Birds of a Feather

Poetry Corner: First Snow December 13, 2013

Filed under: Poetry,The everyday — kcfeather @ 2:41 am

This past Sunday morning, we were at the Lessons & Carols service at our church. Partway through the sermon, I turned slightly to the windows and saw: snow! It was early – all the forecasts said it was not supposed to arrive until much later that afternoon. The snow continued to fall throughout the service, and then started falling heavier as we headed out (it was falling fast enough that after stopping for thirty minutes for lunch – pho – we nearly had to dig the car out before slowly driving back home). The snow in the city is not the same as the snow that Mary Oliver describes, but the first snow is the first snow, wherever you are – and the calm and (relative) silence are special.


Our window box, early afternoon

First Snow
Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain – not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Near the river, at 5 pm

Near the river, at 5 pm


Poetry Corner: Reverdure March 21, 2013

Filed under: Poetry — kcfeather @ 10:29 pm

Spring arrived yesterday, and it even felt like it – the sun was shining, crocuses were slowly opening up as we took an evening stroll (while it was still light, at 6:30!) Then today, we woke up to snow flurries.  Go figure.

My dad sent us a care package recently that contained a few newspaper clippings, a few books, and a Wheaties box.  Thanks, dad!  One of the books was a collection of poems by Wendell Berry – Clearing.

The final poem of the book is beautiful, and so appropriate for the season. I was going to say that 8. was my favorite section, then I thought no, 12. or maybe 14. But after several re-readings I can’t choose – so I guess you’ll just have to bear through the long poem (it’s worth it!)


Wendell Berry

You never know
what you are going to learn.

The wintering mind turns
inward, like the earth
wintering. Beneath frost
it keeps future and past
alive. In spring it rises
from its deeps, folds out
again to light. Mind
and leaf unflex in shine.

How to get in
and out of your mind?
The way in prepares
the way out.

The groundhog, who turned
his tail to the cold, now
sticks out his face.

In the first warm morning
the black calf walks down
to the river, the light irised
in his hair. Over his back
leap the shadows of willows
leafing. The good sun
makes him go easy.

The phoebes have come back.

The drums of the woodpeckers
ask and answer.

The blue of the bluebird
is in the leafless apple tree,
new breath.

The redbird sings
O let it come, O

let it, let it.

An old grandmother
a little surprised
to be waking up again,
the ground slowly remembers
the shapes of grassblades,
stems, leaves, birds,
cattle, people, songs.

The slope whose scars I mended
turns green now.
Healing becomes health.
Reverdure is my calling.

One thing work gives
is the joy of not working,
a minute here or there
when I stand and only breathe,
receiving the good of the air.
It comes back. Good work done
comes back into the mind,
a free breath drawn.

Though I came here
by history’s ruin, reverdure
is my calling:
to make these scars grow grass.
I survive this fate and labor
by fascination.

I want to fence the thicket-ridden field
unused all my life, and turn in the calves
to browse the vines and leaves in May.
They will begin to open it, eating
the low growth, letting vision find its way
in among the close-standing trunks.

And then in the winters, as I need,
I will thin the trees, leaving the walnuts,
poplars, ashes, oaks, burning
what I cut to heat the house. Springs,
on the frozen mornings of early March,
I will sow the opened land. Slowly
good pasture will widen over the slope
in the shade of scattered tall trees,
change doing the ground no harm.

And so, in the first warmth of the year,
I went up with saw and axe
to cut a way in. I made a road, I made
a thought-way under the trees, up
the slope, and that was ancient work.
In rhyme of flesh with flesh, time
with time, act with act, I made my way
into the woods, leaving an order
that was mine, a way opening behind me
by which I came out again.

Above that thicket growth
the hillside steepens,
the trees are old. The farm
reaches one of its limits
there, and finds its example.
No leaf falls there that is lost;
all that falls rises, opens,
sings; what was, is.

And this steep woods will be
left standing, a part
of the farm not farmed,
its sacred grove, where we
will have nothing to do.
The trees live in eternity
and they live now. Their roots
are in life and death.
They have the earthly health
whose signature is song.

And there are ways
the deer walk in darkness
that are clear.
It is not by will
I know this,
but by willingness,
by being here.

It is time again I made an end to words
for a while–for this time,
or for all time. Any end may last.
I love this warm light room, where words
have kept me through the cold days.
But now song surrounds it, the fields
around it are green, and I must turn away
from books, put past and future behind,
to come into the presence of this time.


Poetry Corner: Epiphany January 7, 2013

Filed under: Holiday,Poetry — kcfeather @ 5:36 am

Happy 12th day of Christmas!  We’ve just returned from a quick jaunt down to DC to see family and friends. But before we return to ordinary time, I thought I’d share this lovely poem.

Journey of the Maji

T.S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


Spring Cleaning April 15, 2012

Filed under: Poetry,The everyday — kcfeather @ 9:56 pm

We are not really on schedule for spring cleaning this year – it’s been a hectic few months.  But we try to keep the house somewhat picked up these days, because at any point the landlord could show it to potential future tenants. I’ve also (very slowly) started going through closets and bookshelves, picking out clothing that has gone unworn for these two years (probably a good sign that it should go), or for books that for some reason or another I’ve decided we don’t really need to hang onto.

But anyway, in honor of National Poetry Month, a poem on the subject:

April Chores

Jane Kenyon

When I take the chilly tools
from the shed’s darkness, I come
out to a world made new
by heat and light.

The snake basks and dozes
on a large flat stone.
It reared and scolded me
for raking too close to its hole.

Like a mad red brain
the involute rhubarb leaf
thinks its way up
through loam.


Szymborska February 2, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — kcfeather @ 2:01 pm

Wislawa Szymborska died yesterday.  Even though she’s only my second favorite Polish poet, I still love her poetry.  Reading the obituary was a good reminder that I should read more poetry, more often.  Here’s one of my favorite poems that she wrote (I also really like “Going Home”, “Psalm”, “Lot’s Wife”, and “Returning Birds”).


A poet is reading to the blind.
He did not suspect it was so hard.
His voice is breaking.
His hands are shaking.
He feels that here each sentence
is put to the test of the dark.
It will have to fend for itself,
without the lights or colors.
A perilous adventure
for the stars in his poems,
for the dawn, the rainbow, the clouds, neon lights, the moon,
for the fish until now so silver under water,
and the hawk so silently high in the sky.
He is reading — for it is too late to stop —
of a boy in a jacket yellow in the green meadow,
of red rooftops easy to spot in the valley,
the restless numbers on the players’ shirts,
and a nude stranger in the door cracked open.
He would like to pass over — though it’s not an option —
all those saints on the cathedral’s ceiling,
that farewell wave from the train window,
the microscope lens, ray of light in the gem,
video screens, and mirrors, and the album with the faces.
Yet great is the kindness of the blind,
great their compassion and generosity.
They listen, smile, and clap.
One of them even approaches
with a book held topsy-turvy
to ask for an invisible autograph.

            Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by J. Kostkowska

UPDATE: Since this memory popped into my mind over the weekend, I thought I would share – my first encounter with Szymborska was in a class on Critical Theory, in which (somehow…probably we were talking about translation) I heard not only the English translation of one of her poems, but also the poem read aloud in the original Polish.  It was mezmerizing. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to Polish poetry, take it.

Also, here’s a really wonderful short essay on Szymborska that captures a lot of what I wanted to say.


Snow December 7, 2010

Filed under: Beantown,Poetry — kcfeather @ 10:58 pm

First flurries of the year,

shimmering in the glow of the street lamp

like fairy dust.


After Applepicking October 5, 2010

Filed under: Beantown,Poetry,The everyday — kcfeather @ 5:05 pm

We went apple-picking this last weekend – it was a beautiful day, and an important step in becoming New Englanders.  Our friend L from Stanford was out for the weekend and really wanted to go…so we couldn’t resist tagging along!

Now we have 15 + pounds of apples to eat!  In addition to apple slices, we’ve made apple crisp, and today I canned 6 jars of caramel apple jam.  Tomorrow I think I’m going to try my hand at apple butter (since I still have 6 half-pint jars).

In any case, it was lots of fun (there were also cider donuts and fresh apple cider).  And, it reminded me of one of my favorite poems of all time:


After Applepicking

Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.


Happy Fall!