent tempter smiles

again. Take care now, friend.
And I think, one could do worse
than follow to strangers.

© 2015 by David J. Bauman

First printed in Contemporary American Voices, June 2014

Saturday Song–Wings with Gilbert and Carpenter

Icarus and Daedalus

Icarus and Daedalus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So you’ve heard the myth, the warning about getting too proud of your accomplishments. At the very least they sternly told you to be very cautious; don’t be foolish and attempt the impossible. The myth of the fall of Icarus, who either ignored, or in that moment of elation, simply forgot the warnings of his father Daedalus.

When they escaped imprisonment on the wings that Daedalus fashioned out of wax and feathers, the wise father told him to not fly too high, for the wax could melt, and not to fly too low or he could up in the sea, the feathers weighted down with water.

But Icarus was an enthusiastic young fellow. Isn’t that the sort of thing we old folks tell our youngsters? Learn from us; be safe; don’t push yourself beyond your own limits. Do you ever wonder if maybe their limits are greater than we imagine them to be? And even if we prove to be right, why should their fall be seen as failure?

No one else ever flew so close to the sun, so why judge this accomplishment only by its conclusion? Often those who critique our failures are not even so brave as Daedalus, who managed his flight well enough at a lower altitude. No, our harshest critics have never even attempted naked flight, having remained ever so judgmentally on the ground. Who is to say their choice was wiser? As the opening line of Jack Gilbert’s poem says, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.”

Just last year in Discover Magazine, Kyle Hill wrote and recorded this delightful little essay, which cites a “scholarly” paper that takes a very different, and decidedly optimistic look at the flight of Icarus through the lens of science. Well, of course, you have to get past the whole wings-made-of-wax business, and assume Daedalus and Icarus could actually get lift and make the flight in the first place. But once you suspend your disbelief in the commencement of the entire escapade, it seems that physics may have actually been in Icarus’ favor. Maybe, just maybe, you should “throw caution to the wind,” and as Hill says, “Fly as Close to the Sun as You Want.”

I’ve been listening to the gentle voice of poet Jack Gilbert tonight from a 1995 recording. Unfortunately I could not find a reading of “Failing and Flying” in his own voice, so I decided to record it myself. For a richer reading check out Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac from over five years ago. As is his habit, Keillor lists the poem first, but reads it last, so if you truly are not interested in the rest of that day-in-history, you can skip ahead to about the 2.5 minute mark.

To read along with me, I would encourage you to visit the archives of Paul Scot August’s wonderful blog, Poetry Saved My Life, where you can also learn a bit more about Gilbert who sadly passed away in 2012, leaving behind a legacy of awards and beautiful, soulful poems.

After the poem, just jump right into tonight’s Saturday Song as Mary Chapin-Carpenter, which follows in the same spirit with one of my favorite songs ever, “Why Walk When You Can Fly?”

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A Dysfunctional Thursday Love Poem, by Me

Jo swimming

Since some of you have been asking for more poems by me, I thought that this weird little piece, published the same time as “Years Later” would provide a more lighthearted change of pace for our Thursday Love Poem feature. If you are not familiar with the Thursday Love Poem, it is based on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Thursday.”

And if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday–
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,–yes–but what
Is that to me?

So as we’ve said before, the Thursday Love poem is not a Hallmark romance verse, nor is it even a soulful and heart-wrenching Neruda piece. Heck, as the poem above illustrates, one might argue that it’s not about love at all, and if it is, well it’s definitely not something to read to your sweetheart by candlelight.

But today’s, while probably unhealthy in nature, is a darn site more loving than our flagship poem by Millay. It’s inspired by a long-past relationship that seemed to follow certain emotional cycles. Unlike other situations I’ve been in, this one seems to have two characters who truly do adore each other, despite the mess and the repeated mistakes. The speaker seems not to be upset to finally return to that old “rock” by the side of the stream. He knows the good days will be back.

There is a sequel to this poem, same characters, but different real-life partner. That one is a little less hopeful, darker, but still persistently positive in the end (not that the relationship followed suit). Perhaps it will make an appearance on the blog eventually.  For whatever reason I was dealing with failed and broken relationships, long after the fact, by putting them into surreal metaphoric situations and working them out on paper. Here is just one more example.

Recurrents

There we are by the shore again—well, me
by the shore, you out there, bobbing in the waves
once more, eyes bugged out, lips ice-blue,

arms flailing. Desperate to keep your head
above the white caps, you’ve somehow managed
to grasp a fallen branch. “Are you okay?”

The classic stupid question, but what am I to say?
I never know. “I’m sorry,” you sputter-shout
as you spit a school of minnows from your teeth.

“I’m always drowning when we’re here together.”
Yet just last week we enjoyed a day here, dangling
foaming feet, skipping little stones, but now

is not the time to argue. I throw the rope,
always looped to my belt in anticipation
of times like this, but you miss it every toss.

All the while your enormous eyes convey a bevy
of emotions; fear of the current, rage at the waves
and sympathy for my own failings. My rope is too short.

In a frenzy now I fumble through my pockets, and toss
their contents to you—a marble, a feather, a rubber
chicken, hoping you’ll know how to use them. “Don’t worry

about me,” you gurgle. And I am touched; I know
how you hate it when your moods affect me. Too late
I dive and plunge into the icy flow, as you lose

your slippery grip and begin to drift
around the bend, waving kind assurances
as your head sinks beneath the surface. You’re always

thoughtful like that. Resigned, I crawl back
up the bank, and find my favorite rock. I check my watch—
it could be hours yet, before you’re washed ashore.

©2015 by David J. Bauman
Originally Published in the Tic Toc Anthology,
2014 by Kind of a Hurricane Press

Summer Birds, Some are Poets

Reflections on Robert Frost’s “Ovenbird,” and “First Song,” by Matthew Murrey
English: Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes...

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes of a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) and an Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) from The Burgess Bird Book for Children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is a song that everyone has heard.” That is how Robert Frost begins his unique sonnet, “The Ovenbird.” Of course, you’d be right to protest; not everyone has heard the bird. But a lot of the North American continent has. The little “mid-wood bird,” as Frost calls her, ranges as far as Florida, the Caribbean, and the tip of South America when the North gets cold in winter.

So I suppose if Frost wanted to be exact, as poets rarely do, he could say that the bird’s song is one that many of us in the “New World” may have had opportunity to hear. But I don’t think he was going for a scientific approach here. First of all, the poem is thought by certain critics and scholars to be a response to some discussion or argument, possibly in poetry itself to which we are not privy.  And further, in that way the bird becomes symbolic of something else, of poets perhaps, of those who sing in the dead leaves of pre-autumn woods, wondering, “what to make of a diminished thing.”

But you’ll have to follow the links above to learn about the Ovenbird, and read Frost’s poem, along with the literary discussions that have surrounded it these many years. Tonight I am more interested in another poet, and quite probably an entirely different bird. I want to introduce you, if you haven’t met them already, to poet Matthew Murrey, and the bird outside his window.

American Robin -- Humber Bay Park (East) (Toro...

American Robin — Humber Bay Park (East) (Toronto, Canada) — 2005, by User:  Mdf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I discovered Matthew earlier today while researching journals, contests, and publishers, plotting my submission goals. I first found his poem “Coyotes” in Tinderbox Poetry Journal. And from his bio I moved on to his website, where I saw tonight’s poem on his home page.

Let’s not get involved in the discussion of symbolism, or the speculation about just which species of bird is singing. If it were carrying on outside my window at five in the morning, it would likely be the local and loud American Robin, but even if Matthew’s poem is a response to Robert Frost’s, the species hardly matters.

What matters is how this poem gave me the little shiver that I long for when reading poetry. How about we let it speak for itself this evening, without further commentary. Or better yet, and I hope Mr. Murrey doesn’t mind, I’d like to read it to you. Please click here to read along.

“First Song,” by Matthew Murrey.

First published in Poetry East #66, Fall 2009 (reprinted in #70, Spring 2011)