I Must Go Down To The Sea Again

The title is a reference to the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield.

I am currently taking a summer writing class with Beth Kempton online. This piece was written after one of her guided meditations. For those of you who may not know, my father died in 2010 after a seven year battle with brain cancer.

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

all of us (save him) in a circle on the damp sand
I read both sonnets, his favorite and mine
(a matched pair) as the sun set.
Each of us took out a handful of ashes,
and I went last.
I had read that sometimes the wind can blow ashes
into your face,
and though I liked the idea
of breathing him in,
I wanted to set him free here — this place we loved,
our holy place.
The water was frigid,
but I waded out up to my waist
my jeans heavy and clinging,
to rinse out the glass jar.

Here you go, Daddy, here you are
how we loved to find starfish, seaglass, rocks with holes —
how we loved this place together.

A week later, just before leaving town,
we stopped at the beach one last time.
At my feet, the tiniest, smoothest rock
with a perfect hole right through.

How I’d love to return — someday — swim down deep,
sun breaking through the water,
and see him sparkling all around me.

Poetry Monday : To a Child by Sophie Jewett

Today is my twenty-sixth birthday, and I wanted a poem that was sweet and light and happy for that reason. I have been a bit out of blogging because I had my wisdom teeth removed last Thursday, and I am still on the mend, but thought this poem was a nice way to say hello again. Sophie Jewett was an American poet who lived in the late nineteeth century and taught English at Wellesley College. You can read more about her at her Poetry Foundation page.

To a Child
The leaves talked in the twilight, dear;
   Hearken the tale they told:
How in some far-off place and year,
   Before the world grew old,

I was a dreaming forest tree,

I was a dreaming forest tree,
   You were a wild, sweet bird
Who sheltered at the heart of me
   Because the north wind stirred;


How, when the chiding gale was still,
   When peace fell soft on fear,
You stayed one golden hour to fill
   My dream with singing, dear.


To-night the self-same songs are sung
   The first green forest heard;
My heart and the gray world grow young—
   To shelter you, my bird.
— Sophie Jewett

Poetry Monday : Autumn by Rainier Maria Rilke

Rainier Maria Rilke is a beloved German-language poet who was born in Prague in 1875 (at that time, Prague was in the Kingdom of Bohemia, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and traveled extensively throughout Europe during his life, eventually settling in Switzerland. During his lifetime, he wrote vast amounts of beautiful poetry in both German and French, as well as one novel. A collection of his letters was published in 1926 as Letters to a Young Poet and has become a beloved classic. He died from leukemia at the age of 51 in Montreux, Switzerland. You can read more about Rilke on his Wikipedia page. I first read this poem in The Book of Images, translated by Edward Snow. I have the bilingual edition (a beautiful gift from a beloved friend) because I am a scholar of the beautiful German language, but I will provide you only with the English text here.


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far off,
as if in the heavens distant gardens withered;
they fall with gestures that say “no.”

And in the nights the heavy earth falls
from all the stars into aloneness.

We are all falling. This hand is falling.
And look at the others: it is in them all.

And yet there is One who holds this falling
with infinite softness in his hands.


Poetry Monday : Celebrating Childhood by Adonis

These past several weeks we have all been confronted in a more personal and tender way than usual by the plight of those fleeing Syria. Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old boy, drowned in the Mediterranean Ocean while his family tried to make it to Greece. In response, the topic of Syrian refugees has been reenergized in our media. To acknowledge this situation, I have chosen to share a poem today by the well-known Syrian poet, literary critic, and activity Ali Ahmad Said Esber, who publishes his work under the pen-name Adonis. He is 85 years old and lives in Paris, France. You can learn more about him here and read an interview with him in which he discusses this poem here. This poem is from his Selected Poems, and was translated by Khaled Mattawa. 

Celebrating Childhood

Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies.

I remember madness
leaning for the first time
on the mind’s pillow.
I was talking to my body then
and my body was an idea
I wrote in red.

Red is the sun’s most beautiful throne
and all the other colors
worship on red rugs.

Night is another candle.
In every branch, an arm,
a message carried in space
echoed by the body of the wind.

The sun insists on dressing itself in fog
when it meets me:
Am I being scolded by the light?

Oh, my past days–
they used to walk in their sleep
and I used to lean on them.

Love and dreams are two parentheses.
Between them I place my body
and discover the world.

Many times
I saw the air fly with two grass feet
and the road dance with feet made of air.

My wishes are flowers
staining my days.

I was wounded early,
and early I learned
that wounds made me.

I still follow the child
who still walks inside me.

Now he stands at a staircase made of light
searching for a corner to rest in
and to read the face of night again.

If the moon were a house,
my feet would refuse to touch its doorstep.

They are taken by dust
carrying me to the air of seasons.

I walk,
one hand in the air,
the other caressing tresses
that I imagine.

A star is also
a pebble in the field of space.

He alone
who is joined to the horizon
can build new roads.

A moon, an old man,
his seat is night
and light is his walking stick.

What shall I say to the body I abandoned
in the rubble of the house
in which I was born?
No one can narrate my childhood
except those stars that flicker above it
and that leave footprints
on the evening’s path.

My childhood is still
being born in the palms of a light
whose name I do not know
and who names me.

Out of that river he made a mirror
and asked it about his sorrow.
He made rain out of his grief
and imitated the clouds.

Your childhood is a village.
You will never cross its boundaries
no matter how far you go.

His days are lakes,
his memories floating bodies.

You who are descending
from the mountains of the past,
how can you climb them again,
and why?

Time is a door
I cannot open.
My magic is worn,
my chants asleep.

I was born in a village,
small and secretive like a womb.
I never left it.
I love the ocean not the shores.

— Adonis


There are many organizations that could use financial support in order to help those suffering in Syria as well as refugees leaving the country. Two of note are Migrant Offshore Aid Station, an organization that completes search and rescue operations for refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and Hand in Hand for Syria, which provides humanitarian aid on the ground in Syria.


Poetry Monday : The Two-Headed Calf by Laura Gilpin

What better way to start the week (and this blog) than with poetry? When I was fifteen, my mother’s best friend took me to a bookstore and let me select any book I wanted as a gift, and I had the good fortune to come across the humble and little-known anthology Fifty Years of American Poetry. I found this poem in that book, and it became a favorite of mine and of my father’s. It took a bit of digging to learn more about the poet, Laura Crafton Gilpin. She was a nurse, patient advocate, and poet who published two books, the first of which won a Walt Whitman Award. She was one of the first staff members of Planetree, an organization that helps hospitals implement patient-centered care models. She died of brain cancer in 2007 at the age of fifty-six. 

The Two-Headed Calf

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.

— Laura Gilpin