APRIL 29, 2003
Here I am, a rainy day in Pennsylvania where I’ve been for ten days visiting my folks. Tomorrow I go back to New York and a lot of work. What a chilly morning. I hope the sun does come out soon and it gets warm. But it won’t. It’s been so cold the lilacs haven’t peeked their purple buds out of the bark. My parents are sleeping and my cat, Cachito, who has come along for the ride is meowing in the hallway. I don’t know why. I just threw him in the air to make him happy; held him high up in my hands and kissed his nose, but like the baby in the cradle, sometimes when it’s wailing, you just don’t know. My mother, my father snore, side by side, each in their chair. They operate on their own hours — my Mom stays up late watching murder mysteries and hospital surgeries. Last night some surgeons in Denver removed a two hundred pound tumor off a pale thin blonde woman, and my mother was riveted. My Dad wakes and sleeps intermittently over the twenty-four hours. Yesterday he was planting corn, four rows with a rake; then last night his hip hurt and he couldn’t sleep. Right now, as I said, my folks are together, asleep, snoring. Cachito is on the bed meowing, interrupting my thoughts. I think he wants to go out. Outside it’s raining cold, cold, cold. Although it’s spring the horizon looks like autumn but for the forsythia down there yellow on the green wet lawn.
I hear the geese above in the white sky, just their sounds, comforting honks, as long as they stay up there far off. The other day my brother Scott shot at one on the pond and it took off as he continued to fire at its behind taking flight. Canadian Geese are beautiful, but not when they congregate and shit up the place, browning the pond with scum and eating all the watercress. They think it all belongs to them, they hiss! and though my Republican brother is a supporter of George W. Bush, “Give a Canadian Goose an inch and you will live to regret it,” is a maxim we both appreciate.
With all the snow and rain the pond is the clearest I’ve ever seen it. The other night before my walk I saw where the pond runs off, among the bull rushes, a splashing, which turned out to be toads under the surface, holding on, the little males above, pressing their thighs against the fat bodies of their wives, submerged. The land-loving American Toad, Bufo Americanus, was fucking all over the place, among the white jelly clouds of frog’s eggs already laid. The toad’s eggs come out in a clear string where one black seed follows another in a delicate line that curls transparently among the drowned and jagged decaying leaves. It was so cold my hands were numb, yet these cold-blooded creatures really moved to the urge of love over oozing eggs in the smoky mud.
“You can really hear the frogs tonight,” my father said when I came into the warmth of his wood stove. “That’s because they’re having sex,” I said. My father with his dentures out, reading a book that I’d brought about the history of Islam, laughed and laughed. It’s so good to hear my father laugh; there is nothing like it.
Here in the woods I’ve been writing some sonnets, which has just come into my mind to do. I’ve been writing prose, working on a book of essays, and haven’t been thinking too much about poems. I am reading a lot of Spanish poets now because I am interested in knowing the language and I do like the poets. Whether the days have been sunny or cold I’ve been reading Spanish poets and also a little Robert Browning. There have been some gray days, though Easter Sunday the yellow spring opened its lids for a little while and everything was warm again. I walked into the woods with my nephew Chris, who’s out of jail and really seems off heroin, to where a stream comes down the mountain over prehistoric rocks the size of dinosaur heads and eggs, splashing from its source. A black snake slithered suddenly over the forest floor and was gone among new white, blue, purple, yellow flowers covering the cold wet ground. Powerful spring with a lot of rain, bursting at the edges. I’d been reading a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez, which simply fit the day with dandelions. My translation comes nowhere near the Spanish; I add it only to assist in appreciating it.
Abril venía, lleno todo de flores amarillas: amarillo el arroyo, amarillo el vallado, la colina, el cementerio de los niños, el huerto aquel, donde el amor vivía.
El sol ungía de amarillo el mundo, con sus luces caídas; ¡ay, por los lirios áureos, el agua de oro, tibia; las amarillas mariposas sobre las rosas amarillas!
Guirnaldas amarillas escalaban los árboles; ¡el día era una gracia perfumada de oro, en un dorado despertar de vida! Entre los huesos de los muertos abría Dios sus manos amarillas.
April came, completely full of yellow flowers: yellow the brook yellow the fence, the hill the cemetery of children the garden where love used to live.
The sun anointed the world with gold in its fallen light Ah! there by the golden lilies the golden water, warm the yellow butterflies over yellow roses.
Yellow garlands were climbing the trees; the day was full of perfumed grace in a golden waking of life. Among the bones of the dead God opened his yellow hands.
To really read poetry is as good as really writing it. I want to read a lot of English poets now. I want to read De Rerum Natura by Lucretius in the Latin. Hopefully somehow I will have July and August off and can do what I want. As I said, I’ve been having a hankering, an urge to write sonnets, be a little bound by rhyme and form, holding on and letting go at the same time. The two sonnets that follow are the first I’ve ever tried to write. So please keep that in mind.
Looking at the springs, sitting in the sun Something at my nape begins to tickle Like the wind’s moving a hair there, fickle On my bare neck between the scalp and trunk. I’m reading the poet Bill Kushner—Ah! His April Poems are wonderful to hold. It’s April and I’m here with Bill—But no Something’s crawling on my skin. Is it? What? I scratch, and it vanishes like a thought Forgotten, but it’s not. It walks. I pick From my neck a beautiful round red tick With many tiny moving legs, enough To turn my thoughts from Bill to blood and death. It knows I’m here, where I wanted to rest.
Every time I come it is the same Running without end down the mountain stairs Rocks, giant eggs and heads of dinosaurs. Elegant woods, soft, expanding gently Over everything, a promised dream Of health, happiness, not bombed little kids Without limbs, politicians getting rich Off suffering—Away! I want to be Among unfolding ferns and skunk cabbage Where the warm bright sun thaws the ground still cold Like Christ raising Lazarus. As I grow Old it seems possible to really love Even the startled snake scared in the leaves But man—Who threw this bottle in the stream?