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The World of the Unicorn Tapestries

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I am often irritated by radio announcers who talk on about the composers whose works they are about to play, some facts well known, some gathered from the internet and often tangential.

Yet, when I was working with the unicorn tapestries I wanted to know “more, more, more” about the world in which they were made.

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The Unicorn Defends Himself (part)

I discovered two history books from the 1920s.  The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga is translated from the Dutch.  The translation I have is from 1996, indicating that the book is still important.

A second, less well-known, history is Lucien Febvre’s Life in Renaissance France.  Both of these authors convey a sense of loss in describing the vitality of the era they describe.

These two books, and the energy of the tapestries themselves, persuaded me.  Pictured here is just part of one of the tapestries from the Hunt of the Unicorn series in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I’ve come to share the two authors’ sense of loss and wish I could know personally these two good writers.

 

Historians

When the world was half a thousand years
younger all events had much sharper
outlines than now.
     Johan Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages (1923)

The unicorn’s realm is beyond our reach.
We cannot leap half a millennium
to dance with the lords and ladies
of the country in which he thrived.

Admiring the vigor of that age,
Lucien Febvre said we are hothouse
flowers.  The past is a mirror too distant
to give us clear sight of ourselves.

Lucien and I and Johan Huizinga
wander along cold, unswept streets,
wanting to crash the splendid parties
we are too late to attend.

Note:  “more, more, more” is a quotation from A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss.  See my post of August 28, 2013.

Poem for Taurus New Moon

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My mother was born in Taurus.  I’m a Scorpio.  We didn’t pay much attention to these signs, so I was not aware until recently that each of these signs has the other as its full moon.  That suggests to me a strong and lasting connection.

This, however, is a poem for the Taurus new moon.  It amazes me to realize that my mother would have been 98 this year.

Sign Language

Taurus is the sign of money.
My mother, born on its cusp,
never had much.
She made it enough.

Taurus is the sign of things.
She cared for her father’s saw,
the table he built when she was young,
her crowded closet and attic.

Taurus is the sign of earth.
She bent her ample body, seeding,
weeding, watering, her small plot
of ground inside a wire fence.

Taurus is the sign of matter.
It matters to me that she’s gone.

Clocks and Time

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The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door

 

 

 

 

In honor of the clock change, here is one of my poems about time and clocks from Made and Remade.

 

The Potentate of Time

As CEO, I cannot allow loss
of minutes dropped by badly
calibrated clocks, seconds

split by timers racing after
ever faster miles, or precious
nanoseconds sliced, spit out

by precision machines: all
the clumsy human attempts
to alter time.

I dispatch work crews to
sweep corners and gutters, sift
bits from curbs and drains,

bring their gathered goods into
my laboratory where skilled
artisans sort, stitch, splice.  My

expanding universe requires
recovery, repair, reuse
of every particle.

The title comes from a line in a hymn “Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time.”  It’s a phrase I’ve been fond of for a long time.  In spite of the source I picture this powerful figure as female.  I don’t know if this is because this cleaning up is a kind of woman’s work, or if it is a form of identification between poet and persona.  I intentionally hid my perspective by putting the poem in the first person.  How do you imagine this figure?

Drive carefully on Monday morning.  It’s a high accident time because so many people are thrown off and sleep deprived by the time change

One for Fun

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On the road this past weekend I found myself eating in restaurants and remembered this poem which I wrote several years ago.  It’s all about the word play, and you’ll see by the end, if you don’t recognize it immediately, that it is rapidly becoming dated.  Enjoy!

 

Checkpoint

Checking out the new
restaurant, we place
our order, chat about
that smiling checker at
the grocery store, my
check-up – the doctor’s
clean bill of health.

It’s my turn to pick up
the check.  We recall
when checks we wrote
had stubs, those books
with three to a page
your father used, as if
home were a business.

Waitstaff scurry from
table to computer, which
prints small characters
on short thin strips.
I say, “We’re ready for
the check.”  Our server
calls it a ticket.

 

After Rain

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The ground in my back yard is mostly sand between the bushes.  But then it rains and it becomes clear how many seeds are buried in that sand.   Rain is a good metaphor for all kinds of nurturing.  When the rain doesn’t come for a while, more yellow shows from the ground.  When it comes again, the ground is green.

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Dry skin in winter,
wind burnt in spring, the ground
turns to green fuzz
after rain, grows out ragged
as an adolescent’s beard.

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Seasonal Work and a Poem

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The shipping companies are looking for workers this month because an increase in internet orders means an increase in deliveries.  For wives and mothers the seasonal work of this time has another dimension.  A set of extra tasks are added to an already full schedule.   Shopping to do, packages to wrap and mail, cards to prepare, all this has to be fitted in.

For me, the most important seasonal task is baking.  The other tasks will get done, but cookies mark the progress of advent..  I stock special ingredients to make certain special cookies, the recipes all handed down from somewhere.  For a time, when our boys were young, I was baking three different kinds of cookies; the recipes came from my family, my husband’s family, and their favorite babysitter.  These days I only do one or two – all the recipes are so large there aren’t enough people around to eat all I can make.

While setting out molasses, flour, spices and so on for the German cookies from my mother’s family today, I remembered how baking works as a metaphor for other kinds of creativity.  The combination of elements becomes something more than the sum of the ingredients.  The following poem uses the image of a pie rather than cookies.  I don’t make many pies during December, but I must not forget the Christmas breakfast coffee cake!

Baking

The fingers that curl
around my pencil
knead butter in a bowl:
flour sprays onto the counter.

Butter’s a better
conductor than graphite.
Words slide down
the greased slope.  Rolling pin
presses them in.  I crimp
the edge in even meter.

When I give you a slice
of this pie, you will be
eating my words.

“Baking” was first published in Rockhurst Review # 23, Spring 2010.

The Map of Longing: Poem and Chapbook

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How shall I properly introduce my chapbook The Map of Longing now that it has snuck into my blog entries through a poem called to mind be recent experience?  It is my second chapbook with Finishing Line Press, published in 2009.  It is a collection of poems about loss and longing within the ordinary phases of life.  I had the fun of working with a friend who is a photographer to choose the cover picture, which shows a road leading to some unknown place through overhanging trees.  The fact that it is a scene from my home state, California, was an incidental plus.

 

My mother, Emily, in her prime

Many of the poems in this collection relate to my mother, including some about the last months of her lifeand clearing outher house.  Others refer to my own move from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, which happened the same year as my mother’s death.  Is it any wonder the two themes are intertwined?

There are several poems, however, which attempt to capture the feeling of being lost, disoriented, out of touch, as a general human condition, not connected to any specific circumstances.  One of these is the title poem, which expresses the mood of distraction and disorientation by the very number of its metaphoric images.

The Map of Longing

The express train
knows where it’s headed.

I zigzag,
a squirrel before cool weather
signals gathering,

no pattern tidy
as trimming for a skirt,

no purpose,
like switchbacks
up a mountain.

My turns random as leafing
through a dictionary,

I skid like a getaway car
within a movie frame,
constricted by the tracks of time,

direction inescapable
as A to Z.

The Map of Longing is available through Amazon.  You can get a signed copy from me via ERYBooks.

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