#369: Some Kind of Hymn

Photo on 4-25-20 at 10.44 AM

(after James Schuyler and for Cresslyn Clay)

Moss grows on the roofs of the garage and the woodshed
and the weather is shitty, again. This April, it’s unseasonably
warm and dry with spells that go on for days of rain
and clouds, gray spells. We’re in the middle of one of those.
We sit at home this Saturday and try to think
of things to do. She shops on-line for a bedroom rug
and I look at Schuyler’s poem in awe and frustration
and the dogs whine and complain and we keep telling
them to shut up. The boy sleeps in late, a habit he’s developed,
or a practice at which he’s become a consummate pro.
I’m drinking my second cup of coffee and I’m not hung over.
I have an idea of doing some field recordings in the back
yard mostly to capture the sounds of birds; I could get
audio samples of birds almost anywhere these days but
for some reason I’d like to record my own birds. I think
about spinning Apple Venus (Volume One) again today
as a kind of tonic or some kind of hymn against the shitty
weather and even shittier times. Andy sings “Just like a mad
dog you’re chasing your tail in a circle” and that about sums
it up for many of us, for all of us, to some degree or another.
The boy stirs and his mother grills up the rest of the pancakes.
She keeps calling up the stairs, “Come on, let’s go” to roust him
down to the breakfast table. It’s noon. These pancakes have
blueberries in them, and they’re paleo, for what that’s worth.
He finally comes down and I sit with him while he eats his
pancakes and he tells me about a video game he thinks I’d like
called “Stanley’s Parable.” In a rare father-son teaching moment,
I ask him if he knows what a parable is. He does not. So I tell
him about Jesus and Socrates and all of a sudden he’s expressing
a keen interest in the ancient greeks and I had no idea.
I brush my teeth before I finish that last cup of coffee, and,
while, as I say, toothpaste and coffee are complimentary,
by now the brown stuff inside my Shakespeare Insult mug
is cold. I’m not drinking that. “Thou art a boil, a plague sore.”
That’s fitting. It’s nearly impossible to think of any of the bard’s
greatest insults and not be able to apply them immediately to that
imbecile in the White House, “an infinite and endless liar, an hourly
promise breaker.” I quote not from memory, but from my mug.
It’s my favorite mug, just behind my Composition Notebook mug,
a gift given to me, I think for no occasion, by my teacher friend
Cresslyn, whose birthday is today. I’ve said these are shitty times,
and yet, I am happy, happy for friends like Cresslyn, for time to write
poems after Schuyler, wide long poems instead of the long skinny
poems I usually write, for the kindness of people in my life, like
Cresslyn. Others come to mind, but she’s in the forefront, in part,
because it’s her birthday, and in part, because she is so kind.
I miss her. I mean, I miss being in the same building, the same
room with her, in our school, collaborating in person, sharing
stories about our students, walking all the way across the building
for a quick visit to say hello or ask a question. For now, we have to
be satisfied with looking at each other on computer screens.
There’s a caravan of cars driving by her house this morning,
honking, singing happy birthday, perhaps, heads out the window.
I’m happy for that. The sunshine is peaking through the clouds
and we may be able to walk the dogs. Schuyler’s poem takes a half
an hour to read out loud but I don’t want to write a poem
that takes a half an hour to read, just like yesterday, I’m not writing
about fruit. To say that the sun fruited the trees with leaves–
that’s the best I can do this afternoon. And there’s a hummingbird’s
nest inside the tree right above the hammock. Did this ever happen to you?
What do you want that you can’t have? How do we make whole
what has been scattered or broken? What’s the reason for this
laughter, these tears? Have I made the right choices, Saturday,
this one? The boy’s upstairs now, practicing his rudimental snare
and my wife’s phone is chirping in the other room, like some bird
robot. The dogs stir. This can’t go on forever.


Postscript: In case you are wondering about the inspiration for the poem, here’s a link to Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life,” and here is the prompt from Hoa Nguyen’s website.

  • Bring your perspective and verbs back to the present tense, even when addressing memory

  • Seek the “unforced flow of words”

  • Introduce all of the things that you might ordinarily deem incidental or too small for consideration

  • Include quoted speech (overheard, announced, in dialogue, as song lyrics)

  • Build your lines with associative accumulation (parataxis), move with your attentions

  • Introduce a swerve or observation that serves as interjection, non-sequitur

  • Include at least four colours

  • Animate the landscape or nearby object, imbue it with expressiveness of action or address

  • Include perceptions of the weather without, perceptions of weather within

  • Use a noun as verb that is typically not used that way (anthimeria): “white freaked with red”

  • Introduce the occasional 3- and 4-word sentence.

  • “Let’s make a list”: include a list of things you love

  • Did you remember to ask questions?

  • Include a hemistich line: a line made-up of two halves, of equivalent beats, hinged on a silent beat (caesura): “The world is all cut-outs then—and slip or step steadily down”

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

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