Elementary School Literature

On my wedding invitations, I printed a line from Robert Frost, and a guest, mistaking Carl Sandburg for crusty Frost, gave us a collection of Sandburg’s poems.

I woke this frosty morning thinking of a poem we read aloud in my fifth grade class, in the basement of a three-story brick building later converted to senior housing. Although I grew up in wooded New Hampshire, far from any harbor or city, the poem’s perfect for kids – short and muscled, primed to pounce, cat-like.

Here’s the past again materializing: I’ve long since forgotten that teacher’s name, or even anyone else in the class. Yet I distinctly recall sitting there as a quiet kid wearing orange tights, in a warm classroom where the basement windows opened to the back driveway, loving this poem.

Hard frost last night. Wearing winter coats, the 12-year-old and I walked last evening, the stars overhead, passing no one.

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
– Carl Sandburg

Emerald Blossom

A little girl, about the height of my hip, leans against me in the library, seeking gum. My stash melted in the freak heat wave. She looks at me, forlorn.

The adult I’m speaking with suggests they walk outside and pick a leaf of kale.

Later, when I’m outside, too, I see the little girl with a dark green leaf tucked in her fist. She clutches this edible bouquet, watching the big girls swing. Then she leans against my leg, still facing away, a kind of forgiveness. She eats the entire leaf.

How much I desire!
Inside my little satchel,
the moon, and flowers.

– Basho

From the season’s last swim….

Winter Sky

Last evening, I stopped by Lake Elmore, summertime sacred scene of popsicles, barefoot children running over immense lawns, swimming and more swimming. My daughter’s happy birthday parties, the little girls in their flowered dresses.

8 degrees Fahrenheit under a half moon and scattered stars, Orion’s belt hung over the snow-covered lake, hoarfrost creeping up the crumpled remainders of weeds. Scraps of clouds passed quickly over the moon. After too many meetings and too much talking, I gulped the cold eagerly, my boot heels on the sand-scattered road the only scuffling sounds. Ancient, great-horned Taurus, the bull in the spinning constellations, hung above me, familiar and dear as the oldest of lovers.

… There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed….

Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”

A sunshiny bit of my world….

Early January, at Home

In the morning, driving along the Lamoille River and its flanking snow-buried farm fields, my daughter and I note the river’s ice buckled across its serpentine surface and speculate about its thickness. With this year’s early insulating snow, the fire department posts warnings about treacherously thin ice.

These days are long, beginning in darkness and ending in darkness, arcing over the eye of grayish light in the middle. Last night, our windows filled with spinning snowflakes, while my teenager and I held onto the day, talking, talking, our words swirling around each other, sharing our worlds.

Later, as the wind howled over the house, I read from my library book Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times – irresistible title.

Poetry is like the sawdust coming from under the saw
or soft yellow shavings from a plane.
Poetry is washing hands in the evening
or a clean handkerchief that my late aunt
never forgot to put in my pocket.

Jaan Kaplinksi, “‘Once I Got a Postcard…..'”

North Calais, Vermont