Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Journeys

—Paintings by Paul Klee (1879-1940)
—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA


It is not without tension
that I'm in Amherst
for a change
disposing of a blue gentian
resembling lapis lazuli
on Emily Dickinson
along mums near her grave
here on her birthday
December the tenth
with a Serb exchange student
having seen her herbarium
by Harvard at length
there among her hardy
favorite garden flowers
jasmine, roses, cyclamen
that she nursed,
I'm returning every year
to these grassy tall dunes
at this relapsed hour
on this Autumnal sight
perhaps seeking pardon
as a learning lyrical bard
with remembered wounds
for a poet's fearful faults
in the morning burst
of a salt first light.


(DECEMBER 8, 1608)

Born in a town
that bares “Milton"
as its name,
Paradise Lost
quickly became my interest
about this free-spirited
seventeenth-century Puritan
and New Testamental based
tempest-tossed poet,
and when I first submitted
my first paper on
his vegetative imagery
the English professor
from Oxford
was so impressed
she had me teach the class
telling her it was my uncle
who brought us up
on Milton, Byron, Shakespeare
and when he came to visit
we all went out to lunch
at the Oyster House
that first December
and he taught her
so much about poetry
that my freshman year
became a four-year stint
until my own poetry
was itself in print.

 Guitar and Pipe (1913)

(DECEMBER 7, 1941)

Two vets on a park bench
on today's 75th anniversary
talk to me about their fathers
being in Hawaii
up early
hearing the Japanese jets
crash over the "Arizona"
of Uncle Sam
on that uneasy fateful day
at Pearl Harbor
how they were both in ‘Nam
clenching their jaws
pausing to tell me
they were out of cash
and played the daily lottery
for money
we talked about our memory
at the infamy in war
knowing it only deceives
and leads to a brief victory
then fiery ash.



Disclosed by the snow
a cat returns from fields
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
we cannot recognize
his scrawny coat
as he sits about the living room
in the corner shadows
at many knees full of gloom
even as the late Yosani Akiko
of Japan warned
in her colloquies and poetry
wondered what it was all for
in forgiving the span of war.

 Grapes (1916)


Doing manual labor
in construction
by the oval harbor
yet fearful of any accident
or going to a funeral
having been sent here
to East Boston by a friend
who knew this bard
in college
was hard-up for rent
here in the hot sun
pacing by the waterfront
listening to guys
talking about car racing
yet finding the hour
to imprint my poetry
in a loose-leaf notebook
under a March shower
playing riffs of jazz
feeding a chorus of birds
or reading Homer
in a book of knowledge
during lunch
resting on a bench
after a man up morning
to share a feta
or Portuguese fish sandwich
with a cup of beer
watching others
drawing on graffiti walls
about the exodus of freedom
from slavery at Passover
or speaking to a worker priest
about Jesus at Lent
who had returned
from Mount Tabor
in the Galilee,
feeling a Whitman camaraderie
among these gentlemen
filling in my labors
it was hardly time ill-spent.



At this night of snow
near Christmas
in my soundproof studio
looking out
on green-and white-decorations
near the Elm trees
with my new lights
on my window
shut in my lyrical desolation
beginning to think
of Juan Gris
and his Wine Jug and Glass
and imagine drinking
vin gris yellow water
on my own bistro table.

 The Bunch of Grapes (1925)


On canvas
and theory
of pure painting
this German-Swiss
artist and dissident
using a series
of dissonant cubist
faint watercolors
in a formless
or shapeless geometry
in "Limits of Understanding"
changed our viewing
and crossing the lines
in a drawing
out of a new metamorphosis.


(Born DECEMBER 10, 1891)

Who knew, Nelly Sachs,
while growing up
in a white apron
by honey cakes
or in a garden
of apple trees
or by a doll house
with tiny furniture
or later even the glamour
of a child acting out Wagner's
musical operatic dramas
upon a musical stage
with a fantasy company
in a Kultur of Berlin,
that you would share
a singular grief of your time
that was fermenting
as a war crime
both personal and universal
in a lament of poetry
shuddering with mine.

 The Open Window (1921)

(Born DECEMBER 8, 1865)

In the chorus
with three lyrical
for Sibelius
on his birthday
we land
with our plane
watching out a window
on sunny horizons
in his beloved country
among the vast fields
of snow on a birch
past a branch of birds
imagining a tundra swan
in a musical wonderland
with a composer's repertory
glowing on Finland's Arctic sky
from a cast shadow
of this critic's words.


(Born DECEMBER 4, 1875)

Rilke, ailing yet you wrote
back from your Swiss spa
in Val-Mont
to Marina Tsvetaeva
and Boris Pasternak,
not hesitation to acknowledge
in my estimation to be
(if we leave Goethe out)
the first international poet
yet your matured modernity
sweeps away verse
of any small formality
and all nationality
becomes a stateless dream
as you leap in a snowstorm
into a global curiosity
from a poet's kaleidoscope
for a century seems to yearn
and wait
on what your nature grasps
robed with mystical words
from your melancholy silence
as a bird in the summit
of clouds in the sky
drops by a birch’s branch
in a new language of modernity
which like Cleopatra's
dramatic asp
electrifies your audience.


Today’s LittleNip:

The only journey is the one within.

—Rainer Maria Rilke


—Medusa, with our thanks to B.Z. Niditch for fine poems on this winter day. For more about Paul Klee, see   

 Celebrate voice-painting today at noon with 
Third Thursdays in the Sacramento Room of the 
Central Library (bring poems about bringing light 
out of darkness); or with a reading by The Hosts of 
Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe in Sac., 8pm; 
or in Davis with readers from the Sac. Voices 
anthology at John Natsoulas Gallery, also 8pm. 
Scroll down to the blue column (under the green 
column at the right) for info about these and other 
upcoming poetry events in our area—and note 
that more may be added at the last minute. 
For example, Sacramento Voices will meet this 
Saturday, 4:30-6pm, at SPC in Sacramento, 
featuring D.R. Wagner, Barbara West, and open mic. 
(See—? Ya gotta keep checking!)
And this just in: Zealous tomorrow (Friday), 7-9pm
at The Confluence, Stellar Studios in Sac.!
(See what I mean? The hits just keep coming!)

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.