Poetry

Outside My Window—

Construction on the 16-story apartment building has come to a halt. An occasional car passes by, and a few people are out walking their dogs, but nobody is running downhill to catch the commuter train to New York City. Nothing seems to be happening, yet this morning when I raised the shade, I witnessed a miracle in progress! Tiny leaves are making their appearance on the oak tree outside my window, and the tree is wearing a light green halo.

It reminded me of a poem Herb wrote that will appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry—Poems and Prayers—now in the hands of the book designer.

MAGIC

How strange that we applaud a fake

as he unspools a ribbon from his ear

or pulls a rabbit from his hat

But yawn next morning when we wake

and see a universe appear

from nothing, just like that!

I hadn’t intended to be back at the blog so soon, but wanted to share this thought. The certainty of the return of spring and the summer to come is surely a comfort in what, to say the least, is a most uncertain time.

****************

I’m working on understanding the Victorian woman, trying to get inside her head. More on this subject to come.

paintings · Poetry · Technology

Another Take on Conversation

About the same time as I was writing my last post on the importance of conversation, Herb was working on a post of the same subject for his blog. We didn’t plan it that way. That sort of thing happens when you’ve been married a long time. Here, from his blog, paintingsandpoems.home.blog:

SOLITUDE IS NO SOLUTION

Herb Knapp

THE MIND
Birds, bees, termites, ants, and molds
taken singly are brainless things,
but when they come together with their kind,
they act as if directed by a mind.
We, however, lose our minds in crowds,
grow drunkenly ambitious, start to build
stairways to the stars, or try to kill
our neighbors, pillage stores, set fire to cars.
Solitude is no solution though.
A mountain man’s a crowd of one,
who follows his uncontradicted will, 
as mindless as an ant without a hill.
Our minds are fragile, easily destroyed
by noise or silence, griefs or celebrations.
For minds to flourish, they must be employed
regularly in rambling conversations.

Below iis a conversation between men called “The Long Story” by William Sidney Mount.

And here is a painting of a conversation between two women called “Conversation” by the twentieth century painter Milton Avery.

Thomas Traherne: “The world is best enjoyed and most immediately while we converse blessed and wisely with men.”

Jonathan Edwards: “The being of society, as such, is conversation.”

Michael Oakeshott: “Learning to be human is learning to participate in the conversation of mankind.” 

Poetry

It Happened Last Night Outside My Window

Last night the ginkgo

Paved our street with golden fans.

We step carefully.

Usually it happens later in November. But it happened last night on the street where we live. The two ginkgo trees outside the window decided “that’s it! we’re out of here!” and dropped all their leaves.

Ginkgos do this. Unlike modern trees like the maples, oaks, and beeches, which put on a dazzling show of color and then turn brown and gradually drop their leaves, the gingko opts for a dramatic all-at-once exit. No one knows why they do it this way. They say it somehow has to do with its antiquity and the way it has evolved since before the days of the dinosaurs.

The gingko is a tough tree, able to withstand a lot of abuse, which is why you find so many of them on New York City streets. And when it’s time to go, they do it with authority and get the hell off stage. And you know then that winter is really around the corner. Time to get out the humidifiers and the Verilux sun lamp.

Late in November, on a single night

Not even near to freezing, the gingko trees

That stand along the walk drop all their leaves

In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind

But as though to time alone: the golden and green

Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday

Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

Howard Nemerov

haiku · Poetry

Outside My Window

Monday was one of those dismal, dark days with periodic rain and no sunshine. As I gazed out the window, here is what I saw—and thought:

A pink umbrella
And a yellow taxicab.
Things aren’t all gray.

Hey! That’s pretty poetic. Actuallly, It sounds like a haiku. That ancient Japanese verse form doesn’t employ rhyme and meter like English poetry but specifies three lines, a total of 17 syllables, distributed so: 5-7-5.

I counted the syllables. Only 16 syllables, so I fixed it. And there you have it! I’ll call it 

A Rainy Day

A pink umbrella
And a yellow taxicab.
Things are not all gray.

Books · Culture · Role of Women

What Do You Do for Firewood When There’s Not a Tree in Sight?

Pioneer woman hauling buffalo chips (dessicated buffalo poop).

Before beginning the perilous journey westward, the pioneers congregated on the edge of the prairie in what would eventually become my hometown of Kansas City. Here they outfitted their wagon trains in preparation for the arduous journey ahead. 

I’ve often wondered where these women got the courage to leave loved ones and friends and all their familiar routines and possessions for an incredibly dangerous journey and a life of extreme hardship and scarcity as they tried to build a new life in a strange and lonely place. 

The feminist historian, Julia Roy Jeffreys, wondered the same thing. In 1979 she consulted over 200 of those diaries, reminiscences, and collections of letters written by these women in preparation for writing Frontier Women: the Trans-Mississippi West 1840-1880.

In the introduction to this edition of the book Jeffrey writes, 

I hoped to find that pioneer women used the frontier as a means of liberating themselves from stereotypes and behavior which I found constricting and sexist.

The behaviors and stereotypes she refers to constituted what is called “the doctrine of separate spheres” which dictated that woman’s place was in the home; man’s place in the world. The Victorian woman was expected to be submissive to her husband, concerned only with her home and children, having no interest or ability to engage in public affairs. She was above all genteel, pious, and pure. She was “the angel in the house; the madonna in the nursery.”

But what Jeffreys discovered surprised her

She found that frontier women did their best to maintain the Victorian stereotype even as necessity forced them to face decidedly unfeminine challenges.

That really didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me about this book was the author’s perserverance in spite of the fact that her research proved her assumptions incorrect at every turn and that in the end, though her core belief in feminism remained unshaken, she was willing to be wrong about the subject of her study.

Though my own ideological commitment remains the same, I now have great sympathy for the choices these women made and admiration for their strength and courage. I have continually wondered if any of us would have done as well.

Today, 40 years later, the attribute of open mindedness is in short supply. You just don’t see it very often, certainly not among third wave feminist academics.,