. Good Morning!
Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
In the depths of winter, I found there
was within me an invincible summer.
– Albert Camus
As hard as humankind has tried to impose our increasingly exacting sense of time on planet Earth, our home world resists our attempts to order its patterns to suit ourselves. It turns around and around, while also circling the Sun, tilting this way and that, so there is more sun, then less, then more again. Summer in the North, Winter in the South, divided – in our minds – by that imaginary line, the Equator.
So as we who live above that line are feeling the chill of winter, the people living to the south of it are basking in the heat of summer. Today’s poems cover both seasons, so if you’re not happy with the season you are in now, remember that it too will transform into the next season, and the next.
The Snow Fairy
by Claude McKay
Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol’n away.
And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter’s night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.
“The Snow Fairy” from Harlem Shadows, © 1922 by Claude McKay, reprinted in 2018 by Martino Fine Books
Claude McKay (1889-1948) was born in Jamaica; Jamaican-American poet, author and social activist; prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance; best known for his novel, Home to Harlem, which won the 1928 Harmon Gold Award for Literature. He wrote six novels, a collection of short stories, one non-fiction work, and two autobiographies, in addition to publishing six collections of poetry, including Songs of Jamaica, Spring in New Hampshire, and Harlem Shadows. McKay joined the Industrial Workers of the World in autumn 1919, while working in a factory following his time as a dining-car waiter on the railways. He says in his autobiography, A Long Way from Home, that he was drawn to the Communist party because it seemed to offer independence, but became frustrated by its bias toward Negro Communists and independent thought, and ultimately left the party. In the 1940s, he converted to Catholicism, and left Harlem to work for a Catholic organization. He died in Chicago, in May 1948, of a heart attack.
Toroa ~ Albatross
by Hone Tuwhare
Day and night endlessly you have flown effortless of wing
over chest-expanding oceans far from land.
Do you switch on an automatic pilot, close your eyes
in sleep, Toroa?
On your way to your homeground at Otakou Heads
you tried to rest briefly on the Wai-te-mata
but were shot at by ignorant people. Crippled.
You found a resting place at Whanga-nui-a-Tara;
found space at last to recompose yourself.
Now, without skin and flesh to hold you together
the division of your aerodynamic parts lies whitening,
licked clean by sun and air and water. Children will
discover narrow corridors of airiness between,
the suddenness of bulk. Naked, laugh in the gush
and ripple — the play of light on water.
You are not alone, Toroa. A taniwha once tried
to break out of the harbour for the open sea. He failed.
He is lonely. From the top of the mountain nearby he
calls to you: Haeremai, haeremai, welcome home, traveller.
Your head tilts, your eyes open to the world.
[A ‘taniwha’ is supernatural creature of Maori legend which lives in watery caves or rivers, and is strong enough to uproot trees — ‘haeremai’ means welcome]
“Toroa ~ Albatross” from Deep River Talk, © 1994 by Hone Tuwhare, University of Hawaii Press
Hone Tuwhare (1922 -2008) was born in Kaikohe, Northland, New Zealand into the Maori Ngapuhi tribe. Well-known and much-loved in his own country, his collections of poetry are rare finds elsewhere. The Campbell Albatross in his poem migrates to New Zealand in September or October, and nests through January or February — spring and summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
by Ada Limón
After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry, to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say: Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe,
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.
“The Leash” from The Carrying, © 2018 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions
by Ada Limón
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
“Before” from Bright Dead Things, © 2015 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions
Ada Limón (1976 – ) is the author of Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.
by Billy Collins
Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.
“Snow Day” from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, © 2001 by Billy Collins – Random House
Billy Collins (March 22, 1941 – ) dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, was a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003), and has published many poetry collections, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning and Nine Horses: Poems. It was Questions About Angels, published in 1991, that put him in the literary spotlight. Collins says his poetry is “suburban, it’s domestic, it’s middle class, and it’s sort of unashamedly that.”
There’s a certain Slant of light, (320)
by Emily Dickinson
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
“There’s a certain Slant of light” (320), from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – Harvard University Press, 1999
A drop fell on the apple tree, (794)
by Emily Dickinson
A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.
A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!
The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.
The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.
“A drop fell on the apple tree,” (794), from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – Harvard University Press, 1999
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her cache of poems.