TCS: One Little Room an Everywhere – Life in a Plague Year

. .Good Morning!    

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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.

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And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.

 – John Donne, from ‘The Good-Morrow’

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I’m losing track of days. Since I’m always working on postings for dates several days in the future, I’m in a near-constant state of déjà vu (past seen) – or maybe avenir vu (future seen).  

No, it’s passé vu dans le future (past seen in the future – wait, what? “le future” ?! – Google, that can’t be right. Le French would have une vache.)

Merde.

My husband and I are both hoarders of books, but worse, we are hoarders of other, different things. He has saved every ‘official’ paper, from his 3rd grade report card, to the purchase papers for the car we bought in 1992, to the charitable contribution form for donating that car in 2005. I save family photos, even the ones with faces I have no names for, cards from long past holidays and birthdays, and magazines with something in them I thought I might want to look at again – someday. Not to mention my lapel pin collection.    

So he’s been going through boxes and drawers and files and cupboards, trying to get rid of some of all this stuff, but there are landmines everywhere. Halfway through clearing out a drawer, he brings me pictures of our long-dead dogs, or a chunk of our history from 1997, including some of my paycheck stubs, which should have been in a file folder in the Taxes file drawer in the office – the folder that we shredded in . . . uhm, was it 2015?

Sigh.

Everybody hold fast, because we still have a long, long way to go before it might get any better.  

In this Monday’s batch of poems, I offer you both nostalgia, and a chance to be somewhere else, far from home, just for a little while.

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Nostalgia 

by Billy Collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.


 “Nostalgia” from Questions About Angels, © 1991 by Billy Collins – University of Pittsburgh Press 

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. 

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What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use

by Ada Límon

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.


“What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use” from Bright Dead Things, © 2015 by Ada Limón, Milkwood Editions

Ada Limón (1976 – ) is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), The Carrying (2018) and Bright Dead Things (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.

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In the 17th century, Swiss mercenaries were hired to fight other people’s battles. They were feared fighters, and had no trouble finding work, often remaining far from home for many years, yearning for a place and people that would no longer exist by the time they returned.  A medical student working with the mercenaries coined a name for their condition – ‘Nostalgia’ – by combining the Greek words for ‘homecoming’ and ‘ache’.   

Nostalgia

by Carol Ann Duffy

Those early mercenaries, it made them ill –
leaving the mountains, leaving the high, fine air
to go down, down. What they got
was money, dull, crude coins clenched
in the teeth; strange food, the wrong taste,
stones in the belly; and the wrong sounds,
the wrong smells, the wrong light, every breath –
wrong. They had an ache here, Doctor,
they pined, wept, grown men. It was killing them.
It was a given name. Hearing tell of it,
there were those whop stayed put, fearful
of a sweet pain in the heart; of how it hurt,
in that heavier air, to hear
the music of home – the sad pipes – summoning,
in the dwindling light of the plains,
a particular place – where maybe you met a girl,
or searched for a yellow ball in the long grass,
found it just as your mother called you in.
But the word was out. Some would never 
fall in love had they not heard of love.
So the priest stood at the stile with his head
in his hands, crying at the workings of memory
through the colour of leaves, and the schoolteacher
opened a book to the scent of her youth, too late.
It was Spring when one returned, with his life
in a sack on his back, to find the same street
with the same sign over the inn, the same bell
chiming the hour on the clock, and everything changed.


“Nostalgia” from Collected Poems, © 2015 by Carol Ann Duffy – Picador/Pan Macmillan

Carol Ann Duffy (1955 –), Scottish poet and playwright, became the first woman, first Scot and first openly LGBT person appointed as Britain’s Poet Laureate (2009-2019). Her 1985 poetry collection, Standing Female Nude, won the first of her three Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. Mean Time (1993) won the Whitbread Poetry Prize. She also won the 1995 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, and many other honors. In Duffy’s The World’s Wife, she gives us a collection of modern versions of the old tales, with an unsettling feminist twist.

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Remember

by Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.


“Remember” from She Had Some Horses, ©1983 by Joy Harjo – W. W. Norton & Company

Joy Harjo (1951 – ) was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She says the name Harjo means ‘so brave you’re crazy.’ Harjo is a poet, musician, playwright, a Native American rights activist as well as a women’s rights activist, and a gifted teacher. Harjo is now serving as the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2019-2020, the first Native American to be appointed to the position. Her books include She Had Some Horses, Crazy Brave, The Woman Who Fell from The Sky and An American Sunrise. Among her many honors and awards are the 1990 American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the 1991 Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award in Poetry by the Academy of American Poets, and the 2017 Ruth Lily Poetry Prize.

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Afternoon On A Hill

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!


“Afternoon on a Hill” from Collected Poems (Edna St. Vincent Millay), © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis – HarperCollins Publishers

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was born in Maine, graduated from Vassar College in 1917, and published her first book of poetry that same year. She became a well-known poet and playwright, with a strong feminist sensibility. She was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1923, for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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