“We the Living Tree” is a poem about how we’re a part of the tree of life.
Its rhyme scheme is abab.
As a world we are a single tree
And each of us are leaves
We try to be strong and free
Still we shake in a breeze
And in a leaf’s November
When the time it comes to fall
Then it is well to remember
That spring will come to call
And although we may not see
The budding of new leaves
We’ll know they’ll come to be
After the passing of the freeze.
“Quick Folk,” imagines the world as quite small when measured against the size of the universe or when held in the hand of a divine being. And it says that, although we sometimes contemplate what happens after death, when we hear the ticking of that mortal clock, still we must laugh and love and live our lives well.
The rhyme scheme is aabb.
We may all be but beings in spheres of glass
Made to march and tumble as hours pass
While some great Being holds us in mighty hand
Or sets us, like a trinket, upon a cabinet stand
Where we exist like strolling shapes in a snow globe,
Or mobile figurines on a topographic lobe
Where the mountains are like grains of rice
And Antarctica is but a trace of ice—
If we are all but tiny beings in these spheres,
Still have we our hopes and loves and dreams and fears
And as we pass through our short years,
We laugh with joy or cry with tears,
For as the hours wind from the mortal clock
With every quick tick and every quick tock
We wonder what lies past the last frontier
And hold our passing lives more dear.
“The Stars Above” is a poem about those nights when you lie on your back, looking at the stars, wondering whether there is life out there, and whether that life can hope and love and dream of other life too.
Its rhyme scheme is aabb.
And when I to suit my fancy lie
Beneath the tree and darkened sky
And watch with wondering eyes the stars
That glimmer through the night’s short hours
And find there the constellations bright
With Grecian myths of astral light
I wonder if in the twinkling air
There might be other life up there
For while I lay thinking on our great world
One not much larger than an azure pearl
I send my thoughts to a far, empyrean shore
Where no manmade craft has gone before
And stretching out my hand and mind
I hope to greet one of like kind
One whose curiosity about space
Extends beyond the limits of their race
And lets them dream of far-off lands
With quiescent oceans and rocky sands
Where sentient beings far above
Hopefully can think and dream and love.
“Death and the Safe Man” comments on the risk of security.
A man took no chances, and he kept his life quite dear.
He guarded himself more closely with every passing year.
Till one day while he was waiting,
He found Death grinning from ear to ear,
And Death said, “I hope you won’t my mind stating,
But it’s cost you your life to live in fear.”
It is a request that passion teach no more hard lessons. No broken hearts, no scars or scabs, just love.
Passion, amid that fair skulduggery that is Time,
Teach me no more hard lessons;
I need no more legions of tormenting lesions.
Leave me only love—soft as a pheasant,
Enduring as space—until my passing.
“The Grandmaster” describes a very old and very successful painter who gives insight into his philosophy on art.
It is written in free verse.
The old man was paralyzed from the waist down,
But from there up, he was perfectly spry.
His words flowed like water;
his thoughts were as pure as bees’ honey.
And what kind of a man was he?
He was insubordinate, obstinate,
Clever, and polite. They said he was a kind man,
A kind and gentle man, even if
He didn’t follow orders.
He was dominant at chess,
Where he sat at the table in his wheelchair,
While a longcase clock ticked behind him,
And he studied the pawns, the knights, and bishops,
As if he were looking out over a playing field of life.
His old friend, the doctor, would call on him
And bring him suits of charcoal grey,
Shirts of ivory white with soft collars,
And red roses for the boutonnieres.
These the old man would wear,
Dressing up every day, as if for his own wedding,
With a fresh flower pinned in the button hole
And a golden ring upon his finger.
In such dress, he would paint with oils.
He made great canvases of genre scenes:
Men and women at weddings, in funerals,
Sitting by lakes, and along beaches
With a range of magnificent mountains behind.
“I expect more from art than I do from life,”
He would say. “And I am apt to be more
Critical of a fine painting than of a life poorly lived.
For there is but one thing that the artist should focus on,
And in his pursuit of perfection, he must neglect all else.
While in life, a man must focus on many things,
And neglect nothing. Such is the paradox of the grandmasters,
That they must neglect life to reproduce faithfully
Its finest imitations.”
She pats the white pillows.
The bed is not her own,
as light carries through tall windows
onto the marital pattern.
From room to room, she straightens
and makes the tattling sheets.
She scrubs and cleans the wash basins;
she dusts the powder room.
Affairs between the man
and wife have gone unknown,
though Sarah sees what goes unsaid
when it comes time to clean:
the way tall waves are made in storms,
the sheets have creases,
except through men who forget,
who smooth their wives while leaving creases.
Yet Sarah almost can’t hate this man,
his lust and greed, so far apart
from how she would stand if she were in his stead.
It is as if he is oblivious as a child.
Yet hate him she can. It is not impossible.
Sometimes her hands, as if unwilled,
do rip and tear covers, hurl them quite far,
away from that bed. As if the sheets were masts
in gales at sea, they flap with her strength.
She shakes them, wanting to shake the past
affairs and sins away. One washing isn’t enough.
Through shaking, flapping, the creases go.
Action is best, to calm one’s nerves.
She thinks of him, as she replaces the soap:
out with the old, in with the new.
She scrubs at him in the shower,
with each hard swipe, a bit of grunge is gone.
The lines of black mildew erode
under her strong cleaning.
Her mistress enters, the bright woman,
with hair that rolls and curls on her shoulder
and eyes that flash like a quick bird.
“Are things well, Sarah? How is your day?”
And Sarah, quite near revealing all,
now stops and starts as he walks inside,
filling the room with a presence unwanted.
“Oh yes, Miss,” she breathes.
“Indeed. Everything is well.”
“We’re pleased with you,” Rosalyn says,
her arm snaking around her husband’s.
“You do good work in here and in the rooms.
The beds are made with tight, hard folds—
you have energy in your small bones.”
“Yes, ma’am” says Sarah. “It’s conviction
for jobs done well. One thing I know—
that clean bedrooms can make a mind the same.”
He says, “If it’s the same to you, please leave
my shelves the way they are. I like a mess.
I have my things the way I remember,
and touching them would mean losing them.”
“Yes,” Sarah says. “I understand you.”
“But you do do your job, I think, quite well,”
he continues. “The showers are clean,
the place is dusted, the rooms are neat.
Why, you could hardly tell a person lived here!
Everything dirty washed away!”
Quite cheery, he vanishes, pecking Ros’ cheek.
They wait moments.
She stares at Sarah, woman appraising woman.
Servant and mistress relations quite gone.
“What’s wrong? I see something that’s strange in you.
You know something,” says Rosalyn.
“Something that maids can learn when they do work.
What do you know? Is it about, well, him?
Don’t lie, dear Sarah, the shame is not on you.
But, I… I think I know already. It is an affair.”
She leans against the wall.
Her dress seems weak, heavy:
as if the cloth were thin armor,
as if the pearls were made of lead.
“Is it?” says Rosalyn. “Is there someone he’s known?”
“I hate to say it,” Sarah says. “No, I care little for him—
I mean I hate to hurt you, dear.” She takes Rosalyn’s hand.
Her hand is warm and weak, unlike the girl
that Sarah knows as being strong and fierce.
Every strong heart can break.
“But I don’t mind damaging him. He cares
only a small amount for you, I think.
When washing, I am scrubbing him off you.
I scrub away the day, the night, the times
when he and she make love like animals.
Not like people. Not like humans. Not like couples.
Their love is expensive—too expensive!—
because it costs another. It costs you much, I think.
I pay for it also, a price no one should pay.
Yet I pay not as much as you.”
“Oh!” says Rosalyn. “Is it—oh! No! I don’t care!”
They sit with soundlessness for a long time.
At times, silence can clean a wound, can heal a pain.
They hear him hum, a warm and wild and joyous sound.
It comes from in the hall.
Then he calls her by name, “Oh, Rosalyn! Rosalyn!
Rosalyn! Where, dear, are you?”
She does not speak.
The calling drifts away. Perhaps he went outside.
Perhaps some work is in some need of doing.
Perhaps the lawn is going to be mowed.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
All that is important is that the sound is gone.
The joyous hum is gone.
“I must not sit for long,” says Rosalyn.
“I must better him, move on now.
But I don’t know where to begin or how to start.
This dirty, filthy thing is stifling me. What can I do?”
“Here,” Sarah says, handing her a sponge. “I will help you.
First we should rearrange his shelves. We have our tidying to do;
sometimes it does good to clean and work.
Sometimes it does good to erase his memories.
The cities are shaking with the rumble of traffic
It seems like half the birds are missing toes
The sunbeam on her face makes her look seraphic
Laying amongst the bedsheets, wearing no clothes.
It’s a cold water flat and the sink’s always dripping
The winter sun’s horizontal, weak, and cold
There’s snow on the sidewalks, people are slipping,
And it seems that, long ago, the city’s heart was sold.
Then he turns her head, and he kisses her lips
She wraps her arms around him, sees his eyes above;
She spreads her legs and lifts her hips,
And in the cold and lonely city, they fall to making love.
A short time later, and already they’re both old and grey.
That’s just the way time goes, just the way life is.
They grew together and grew their own way
Till not even they knew what was hers and what was his.
Because on that day, all those years ago, they traded hearts.
He gave her his, and she gave him hers,
And he said, “Life is made of new beginnings and old parts,
But what I have you can have, and what is mine is yours.”
And she took what he had, and she gave herself to him.
They gave each other everything; nothing did they save,
Sharing the thoughtful moment, and the slightest whim,
Until there was nothing they could give, that they hadn’t already gave.
Here is a blank verse poem about a man walking down the path of life, with Death always trundling along a few steps behind.
Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.