Saturday Micro-Fiction #14

Ruth Orkin - American Girl in Florence Italy, 1951

Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Florence, Italy 1951

“Ragazzi”

I am on my way home from the grocery store, having picked up a few things for lunch tomorrow. I walk around the back side of the Duomo and head down towards the Via dell’Oriuolo. I take a deep breath because I know this is the one street I have trouble with in town. I have a very love-hate relationship with the men in this city. The cat-calls start almost immediately as I begin walking down the street.

“Ciao bellissima!” exclaims one man on a scooter.

Another leans forward and sends me air kisses. All the other men on the street turn to stare at me walking down the street. I get several invitations for dinner and coffee, but politely reject them all. I walk faster, finally turning on the Borgo Pinti.

“Ciao ragazzi!” I proclaim, as I head towards my house. “Same time tomorrow!”

Simon Armitage

Image result for poems by simon armitage

While I’ve never heard of him, Simon Armitage has apparently been making quite the splash in the UK over the last 20 years. I find his educational background interesting as he originally got his first degree in Geography and second in Social Work, where as the biography on the Poetry Foundation tells us:

“He studied the impact of televised violence on young offenders. He went on to work as a probation officer for six years before focusing on poetry. Of course, his crowning achievement was becoming the Oxford Professor of Poetry in 2015, and currently works at the University of Leeds. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Armitage was named the Millennium Poet in 1999 and a Commander of the British Empire in 2010.”

He is famous for his new translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Odyssey. For more information on his work, check out the poet’s personal website. I’m curious to read his book Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way, where he literally depended on the strangers of others to support himself as he hiked, and read poetry for his supper, the 256 mile route through England and Scotland. 

I chose “To His Lost Lover” from The Book of Matches, 1993 and “I Kicked a Mushroom” from his latest collection, The Unaccompanied, 2017. 

“To His Lost Lover”

Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other

he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost

unfinishable business.
For instance… for instance,

how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush

at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –

two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –

walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.

How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips

from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit

or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart

was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.

Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.

And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,

then another,
or knew her

favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,

and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair

into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved

when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home

through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand

to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.

And never almost cried,
and never once described

an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt

nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh

wept by the heart,
where it hurts,

or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.

Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,

a pilot light,
or stayed the night,

or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is

I like you.
I just might do.”

How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand

were a solid ball
of silver foil

and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.

But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.

And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

 

IKickedAMushroom

Sharon Olds

Image result for sharon olds

I discovered her poetry in one of my poem-a-day emails, but had never heard of her before. According to biography on the Poetry Foundation, she has won “the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.” The first poem, Pine Tree Ode, “a photo shoot becomes the occasion for a deeper encounter with the natural world.”

“Pine Tree Ode”

by Sharon Olds, 2016

I was sitting on the top stones of a wall—can you
get even closer to the tree, he said, so I went
inches from the trunk of the tallest of the ones
we’d been standing among like small children
among the legs of the grown-ups.
Now, the side of my face was almost
against the bark, intimate,
I could see where its growing had pulled its surface
open, into wooden lozenges, like
stretch marks, I could not feel it breathe
but I felt it alive beside me, a huge
ant running down, and stopping, and turning
its feelers, in the air, between us, and then
walking so fast it seemed to be pouring back
up. Then I looked, up, along
the branchless stem, into the canopy,
to the needles fanning out in bunches
eating the sun. And the length of it seemed like
bravery, like strong will,
a single, whole, note, like a tenor’s
cry, sustained, as if a tree were
a spurt from the earth, a heart’s gush.
And the ants flowed from ground to sky,
sky to ground. I don’t know where the ants
had been, or their ancestors had been, the noon
the tornado came through, wall of water
a hundred and thirty miles an hour,
solid ferocious grey static.
The tree stood. And now I sat up straight
beside it, feeling my way back
through species, and species, toward the pine, and toward
the ones we both descended from, the
fern, the green cell—the sun,
the star-stuff we are made of.

The second one, After Making Love in Winter, from May 1987,  is about the emotional changes a mature woman goes through after a sexual encounter. To see more on the analysis, check out this article

 

Roald Dahl

I love Roald Dahl’s books for children. Yes, he also wrote books for adult, something most people do actually forget and they are not suitable for children either. As his biography on Poetry Foundation states,

“He started writing for adults after crash landing in the Libyan desert after joining the RAF in Nairobi, Kenya. He wrote the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. He lost his father and sister at a young age, along with two of his five children with his first wife. Perhaps because of his family experiences, Dahl’s writing is darkly funny and staunchly loyal to a child’s sense of fairness, magic, and revenge.” 

Image result for the bfg

My favorite Roald Dahl books are The BFG (my absolute favorite), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Matilda, The Witches, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. 

The Dentist and the Crocodile

BY ROALD DAHL, 1989 from the book Rhyme Stew
The crocodile, with cunning smile, sat in the dentist’s chair.
He said, “Right here and everywhere my teeth require repair.”
The dentist’s face was turning white. He quivered, quaked and shook.
He muttered, “I suppose I’m going to have to take a look.”
“I want you”, Crocodile declared, “to do the back ones first.
The molars at the very back are easily the worst.”
He opened wide his massive jaws. It was a fearsome sight—
At least three hundred pointed teeth, all sharp and shining white.
The dentist kept himself well clear. He stood two yards away.
He chose the longest probe he had to search out the decay.
“I said to do the back ones first!” the Crocodile called out.
“You’re much too far away, dear sir, to see what you’re about.
To do the back ones properly you’ve got to put your head
Deep down inside my great big mouth,” the grinning Crocky said.
The poor old dentist wrung his hands and, weeping in despair,
He cried, “No no! I see them all extremely well from here!”
Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain.
She cried, “Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you’re playing tricks again!”
“Watch out!” the dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall.
“He’s after me! He’s after you! He’s going to eat us all!”
“Don’t be a twit,” the lady said, and flashed a gorgeous smile.
“He’s harmless. He’s my little pet, my lovely crocodile.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve known about Rainer Maria Rilke for years (though I’ve not read much of his work), and I think I discovered him in a movie, though I can’t for the life of me remember which one. I find it fascinating that he was friends with the sculptor Auguste Rodin and was his secretary while he lived in Paris. According to this biography of him, “At the time of his death his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists, but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.” 

I liked the visual imagery of the foot washing in Pieta, so I picked that one for Thursday’s poem. 

Pietà 

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1945
Translated by Galway KinnellAnd so I see your feet again, Jesus,
which then were the feet of a young man
when shyly I undressed them and washed them;
how they were entangled in my hair,
like white deer in the thornbush. 

And I see your never-loved limbs
for the first time, in this night of love.
We never lay down together
and now we have only adoring and watching over.

But look, your hands are torn–:
beloved, not from me, not from any bites of mine.
your heart is open and anyone can enter:
It should have been the way in for me alone.

Now you are tired, and your tired mouth
has no desire for my aching mouth–.
O Jesus, Jesus, when was our hour?
Now we both wondrously perish.

In honor of today being Friday the 13th, I found this poem (also again liked the visual imagery at the end with the amber eyes). 

Black Cat

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), 1923 

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Elinor Wylie

I’ve been trying to discover some new poetry during this April’s National Poetry Month, and I just recently discovered Elinor Wylie’s poem, Wild Peaches. In the poem, the poet/novelist dreams of a simpler life that she describes season by season. I liked the visual imagery of the poem, that is both lush and a tad depressing/despondent at the same time, like “we’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown” and “We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.” For a more complete look at the poem and how to teach it, check out the Poetry Foundations’s guide. The poet herself lead a rather interesting life with multiple marriages and affairs, and died of a stroke at age 43 after a lifetime of high blood pressure and migraines. Her poetry, which I’m sure were heavily influenced by her unconventional life, discussed her dissatisfaction with the realities of life. 

Wild Peaches

BY ELINOR WYLIE, 1921
 
                                  1 
When the world turns completely upside down
You say we’ll emigrate to the Eastern Shore
Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;
We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,
You’ll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternut’s dark gold color.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,
We’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown.
The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.
The squirrels in their silver fur will fall
Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.
                                  2 
The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.
Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover;
A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year;
The spring begins before the winter’s over.
By February you may find the skins
Of garter snakes and water moccasins
Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.
                                  3 
When April pours the colors of a shell
Upon the hills, when every little creek
Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake
In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell,
When strawberries go begging, and the sleek
Blue plums lie open to the blackbird’s beak,
We shall live well — we shall live very well.
The months between the cherries and the peaches
Are brimming cornucopias which spill
Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black;
Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches
We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill
Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.
                                  4 
Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There’s something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There’s something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.
I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves;
That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

Saturday Micro-Fiction #5

Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen - Norway Astrid II - Eyes as Big as Plates series

Norway Astrid II – Eyes as Big as Plates series – Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, 2011

“Rhubarb!”

Walking through the Norwegian woods on overcast autumn day, Astrid found herself foraging through the local flora and fauna. I refuse to pay that much for produce and why should I? she asked herself introspectively. She had already found chanterelle mushrooms, dandelion greens, hazelnuts and blackberries. Astrid was thinking of the salad she would make with greens and berries, and the mushroom and nut stuffing which would perfectly go with the turkey breast she had at home. She liked the taste of the bird, even though it was hard to find in rural Norway. She continued searching for that one special ingredient to make the dinner complete. “Rhubarb!” she exclaimed triumphantly, adding “I will make a crumble!”. Astrid was so ecstatic to have finally found it after looking all day in the forest, that she started dancing around, putting some on her head and shoulders.