Monday, June 28, 2010


(small original acrylic painted by my friend Dot Menard in 1975)

~Emily Dickinson (1830 -86) reclusive American Poet


which includes this Butterfly Poem by Emily Dickinson:

The Butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
And hasn't any tax to pay
And hasn't any Home
Is just as high as you and I,
And higher, I believe,
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve --

Sunday, June 27, 2010

King Lear

Cordelia's Portion (c. 1866)
by Ford Madox Brown (1821 - 1893)
English painter of moral and historical subjects
loosely connected to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
To the left are the malevolent sisters, Goneril & Regan, staring each other down; and kneeling at their feet, the Dukes of Cornwall & Albany, Lear's corrupt sons-in-law. To the right, are the fickle Duke of Burgandy; dear Cordelia, Pure of Heart, whose "love's more richer than her tongue," and the loyal King of France. In the center is King Lear, dejected, misguided; and at his feet, the Map of the Kingdom, divided. In this painting, the Fool is only a minor character. You can see his blue hood if you look closely behind the dark - haired sister, in this tableau of Lear's sadly fractured family and needlessly divided kingdom.

However, in numerous other depictions of Lear's tragic demise, the Fool is a major player. Likewise, the Fool is central to the action of Shakespeare's play. Referring to himself as "Lear's shadow," Lear's Fool is a character of wisdom, loyalty, and comprehension, who grasps the mixed motivations of all the other characters. In this next painting, the artist dramatically captures the Fool's ability to mirror Lear’s flawed judgment:

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm (c. 1851)
by William Dyce (1806 - 1864)
distinguished Scottish artist
advocate of public art education
"Who is it that can tell me who I am?" ~King Lear

For more on King Lear
see my post "Wise Fool"
my literary blog of connection and coincidence

Monday, June 28th

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not Too Hard Persuaded

Flute Player and Bats, by Oskar Kokoschka

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I'm half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I'm not too hard persuaded.

Robert Francis, 1901 - 1987
American Poet from Pennsylvania

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sustained Silent Reading

SSR (Sustained Silent Reading)
We always loved this acronym for the quiet time / reading period at Ben & Sam's grade school.

It's always nice to reread an old favorite, especially on a summer afternoon like today, when I pulled out The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, the story of two brave creative girls whose drawings can shape reality (in manner of Harold and the Purple Crayon). I first read this book back in 2nd or 3rd grade and have never been without a copy, though I don't recall the last time I actually sat down and reread it from front to back (it doesn't take long).

A few memorable features have stuck with me over the years:

1. the butterfly poem
(currently featured on my Fortnightly Literary Blog):

"Non. That means no.
Oui. That means yes.
And papillion. That means butterfly.
Oui, non, Papillon -- a very pretty rhyme"

2. the way Amy, who loves written correspondence, signs all of her letters: "I love you and you love me, Amy"

3. the Spelling Bee: an amazingly literate bumblebee named Malachi who can communicate by spelling aloud (often in puns; always in all - caps). E.g., BEEHOLD! BEEGIN! BEE STILL!

For a few fun titles, good for SSR

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Rerun*

"Summer afternoon - summer afternoon;
to me those have always been the two most
beautiful words in the English language."

Henry James, 1843 - 1916

And those most be nineteen of the most beautiful words ever written by American-born modernist, Anglophile, expatriate, novelist Henry James.

If you ask me, what is one of the most beautiful things to do on a sunny summer afternoon? Why, go to the pool, of course! A hidden gem of our neighborhood, the pool is nestled in a small valley at the foot of a big hill. Lucky for me, it's only a few blocks from my house, close enough to bike. On a hot summer day, nothing feels better than floating lazily or doing a leisurely backstroke while gazing above at a big blue bowl of sky and all around at a big green basket of grass.

Peace and the "Sounds of Silence." That's what the pool provides for The Graduate-- Benjamin Braddock / Dustin Hoffman. The desultory pace of his summer is measured in the movie by a succession of swimming scenarios. While he sits on the bottom of the pool in his scuba gear, his head is filled with the echo of his own breathing. Avoiding the reality of "plastics," he rests listlessly in the sun on his air mattress, "drifting, just drifting," to the strains of Simon & Garfunkle. I can't sit underwater like Benjamin, but when I swim laps I can go inside my head, think about what I'd like to read and write, and hear nothing but the sound of rhythmic breathing until the whistle blows.

No summer day feels complete without those laps. Some days I have the pool to myself; other times it's a perfect microcosm of the entire community: little kids, big kids, young adults, old adults, experts, amateurs, and many beginners -- of all ages; some who swim fast, others who take it slow; some treading, some diving; some working out with serious purpose and some just having a good time! It can occasionally feel like a big old human soup pot, on the very hottest, busiest days, but I try to work around that slightly stewed sensation and keep my focus. Despite the heat, with such a short swim season, you can't let one opportunity slip by!

"Lap swim -- lap swim."

To me those are two of the most beautiful words on any summer afternoon between Memorial Day and Labor Day!

* Originally posted last summer on
The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
July 27, 2009

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice ~ Merry Months

Remember this photo, taken at the Vernal Equinox?

Same Scene: Summer Solstice Version!


They come! the merry summer months
of beauty, song, and flowers;
They come! the gladsome months
that bring thick leafiness to bowers.
Up, up, my heart! and walk abroad; flinging care aside;
Seek silent hills, or rest thyself where peaceful waters glide;
Or, underneath the shadow vast of patriarchal tree,
Scan through its leaves the cloudless sky in rapt tranquility.*

by William Motherwell, 1797 - 1835
Scottish poet, antiquary and journalist

“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

~ from "The Vision of Sir Launfal"

~ by James Russell Lowell, 1819 – 1891
American Romantic Poet


My friend Melani's version:

They come! the sultry summer months
when the seashore house is not ours;
They come! the overwhelming months
when wisteria spreads, a little shop of horrors.
Up, up, my weary bones; into the garden, flinging weeds aside
A losing battle; and time to cut the dying apple tree
and dig beneath to take the oil tank which threatens, underground
to leak its residue and kill the grassy lawn.

A poor attempt at poetry, yes?

No! We love it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

(click on photo to enlarge for reading)

My father, Willard M. Carriker (1923 - 1987) worked at Rocketdyne from 1962 - 1967, writing systems & procedures manuals in the Quality Control department. Neosho is a small town in southwest Missouri, where I went to school K - 4th. The picture above was taken when we went back to visit in 2002.

With My Father at the Airport
Labor Day Weekend, 1986


A passage that my dad copied down
and sent to me at the start
of my 2nd year of college:
(click twice to enlarge text for reading)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Poem for June 17th

Sitting on my bed,
reading The Spoon River Anthology
until the poems just seemed too sad to go on:

Edith Conant
We stand about this place -- we, the memories;
And shade our eyes because we dread to read:
"June 17th, 1884, aged 21 years and 3 days."
And all things are changed.
And we -- we, the memories, stand here for ourselves alone,
For no eye marks us, or would know why we are here.
Your husband is dead, your sister lives far away,
Your father is bent with age;
He has forgotten you, he scarcely leaves the house
Any more.
No one remembers your exquisite face,
Your lyric voice!
How you sang, even on the morning you were stricken,
With piercing sweetness, with thrilling sorrow,
Before the advent of the child which died with you.
It is all forgotten, save by us, the memories,
Who are forgotten by the world.
All is changed, save the river and the hill --
Even they are changed.
Only the burning sun and the quiet stars are the same.
And we -- we, the memories, stand here in awe,
Our eyes closed with the weariness of tears --
In immeasurable weariness!

From The Spoon River Anthology, 1915
By Edgar Lee Masters, 1868 - 1950
American poet, biographer, and dramatist

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lady Lever Art Gallery

Classic View of my Favorite Museum:
The Lady Lever Art Gallery
Port Sunlight, Merseyside, England
Founded by William Hesketh Lever, 1851 - 1925
Dedicated to the Memory of his Wife
Elizabeth Ellen Hulme, 1850 - 1913

Port Sunlight is one of the most charming towns in all of England, a nearly perfect early twentieth century model village, designed by Lord Lever to accomodate the employees of his soap manufacturing company, Lever Brothers (now Unilever). The town's premier feature is the jewel - like Lady Lever Gallery, containing one of the loveliest collections of fine and decorative arts in the UK. You can wander through small beautiful rooms of furniture, Wedgwood, and Chinese porcelain; then into the large open gallery of British 18th and 19th century paintings, including a breath-taking assortment of pre-Raphaelite works by Alma-Tadema, Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Frederic Leighton, and my favorite -- in a peacefully sequestered stairwell: Cordelia's Portion, by Ford Madox Brown.

You can see this painting and read more about it

Baby Sam's first visit to the Lady Lever, Summer 1994
[in umbrella stroller]

Gerry and Ben at the Lady Lever, Summer 2000

P.S. Free Admission Daily! Try to go!
I promise you will love it!
Quaint Tea Room & Good Gift Shop included!


In honor of Bloomsday, here is a passage from Joyce
to go along with King Lear's question:

"Who is it that can tell me who I am?"
William Shakespeare, from King Lear

"Think you're escaping and run into yourself.
Longest way round is the shortest way home."

James Joyce, from Ulysses

Is reading Ulysses still on your "to do" list?
Well, just for a bit of fun, try this minimalist version ~ Haha!

My friend and fellow Modernist, Kathleen O'Gorman says:
"Happy Bloomsday, citizens, phenomenologists, throwaways, foreigners, gentlemen of the press, evermoving wanderers, weavers and unweavers, pedestrians in brown macintoshes, Wandering Soap, sailors crutching around corners, no-one, everyone! Hoping you're well and not in hell!"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wise Fool


Court Jester, by Dan Rosenbluth
"They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore."

The royal feast was done, the king
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!"

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch's silken stool.
His pleading voice arose: "O, Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

"No pity, Lord could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool,
The rod must heal the sin: but, Lord,
Be merciful to me a fool!

"Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O, Lord we stay;
Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

"These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end'
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heartstrings of a friend.

"The ill-timed truth we might have kept --
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say --
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

"Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders -- oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

"Earth bears no balsam for mistakes
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou O, Lord,
Be merciful to me a fool!"

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The king, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
"Be merciful to me, a fool!"

by Edward Rowland Sill, 1841 - 1887
American Poet

Saturday, June 12, 2010

School Picnic

(click on poem to enlarge text for reading)
John Logan (1923 - 87)
American poet and teacher

I came across this poem my Senior year in high school, in one of my favorite poetry books, Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle (see yesterday's post). At my high school, we no longer had anything as quaint as a class picnic, thus the poem appealed to my certainty that the former days had been better, sweeter, than the charmless era in which my friends and I were growing up. We yearned for the romance of "The Picnic," the gently unfolding narrative, the pastoral imagery.

Ruth is the poet's date for the school picnic; and although he admits that she was only "third on my list of seven girls," he is pleased to spend the day with her and finds himself falling in love for the very first time:

We went for our lunch away from the rest,
Stretched in the new grass, our heads close . . .
And our hands were together. She laughed,
And a breeze caught the edge of her little
Collar and the edge of her brown, loose hair . . .
I felt a soft caving in my stomach
As at the top of the highest slide
When I had been a child, but was not afraid . . .

Ruth seems so cool, calm, and collected, sifting sea shells through her fingers and offering them as a souvenir of the special day:

And Ruth played with some shells from the creek,
As I watched. Her small wrist which was so sweet
To me turned by her breast and the shells dropped
Green, white, blue, easily into her lap,
Passing light through themselves. She gave the pale
Shells to me, and got up and touched her hips
With her light hands, and we walked down slowly
To play the school games with the others.

School Games

For more on "The Picnic" see
my current post "Love In The Open Hand"
my literary blog of connection and coincidence

Friday, June 11, 2010

William Stafford

Here is the cover of one of my most prized possessions, the poetry collection Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle that I have mentioned a few times before. As you can see below, the title of the book is taken from the short poems by William Stafford that appear on the final page of the anthology. In the Spring of 1977, Stafford gave a poetry reading at Northeast Missouri State, where my friend Milly and I had the privilege of interviewing him for our campus literary magazine and requesting his autograph:

I remember Stafford telling us student editors that writing is a "conversation among friends," friends talking: "Writing comes out of talk . . . from talking and deciding to write. Everyone can do it; everyone does it all the time. Writing is simply deciding to sit down and do it and work at it often." He said that writing can be a way "of helping readers see other options and different ways to observe life," as he hauntingly illustrates in the following poem:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

I especially like Stafford's insistence in this poem that "awake people be awake." Eudora Welty makes a similar point in her story "Livvie." It should be so obvious, but apparently is not, since the poets and storytellers have to keep reminding us: "that people never could be sure of anything as long as one of them was asleep and other other awake." Back in 1977, Stafford concluded our interview with the thought that writing is a way "of talking and thinking about the world and of learning to talk and think even more about the world."

To do that, of course, you need to be awake, wide awake, in touch and in tune with that "remote important region in all who talk."

William Stafford, 1914 - 1993
American poet, recipient of National Book Award in 1963
for Traveling Through the Dark
United States Poet Laureate, 1970 - 71
Poet Laureate of Oregon 1975 - 89

P.S. Stafford's poetry has been called gentle, quotidian, focused on the ordinary" -- just right for this blog! (See also 9 January 2010, 26 February 2010, 18 November 2010.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Closest, Realest Face

"The big ideas huddle
in the jar together. You spread them
over the black bread of day after day
and swallow them."

Yesterday, I was writing about Quinton Duval and his poem "Day After Day," -- see also, quotations to the right -> -> ->

Not only has this poem been one of my favorites for the past thirty-five years, and served as an inspiration for "The Quotidian Kit," but it also brings to mind one of my favorite novels, My Ántonia, Willa Cather's early twentieth-century classic which features one of closest, realest faces in all of American literature: Ántonia Shimerda.

Ántonia embodies both "the big ideas" and "the black bread of day after day." When her childhood friend, Jim Burden, comes to visit, he observes that "All the strong things of her heart came out in her body . . . She was a rich mine of life" (353).

Proudly, Ántonia introduces her family to Jim and shows him around her flourishing fields and orchards, explaining to him the working of her farm and the feeding of her many children. As the little ones excitedly show Jim the preserves in the cellar -- strawberries, cherries, crabappless, spiced plums -- Ántonia describes the baking of the bread: " 'You wouldn't believe, Jim what it takes to feed them all! . . . You ought to see the bread we bake on Wednesdays and Saturdays. . . . We have our own wheat ground for flour' "(337 - 38).

Jim admires Ántonia's tireless persistence, the "planting and tending and harvesting at last," i.e., the black bread. At the same time, he also recognizes the the big ideas that inform her life: "She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken . . . she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things" (353).

Common things, quotidian, day after day . . . See what I mean?


A few more "big ideas" and favorite lines from My Ántonia:

Earlier in the novel, Jim visits Ántonia after a five-year separation (from age 18 - 23). He is gratified that "She wanted to know about my friends, and my way of living, and my dearest hopes. . . . 'Do you know, Antonia, since I have been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. . . . The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times, when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me.' "

" 'And I guess everybody thinks about old times, even the happiest people,' " responds Ántonia. (320-21)

"I had to look hard to see her face, which I meant always to carry with me; the closest, realest face, under all the shadows of women's faces, at the very bottom of my memory.

'I'll come back,' I said earnestly . . .

'Perhaps you will. . . . But even if you don't, you're here' " (322-223).

Many more chapters and another twenty years go by before Jim comes back to his home town: "Perhaps it was cowardice that kept me away so long. . . . Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again" (327 - 28).

"Before I could sit down in the chair she offered me, the miracle happened; one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy excited passages in life. Ántonia came in and stood before me . . . We stood looking at each other. The eyes that peered anxiously at me were -- simply Ántonia's eyes. I had seen no others like them since I looked into them last, though I had looked at so many thousands of human faces. As I confronted her, the changes grew less apparent, her identity stronger" (331).

All passages above from the novel My Ántonia
by Willa Sibert Cather, 7 December 1873 – 24 April 1947,
eminent American author from Nebraska, best known for her depictions of frontier life on the Great Plains in novels such as
O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark.
In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, inspired by reading the wartime letters of her cousin G.P. Cather,
the first officer from Nebraska to be killed in World War I.

Willa Cather's Birthplace & Early Childhood Home
Gore, Virginia

Willa Cather's Later Childhood Home
Red Cloud, Nebraska
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."
O Pioneers! (Part II, Ch. 4, p 44)

You see, there are all those early memories;
one cannot get another set; but one has those.

Shadows on the Rock (p 85)

both by Willa Cather

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Quinton Duval

Take a moment to scan the above header and the QUOTIDIAN column to the right, and you will see that this blog is inspired by three governing epigrams:

Thornton Wilder's "every, every minute"
Virginia Woolf's "what is commonly thought small"
Quinton Duval's "black bread of day after day."

[Click here for further explication and explanation
of why I chose these passages: "What's the Big Idea?"]

The Quotidian Kit has been up and running for a year now, and I have yet to share with you the entire text of Duval's poem. Time to rectify that omission:

Day After Day

Each of us, alone on the way,
picks up the grip of his life
and goes.

Mama says the stars took us home,
all the porch lights up there
at night around the body of the moon.
Black stars that are invisible
are there too.

The coffee cools down. The car changes
gears in the garage and
the pen sleeps with the paper
on the white tablecloth.

When it is like this, you go
out and cut the roses back.
Clip until the thorns turn into the bush.

The car knows to stay in neutral
a little longer.
The big ideas huddle
in the jar together. You spread them
over the black bread of day after day
and swallow them.

Quinton Duval, November 6, 1948 - May 10, 2010
American poet and teacher

I have loved this poem since my first semester of college at Northeast Missouri State University (aka Truman). I discovered it in a literary magazine The Chariton Review (Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1975) that I was assigned to read in Creative Writing. Don't ask me how I ended up in that class, the only Freshman, with a roomful of Juniors & Seniors. My guess -- some casual admissions officer put my name on the roster after seeing "Creative Writing" on my high school transcript. But of course this class was much more advanced than that, more like a writers' workshop. It was daunting but I stuck with it. I'm not so sure that I wrote anything substantial, too young really, but I do remember everything we read, many unforgettable stories and poems.

As the above dates indicate, Mr. Duval died only a few weeks ago, though I did not realize this until I googled his name just this morning to see what else of interest I might learn about the author of one of my favorite poems. You may recall that I had a similar experience last spring (2009) when I googled the name of a former professor, Jim Thomas, only to learn of his death the week before. Funny how that happens, just a little tap on your shoulder from the Universe.

There were a number of good poets at Northeast during my time there: Jim Barnes, Andrew Grossbardt, Jim Thomas. Lucky for me, I was able to take classes with each of them.

Jim Barnes wrote the following for Andy, who died young:

Autobiography, Chapter 19: For Andrew Grossbardt, In Memoriam

Heading East Out of Rock Springs
for Andrew Grossbardt, long gone

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Empty Nest

I have been watching the baby birds in this nest for weeks. Yesterday I went out to look and one flew up close to my face and landed across the yard. Another one flew out. I freaked, and called my husband Gary to catch them. They were half flying and half hopping. Five adult robins were chirping and dive bombing us. I looked with a flashlight after dark. I was so worried because there was one left. He was gone this morning. I took one last pic of him on the ground.

The mother robin was sitting on the edge of the nest this morning . . . all mothers know the feeling: EMPTY NEST SYNDROME! :(

Guest Blogger:
Photography & commentary by Maggie Mesneak Wick,
my beautiful, perceptive, sensitive, spiritual, talented cousin.

Thanks Maggie!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rice in a Jar

"Is love rice in a jar, no need to give back an egg?"

I really liked The Joy Luck Club; then I liked The Kitchen God's Wife even more; and The Hundred Secret Senses even more than that. Good Better Best. (The Bonesetter's Daughter, not so much; but that's okay.) In all these novels, Amy Tan has created so many moments of pure magic, you might find it difficult to choose a favorite, but for me it's easy: Chapter 12 in The Hundred Secret Senses: "The Best Time To Eat Duck Eggs."

In this chapter, Kwan tells Libby about the thousand-year duck eggs, buried years before in her previous life as Miss Moo, when she shared an understated romance with the peddler, Zeng who provided her with empty canning jars for storing the lime-cured eggs. Each week they exchange these tokens: a jar for Miss Moo and an egg for Zeng, until times get hard and food of any kind, including eggs, has become scarce. Even though Miss Moo no longer has any pickled eggs to share, kindly Zeng proffers the jar, this time not empty but filled with rice to see her through the lean stretch. She is overwhelmed by his generosity: "So heavy with feelings! Was this love? Is love rice in a jar, no need to give back an egg?" (181).

To answer Kwan's question: Yes! That's love, pure and simple, no strings attached, no angle, no need to give back an egg. Love in the open hand, wishing to help, wishing not to hurt.

For more on this theme see
my current post "Love In The Open Hand"
my fortnightly literary blog
of connection and coincidence

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Shall He Tell That Son?

Collage design from my clip art phase in the 1970s
(click to enlarge)

A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.

When Ben & Sam were students at St. Peter's School, Philadelphia, they were required to memorize and recite a poem every month. They became quite adept at managing increasingly long works, and I often urged them to choose this favorite of mine by Carl Sandburg. Of course I admired all of their choices and their smashing declamations, but neither one ever did get around to picking "What Shall He Tell That Son?"

Let me take the opportunity to post it here today, on the occasion of Ben's 20th birthday.

A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial:
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

by Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
beloved American writer, editor, poet
winner of three Pulitzer Prizes
from his epic prose poem, The People, Yes (1936)

Ben's Favorite ~ Chocolate Cheese Cake!
Happy Birthday to You!