Here’s the last group of poems I expect to post. As always, the date is that of original composition, while the poems are presented in chronological sequence with the one exception of the last.
1. February 12, 1974
Although dated in the depths of winter, this poem on fragility and complicity harkens back to the week I used to spend each summer with my college friend Jay in Maine.
The future lies placid in the pool.
Sun and bracken glint
On washed stones and sodden leaves.
Watchful fish through contoured currents
Dart and double back.
With a severed branch, I stir
The water into shattered glass.
2. March 1974
I was fascinated by, but also questioned, claims that you can hear the sea in a sea shell.
She held a sea shell to her ear
For the shifting of the sea‑‑
Of life in the living and life foretelling‑‑
The trembling of bone.
3. April 2, 1974
Initially puzzled on looking over this poem, I now remember the title comes from a Sherlock Holmes story. However, the poem’s setting suggests timeless France to me rather than Victorian London.
The five Napoleons lined
Behind the window, stare with plaster malice
Out to the sun-blanched sidewalk,
Fixing you with disdain
Until you go inside
And catch them from behind.
They cannot turn around
Cannot even mind.
4. Fall, 1974
During my 1974 term at Sheffield University, it rained part of every single day.
On heavy, rainy days the scent
Of perfume creeps under doors.
It was once
When she awoke at noon, alone.
Upon a time she rose and pried
Open the window, looked outside,
Let fall her hair to paving stone‑‑
But there were no flowers in bloom.
She wound back her hair and cried,
Her blossom wilting inside.
5. October 23, 1974
During that Sheffield University term, I debated whether to make America my home or return permanently to England, my country of birth. Montreal was in that mix, too. Would I have made any impression at all on the places left behind?
Leaving My Mark
Footprints in the snow
Recall me when I go.
Some will wonder who and why,
But I know it was I.
6. March 2, 1975
What wins me over with this poem is the ding-dong rhyme, except that something’s off because the progression is dong-ding.
Old church bells ring
In windchime song;
Sun has shone strong
This green day long:
And we long
So much, we fling
Ourselves at spring.
7. Probably spring 1975
When it rains, it pours. And then?
The rain came down, came down, came down,
Splattered on the ground.
The rain came down, came down,
Without an end.
The rain came down,
Flooded streams and land.
The rain came down, the rain came down,
Then went away.
8. Fall, 1975
In the fall of my college senior year, I debated with myself over which career to pursue and projected far, far into the future.
You, away in the country,
And things that don’t matter
Occupy my moments.
Prospects I thought would free
Where now are open, human faces
Or brittle streams at sunrise?
Where are the true surprises?
I wish the nag of possibility
Would stop and let me be.
9. March 30, 1982
Skip forward half a dozen years: I’d turned into a lawyer, but even though I loved my work, I was always pulled in another direction.
The Hangover Theory of Literature
On such a morning, with each gray cell
Throbbing out of rhythm with its fellows,
When all sensations shock the nerves,
When the skull is a clamp on the brain
And welcome death opens the door:
On such a morning,
The one idea that redeems
Is the hangover theory of literature.
To understand books completely,
One must have been hung over.
How else appreciate
The humor of Amis
Or the mysteries of Hammett,
Or perceive the depths of religious
Despair in Dostoyevsky
Or Camus’s existential malaise?
If I ever become famous—say they made me a judge—
Perhaps a student, poring over
My papers, will see this note,
Marvel at its novelty,
And propose it for a dissertation
In the graduate department of English.
My name would appear not just
In the acknowledgments, but also,
As it should,
In the preface and throughout the text.
Then a critic with influence
Would launch my literary reputation:
Because I invented
The hangover theory of literature.
10. February 28, 1983
Dream-borne poems might or might not mean something to a reader or, years afterwards, even to the poem’s author. But decades later, I still sort of get this one: something like continuity of purpose in a time of ambivalence.
He picked up his suitcase
In the foyer of her home
And went out to the waiting car.
The car could have driven him away
But the waterfall enticed him
And the car disappeared.
They stood at the base of the rocks
Down whose crevasses water filed.
She looked on
As he clambered up
To peer at the stream.
11. December 8, 1978
I’ll close these short collections of poems with one that reminds me why I kept writing them long after a professor discouraged me: I still needed to work things out in poems the way others do in diaries and journals. This one is named for an Anglo-Saxon who, like the more mythologized Robin Hood, rebelled against England’s Norman conquerors. The version of the story I’ve long chosen to believe is that Hereward (pronounced something like Heh-ruh-wood) rebelled against his Norman conquerors but eventually came to terms with them. He resurfaced from my childhood memories after a cherished friendship took a romantic turn.
Hereward the Wake
I come down now from the marsh trees,
Discard my veil of North Sea mist
And stand where open sunlight plays,
For you have thawed with the Fens’ spring burst.
I’ve long resisted settling down
Though I didn’t feel secure. I just
Kept moving. Now, like rain
Driven by wind, I seek earth’s firm rest.
Where I hid in woodlands to survive
Green-leaf boughs, arched for you, now thrive.