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.
“Everyone you meet knows something
you don’t know but need to know.”
– C. G. Jung
Two American poets were born on this day, 65 years apart, but they don’t have much else in common. He wanted to be part of the natural world, and retreated from the hectic life in 20th century cities into his own personal sanctuary. While she has written about her small city upbringing, she also writes about crowded urban streets, stranded among strangers.
Robinson Jeffers was born on January 10, 1887, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. American poet, playwright, philosopher, pacifist, and conservationist. In 1914, he and his new wife Una first came to Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California. He was 26 years old, and he had found his place in the world. They bought land there in 1919. Jeffers reached the height of his popularity in the early 1930s, but his star began to wane in the 1940s when he spoke out against America’s imperial ambitions and against the nation’s involvement in WWII. He espoused a philosophy of inhumanity, that people were detrimental to the Earth, and spurned by an uncaring God, they would eventually become extinct, leaving the planet to heal in a return to Nature. This was not popular in the 1950s. His work was re-discovered in the late 1960s by budding environmentalists, who rallied in the 1970s to save his home and writer’s retreat, his beloved Tor House and Hawk Tower, from developers. The property is now affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
To the House
by Robinson Jeffers
I am heaping the bones of the old mother
To build us a hold against the host of the air;
Granite the blood-heat of her youth
Held molten in hot darkness against the heart
Hardened to temper under the feet
Of the ocean cavalry that are maned with snow
And march from the remotest west.
This is the primitive rock, here in the wet
Quarry under the shadow of waves
Whose hollows mouthed the dawn; little house each stone
Baptized from that abysmal font
The sea and the secret earth gave bonds to affirm you.
“To the House” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt, Stanford University Press 1989 edition, Volume I:1920-1928, 1988
The Bloody Sire
by Robinson Jeffers
It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.
What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.
Who would remember Helen’s face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world’s values.
Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.
“The Bloody Sire” was first published in Poetry magazine’s December 1940 issue
Flight of Swans
by Robinson Jeffers
One who sees giant Orion, the torches of winter midnight,
Enormously walking above the ocean in the west of heaven;
And watches the track of this age of time at its peak of flight
Waver like a spent rocket, wavering toward new discoveries,
Mortal examinations of darkness, soundings of depth;
And watches the long coast mountain vibrate from bronze to green,
Bronze to green, year after year, and all the streams
Dry and flooded, dry and flooded, in the racing seasons;
And knows that exactly this and not another is the world,
The ideal is phantoms for bait, the spirit is a flicker on a grave;
May serve, with a certain detachment, the fugitive human race,
Or his own people, or his own household; but hardly himself;
And will not wind himself into hopes nor sicken with despairs.
He has found the peace and adored the God; he handles in autumn
The germs of far-future spring.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sad sons of the stormy fall,
No escape, you have to inflict and endure; surely it is time for you
To learn to touch the diamond within to the diamond outside,
Thinning your humanity a little between the invulnerable diamonds,
Knowing that your angry choices and hopes and terrors are in vain,
But life and death not in vain; and the world is like a flight of swans.
“Flight of Swans” from The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, © renewed 1966 by Jeffers Literary Properties – Stanford University Press
by Robinson Jeffers
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of surburban houses–
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads–
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.–As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
“Carmel Point” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt, Stanford University Press 1989 edition, Volume II: 1928-1938, 1989
Dorianne Laux was born on January 10, 1952, in Augusta, Maine. She worked as a sanatorium cook, a gas station manager, and a maid, before receiving a B.A. in English from Mills College in 1988, when she was 36 years old. Her first published poetry collection, Awake, appeared two years later. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her second husband, fellow poet Joseph Millar. She is a professor of creative writing at North Carolina State University, and often travels with her husband team-teaching poetry workshops. Laux’s work has won awards, including the Paterson Prize for The Book of Men, and the Oregon Book Award for Facts About the Moon. Her book What We Carry was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected, which came out in 2019, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
by Dorianne Laux
At the high school football game, the boys
stroke their new muscles, the girls sweeten their lips
with gloss that smells of bubblegum, candy cane,
or cinnamon. In pleated cheerleader skirts
they walk home with each other, practicing yells,
their long bare legs forming in the dark.
Under the arched field lights a girl
in a velvet prom dress stands near the chainlink,
a cone of roses held between her breasts.
Her lanky father, in a corduroy suit, leans
against the fence. While they talk, she slips a foot
in and out of a new white pump, fingers the weave
of her French braid, the glittering earrings.
They could be a couple on their first date, she,
a little shy, he, trying to impress her
with his casual stance. This is the moment
when she learns what she will love: a warm night,
the feel of nylon between her thighs, the fine hairs
on her arms lifting when a breeze
sifts in through the bleachers, cars
igniting their engines, a man bending over her,
smelling the flowers pressed against her neck.
“Homecoming,” from What We Carry, ©1994 by Dorianne Laux – BOA Editions
by Dorianne Laux
Before the days of self service,
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed — the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that,
an ordinary woman who could rise
in flame, all he would have to do
is come close and touch me.
“Fast Gas” from What We Carry, ©1994 by Dorianne Laux – BOA Editions
by Dorianne Laux
When you’re cold—November, the streets icy and everyone you pass
homeless, Goodwill coats and Hefty bags torn up to make ponchos—
someone is always at the pay phone, hunched over the receiver
spewing winter’s germs, swollen lipped, face chapped, making the last
tired connection of the day. You keep walking to keep the cold
at bay, too cold to wait for the bus, too depressing the thought
of entering that blue light, the chilled eyes watching you decide
which seat to take: the man with one leg, his crutches bumping
the smudged window glass, the woman with her purse clutched
to her breasts like a dead child, the boy, pimpled, morose, his head
shorn, a swastika carved into the stubble, staring you down.
So you walk into the cold you know: the wind, indifferent blade,
familiar, the gold leaves heaped along the gutters. You have
a home, a house with gas heat, a toilet that flushes. You have
a credit card, cash. You could take a taxi if one would show up.
You can feel it now: why people become Republicans: Get that dog
off the street. Remove that spit and graffiti. Arrest those people huddled
on the steps of the church. If it weren’t for them you could believe in god,
in freedom, the bus would appear and open its doors, the driver dressed
in his tan uniform, pants legs creased, dapper hat: Hello Miss, watch
your step now. But you’re not a Republican. You’re only tired, hungry,
you want out of the cold. So you give up, walk back, step into line behind
the grubby vet who hides a bag of wine under his pea coat, holds out
his grimy 85 cents, takes each step slow as he pleases, releases his coins
into the box and waits as they chink down the chute, stakes out a seat
in the back and eases his body into the stained vinyl to dream
as the chips of shrapnel in his knee warm up and his good leg
flops into the aisle. And you’ll doze off, too, in a while, next to the girl
who can’t sit still, who listens to her Walkman and taps her boots
to a rhythm you can’t hear, but you can see it—when she bops
her head and her hands do a jive in the air—you can feel it
as the bus rolls on, stopping at each red light in a long wheeze,
jerking and idling, rumbling up and lurching off again.
“Democracy” from Facts About The Moon, © 2007 by Dorianne Laux – W.W. Norton
For the Sake of Strangers
by Dorianne Laux
No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.
“For the Sake of Strangers,” from What We Carry, ©1994 by Dorianne Laux – BOA Editions