Levertov Week: To Speak

To Speak

To speak of sorrow
works upon it
moves it from its
crouched place barring
the way to and from the soul’s hall —

out in the light it
shows clear, whether
shrunken or known as
a giant wrath —
at least, where before

its great shadow joined
the walls and roof and seemed
to uphold the hall like a beam.


I keep trying to decide if I agree with this premise or not.  “Sorrow shared is sorrow halved,” supposedly, but aren’t there times when even the most carefully-chosen words fail to convey the truth of the matter?

But there’s something to be said for making an assay at expressing and naming it, and also something to be said for having anyone to listen.

Levertov Week: To the Muse

To the Muse

I have heard it said,
and by a wise man,
that you are not one who comes and goes

but having chosen
you remain in your human house,
and walk

in its garden for air and the delights
of weather and seasons.

Who builds
a good fire in his hearth
shall find you at it
with shining eyes and a ready tongue.

Who shares
even water and dry bread with you
will not eat without joy

and wife or husband
who does not lock the door of the marriage
against you, finds you

not as unwelcome third in the room, but as
the light of the moon on flesh and hair.

He told me, that wise man,
that when it seemed the house was
empty of you,

the fire crackling for no one,
the bread hard to swallow in solitude,
the gardens a tedious maze,

you were not gone away
but hiding yourself in secret rooms.
The house is no cottage, it seems,

it has stairways, corridors, cellars,
a tower perhaps,
unknown to the host.

The host, the housekeeper, it is
who fails you.  He had forgotten

to make room for you at the hearth
or set a place for you at the table
or leave the doors unlocked for you.

Noticing you are not there
(when did he last see you?)
he cries out you are faithless,

have failed him,
writes you stormy letters demanding you return
it is intolerable

to maintain this great barracks without your presence,
it is too big, it is too small, the walls
menace him, the fire smokes

and gives off no heat.  But to what address
can he mail the letters?
And all the while

you are indwelling,
a gold ring lost in the house.
A gold ring lost in the house.
You are in the house!

Then what to do to find the room where you are?
Deep cave of obsidian glowing with red, with green, with black light,
high room in the lost tower where you sit spinning,

crack in the floor where the gold ring
waits to be found?

                                No more rage but a calm face,
trim the fire, lay the table, find some
flowers for it: is that the way?
Be ready with quick sight to catch
a gleam between the floorboards,

there, where he had looked
a thousand times and seen nothing?
                                              Light of the house,

the wise man spoke
words of comfort.  You are near,
perhaps you are sleeping and don’t hear.

Not even a wise man
can say, do thus and thus, that presence
will be restored.

a becoming aware a door is swinging, as if
someone had passed through the room a moment ago – perhaps
looking down, the sight
of the ring back on its finger?

How heartening this is, even though inspiration is never guaranteed.  Keep turning ideas over in your head, and beauty in your eyes, and words in your mouth.  Go about your day, keep at your work, show up on time and make sure the muse knows where to find you: thread-worn but intact advice.

It reassures me in other directions as well.  “When it seemed…the fire [was] crackling for no one, / the bread hard to swallow in solitude, / the gardens a tedious maze,” the muse is still there.  When I am only writing to myself, when I set out my thoughts and no one engages with them, that act of utterance remains needful for me and beneficial to all conversations that come later.

The conceit of the soul-house, particularly the difficulty of maintaining the ‘great barracks’ without assistance, rather reminds me of David Wilcox’s “That’s What the Lonely is For.”  In both cases, one finds that the house is more extensive than anticipated: initially inconvenient, but not without design.

Should you be seeking a muse to sing to you, I hope you find that ring on your own finger.

Levertov Week: Annuals


All I planted came up,
balsam and nasturtium and
cosmos and the Marvel of Peru

first the cotyledon
then thickly the differentiated
true leaves of the seedlings,

and I transplanted them,
carefully shaking out each one’s
hairfine rootlets from the earth,

and they have thriven,
well-watered in the new-turned earth;
and grow apace now –

but not one shows signs of a flower,
not one.
                  If August passes
and the frosts come,

will I have learned to rejoice enough
in the sober wonder of
green healthy leaves?


As they say: #mood.  To piggyback on yesterday’s poem and my own reality…what do you make of your life if you don’t find yourself bearing any flower, much less fruit?  Do you redefine green healthy leaves as a sort of success?

This is the question threaded through my search for a single story, the question I am asking every tired workday, the thing I wonder every lonesome bednight.  All my uhtceare and self-analysis and storytelling wrap around this question: what is the point?  What am I here for, what am I doing?

Again, as Levertov’s “The Old Adam” puts it:

Where is my life? Where is my life?
What have I done with my life?

Levertov Week: The Ache of Marriage

Sometimes I get impatient with poetry about married life, because I’m doing my best not to be bitterly single, and failing.

Sometimes it’s a pleasant sort of pain, to catch any glimpse of what it’s like.


The Ache of Marriage

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.


I’m sharing it mostly because it’s a poem within a poem to me:  “looking for joy, some joy / not to be known outside it.”  My life in a nutshell, really.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Levertov Week: The Thread

In the interest of posting again, ever, I thought I’d share some poems by Denise Levertov this week (and possibly next week as well).

I first encountered her poetry through friends from undergrad – denizens of the Wake and Donnybrook – sharing “The Servant Girl at Emmaus” and “St. Thomas Didymus.”  These prompted me to look for more of her work.

Generally speaking, Levertov is valued by many for her more political work – opposition to the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, social concerns, nuclear disarmament – whereas my friends and I are generally more interested in her framing of the sacred (both before and after her conversion to Catholicism).

Today’s poem is, I think, an example of that: one long allusion to Chesterton’s Father Brown, or to its notable quotation by Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.

But God won’t let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk — I mean, the bad evening. Father Brown said something like ‘I caught him’ (the thief) ‘with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.’

The Thread

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me – a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven’t tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

Christmas Cards: an obscenely detailed checklist

  1. Decide that you’re going to frickin’ SEND OUT CHRISTMAS CARDS THIS YEAR.
  2. Take off at least 2 – no, better make it what you have left, all 8 – days off work.
  3. Make preliminary list of addressees.
  4. Check your Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook events, and the township tax assessors to figure out the most current addresses.  Laugh at how your be-all-and-end-all-spreadsheet from 3 years back is hopelessly incorrect on so many counts.  Put a star next to the 5 friends who are…somewhere…you’ll figure out where later.
  5. Gather up all the Christmas cards you have accrued.
  6. Debate how offended your Lutheran friends might be to receive cards from All Saints Convent, which you bought because they were pretty and doctrinally sound enough.
  7. Count your cards, but not in a Vegas casino way.  Find that you have 53.
  8. Discover more addresses, and also summery and autumnal address labels.
  9. Add new addresses to spreadsheet, while wondering how much those address labels cost the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, considering that they send them to you quarterly at no charge.
  10. Hunt for church directory, because what you really need is a longer addressee list.
  11. …Hunt….more…
  12. Find it under a heap of notebooks!
  13. Hope no one has moved in the past 4 years besides the associate pastor.
  14. Realize that the thing you have is a pictorial directory, not one with addresses or phone numbers.
  15. Look through it anyway.  Add 15 families to your list.
  16. Get to the end to find that your efforts have been rewarded!  There ARE addresses here, just at the end.
  17. Wonder idly about the etiquette of addressing one of the church ladies by her full name when you only learned it from the directory.
  18. Wonder what people actually write in Christmas cards, if they aren’t just a family-picture postcard.
  19. Gather up three shoeboxes of old correspondence to investigate the question.
  20. Find that one shoebox actually contains shoes.
  21. Read some old cards.  Resist tearing up, barely.
  22. Hit up your friend’s Tumblr’s “seasonally appropriate” tag to turn on Strictly Advent music.
  23. Count your envelopes (40?  How did you end up with 13 fewer envelopes than cards?!), address labels (plenty), and stamps (48 Forever, 12 44-cent stamps, which should get the job done, unless you add further people to your list, which is nigh-on inevitable at this point).
  24. Re-count your list of addressees.  Debate adding choral union people.  Briefly ponder etiquette of divorcee names.
  25. Make a cup of tea and also a bitter-orange soda.
  26. a-child-is-born-cover-final-600Find that the “seasonally appropriate” tag has only 4 songs in it so far. Put on the King’s College choir singing John Rutter settings of Advent and Christmas music.
  27. Consult the post-its that your past self put on certain cards to earmark them as especially appropriate for certain people.
  28. Actually write out 11 cards!
  29. Get waylaid by a Tumblr friend asking for “religious Advent music,” as though there were a secular equivalent.  Get out hymnals to make a list of recommendations.
  30. Make another cup of tea and eat, like, a pound of green beans.
  31. Sort out which cards go to the Catholic friends.  Write out 6 more cards.
  32. Cook the Advent bacon your roommate got you and make yet more tea.
  33. Wonder whether the addresses in Superior Charter Township get addressed as such, or if they’re sent to Ypsilanti.
  34. Have roommate confirm that yeah, they should all be addressed to Ypsilanti, because the Superior Charter Township has no post office.
  35. Earmark more cards before you stop for the day because you have choir practice.
  36. Go off the deep end completely and ponder writing out an Advent hymn to send with said cards.
  37. Decide you are crazy.  Write 4 more cards.
  38. Try to figure out what to write to that one friend who deserves, like, the best words.  The most moving sort of tribute.  Fail.
  39. Seal up the two dozen or so that you actually finished.
  40. Leave open the cards you never found an address for, to puzzle yourself next year.