by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
AIR — it’s all around us, but invisible unless combined with something else. We must have it to live, yet air becomes an alien environment the moment we lift off into it, separating from the Earth.
It is silent when still, but makes everything for miles shriek and roar when its Wind races over land or sea.
The whirling air takes form of dust –
A little hour – to fall again:
So whirling thought takes form of books,
Dust shaken from the minds of men.
— Bookplate by Sharlot Mabridth Hall
Is my generation the last one to be encouraged to memorize and recite poetry? This poem used to be a very popular choice for that, but I wonder how many children today know it?
Who Has Seen the Wind?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Japanese poetry is like the air – its complex structure is unseen, and its strength is not fully understood.
April’s air stirs in
willow-leaves . . .
Floats and balances
test the sky’s upper limits
Simon Armitage’s poem was part of a British teach-in forum, where scientists and artists from many disciplines joined together to call attention to the dangers of air pollution.
In Praise of Air
by Simon Armitage
I write in praise of air. I was six or five
when a conjurer opened my knotted fist
and I held in my palm the whole of the sky.
I’ve carried it with me ever since.
Let air be a major god, its being
and touch, its breast-milk always tilted
to the lips. Both dragonfly and Boeing
dangle in its see-through nothingness…
Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep
a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,
and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog
or civilization crosses the street
with a white handkerchief over its mouth
and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs
I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.
My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.
Here, Jimmy Santiago Baca intertwines his heritage, weather, the flight of birds, and Air into a love poem of much power and grace.
Yesterday, the sunshine made the air glow
by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Yesterday, the sunshine made the air glow
pushing me like a sixteen-year-old
to toss my shirt off, and run along the river shore,
splashing in the water, wading out to the reeds,
my heart an ancient Yaki drum
and I believed,
more than believed,
the air beneath trees was female blue dancers
I approached, and there in the dry leaves, in the crisp twigs,
I turned softly as if dancing with a blue woman made of air,
in shrub-weed skirts.
I knew the dance that would please the Gods,
I knew the dance that would make the river water
smile glistening ever silvering,
I knew the dance steps that praised my ancestors.
Yeah, I wanted to write you a poem woman
for two days,
and today it was gray and snowy and overcast,
about how I startled the mallards from their shallow
refuge beneath the Russian olive trees
and how the male purposely
came close to me
diverting my attention to it
its female love went the other way
risking its life,
that’s what I saw,
the male fly before the hunter’s rifles, circle in sights of hunters
and take the shots, the roaring rifle blast
and circle beyond over the fields to meet its female companion.
That’s how I miss you, that’s how I wanted to write you a poem
since we left
you one way
me another way. I was the male
taking with me the hunters that would harm you
risking my heart so yours wouldn’t be hurt,
fronting myself as possible prey
so you could escape,
that kind of poem
I am writing you now.
Circling as hunters aim down on me
while you rise, rise, rise into the blue sky
and meet me over in the next fields.
I wanted to write you a poem for two days now
to tell you how happy I was,
seeing a white crane arc
between banks in the irrigation ditch
with furious efforts, its big wings flapping
like an awkward nine-year-old kid
much taller than the others his age
with size twelve sneakers
flapping down the basketball court.
But once the white crane
found its balance, its wings their grace, it glided more perfectly
than a ballet dancer’s leap across air,
all of its feathers ballet dancer’s toes,
all of its feathers delicate dancers
all of its feathers, in motion
made me believe in myself,
when it rose, swooped up,
the line of ascent up
made me think of the curve of your spine,
how I traced my finger down your spine
when you slept,
is the ascent of the crane
toward the sunshine,
and my hands my face my torso and chest and legs and hips
became air, a blue cold artic air
you glided up in your song of winter love.
The Air which is most special to us, that air which carries the scent of Home, is the subject of this poem by Arthur Symons.
by Arthur Symons
There is a wind in Cornwall that I know
From any other wind, because it smells
Of the warm honey breath of heather-bells
And of the sea’s salt; and these meet and flow
With such sweet savour in such sharpness met
That the astonished sense in ecstasy
Tastes the ripe earth and the unvintaged sea.
Wind out of Cornwall, wind, if I forget:
Not in the tunnelled streets where scarce men breathe
The air they live by, but wherever seas
Blossom in foam, wherever merchant bees
Volubly traffic upon any heath:
If I forget, shame me! Or if I find
A wind in England like my Cornish wind.
As Philip Appleman shows us, Nature is ever-inventive, always finding new ways to make use of the abundant raw materials of our planet, especially when life itself is at stake.
by Philip Appleman
Sixty miles from land the gentle trades
that silk the Yankee clippers to Cathay
sift a million gossamers, like tides
of fluff above the menace of the sea.
These tiny spiders spin their bits of webbing
and ride the air as schooners ride the ocean;
the Beagle trapped a thousand in its rigging,
small aeronauts on some elusive mission.
The Megatherium, done to extinction
by its own bigness, makes a counterpoint
to gossamers, who breathe us this small lesson:
for survival, it’s the little things that count.
Ben Okri came home to Nigeria from England in the time of the Biafran War. Sometimes, it hurts to breathe the Air of home.
An African Elegy
by Ben Okri
We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.
There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things
And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.
That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.
And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here
And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.
The enigmatic Emily Dickinson, whose play with language seems so “modern” to our eyes and ears when compared with her contemporaries, writes here of Air as ecstasy.
I taste a liquor never brewed
by Emily Dickinson
I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!
When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
Shinkichi Takahashi airs a last thought.
The wind blows hard among the pines
Toward the beginning
Of an endless past.
Listen: you’ve heard everything.
- “Bookplate poem” from Poems of a Ranch Woman
- “Who Has Seen the Wind?” from The Golden Book of Poetry (1947) —
- Bashō haiku — http://oaks.nvg.org/basho.html
- Inahata Teiko haiku from Far Beyond the Field:Haiku by Japanese Women, © 2003 by Columbia University Press —
- “In Praise of Air” — In May, 2014, it was installed on a wall at the University of Sheffield
- “Yesterday, the sunshine made the air glow” from Winter Poems Along the Río Grande, © 2004 by Jimmy Santiago Baca, New Directions Publishing
- “Cornish Wind” from The Fool of the World: & Other Poems by Arthur Symons (1906)
- “The Gossamer” Part 4 of “Darwin’s Bestiary” from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996, © 1996 by Phillip Appleman, University of Arkansas Press
- “An African Elegy” from An African Elegy,© 1992 by Ben Okri, Jonathan Cape LTD
- “I taste a liquor never brewed” from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – © 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College – Harvard University Press
- Shinkichi Takahashi poem, from Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane’s Bill, © 1973, Grove Press
Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870–1943) was an author who traveled widely in Arizona, collecting artifacts and stories of both the Native Americans and early settlers. She was the first woman to hold office in the Arizona Territory when the Governor appointed her as the Territorial Historian. The Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott contains her collections.
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) was born in a family of poets and writers, the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, poet and Dante scholar, and sister of poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She is best–remembered for her collection Goblin Market and Other Poems.
Bashō (1644–1694) was one of the earliest and greatest masters of the Japanese haiku. He was also the originator of the haibun, a form that combined poetry and prose in a travel journal.
Inahata Teiko (1931 – ) learned haiku from her grandfather, Takahama Kyoshi. Her work includes several haiku collections and books dealing with haiku, and she is the editor of the magazine Hototogisu.
Simon Armitage (1963 – ) was born in West Yorkshire, England, and is the author of several poetry collections, including Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989–2014 (2014); Seeing Stars (2010); and The Shout: Selected Poems (2005), which was short-listed for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Jimmy Santiago Baca (1962 – ) was born in Santa Fe NM, of Chicano and Apache descent. His works include Immigrants in Our Own Land, Healing Earthquakes, and Spring Poems Along the Rio Grande. He has received an American Book Award, a Pushcart Prize and the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.
Arthur Symons (1865–1945) British poet, critic, and translator, was born in Wales. His works include Silhouettes, London Nights, and the seminal guide The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Philip Appleman (1926 — ), science scholar, highly regarded Darwin expert, social commentator and outstanding poet, is hilarious, insightful and moving. His many works include Darwin’s Bestiary, Let There be Light, and Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie.
Ben Okri (1959 — ) is a member of Nigeria’s Urhobo people, but lived two months old until aged 10 in London while his father was studying law. He studied comparative literature at Essex University. His works include the Booker Prize–winning novel The Famished Road (1991), An African Elegy, and prose-poetry hybrids Tales of Freedom and A Time for New Dreams.
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) one of America’s greatest and most original poets. Her works was almost completely unpublished during her life as a recluse in Amherst, Massachusetts, but many volumes of her poems have been in print in the decades since.
Shinkichi Takahashi (1901–1987) was a pioneer in the Dadaist movement in Japan. His Collected Poems won the Japanese Ministry of Education Prize for Art.
- Bookplate with poem by Sharlot Mabridth Hall
- Swirling autumn leaves
- Butterfly drawing
- Photo of air pollution in China
- Pair of cranes in flight
- Bell heather
- Gossamer spider webs over a pond
- Sukur, in Adamawa State, Nigeria
- Bumblebee with Foxglove
- Silhouette of Georgian Bay Lone Pine
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud