. ..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.
There is no night without a dawning
No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing . . .
– Helen Steiner Rice
Sometime in this morning’s dark early hours, the United States probably crept past 100,000 deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are persistent rumors that the death toll has been underreported, that the numbers may even be double what the official records show, because the overall death rate month by month in our country now is so much higher than what was “normal” in the last five or six years. Given that we have been and still are far behind on reliable testing, that staggering number may be closer to the truth. In an age of instant communication, and much more sophisticated medicine, we may be little better informed than the world was during the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic, which killed somewhere between 3% and 5% of the world’s population in just 15 months.
This new layer of sorrow overshadows Memorial Day in America this year. It’s hard to think of the dead from wars caused by the blind ambition, greed and political expediency of human beings when there is a terrifying killer stalking all of humanity.
So we must mourn all the dead, no matter why they died, because we are still here, and they are not.
And we must listen to poets, for their wisdom and for solace. As our current U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo says, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”
Robert Frost offers us:
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through –
Leastways for me –
– from “A Servant to Servants”
Because I could not stop for Death (479)
by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition – Harvard University Press (1983)
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) America’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 huge cache of poems
Nothing But Death
by Pablo Neruda
There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.
And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.
Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.
Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
I’m not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.
But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.
Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.
“Nothing But Death” from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, translated and edited by Robert Bly, © 1993 by Robert Bly – Beacon Press
Pablo Neruda (1904- 1973) was a Chilean poet and diplomat, considered Chile’s greatest poet. He won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, but his affiliation with the Communist Party stirred controversy.
by Kato Shuson
A frost on the ground
Six feet is enough
Also translated as:
Six feet of soil in
the frost of earth becomes room
enough for the dead.
This is Kato Shuson’s death poem, the final reflection on the poet’s approaching death which is traditional in Japan
Kato Shuson (1905-1993) Japanese poet, scholar and publisher was born Takeo Kato into a family which was always changing house as his father, who worked for the railway, was promoted to other posts. His parents converted to Christianity, and he was baptized at age 13. At the age of 16, he met the famed haiku poet Shuoshi Mizuhara, who became his mentor. Shuson won the poetry prize of the haiku magazine Ashibi after his first year of study with Mizuhara. He quickly became a highly regarded haijin (haiku poet), but didn’t publish his first book of collected poems until 1939, called Kanrai (Winter Thunder). In 1970, he began judging submissions for the weekly haiku page in the Asahi journal.
by Edward Thomas
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
“Rain” from The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas, 1978 edition – Oxford University Press
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) was a British poet, essayist and novelist born in Lambeth, Surrey. He is now mostly remembered as a WWI poet, but he had an established career as a writer and critic before the war, and the majority of his poetry is not about the war. In 1915, at the age of 37, he enlisted in the British Army, and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras on the Western Front, April 9, 1917.
‘It is possible for you to reach it
but you will grieve a great deal’
— The Gospel of Judas
by Kayombo Chingonyi
Imagine the husk of a man who knows
his son will die before the week is out.
You ask him why he sings, no doubt, baffled
by the faith it takes to open the most
stubborn of hearts, make a bloom of gently
insistent beauty. This is when your own
newly sprung bloom would shut itself again,
afraid that get well cards are only empty
measures of sentiment, the weight of a word.
You’re sorry with no answer to this obscene
riddle: a stubble headed boy whose scream
fissures the night ward watched by a just lord
who won’t intervene, for all this man stops
to find the tune that, even now, isn’t lost.
“Gnosis” from Some Bright Elegance, © 2011, Kayo Chingonyi – Salt Publishing
Kayombo “Kayo” Chingonyi was born in Mufulira, Zambia and moved to Newcastle in the UK at the age of six. After going to school in London and reading English Literature at the University of Sheffield, Chingonyi is now based in Essex. His poems are full of sound – music is only one of them.
by Marianne Boruch
Day after day of rain. A ticket straight to
the mild-mannered hell of rethinking whatever,
the drive to Econo-Foods: not a lot of grief in that.
You need staples-bread, rice, eggs.
Here’s a list: almonds, yogurt, all the little
anti-griefs add up.
Did I tell you? my grandfather sings from the grave.
They have my old Philco here.
I know all about your world of godawful and too bad.
I keep driving. In rain. Some luck required. Stop light.
Flashy cars on both sides playing radios too loud.
Ear damage! I used to shout out the window,
my boy in the front seat trying hard to shrink, not to know
who is that crazy at the wheel.
Grandfather likes saying: what? Half-deaf even now.
Half a lot of things, anytime. Half, what gives?
giving way. If there is a we or a you or an I finally.
He’d cup an ear if he had an ear.
So it is, the first anti-grief, a feather he picked up.
My childhood, walking with
the oldest man I ever, 1874 his
start date. Alarm and Should Have, two roads
he would not cross, and Consequence
a street over, he ignored completely. Always
an eye out for the great
A feather. Sometimes handed to me. Or he’d
oil a clock with it right off the curb.
Into a pocket.
“The Anti-Grief” from The Anti-Grief, © 2019 by Marianne Boruch – Copper Canyon Press
Marianne Boruch (1950 – ) American poet and essayist, was born in Chicago. Her collections of poetry include: Grace, Fallen from; The Book of Hours, which won the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing; and The Anti-Grief. She was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome, and also at Isle Royale, America’s most isolated national park. She has taught at the Tunghai University in Taiwan, the University of Maine at Farmington, and Purdue University.
Words for Departure
by Louise Bogan
Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.
Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.
Hand clasped hand
Forehead still bowed to forehead—
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed
There was no gift nor denial.
I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.
You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.
You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.
You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.
Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.
But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd—strike the thing short off;
Be mad—only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.
And go away without fire or lantern
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.
“Words for Departure” from Collected Poems: 1923-53, © 1953 by Louise Bogan – Noonday Press
Louise Bogan (1897-1970) American poet and critic, was born in Maine, the daughter of a millworker and an unhappy mother. A benefactor helped her to attend the Girls’ Latin School in Boston. She and her husband lived in the Panama Canal Zone for a time, but separated in 1919. She lived in Vienna (1920-1923), before moving to New York, where she had jobs in a bookstore, and working for anthropologist Margaret Mead. From 1931 until she retired just before her death in 1970, she was the poetry reviewer for The New Yorker magazine. She published her first volume of poetry, Body of This Death, in 1923. Her other collections include Dark Summer; Sleeping Fury; Poems and New Poems. Her last collection, The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923-1968, was her collection.
Weave in, My Hardy Life
by Walt Whitman
Weave in, weave in, my hardy life,
Weave yet a soldier strong and full for great campaigns to come,
Weave in red blood, weave sinews in like ropes, the senses, sight weave in,
Weave lasting sure, weave day and night the weft, the warp, incessant weave, tire not,
(We know not what the use O life, nor know the aim, the end, nor really aught we know,
But know the work, the need goes on and shall go on, the death-envelop’d march of peace as well as war goes on,)
For great campaigns of peace the same the wiry threads to weave,
We know not why or what, yet weave, forever weave.
“Weave in, My Hardy Life” from Leaves of Grass: The Complete 1855 and 1891-92 Editions, published in 2011 by Library of America
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet, essayist and journalist. As a humanist, he is considered as part of the transition in American letters from transcendentalism to realism. He paid the cost of publishing the first edition of Leaves of Grass, without naming himself as the author, but with his engraved portrait by Samuel Hollyer on the facing page. He planted himself 500 lines into the poem, “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Whitman an enthusiastic five page letter, and recommended the book to his friends, but some critics called the work obscene for its overt sexuality. During the American Civil War, Whitman worked part-time in the army paymaster’s office, and volunteered as a nurse in the army hospitals. Later he published Memoranda During the War, based on his experiences.
Perhaps the World Ends Here
by Joy Harjo
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, © 1994 by Joy Harjo – W.W. Norton & Co
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.
Dark horizon photo by pxleyes