Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Sunday, December 31, 2017

It Is Old Year's Day

And I have fed the birds their seed,
and fed myself some words, just as I ought,
with air at seven points below the naught —
for the thermometer is what I read —
or frost-lines written on the window panes:
lines written with the patience of the cold
upon a year grown blind and stiff and old.
Such lines should write themselves as the year wanes

on Old Year's Day ... how way leads on to way;
how after roads are two, just one goes forth;
whose land this is I think I know — so forth
we go through snowy woods, perhaps to stay,
or find white rest; and so on, and so forth,
writing and reading on this Old Year's Day.

Writing on the World

The phrase comes to me sometimes — that I am writing on the world: the footsteps in new snow that I wrote about, that other day, you might see as an example. Each scrape and scratch we make; each rubbing, bumping, scuffing; each rearrangement, as of the leaves whose positions we change, by our passing, whether they are alive on a branch or are returned to earth at our feet; each thought, expressed by eye or tilting head or crooked elbow. All arrive as our writings on a place we call ours.

Just so we call a place in our book, the one we are reading, the place where we "are." We inhabit physical spaces anywhere but where that bookmark protrudes; yet there, pressed between leaves, we are. We have made the book ours, to one degree or another, by inhabiting it thus far. We have made it ours by writing ourselves into it, sentence by sentence. We are alive to it; for it takes footprints — invisible to others, yet footprints all the same, to be pointed out: for there we are.

And if there we are in the book, then there we are, anywhere we have been: we have inhabited it thus far, and no farther. So we read our world and write ourselves into it, word by word.

We all know how poorly we ourselves write, or others write. We see awkward handwriting, incomprehensible connections, slipping meanings, wrong turnings, false steps, false claims upon the language and for themselves, empty noises, mere motions. Mere motions may be writing to rank with the most thought-provoking when a mind in its meditations is moving somewhere, absent from and yet somehow pervading the mere motions. Yet we dwell in a world, in an all-surrounding book whose every other line tells us to move along without telling us why we should; and if inchoate and aimless in our mumbling we go on, moving along because we sense that we must move along, we express ourselves so because we have come so far, no farther. We say what we can, given the conditions. We brush a leaf in passage. We avert a gaze, unable to meet one — if we are to move along. We look around, and not to our surprise see how many are taking the world's injunction to move along to mean that they must hurry, hurry, hurry.

And if you hurry — perhaps it is you — you may justify yourself if you will, but only if in haste and without doing more than complaining; and if I — perhaps it is I — take the world's injunction to mean that I must slow, slow, slow, I feel that, like you, I must justify myself even though hesitating before putting my slip of paper in the slot in the box reserved for complaints.

For if I place my slip of paper there I fear I lose sight of how much better it is to be writing upon the world than to be written upon.

Cheers ...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sonnet and Trace

A year should seem busy to a writer, as a writer — or so one might judge from reading short biographies that appear in poetry magazines, such as the issues of POEM that have come to me this past year thanks to my contributions to those pages: a syllabic sonnet in issue 117, and a traditional one, in 118.

I remember that when the May issue arrived it surprised me yet came as a relief that some familiar names appeared alongside mine: for so often in these rushing years hard-won familiarities vanish — in the snow, it seems to me at the moment, having come inside after following a stray cat's solitary trace in light snow, down front sidewalk and along backyard paths and then away.

"And binding all is the hushed snow," Frost says in a poem about a place that one thinks has no snow, being always "verdured pasturewise." Heaven, that is — the heaven, perhaps, of Wordsworth. Yet Frost's line, even though it comes to mind, must point elsewhere than a trackless fresh snowfall: "And binding all is the hushed snow/ of the far-distant breaking wave." And that breaking wave — perhaps the wash of souls into Frost's heaven, or out from it.

And I remember the term "chicken scratchings" to describe writing — so that any collected poems might be named, Thus, My Chicken-Scratchings — to convey vitality or insignificance, but at least humility and humor.

This morning, in clearing the sidewalk, I pushed away traces left by boot, junco, Scottie dogs, bicycle, and the cat. The junco tracks delighted me, but went the way the other lighter ones did. The bicycle tracks surprised me, here in December, and remain despite my idle snow-pushing. I disliked seeing that a cat was going loose again in the yard, and so followed those traces. Such a busybody I was being, without planning to do more than stretch my legs and breathe fresh air after some reading.

None of which I set out to write — although all I set out to do was to say something about appearing in POEM again after going twenty years absent.

What I have said may as well stand in, though, for all the things unsaid.

Cheers ...