By C.K. Williams
A pair of red leaves spinning on one another
in such wildly erratic patterns over a frozen field
it's hard to tell one from another and whether
if they were creatures they'd be in combat or courting
or just exalting in the tremendousness of their being.
Humans can be like that, capricious, aswirl,
not often enough in exalting, but courting, yes,
and combat; so often in combat, in rancor, in rage,
we rarely even remember what error or lie
set off this phase of our seeming to have to slaughter.
Not leaves then, which after all in their season
give themselves to the hammer of winter,
become sludge, become muck, become mulch,
while we, still seething, broiling, stay as we are,
vexation and violence, ax, atom, despair.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in Sunday's Washington Post Book World (which also has a review of Jimmy Carter's book on Israel written by Jeffrey Goldberg, who was my editor on The Daily Pennsylvanian in college). Pinsky cites the cover of C.K. Williams's new Collected Poems, which says, "'Few poets leave behind them a body of work that is global in its ambition and achievement. C.K. Williams is one of them.'" Pinsky adds that this is true "in both senses of 'global' -- geographical range and thematic inclusiveness. Williams's poems have attended to the wars and political issues of his time, they have undertaken philosophical ideas...and they have also taken up the traditional material of the lyric."
Pinsky calls the poem above "boldly universal" because the subject is human nature. "'Tremendous' comes from the root of 'trembling,' so that 'exalting in the tremendousness of their being' suggests vibration, as well as scale. And the repeated 'exalting,' which possibly looks as if it should be 'exulting,' suggests both the altitude of 'exalting' and the acrobatic leaping (as in 'saltimbanque' and 'somersault,' words that are cousins of 'exulting'). The unresting turbulence of human life, its violence and eroticism commingled, makes the poet say, 'Not leaves then'-- we are more endlessly disturbed than the leaves in the wind. Running through the poem, along with that despairing perception of pointlessness, is the counter-energy of meaning, animating the words themselves. The closing series, 'vexation and violence, ax, atom, despair,' has a voluble brilliance, a resourcefulness that does not exactly redeem the destruction it names, but challenges and tempers it with the act of definition. The importance and scope of that act justify the term 'global.'"
My parents invited us to leave the kids with them tonight, so we did...took them for a walk in the afternoon at Locust Grove, when the temperatures had risen into the 40s which was as warm as it got today, then packed them up and dropped them off. Most of the animals were in hiding on the trails -- we only saw some birds and squirrels, no deer this time, but there was ice on the creek and the kids had a grand time trying to crack it with rocks from the opposite bank, plus the nature center was open (we're almost always there on a Sunday when it's not) and we got to see the snakes and frogs inside.
So we went out sans enfants to Herndon, Virginia, where we stopped in Crystalis (so I could look at crystals, Tarot decks and New Age books) and Phoenix Comics (so apaulled could give me an updated Chanukah wish list, though the most important aspect of this visit is that we discovered that there are now Pirates of the Mysterious Islands constructible game cards...our kids will be thrilled, since this set has submarines as well as sea monsters). Then we had dinner at A Taste of the World, where we ate once about six years ago and loved it...it's still excellent, since there is a huge variety of food and everything's just a little different than everywhere else I've had it (hummus with a little bit of red pepper in it, chicken korma cooked thin on wooden skewers like satay but with spicy sauce, biryani that's not too spicy but very fragrant, lemon chicken in sauce involving sesame and caramel that tastes like nothing else I've ever had). Fabulous, and not at all expensive.
But our real reason for going to Herndon was that Maggie Sansone, Lisa Moscatiello, Rosie Shipley, Laura Byrne and Sharon Knowles were giving a Celtic holiday concert on hammered dulcimer, guitar, fiddle, Irish flute and Scottish harp respectively at the Industrial Strength Theatre. We just saw Maggie, Lisa and Rosie a few weeks ago at the Chestertown Downrigging Weekend where the emphasis was on nautical music...here it was mostly Christmas-themed, variations on very old carols and hymns, a lot of Highland music because Knowles is from Scotland and Sansone plays bagpipes and a lot of Irish music because Shipley and Byrne both have roots there. Lisa was fighting a cold and invited the audience to sing along on the familiar Hallelujahs and Glorias...many years of going to church on Christmas Eve with my in-laws means I know the words to most popular American carols and a decent number of British ones, so although I cannot sing, I can fake it. *g*
Leaves and bubbles trapped under ice at Locust Grove.
Here a child is about to test the strength of the ice by pressing down with a shoe. Want to guess at the condition of the shoe a moment after this photo was taken?
I like the way you can see, clearly delineated, where the ice gives way to running water. Also, those tree roots rock.
Reflections are often more perfect in ice than running water, too.
This is the Saturday night sunset seen from the Beltway heading into Virginia from Maryland. Would that I could have managed a photo of it out the side window over the Potomac River, but it came out blurry.
We also stopped in a liquor store -- unlike Maryland, Virginia has lots of non-state regulated stores that are open late -- and found a bottle of blueberry wine, so if my typing is worse than usual, that's why!