I can’t escape the irony that on this anniversary of Earth Day, humankind is forced to retreat indoors because of a raging virus and we must leave the natural world to nature. As a result, the air has become cleaner, the water clearer, the animals free and unharassed. I embrace nature as it exists in my back yard, feeding the birds, rescuing honey bees that fall into the birdbath, breathing in the plants, the vegetables and the herbs growing in pots all around our patio. And I turn to poets who have deep roots in nature, like Wendell Berry:
Mama Bird, Baby Bird
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry
Ash on an old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets
Our worlds have shrunk, have concentrated, making us focus on what is immediately around us. For my husband and I, we were fortunate to plant our potted garden in the back yard before we all had to retreat into our homes. Those plants, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas have become our sanctuary. I’m also taking shelter in poetry and poets.org is offering to mail you a poem a day during April to celebrate Poetry Month, and they also offer Shelter In Poems: “This National Poetry Month, we ask our readers to share a poem that helps to find courage, solace, and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so.”
This particular poem was emailed to me today, “The Way We Love Something Small,” by Kimberly Blaeser. This poem resonates with me, even more so now as my photography often focuses on small things because it has been my experience, like Blaeser claims, that using one’s camera, like writing poems, is an “act of attention.” And these are the things that save us. These small things have always saved me, having the power to change me.
The Way We Love Something Small
The translucent claws of newborn mice
this pearl cast of color,
the barely perceptible
like a ghosted threshold of being:
here not here.
The single breath we hold
on the thinnest verge of sight:
not there there.
A curve nearly naked
an arc of almost,
a wisp of becoming
tiny enough to change me.
One need not go further than a white towel hung in an open door.
— Carolyn Forché, from “In the Exclusion Zones” (Blue Hour)
AFTER THE ALPHABETS
I am trying to decipher the language of insects
they are the tongues of the future
their vocabularies describe buildings as food
they can depict dark water and the veins of trees
they can convey what they do not know
and what is known at a distance
and what nobody knows
they have terms for making music with the legs
they can recount changing in a sleep like death
they can sing with wings
the speakers are their own meaning in a grammar without horizons
they are wholly articulate
they are never important they are everything
— W.S. Merwin, from his 1988 book The Rain in the Trees. Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin.
Merwin died this month at the age of 91.
“October” by Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.