She who…

by the Night Writer

I saw the following poem on The Writer’s Almanac the other day and thought it was pretty good.

Naming My Daughter
(In the Uruba tribe of Africa, children are
named not only at birth but throughout their
lives by their characteristics and the events
that befall them.)

The one who took hold in the cold night
The one who kicked loudly
The one who slid down quickly in the ice storm
She who came while the doctor was eating dessert
New one held up by heels in the glare
The river between two brothers
Second pot on the stove
Princess of a hundred dolls
Hair like water falling beneath moonlight
Strides into the day
She who runs away with motorcycle club president
Daughter kicked with a boot
Daughter blizzard in the sky
Daughter night-pocket
She who sells sports club memberships
One who loves over and over
She who wants child but lost one.
She who wants marriage but has none
She who never gives up
Diana (Goddess of the Chase)
Doris (for the carrot-top grandmother
she never knew)
Fargnoli (for the father
who drank and left and died)
Peter Pan, Iron Pumper
Tumbleweed who goes months without calling
Daughter who is a pillar of light
Daughter mirror, Daughter stands alone
Daughter boomerang who always comes back
Daughter who flies forward into the day
where I will be nameless.

“Naming My Daughter” by Patricia Fargnoli, from Necessary Light. © Utah State University Press.

Of course it got me to thinking about how my own daughters might have been named if I were Uruban. Actually, some of these have stuck…

Unexpected Blessing
Miracle-holder, Doctor-confounder
The One Who Shouldn’t Be Here,
Sweet-cheeked Eskimo
Jelly Baby
Bane of Yams
Little Potato
Waltzer with Bears
Namer of Things in the Road
Barefoot bleeder
Arm That Wouldn’t Stay Broken
Room Designer, Cloud By Day
Blue-haired Missionary
The Littlest Bassist
Imelda of the 40 shoes
Bunny Whisperer
Mall Diva
Singer of Songs, Maker of Beauty
Courtship Buddy
Aisle Walker
Mrs. Worley

Late Arriver, Early Walker
Flaming Promise, Morning Giggler
She Who Breaks Boards With Her Feet
Devourer of All Things Chocolate
Ninja Cow Nemesis, Doomsteak Provider
Slayer of Paper Targets
Writer Without Appendix, World Traveler,
Girl On a Mission, Opportoonist
Fire By Night
Peach Louise
Tiger Lilly
Story Teller
One With the Laptop
Smite Queen of the Dual-Daggers
NaNoWriMo Winner
Author, Author.

Try it with your own kids! In fact, I hereby proclaim a Meme! I tag Mr. D, Mitch, KingDavid, Gino, Bubba and anyone else who wants to play. Leave your poem in a comment here or on your blog with a link!

The Alien?

by the Night Writer

Hah. I noticed that the following poem was featured in the Writer’s Almanac on Saturday — the day after the Mall Diva’s ultrasound. The author is no W.B. Picklesworth, but he does have a knack for the subject.

The Alien
by Greg Delanty

I’m back again scrutinizing the Milky Way
of your ultrasound, scanning the dark
matter, the nothingness, that now the heads say
is chockablock with quarks & squarks,
gravitons & gravitini, photons & photinos. Our sprout,

who art there inside the spacecraft
of your ma, the time capsule of this printout,
hurling & whirling towards us, it’s all daft
on this earth. Our alien who art in the heavens,
our Martian, our little green man, we’re anxious

to make contact, to ask questions
about the heavendom you hail from, to discuss
the whole shebang of the beginning & end,
the pre-big bang untime before you forget the why
and lie of thy first place. And, our friend,

to say Welcome, that we mean no harm, we’d die
for you even, that we pray you’re not here
to subdue us, that we’d put away
our ray guns, missiles, attitude and share
our world with you, little big head, if only you stay.

“The Alien” by Greg Delanty, from The Ship of Birth. © Louisiana State University Press, 2007.


by the Night Writer

The last of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother, is fading away. I don’t know if she will last until I, too, become a grandparent later this summer. Her tiny frame shrinks a little more each day, her grasp on time and place as shaky as her fingers trying to take hold of a coffee cup. She’s 93, and so restless she won’t stay in her room at the nursing home, setting out in her wheelchair at all hours, or thinking that she just got back from another town some distance away.

I can’t blame her. If I was in her place and had a single thought it would be “What am I doing here?” I don’t know that I could shake the sense that I belonged someplace else, someplace I couldn’t quite remember, or someplace I had heard about, or someplace just a little bit beyond the hazy cloud wall in my mind, someplace…just …not here.

My mother holds her hand, holds her own breath. Holds the memories of all that has been, holds off the thoughts of what will be. When we are babies our parents hold us, carry us, anticipate our needs for rest, for food, for a change because we have no words for what bothers us. When dissatisfied, or frightened, we wail and our parents make comforting noises. Long years later, the children sit and anticipate the needs of the parent , who may have the means to speak, even if it is only to ask “Why?”, and the response, again, is comforting noises.

I don’t know “why”. I wish I did. Or perhaps I don’t. At some point this summer I will lean over a crib and say, “Sh-sh-sh-sh, it’s all right.” And I will think of another time, and another place, and I will think of a poem I read recently.

by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it’s something that
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

“Susanna” by Anne Porter, from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006

Cold enough for ya?

by Night Writer

It went from “cold” to “damn cold” overnight and when I got up this morning it was -12F here in South St. Paul. The “high” today is supposed to brush 0, which reminded me of this poem by George Bilgere:

First it was five above, then two,
then one morning just plain zero.
There was a strange thrill in saying it.
It’s zero,
I said when you got up.

I was pouring your coffee
and suddenly the whole house made sense:
the roof, the walls, the little heat registers
rattling on the floor. Even the mortgage. Zero,
you said, still in your robe.

And you walked to the window and looked out
at the blanket of snow on the garden
where last summer you planted carrots
and radishes, sweet peas and onions,
and a tiny rainforest of tomatoes
in the hot delirium of June.

Yes, I said, with a certain grim finality,
staring at the white cap of snow on the barbecue grill
I’d neglected to put in the garage for winter.
And the radio says it could go lower.

I like that robe, it’s white and shimmery,
and has a habit of falling open
unless you tie it just right.

This wasn’t the barbarians at the gate.
It wasn’t Carthage in flames, or even
the Donner Party. But it was zero, by God,
and the robe fell open.

A Christmas present from the past

Christmas 1963
Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.

“Christmas 1963” by Joseph Enzweiler, from The Man Who Ordered Perch. © Iris Press, 2004.

Fool’s gold

by the Night Writer

Fall is my favorite time of year, and this year it looks as if it will be fleeting. Snow for the second time this week this morning and we’re not to Halloween yet.


Buffy reminded me:

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
and the old things go, not one lasts.

-Carl Sandburg

When I got off the train at the Nicollet Mall this morning the pavement was wet, the sky was gray and almost everyone had their head down. On Thursdays the mall is lined with booths from the Farmer’s Market, but today the sidewalks featured only wet clumps of leaves and hurried footsteps.

I thought of a poem I read last week entitled “Harvest”, the positive-sounding name given to a season beautiful and bittersweet. We focus on the harvest and try not to think about the reaping involved.


It’s autumn in the market—
not wise anymore to buy tomatoes.
They’re beautiful still on the outside,
some perfectly round and red, the rare varieties
misshapen, individual, like human brains covered in red oilcloth—

Inside, they’re gone. Black, moldy—
you can’t take a bite without anxiety.
Here and there, among the tainted ones, a fruit
still perfect, picked before decay set in.

Instead of tomatoes, crops nobody really wants.
Pumpkins, a lot of pumpkins.
Gourds, ropes of dried chilies, braids of garlic.
The artisans weave dead flowers into wreaths;
they tie bits of colored yarn around dried lavender.
And people go on for a while buying these things
as though they thought the farmers would see to it
that things went back to normal:
the vines would go back to bearing new peas;
the first small lettuces, so fragile, so delicate, would begin
to poke out of the dirt.

Instead, it gets dark early.
And the rains get heavier; they carry
the weight of dead leaves.

At dusk, now, an atmosphere of threat, of foreboding.
And people feel this themselves; they give a name to the season,
harvest, to put a better face on these things.

The gourds are rotting on the ground, the sweet blue grapes are finished.
A few roots, maybe, but the ground’s so hard the farmers think
it isn’t worth the effort to dig them out. For what?
To stand in the marketplace under a thin umbrella, in the rain, in the cold,
no customers anymore?

And then the frost comes; there’s no more question of harvest.
The snow begins; the pretense of life ends.
The earth is white now; the fields shine when the moon rises.

I sit at the bedroom window, watching the snow fall.
The earth is like a mirror:
calm meeting calm, detachment meeting detachment.

What lives, lives underground.
What dies, dies without struggle.

“Harvest” by Louise Glück from A Village Life. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

An old man’s hat

by the Night Writer

LIFE ON EARTH is pulled down hard on a man’s head. This life was made by hatters. A busy street is only coffee, bread, and hats. The smell of a man’s hat – an old man’s hat – is like the nostril of a horse. You are breathing in what something beautiful and ancient has breathed out. The heat and life contained in it, the silk interior. An old man’s hat is necessary: You see that when he takes it off, his hair and skin abruptly float away.

— David Keplinger, from The Prayers of Others. © New Issues, 2006.

One day left

Okay, guys, how are you coming on your Valentine’s Day plans for your wife or significant other? Have you selected the special, highly personal playlist of songs and burned a CD or uploaded it to her MP3 player? No?

Well have you written her a poem, or a letter, telling her how much she means to you? Thought of something special to say that’s not too many words to memorize?

What, you mean you’re going to rush down to the store, find a hyper-priced bunch of roses or an over-packaged box of chocolates, or buy one of those spa packages that tells your wife, “Honey, I love you, but you need a whole day of people working on you to get beautiful!”? (Or worse, “Honey, I saw this spa ad in the sports section and the woman in the photo looked really hot, draped in this sheet and, uh, yeah, well, and it made me think of you! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”)

You might as well throw yourself on her mercy (she’s probably used to it anyway) or let yourself be led to slaughter on the altar of Hallmark by a couple of those winged FTD guys.

Wait a minute, maybe it’s not too late. Find a nice, romantic poem, type it into your computer, use a frilly font, print it out in color, buy a nice frame at Target. Voilà! What do you mean, all you can think of is “Casey at the Bat?” Okay, here’s a good one by Kenneth Rexroth. It’s been tried, tested and personally guaranteed by me.

Click to enlarge.

A Poem for “Choice”

I came across this poem in time for “Blogs for Choice Day” today:


by Pat Schneider

The child you think you don’t want

is the one who will make you laugh.

She will break your heart

when she loses the sight in one eye

and tells the doctor she wants to be

an apple tree when she grows up.

It will be this child who forgives you

again and again

for believing you don’t want her to be born,

for resisting the rising tide of your body,

for wishing for the red flow of her dismissal.

She will even forgive you for all the breakfasts

you failed to make exceptional.

Someday this child will sit beside you.

When you are old and too tired of war

to want to watch the evening news,

she will tell you stories

like the one about her teenaged brother,

your son, and his friends

taking her out in a canoe when she was

five years old. How they left her alone

on an island in the river

while they jumped off the railroad bridge.

“Middle-Age” by Pat Schneider, from Another River: New and Selected Poems. © Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.

Reasons for blogging

I think the poem below pretty well sums up why I write — blogging or otherwise. From The Writer’s Alamanc today:

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994” by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.