Litany of Beauty

Today I roamed through Bird Library at Syracuse University while searching for some summer reading. I took home five books, including Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Bag of Bones by Stephen King. And as I am wont to do, I pulled a book off a shelf at random, flipped it open to the middle and began reading the first text I saw.

The 1916 Poets, edited by Desmond Ryan.

The book had a light green cover with the title The 1916 Poets (edited by Desmond Ryan). It contains a selection of poems from Irish authors. My eyes settled on the poem “Litany of Beauty” by Thomas MacDonagh, and I found the words inspiring, particularly the lines:

Beauty of dawn and dew,
Beauty of morning peace
Ever ancient and ever new,
Ever renewed till waking cease …

Ryan, Desmond (Edited By). The 1916 Poets. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 1979, c1963.

And here’s a bad iPhone photo of a portion of the poem.

Litany of Beauty by Thomas MacDonagh.

A Slim Volume of Verse by D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

I recently stumbled upon a short collection of poems by D.H. Lawrence when I went to Syracuse University’s Bird Library to borrow his famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Amid the works penned by Lawrence, I found the slim volume of verse and pulled it off the shelf.

I thought the worn book might disintegrate as I held it in my hands and turned the pages, and with an original copyright of 1918, its title amused me: New Poems by D.H. Lawrence. The last stamp on the checkout slip is dated December of 1999, so it appears no one else has picked up the book in nearly 20 years.

Lawrence’s poems display sophisticated language with an “Old English” quality to them, and as I read the book, I had to stop several times to write down words that I would later look up on Dictionary.com. Many of the poems were short and possessed a timelessness, as they focused on nature and emotions, which cannot be bracketed by date or era.

Here are a few selections I liked:

Gipsy

I, the man with the red scarf,
Will give thee what I have, this last week’s earnings.
Take them, and buy thee a silver ring
And wed me, to ease my yearnings.

For the rest, when thou art wedded
I’ll wet my brow for thee
With sweat, I’ll enter a house for thy sake,
Thou shalt shut doors on me.

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D.H. Lawrence

These final two poems are ideal for summer reading, and I needed to look up the definitions of the two “p” words that stand out in the verses—primula and palimpsest. According to Dictionary.com, primula is a primrose, while palimpsest is a noun, meaning “a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.” The reference to twilight as a palimpsest suggests night overtaking day.

New Poems by D.H. Lawrence

Coming Awake

WHEN I woke, the lake-lights were quivering on the wall,
The sunshine swam in a shoal across and across,
And a hairy, big bee hung over the primulas
In the window, his body black fur, and the sound of him cross.

There was something I ought to remember: and yet
I did not remember. Why should I? The running lights
And the airy primulas, oblivious
Of the impending bee—they were fair enough sights.

Palimpsest of Twilight

Darkness comes out of the earth
And swallows dip into the pallor of the west;
From the hay comes the clamour of children’s mirth;
Wanes the old palimpsest.

The night-stock oozes scent,
And a moon-blue moth goes flittering by:
All that the worldly day has meant
Wastes like a lie.

The children have forsaken their play;
A single star in a veil of light
Glimmers: litter of day
Is gone from sight.

Lawrence, D.H. (David Herbert), New Poems. London: Martin Seeker, 1918.

Black Trees: A Poem

One of my poems, Black Trees, was recently published in Issue #5, The Poetry Issue, of Spirit’s Tincture, a literary magazine that publishes speculative fiction and poetry. Here it is:

Trees in Toledo, Ohio. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Black Trees

The limbs of the black trees
cradle the roadkill porcupine
splattered against the asphalt.
The leaves of the black trees
whisper to the deceased animal,
telling it: “With the spring rain
your bones, blood, and quills
will flush into the soil
and fertilize our roots.
Your death sustains our life.”
But the porcupine
is long gone from this earth,
snuffed out by a texter or tweeter who
failed to notice it crossing the street.
And the black trees stand erect
as a storm roils in the distant.
They remain impassive,
aware the forces of nature
could target them next—
uprooting their trunks,
shearing their branches.
And the black trees know
they could soon occupy
the same ground
the dead porcupine rests upon.

A Poem for the Preakness

Pimlico Race Course

In celebration of Saturday’s 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, I thought I would offer a horse racing-themed poem inspired by Charles Bukowski and his penchant for betting on the ponies.

Charles Bukowski

Hanging with Bukowski

I wish I could spend an afternoon
with Charles Bukowski—
drive out to Santa Anita,
watch the horses parade in the paddock,
then head up to the grandstand and
compare theories about breeding,
jockeys, trainers, and finishing times.
But I know he wouldn’t share
any betting tips with me.
I’d ask him: “Hey, who do you like in the fourth race?”
And I can hear him say,
“Screw you man, figure it out for yourself.
I don’t have the answers for you.”

But maybe if I hung around long enough—
if I bought him a hot dog
and a few draft beers,
his tongue would loosen
and his disposition turn.
He’d let me stick around,
and I’d get to see him composing a poem,
scribbling notes in the margins
of the Daily Racing Form,
flashes of images preserved,
like the glistening muscles of the horses,
or the curves of a tan woman
wearing an orange sundress
and standing along the rail.

Maybe after the last race
we’d go out to a bar
and have a couple of drinks,
maybe meet some women
and take them back to his place.
He’d fry some eggs or make sandwiches,
and we’d drink some more,
while listening to
Mozart or Beethoven on the radio.
This is how I imagine
I would spend the day with Bukowski.

Charles Bukowski

But since the social interaction is not possible,
I will seek out Bukowski
in the pages of his books.
There I will discover the writer
who rises above the legend.
The odd jobs and shabby apartments,
the drinking, gambling, profanity, and women—
they entice readers, draw them in
like a trailer for a summer blockbuster.
But once there, you’re hooked by the stories,
the prose and poetry of a man who
sacrificed everything to express his art.

And what he had inside
is now stored for us to review,
volumes upon volumes
in any public library.
I will keep reading,
cracking open Bukowski books,
and saying “hello” to my friend.
And maybe I’ll spot his ghost
the next time I go to the track.
I may even place an exacta bet on his behalf.
But he would probably complain
about the horses I’d pick.
“Jesus, you wasted six bucks on those nags,”
he would say.
“You don’t know your ass
from a hole in the ground.
Next time don’t do me any favors.
Stay home if you’re gonna blow money like that.”

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

A Random Act of Kindness

When I headed to my office Thursday morning to go to work, I noticed several small envelopes scattered throughout the Food.com cafeteria area inside the Newhouse Three building. All of the cards read something like, “Open Me! A letter for you.”

No one was around and so I decided to open one. I found a card inside that had a gold design with word “Wassssssup?” written on the front. Inside, this greeting appeared, written with a blue marker:

“never
give up, there
is no such thing
as an ending
just a new
beginning.

Keep smiling!”

A small slip of paper tucked inside the card listed the social media accounts of Campus Cursive at Syracuse University, the SU branch of the national More Love Letters program, “lifting and empowering individuals through tangible acts of love.”

Here is more information about More Love Letters.

The idea of anonymous letters given to strangers is so appealing to me. Someone I’ve never met actually took the time to purchase a card, write a warm greeting, stuff the card in the envelope and then place it in a location where it would be discovered.

I loved the feel of the heavy paper and the handwritten words on the page, and this random, tangible act of kindness is so much more meaningful than a Facebook “like” or a text message. It demonstrates the positive impact of real human connection, and I am happy to know that a bunch of merry well-wishers are spreading joy and love in the universe. No doubt our world needs it!

Art and Poetry at a Hockey Game

Do the dead still have voices? That’s the question I asked myself on Saturday night as I left the Onondaga County War Memorial after game two of the Syracuse Crunch-Rochester Americans Calder Cup playoff series. The Crunch won 6-5 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The question about death was incited by a solitary moment I experienced early in the game. With about five minutes left in the first period, I left my seat in section 19 to beat the rush to the concession stand. I bought a coffee, a bottled water and an order of chicken tenders and then wandered through the concourse until I stepped into Memorial Hall, the grand space that honors the brave men and women from Onondaga County who gave their lives in battle.

I let my eyes wander around the room. Sunlight streamed through high windows and a row of American flags lined one side of the hall. There were two huge murals on opposite walls (painted by G. Lee Trimm) and bronze tablets with the names of those who died in the line of duty. The mural closest to me displayed figures dressed in World War I uniforms who appeared to be scaling what looked like a large block of white granite.

World War I mural by G. Lee Trimm.

In the bottom left corner of the painting a man stood with his right arm raised, an American flag sweeping down near him, and the words to the poem “In Flanders Field,” written by John McCrae, inscribed over the man’s torso.

According to PoemHunter.com, McCrae was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I.

John McCrae in uniform.

I read the poem and the words struck me.

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(John McCrae, 1915)

Words to the poem “In Flanders Field,” painted in a mural by G. Lee Trimm.

The poem made me aware of the transitory nature of existence and gave me the sense that death looms even in a place like a hockey arena bubbling with life—with kids screaming, loud music blaring, and fans chugging beer and yelling until their throats become hoarse.

It goes beyond honoring deceased veterans; the poem should make us all feel grateful for the time on earth we’ve been granted, for the opportunities we’ve been given and for the people we love and who love us back. But I think McCrae is also telling us we will all face our Flanders Field in one form or another, and so we had better enjoy living while we can.

For me, living meant savoring four of my favorite things intersecting in one place and at one time—art, poetry, coffee and hockey. And that’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

A Poem for Winter’s Lingering Grip

The calendar may say April but Old Man Winter is still holding on in central New York, refusing to step aside and let spring take over the scene. So while temps fail to crack 50—at least for now—I will offer a fictional, cold weather-themed poem from my latest collection.

Winter Morning

The woman in 309B rolls over on her side.
She reaches across the bed,
seeking the warmth of her lover’s body.
But no one is there.
And she remembers sending her man away.
She recalls a conversation filled with words
like freedom, space, and separation.
At this hour, though, she would trade them in
for flesh in her bed,
the presence of a person she no longer claims.
She can accept failed love, a relationship fizzling.
The end is not so awful
when examined with the passage of time.
She does not need the man.
She can excel on her own.
But with soft light entering her room,
and the radiator wheezing as it releases heat,
she realizes no remedy exists
for the empty feeling of being alone
in bed on a winter morning.
So she gets up,
makes a half-attempt to straighten the covers,
then goes out to the kitchen to fix a pot of coffee.
And the tasks of the day will help her
to shake off the loneliness, keep it at a distance,
until the following morning, when the yearning
for someone else nearby will return.
But let tomorrow take care of itself, she thinks.
She resigns to stop wasting time
on these cold mornings, replaying her regrets,
and bemoaning the absence of a man in her bed.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

I also wanted to mention that poet Elinor Cramer, author Jo Lynn Stresing and I will be reading from our recent books on Friday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse. The DWC is located at 340 Montgomery Street and you can find out more information at its website.

A Parental Poem

From time to time, I like to post some poems from my published collections. Here’s a longer narrative work with elements of fiction. It’s about my parents and how their absence has left a gulf in my life. For some reason I think about them more often during the gray days of winter, which are lingering this year.

Vestiges

My parents are gone.
They walk the earth no more,
both succumbing to lung cancer,
both cremated and turned to ash.

With each passing year,
their images become more turbid in my mind,
as if their faces are shielded
by expanding gray-black clouds.
I try to retain what I remember:
my father’s deep-set, dark eyes and aquiline nose,
my mother’s small head bowed in thought or prayer
while smoking a cigarette in the kitchen.

I search for their eyes
in the constellations of the night sky.
I listen for their voices in the wind.
Is that Rite Aid plastic bag snapping in the breeze
the voice of my father whispering,
letting me know he’s still around …
somewhere … over there?
Does the squawking crow
perched in the leafless maple tree
carry the voice of my mother,
admonishing me for wearing a stained sweater?

Dad in the kitchen. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Resorting to a dangerous habit,
I use people and objects as “stand-ins”
for my mother and father,
seeking in these replacements
some aspect of my parents’ identities.

A sloping, two-story duplex with cracked green paint
embodies the spirit of my father saddled with debt,
playing the lottery, hoping for one big payoff.
I want to climb up the porch steps and ring the doorbell,
if only to discover who resides there.

In a grocery store aisle on a Saturday night
I spot an older woman
standing in front of a row of Duncan Hines cake mixes.
With her short frame, dark hair, and glasses,
she casts a similar appearance to my mother.
She is scanning the labels,
perhaps looking for a new flavor,
maybe Apple Caramel, Red Velvet, or Lemon Supreme,
just something different to bake
as a surprise for her husband.
A feeling strikes me and
I wish to claim her as my “fill-in” mother.
I long to reach out to this stranger in the store,
fighting the compulsion
to place a hand on her shoulder
and tell her how much I miss her.

Carmella Ruane, 1945-2011

I fear that if my parents disappear
from my consciousness,
then I too will become invisible.
And the reality of a finite lifespan sets in,
as I calculate how many years I have left.
But I realize I am torturing myself
with this twisted personification game.
I must remember my parents are dead
and possess no spark of the living.
And I can no longer enslave them in my mind,
or try to resurrect them in other earthly forms.
I have to let them go.
I have to dismiss the need for physical ties,
while holding on to the memories they left behind.

And so on the night I see the woman
in the grocery store aisle,
I do not speak to her,
and she does not notice me lurking nearby.
But as I walk away from her,
I cannot resist the impulse to turn around
and look at her one last time-
just to make sure
my mother’s “double” is still standing there.
I want her to lift her head and smile at me,
but she never diverts her eyes
from the boxes of cake mixes lining the shelf.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

Cover art by Donatas1205 (via Shutterstock).