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In my words, June 17 – 23

Sunday morning, 9:09 AM. I’m tired, but here I am on the Amtrak train at Penn Station; it just began to move jerking me forward then pushing me back into the comfortable seat setting me and all the other passengers in motion to get where we’re going. I got up at 6; hadn’t packed a thing. Everything was questions, decisions. What to do, what not to do. What to bring, what not to bring. Everything has chargers and attachments these days and I had to gather and remember this is for the phone, that is the camera’s, and the external drives are for the laptop. I wrapped cords, books and papers—What was I going to read? What was I going to write?—and got the shrimp out of the refrigerator. I’d bought two pounds in Chinatown on Saturday. Couldn’t forget that. Dad likes shrimp cocktail. I hope he has horse radish.

The train pulled into Lancaster at noon. Dad picked me up and followed 501 through the beautiful old town of Lititz and out into the country past the Mennonite produce stand that was closed because it was Sunday. I knew it would be, but I was hoping to buy some scallions. They’d kept their potted flowers and seedlings out trusting no one would steal them. Dad turned left at Brickerville onto 322 heading toward the South Mountain visible in the north. When I was a kid going from Brickerville to our place, before the steep ascent out of Lancaster Valley, there were tar shacks on either side where people lived who were even poorer than we were: they ate groundhogs. Mom stopped at squirrels. Now on either side, the houses have ponds and fences and horses to ride.

We went up the mountain to home. Cachito waiting, came to greet me when I opened the car door. “Meow.” I saw he’d caught a mole; poor thing played out and dead on the porch. “It wasn’t here when I left,” Dad said. “I think Cachito wants it to go with the shrimp,” I said, picking it up and tossing it under a flowery bush giving it back to the earth. I could see Dad had mowed the grass, a lawn of about five acres now because it includes the field, all mown but for the asparagus patch grown over with daisies and weeds. Swallows swooping low across the field, one after the other, playing at work, were scooping up the insects as they flew.

I wanted the shrimp to be chilled by dinner so as soon as I unpacked, I went into the kitchen. Dad had had baked beans and sardines for dinner last night; the cans were still in the sink, sardines with a little bit of that crunchy bone left and an empty can of apricot halves as well containing an unwashed spoon. Dad, Dad, Dad, I thought as I poured two warm cans of beer into a sauce pan, sprinkled lots of Old Bay Seasoning in, and started the flame. When the sudsy concoction began to boil, I added the shrimp still in their shells and covered them. Mom would cook shrimp for twenty minutes at least; I guess she wanted to make sure they were done and dead, but for me it only takes a couple of minutes for the shrimp to darken red and finish. Then I put them in a bowl, put the bowl in the frig, made the cocktail sauce with ketchup and Worcestershire—there was horse radish!—and walked to the pond for a swim.

Little rain drops were stippling the surface as I waded in to do the butterfly. I have a fear of deep water; always have. Pond monsters can manifest themselves in my imagination coming up out of the dark. I am familiar with the pond, of course; it is not some strange deep quarry somewhere I have found myself in. And I’m a good swimmer and I like to swim. But sometimes the idea of a prehistoric reptile, say a humongous snapping turtle, rising out of the dark to devour me is overpowering, an anxious moment when I feel some Creature from the Black Lagoon is about to grab my foot. Who knows what’s down there when you can’t touch bottom? I don’t. But nothing has come to pull me down yet. What else can we do, but face our fears and swim?

The cloudy indecisive day gave way suddenly to a late afternoon of warm sun and birds calling from the woods. Then shadows moved and rose and it was evening. The shrimp was chilled and the beer was cold. Dad’s a slow eater, chews and chews. He peels each shrimp too. Me, I eat them with the shells on, just dip them in the cocktail sauce and munch. Later, Dad takes an apple, peels it and carves out the core; he eats what’s white and nothing more. When I begin, the apple is in my hand; I don’t need a knife only my teeth, and when I finish there is nothing left, not even the stem; I also chew that to bits. I have heard apple seeds are poisonous but they haven’t done me in yet.

We sat outside and watched the fireflies begin to rise from the ground up into the bushes and trunks of the trees around the field and yard. “They’re vicious beasts. Deceiving, eating others, having sex. It looks pretty, but it isn’t,” Dad said as the horizon of trees slowly blended with the sky as the dark clouds came back to cover the moon leaving the night pure black. When we saw a light blinking above, we knew it was a firefly and not a star.

I was going to go to Pennsylvania on Saturday, but I’d heard there was going to be a Renaissance poetry reading at the New York Botanical Garden and decided to stay. I’ve been working on unfinished sonnets and needed the inspiration. I’d never been to the Botanical Garden before and it was a longer trek than I’d expected; first the walk to Union Square where the 4 train took me up into the Bronx where I had to take a bus getting there with fifteen minutes to spare. Ah, but it was worth it. Two musicians played olden tunes with a lute, flutes, and tabor. Between songs, the poet Alfred Corn read Marlowe, Raleigh, Campion, Milton, Herrick, Sidney and Shakespeare. If nothing was left of English poetry, but the Renaissance poets, it would be enough I think, especially if we didn’t know of Chaucer. This poetry seems like the spring and summer to me and Alfred Corn, who has a great sense of meter and timing, read poems that often had to do with those seasons, and the listening was a pleasure, a blossoming. I include some, but not all of the reading below on the vimeo. The musicians asked me not to include them so I won’t, but Alfred reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and Songs by Milton is enough; and there’s even more than that so we’re in luck.

There Is A Garden In Her Face
by Thomas Campion

There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav’nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
There cherries grow which none may buy,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

Those cherries fairly do enclose
Of orient pearl a double row,
Which when her lovely laughter shows,
They look like rose-buds fill’d with snow;
Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

Her eyes like angels watch them still,
Her brows like bended bows do stand,
Threat’ning with piercing frowns to kill
All that attempt with eye or hand
Those sacred cherries to come nigh,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

John Milton

The winter being over,
In order comes the Spring,
Which doth green herbs discover,
And cause the birds to sing.
The night also expired,
Then comes the morning bright,
Which is so much desired
By all that love the light.
This may learn
Them that mourn,
To put their grief to flight:
The Spring succeedeth Winter,
And day must follow night.

John Milton
On May Morning

Now the bright morning star, day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

A Sweet Disorder
Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:—
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distractión,—
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher,—
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly,—
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat,—
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,—
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Loving In Truth
Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others’ leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;
Invention, nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
Fool, said my muse to me, look in thy heart and write.

William Shakespeare
Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

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