Variation on a Theme by William Carlos Williams

“The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

 

So much depends

upon

 

a red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens.

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William Carlos Williams, physician by day . . . (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Literary critic John Hollander writes, “Williams ‘etymologizes’ his compounds into their prior phenomena, and his verbal act represents, and makes the reader carry out, a meditative one.”

In other words, meditative phenomena. Shamatha. Breathe. Receive.

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So much depends . . .

Kathy, Elena, and Cole drive seven hours to Virginia for a baby shower. They also visit Polyface Farms, where Joel Salatin and family love creation, collaborate with it. Elena sits on a swing and nurses Cole. She’s not ashamed. Kathy brings home a pound of bacon from a pig joyful until its last moment. Salt and earth. We taste the earth.

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A friend showed me . . . (Credit: H Zell / Wikimedia Commons)

For Sunday family dinner, we have purple potato salad and wraps: real, northwestern Pennsylvania tomatoes; avocado; feta; dill sauce; red bell pepper; chicken thighs sautéed in ground coriander seeds.

(I once saw coriander in Mary’s mortar. That’s why I thought to buy coriander, grind it, and put it with the chicken. My friend showed me.)

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I’m busy, Gramps . . .

Before Sunday family dinner, Cole works in his playhouse in the backyard. He pounds with his hammer. He examines plastic nails and a sink and makes comments about them into the perfect air. Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom (James Wright).

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Matt and Layla

Before Sunday family dinner, Elena says, “We were going to plant flowers beside the house, but Matt says he wants to keep that space open. Layla likes to run there.”

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Boulevard altos . . .

This morning, breezes lift the bedroom curtains. Kathy and I lay together, my arm around her shoulder, her head on my chest. We say nothing, listen to the trees, receive Earth’s cool hymnody on our faces and arms.

Finally: “I love you, Kathy Coleman.”

And: “I love you, too, John Coleman.”

Strange: we call each other by our full names.

 

A Poem: My Daughter Waiting

My Daughter Waiting

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes at dusk she takes

me outside, down by the railroad

tracks, where she has found

something which has somersaulted

on the wind from a field nearby:

a white, greasy bag; a pizza

box; pieces of newspaper with each

story missing its ending. We

wait in the gray cold, blinders

of pine trees flanking our acre.

We just stand there, her

cheek against my hip of corduroy.

A train might go by, clacking

our chests and shimmering our feet,

or one might not. She’s happy.

She’s got a fat hand around hers,

the evening is lapping everything black,

and nothing can even get near her.

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Each story missing its ending. (Credit: sandya / Wikimedia Commons)

Note: This poem was first published in slightly different form in a 1988 edition of Mudfish that also included poems by Barry Spacks, Jill Hoffman, and John Ashbury. The speaker here isn’t me, but some guy I thought up.

Another note: I have a guest post today at www.kerryswindingroad.com. I invite you to check out Kerry’s great blog as well as my essay about watching your children walk away from you. Enjoy.

A Poem: Exodus

Exodus

March: these three

song sparrows

head in a line–

wing to wing

and keeping their counsel–

toward the leafless hills,

which themselves follow

one another

into the distance.

Trailing this delicate

gray exodus,

I hear the wind

for an instant

unburdened by

trucks or voices.

Only the mist

from my own lungs

offers the necessary

whisper in the silence.

Sparrows far off now,

I watch for others,

praying they’ll sing

me a route I can

thoughtlessly recall.

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When you take off, please sing to me. (Credit: Patryk Osmola / National Geographic My Shot / National Geographic Society / Corbis)

Note: This poem originally appeared in slightly different form in Southern Poetry Review (Fall 1991).

Poem: “The Myth of Embracing”

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“Like pines and doves unable to hug completely.” (Credit: Laurent Hamel / PhotoAlto / Corbis)

The Myth of Embracing*

Even in this furious sunlight,

the pine’s long arms form the promises

of circles, incomplete and longing for the sky,

where a mourning dove leaves curve trails

as its wings suggest huggings of the world

that just keep coming up with air—travel

is incidental. Our bodies curve, too.

The longest laugh, like pain, eventually

bends chest to knees, everything surrounding the heart.

When my daughter was born, her shocked eyes,

smeared face, jerking arms wanted something,

one perfect thing to calm the frigid light.

She screamed, like pines and doves unable to hug

completely. Embracing is a myth:

our arms grow strong for all we cannot hold.

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“Our arms grow strong for all we cannot hold.” (Credit: Stewart Cohen / Blend Images / Corbis)

*Between 1986 and 1995 I published mostly poems. This one appeared in slightly different form in The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review (Winter, 1991).