by Jonathan Vold

Thursday, December 15

Moleskin 6.1: Prayer

In 1974 a football player took the place of Tricky Dick, and in 1975 a peanut farmer announced that he wanted the job.  Jimmy Carter had a brother, Billy, whose own inspirations didn’t get much farther than a beer can, but Jimmy, the governor of Georgia now, was more driven. The football player, meanwhile, seemed bumbling, and not just physically, as Saturday Night Live had fun pointing out, but also inspirationally: on the campaign trail his most prominent position seemed to be to get people to wear a button that said, almost unimaginatively, “WIN.” Whip Inflation Now, it meant, although it never really explained how. All of this was in the papers I was delivering and starting to read more in my twelfth and thirteenth years, but it would be much later that I gave more than a passing notice to one of Carter’s more interesting side comments on the campaign trail, a nod of great respect to a theologian, Reinhold Niebhur.

Wednesday, December 14


But he answered and said to them, 
“You give them something to eat.”
— Mark 6:37 (NKJV)

You, one and all of you,

nameless counselors,
collective observers
adding little to the sentence,
barely part of the plot,

yet there you are, pronounced
in every translation,
prompting response and
preceding the action.

Feed my sheep;
as the day begins to wear,
give them something to eat.

You, second person,

the emphasized imperative,
God’s audience specifically
commissioned and directed
to a singular assignment:

having first observed,
be ready to serve;
as the Lord has called you,
hear that holy word:

feed my sheep;
they do not need to go away,
give them something to eat.

You, Christ companion,

one of the twelve
on a failed retreat
and a broken rest,
your Sabbath overtaken
by a hungry crowd:

having seen the need
but unsure of the logistics,
you’ve been firmly turned
around to see the deed:

feed my sheep;
all these sheep without a shepherd,
give them something to eat.


You, fellow traveler,

being stirred one morning to the life of follow,
pulled by a pulse to leave hearth and hold,
drawn to the shepherd’s call and still
at the shepherd’s feet as the day grows old:

here in the hungry gather,
observing the surround,
with an echo in your stomach
and the journey on your shoulders,

feed my sheep;
lie them down in these green pastures,
give them something to eat.
You, faithful follower,
making your way from practical to miracle,
turning attention from mortal to divine,
being taught to pray, to teach, to heal,
now learn your greater discipline:

take these five loaves, these couple of fish
let them first be blessed and broken, then
give thanks for what you’re given
and let the people have their fill:

feed my sheep;
with all of your devotion,
give them something to eat.
You, just as you are,
one of the sheep
having come this far,
knowing the hunger
and needing the rest,
you give it all to Jesus
and Jesus answers
with a bit of a challenge,
a bit of a test

putting you front and center
to be God’s hands,
to show God’s love,
to prepare the feast:
feed my sheep;
for the love of God, they’re hungry,
give them something to eat.

Tuesday, December 13

Mots du Jour

This is my way of calling it a day,
Of sorting through immediate memories
To find what's worth repeating, and by these,
My random stops and starts along the way,
Remembering the journey.  Every day
Its own adventure, every moment seized
A glimpse of further possibilities,
Each orbit spinning something more to say.
So here's my say, my call, my mots du jour,
My journal written of its own accord,
My record entered into history,
The story of my life, my private tour,
My positure, my confluence ---each word,
Like time itself, as it occurs to me.

Monday, December 12


Don’t be a cipher, someone said.
Show us the face that hides behind
The poems you have let us read,
Give us a glimpse beyond the mind
Of the poet who has edited
His life down into metered lines,
Whose given his blog a leveled screed
But nothing past the words he’s signed.

Here, then, you have my picture: See
The aging and the fattening
Of fifty years, the lazy eye
That looks like it is focusing
On things in the periphery;
See what’s in need of ironing,
The fashions that have passed me by,
The cry for different coloring,

And there is more, of course.  I could
Divulge my sordid history
Of marriage leading to divorce,
Of education forcing me
To compromises, of a good
Career besmirched with obloquy.
But there is always more, of course,
Than who I would pretend to be.

With marriage, I have progeny
With stories of their own to tell;
With education, I have learned
The fathoms of my earthly well
Of ignorance; and should you see
The merchandise I try to sell,
For every dollar fairly earned,
My reputation’s mostly held.

But turn away from all of this.
What should it matter what I wear
Or how I always seem to look
Or just how well I comb my hair,
If I’m a father with no wife,
More lawyer than you’d have me be
Or lead an unenlightened life?
For now, you have my poetry.

Sunday, December 11

The Source

from Walled Gardens

God takes earth and forms our body,
   takes wind and forms our speech
   gives reason to our minds,
   inspiration to our hearts,
   invitation to our souls,
   cause to our creation.

God gives theme to every generation
      and truth to every corruption;
God is the source from which everything comes,
      the place to which everything returns:
Good proceeds from God and evil departs from God,
     as God created the spirit of each,
   good and evil in every soul,
   as God authors the soul,
   originates the mind,
   makes each of us something out of nothing
   and exalts us, gives us life out of the void.

Saturday, December 10

Reflective Study of Wallace Stevens' Man and Bottle

The mind is the great poem of winter, the man
   The heart is the rose and ice of spring, the child
Who, to find what will suffice,
   Who, accepting everything,
Destroys romantic tenements
   Creates the real poetry
Of rose and ice  
   Of life

In the land of war.  More than the man, it is
   In a state of grace.  More than a child, it is
A man with the fury of the race of men,
   A child full of the innocence of youth,
A light at the centre of many lights
   A rising sun, a breaking light,
A man at the centre of men.
   A child at the edge of truth.
It has to content the reason concerning war,
   It never questions the cause or concern of grace,
It has to persuade that war is a part of itself,
   It never argues that grace is out of place, it is
A manner of thinking, a mode
   A matter of feeling, the core
Of destroying, as the mind destroys,
   Of creating, so the heart creates
An aversion, as the world is averted
   A convergence, as the dawn converges
From an old delusion, an old affair with the sun,
   To a new awareness, a new affair with the sun,
An impossible aberration with the moon,
   The inevitable deviation from the moon,
A grossness of peace.
   The end of night.

It is not the snow that is the quill, the page.
   It is not the rose that is the dawn, the spring.
The poem lashes more fiercely than the wind,
   The ice breaks, the winter melts away
As the mind, to find what will suffice, destroys
   As the heart, accepting everything, creates
Romantic tenements of rose and ice.
   The real poetry of life.

Friday, December 9

TWL, Lines 427-432: Shored Against My Ruins

427 London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
428 Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
429 Quando fiam ceu chelidon — O swallow swallow
430 Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
431 These fragments I have shored against my ruins
432 Why then Ile fit you.  Hieronymo's mad againe.

427. LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN is the opening of a nursery rhyme first referenced in The London Chaunticleres (1657, Anon.).  It also alludes back to line 22 (a heap of broken images), 62 (crowd flowing over the bridge), 173 (the river’s tent is broken) and 374 (falling towers).  See also John Henry Mackay, Anarchy (1888), for a similarly toned answer to the question just posed in line 426, “Shall I at least set my lands in order?”:

“‘Wreck of all order,’ cry the multitude,
‘Art thou, & war & murder’s endless rage.’
O, let them cry. To them that ne'er have striven
The truth that lies behind a word to find,
To them the word's right meaning was not given.
They shall continue blind among the blind.
But thou, O word, so clear, so strong, so true,
Thou sayest all for which I for goal have taken.
I give thee to the future! Thine secure
When each at least unto himself shall waken.”

428. ARNAUT DANIEL: Eliot: “V. Purgatorio, XXVI, 148.
'Ara vos prec per aquella valor
'que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.'
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.” See Dante, Purgatorio 26.145-148:

“Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!’

Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.”

Dante attributed the first three lies of this passage, written in Old Occitan, to Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel, whom Dante called the “better craftsman,” as Eliot would in turn call Ezra Pound (see note 0.2).Daniel says this as he follows Italian poet Guido Guinizelli, who had “vanished in the fire.” (26.134).  See Dante, Purgatorio 26:115-148:

"O brother," said he, "he whom I point out,"
And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
"Was of the mother tongue a better smith.
Verses of love and proses of romance,
He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.
To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
And in this way establish their opinion,
Ere art or reason has by them been heard.
Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
From cry to cry still giving him applause,
Until the truth has conquered with most persons.
Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
'Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,

To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
So far as needful to us of this world,
Where power of sinning is no longer ours."

Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
As fish in water going to the bottom.

I moved a little tow'rds him pointed out,
And said that to his name my own desire
An honourable place was making ready.
He of his own free will began to say:
'Tan m' abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom' puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;
Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu' esper denan.
Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,
Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.' ◦
Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.
◦ So pleases me your courteous demand,
I cannot and I will not hide me from you.

I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;
Contrite I see the folly of the past,
And joyous see the hoped-for day before me.

Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!

429. SWALLOW SWALLOW: Eliot: “V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.

See Tiberianus, The Vigil of Venus 88-93 (400 BC, tr. Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch 1912):

“Ah, loitering Summer!  Say when For me shall be broken the charm, that I chirp with the swallow again?  I am old; I am dumb; I have waited to sing till Apollo withdrew—So Amyclae a moment was mute, and for ever a wilderness grew. Now learn ye to love who loved never—-now ye who have loved, love anew, To-morrow!—-to-morrow!”
Amyclae was the ancient Spartan home of the Sanctuary of Apollo and the grave of Hyacinth.  An annual festival, the Hyacinthia, celebrated Hyacinth’s death and rebirth.  See note 36 for the legend of Hyacinth.

“Say when... that I chirp with the swallow again?” is the passage cited from Tiberianus’s poem, and Eliot also ties this to the post-rape transformation of Philomela and her sister into a nightingale and a swallow(see note 99).

See also Algernon Charles Swinburne, Itylus (1864): “Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow.” Swinburne’s poem combines the story of Philomela with the story of Itylus referred to in Homer, Odyssey 19: 524-534, in which Aedon is turned into a nightingale after accidentally killing her son Itylus. See also Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Princess; A Melody (1884): “O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying south,” and compare this with Countess Marie going south for the winter (line 18).

430. MAN OF SHADOWS. Eliot: “V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.”

See El Desdichado (1853; tr. J. Vold): “Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone...”  My full translation of The Loser:

“I’m a man of shadows, widowed, unconsoled,
Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone,
My star departed; even my stellar strings
Are strummed with Melancholy’s blackened sun.

From this grave darkness, you who once consoled me
Bring me back to the mountains by the sea,
Return the flower of pleasure to my heart,
The grapevine and the rose of Italy.

Once Love and once Apollo, king and rogue,
My forehead wears the lipstick of the Queen,
My dreams have tarried where the Siren sings.

I’ve conquered Acheron to hell and back again;
I’ve resonated on these Orphean strings
From saintly sighs to pixilated cries.”

Secondary allusions abound here, to the hyancinth flower (line 36), Jean Verdenal’s death in Italy (note 42), the siren songs of Ariel and the River nymphs (note 266), the woman fiddling on her hair (note 378), the journey across Acheron (see Dante*,Inferno 3.76-78) and, in the cited line, the tower undone (note 374).  De Nerval, a close friend of Charles Baudelaire (see note 76), was also known to have fits of madness; see line 432, and see Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899):

“...with Gérard there was no pose; and when, one day, he was found in the Palais-Royal, leading a lobster at the end of a blue ribbon (because, he said, it does not bark, and knows the secrets of the sea), the visionary had simply lost control of his visions, and had to be sent to Dr. Blanche's asylum at Montmartre.”

432. HAMLET AND HIERONYMO: Eliot*: “V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.” See Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronymo’s Mad Again (1592), 4.1-5, where Hieronymo speaks:

“Why then, I'll fit you; say no more.
When I was young, I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry;
Which though it profit the professor naught,
Yet is it passing pleasing to the world.”

See Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems (note 417), citing Kyd’s play as a source for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In trying to interpret and understand the present poem, one might transpose what Eliot wrote about Shakespeare and Hamlet. On interpretation: “Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret... for “interpretation” the chief task is the presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is not presumed to know.”

And on understanding: “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. ...We should have to understand things that Shakespeare did not understand himself.”

Yet even in a lack of understanding there can be appreciation, and Eliot, in ceding to “the peace that passeth understanding” admits as much (see note 434). Even his final “shantih” comment, he says, is a “feeble translation” of the concept; and yet, incomprehensible as it may be, it is still something for this poet, and every poet and reader, to strive for.

Thursday, December 8

Moleskin 5.10: Rivers Of Hope And Worry

There are times when I look at my eighteen year old daughter or my fifteen year old son that I wish I could jump ahead a few years just to see how everything turns out. I worry for them sometimes, but more often it is fatherly pride that sparks this wish. I am eager to see their lives unfold, and my wishes become even more hopeful as I think further ahead, to years I become increasingly less likely to see. This is not the best way to tell a story, though. I am eager now to tell you what would happen when I was fourteen, and twenty three, and twenty six ----not to mention those years ahead after my son and daughter were born. Of course I did not know any of these things in the summer and fall of twelve, though, and as I sat and contemplated the stream before me my thoughts were filled more with worry than eagerness, more worry than a wandersome boy should be troubled with, less eagerness than one would expect along the edge of stability. But that’s where I was.

Wednesday, December 7

Tales, Part IV

Come you lost Atoms, to your Center draw, and be the Mirror,
Reflecting God’s light in the contemplation...

Come you without feather, uplift your souls, leave gravity behind
And give wing to the lofty aspiration...

But even as angels to earth will return, send back your songs
Of faith and truth and all the proclamations...

I sing, Simorgh, my own reflections of God the great I Am
Through the Son of Man, my only known salvation...

But I will turn my self to selflessness, and to the world will sing
In ghazals of old, this nascent explanation of thirty birds.

Tuesday, December 6

Tales, Part III

And so on speaks the hoopoe, for every bird another tale
And along the way he dedicates a word for every vale:

Valley of the Quest, of zeal, of all that a heart can achieve;
Vale of Love, of spark and fire, desire for the heart to move;

Vale of Insight, to crave, to hunger, to have all truths revealed;
Vale of Detachment, of abandon, Joseph thrown into a well;

Vale of Unity, through faith, the purest essence of the soul;
Vale of Awe, doubting doubt and finding the unbelievable;

Vale of Poverty, of emptiness, what words cannot express,
Beyond all selfish acts, the final cup of nothingness;

Until at last, through zeal and spark and craving and abandon,
through faith and awe and selflessness they climb the final mountain.

And they will find their king...

Monday, December 5

Tales, Part II

The hoopoe tells of an arduous flight through seven valleys
With tales of trials along the way, for every bird a tale:

Tale of the nightingale in love with love, the thorniest rose;
Tale of the peacock who clings to the trappings of paradise;

Tale of the parrot who seeks its eternal existence here;
Tale of the duck looking in ponds for purity to appear;

Tale of the homa, shadow-slave to the vanity of kings;
Tale of the falcon, blinded by the status its master brings;

Tale of the heron in a lonely place, gazing at the sea;
Tale of the owl seeking treasure, finding anxiety;

Tale of the sparrow of humility and hypocrisy;
Tale of the phoenix caught in a cycle, ever born to die;

Tale of the partridge who lives for love of gems that never move;
Tale of a lovebird chained forever to superficial love;

Tale after tale, revealing how through every foibled fable
We see ourselves burn in the conflagration of thirty birds.

Sunday, December 4

Tales, Part I

The simple truth falls in a single feather to thirty birds
And God is revealed to the congregation...

A single feather floats down from a mountain far away
And faith takes its hold in the speculation...

A thousand faces, a thousand creeds, as many excuses:
We see ourselves burn in the conflagration...

And who would believe the outcome of this gathering babel?
Consensus is born of determination...

In unified purpose, the kingless resolve to find their king,
To put face to feathery form, the nation of thirty birds.

Saturday, December 3

Tales of Simorgh, Revisited

O swallows, swallows, poems are not
The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point...
— Howard Nemerov

This is the culmination of my Thirty Birds collection, a poem presented in modified ghazal style reflecting the 12th century Persian legend of Simorgh, king of the birds.  The various species of birds in the world agreed that they needed to find their king, but most species, being bound to their various natures, are unable to commit to the harrowing journey.  Only thirty birds remain to climb the final mountain, where each bird sees the king, Simorgh, in a different light, yet Simorgh is king of all of them.

The original story, by Farid ud-Din Attar, is an epic poem that runs for 4,500 lines.  My poem is barely one percent of this, but I hope I have captured that which has intrigued me the most about this tale.  We birds are flawed as we make our way to God, and many of us will not make it to the end.  We are also biased in our perceptions, and even as we approach the palace, we only see what we are able to see.  And who, ultimately, is right?  All of us, and none of us, too.  We see only a dark reflection for now, but one day we will see face to face.

Friday, December 2

TWL, Lines 424-426: The Fisher King

424 I sat upon the shore
425 Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
426 Shall I at least set my lands in order?

425. THE FISHER KING: Eliot: “V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.”

The fisher king sitting on a river bank, and the allusion of one who was gravely injured and, with his entire country, desperately in need of healing, is a prevailing image in this poem.  See Weston, Ritual to Romance 9: 117, 129:

“...he was called the Fisher King because of his devotion to the pastime of fishing ...If the Grail story be based upon a Life ritual the character of the Fisher King is of the very essence of the tale, and his title, so far from being meaningless, expresses, for those who are at pains to seek, the intention and object of the perplexing whole.”

But the image of this fisherman keeps reappearing in different shades and colors. See him weeping at lines 182-184, then sitting alongside a rat in the mud at lines 185-189, then musing upon the king’s wreck at lines 190-192. Later, fishmen are lounging at noon at line 263. Eliot directly compared the Fisher King to the Tarot deck’s three-staved merchant who stands on a seaside cliff and watches ships pass by (see notes 46 and 51), and he also imagined the fisherman as a sailor coming home from the sea in the evening (see note 221). Finally, at line 425, with the dry land behind him and the water in front of him, the Fisher King considers whether it might be time to set things right.

See Isaiah 38:1: 

“Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.”

This was Isaiah’s counsel to a mortally sick King Hezekiah, which led the king to weep.

Thursday, December 1

Moleskin 5.9: Stability River

But the clean slate was less than it would seem. The grades did not say anything about where I had been or where I was going or who I wanted to be. I still had a little Huck Finn in me, for one thing, with rivers to explore and rebellions to consider. The house, it was nice, but it was still not much more than where I happened to live, and who could say, after that summer of twelve, where thirteen and fourteen would find me. And yes, it looked like we would have stability now with no more being single-parented at the looms of poverty, no more unincorporated neighborhoods full of dinner smells and dumpsters, no more weekends at the Dolphin Motel. But I was not, will never be ready to write my dad out of the story, so there I was on the banks of Stability River, doing a lot of thinking.

Wednesday, November 30

Stone Heart

(Open with the opening rift from “Little Queenie”)

(*Gradually add chorus tags throughout: “Ev’ry day, baby, every day”)

I’ve got a stone heart, baby,
That’s telling me your love me every day.*

And that lucky coin you flipped me
Says you’re right there with me always.*

I get your verse of the week
With a personal note;
You put the word of God in front of me
Backed up by what you wrote.

You keep that stone heart beating
Like it’s never gonna go away.

(Continue with the opening rift from “Roll Over Beethoven”)

I’ve got this stone heart you gave me
That’s engraved with words of everyday love*

With a message I can feel
And a substance I can’t get enough of.*

When you showed me your heart
You also sang me a song
And every time I hear it
I just want to sing along.

You keep that stone heart rocking me
And rolling me in everyday love.

(Continue with solo rift from “Black Dog”)

Stone heart - That’s the way you love me
Stone heart - Every day, every day
Stone heart - You love me like a rock
Stone heart - And you’re never going away
Stone heart - Rock steady
Stone heart - Rock and roll
Stone heart, stone heart, stone heart, stone heart....

I’ve got a Satchmo melody
That’s running through my head all the time*

And I think to myself
What a wonderful way you make it rhyme*

I get your wake-up messages
So blessed and bright
And your sweet dream wishes
In the dark, sacred night

You’ve got my stone heart singing
And its memorizing Every line.

(Continue with upbeat sample of “What a Wonderful World”)

Stone heart - That’s the way you love me
Stone heart - Every day, every day
Stone heart - You love me like a rock
Stone heart - And you’re never going away
Stone heart - Rock steady
Stone heart - Rock and roll
Stone heart - Ev’ry body got to get stoned!

You’ve got your stone heart in front of me
That’s telling me you love me every day.*

It’s a heart that can’t be broken
And the letters never fade away.*

And I love you the same,
And if you’re ever in doubt,
You can hear my own heart beating
What this song is all about.

You’ve got my stone heart, baby,
And it’s telling you I’m here to stay.

You’ve got my stone heart beating
Like it’s never gonna go away.

(Slow rollout)

You’ve got my stone heart in front of you
And it’s telling you I love you every day

...ev’ry day, ev’ry day...

Tuesday, November 29

Walking Song, Revisited

to the tune of Arcade Fire's Modern Man
(see August 10 for the extended metaphor)

I am the man, and this is my dog.
What would I hear if this dog could talk?
What would I say if I were the dog?

What would I think? What would I know?
Where would I run to? How far would I go?
And would I run away if I were the dog?

God is the man and I am the dog.
I’m not the man I once thought I was.
He seems so far away, and I don't know what to say,

But I'll stretch this leash from here to heaven,
And I'll sometimes think I know the way
And I'll take the paths that I’ve been given
And I'm learning, I'm learning what to say.

I am the man. This is my dog.
I try to listen when we go walk.
We walk every day,
Just keep walking, me and my dog.

You may think that you know,
but you don’t understand
the walk of man and dog.

Whether dog, whether man,
you're just doing what you can
on the walk of dog and man.

Prayer is a leash, and this is my prayer,
Drawing me close to the man up there.
He's not so far away,
And I'm working on what to say.

  God is the man, but I am the one
Who walks with him when the day is done,
And with each breaking dawn
I am still the one

To stretch this leash from here to heaven,
And to sometimes think I know the way,
And to take the paths that I’ve been given,
And I'm learning, I'm learning how to pray.

...but you don’t understand
the walk of man and dog.

Whether dog, whether man,
you're just doing what you can
on the walk of dog and man.

You may think you know,
but you'll never understand.

Whether dog, whether man,
you're just doing what you can
on the walk of dog and man.

The dog and man...
The dog and man...
The dog and man...

Monday, November 28

Sing sing

Melodia, revisited, with Stevie Wonder co-opted:
To the extended tune of Wonder’s Have A Talk With God

Lowly sparrow, you in your stubble field
are God’s example and encouragement
to stand behind a thinly-feathered shield
with nothing more as an accouterment
than simple faith in what tomorrow brings:
all things are set before you, every seed
and sunray

comes delivered without strings;
God gives you everything you need

But gives you more, the time and voice to sing!
Sing boldly, bird, across the stubble field,
show us your color and your gilded wing,
your air of confidence, that all may yield
and pause, to see what stands behind the fable
of fearlessness and food at every table,

comes delivered without strings;
God gives you everything you need.

Sing, sing
Sing, Sing
Sing, sparrow, sing

The sparrow chirps, “But who am I to be
the center of attention?  I believe
your story: God is good, even to me,
and daily God provides, and I receive
abundantly beyond what I deserve,
but that’s the point.  You call on me to sing
for all I’m worth;

you’re telling me to serve
as if my voice made me acceptable,

  but take a look at me:
my feathers are the shades of sand and dirt,
my wings are short and my ability
to fly will never take me far from earth,
and now you’re asking me to join the choir
of angels, as if song could take me higher?”

you’re telling me to serve
as if my voice made me acceptable,

Sing, sing
Sing, sing
Sing, sparrow, sing

Yes, little sparrow, by your very word
you are acceptable; indeed, you were before
the first note of your song was ever heard,
but you will please your maker even more
if you will sing.  Sing loud for all you’re worth,
but louder still for all that you’ve been given:

seed and stubble from the earth,
air and sunshine sent from heaven,

and all the camouflage and coloring
designed to keep you safely unrevealed,
and all the intricacies of your wing
designed to let you navigate the field.
O sparrow, sparrow, know that you are gifted
and by your gift the whole world is uplifted.
...comes delivered without strings;
God gives you everything you need

Sing, sing
Sing, sing
Sing, sparrow, sing

But you will please your maker even more
if you will sing.  Sing loud for all you’re worth,
but louder still for all that you’ve been given:

seed and stubble from the earth,
air and sunshine sent from heaven,

comes delivered without strings;
God gives you everything you need

and He’s telling you to serve
because His gift makes you Acceptable,

and He’s telling me to serve
because my voice makes me Acceptable.

Sunday, November 27

Determination: Boston Strong

Madison, November 6, 2015

This is it, kids!  The day before the morning of the moment I’ve been aiming for.  Not quite a forever moment, not as big as birth or citizenship, but surely as significant as a college degree or a career launch.  I’ve given this my last three years, after all, and now, tomorrow, I’m going to cross that stage and get what I’ve got coming to me.  Many others, hundreds if not thousands, will earn the title with me tomorrow, but that will not diminish the accomplishment.  Call us Marathoners, and by that medal that says “Finisher,” consider us all winners.  That, folks, is the magic of the marathon: only a very small number will be running for first place, but all of us will be proud of our personal achievement.
At the end of this race there will be a bell that runners can ring if they set a new “personal best.”  I already know I’ll be ringing it, because just finishing, which I will do even if I have to crawl the final stretch, will be the best I have ever done.  In fact, if I keep at this, I can imagine my second and third and fourth race each being a reason unto itself to ring that bell.  Each new race will bring me to a new level.  Ring it up!  I will never have run at the age I have then reached.  Ring it!  I will, with each race, have conquered a new city or a new course.  Ring them bells!
I know that not every runner will reach that finish line, but this too is the legendary spirit of the marathon, that even if one stumbles, the moment is big enough that eventually, by any means and to whatever extent possible, there will be a victory to declare.  After miles and hours, indeed months and years of running to this point, the forward moment will carry that journeying soul, in spirit if not in fact, to get to that bell and ring it!
This is what that most famous running town meant when they declared themselves “Boston Strong.”  The year was 2013.  The fastest runners had already crossed the finish line but there were still thousands of runners behind them when, at the sick whim of a couple of miscreant brothers, a nail bomb went off near the end of the course.  Several runners were killed, many more were injured.  Many who were able to run on were prevented from crossing the finish line because police had
to take safety measures, and for the briefest instant it looked like the bombers had achieved what they perhaps had intended, to not only take the lives of a random few but to kill the spirits of a city and a country.
Ah, but those bombers had no idea how big that spirit was.  There would be community after this, and a resolve to keep running in 2013 and onward into 2014.  There would be mourning for those who had fallen permanently, but then, in their honor, there would be many more who would run forward and ring than bell for them all.
Along the course of Boston’s race is a statue paying tribute to one of Boston’s most enduring runners, Johnny A. Kelley.  Johnny entered his first Boston Marathon at the age of twenty, but he did not finish.  Discouraged, he did not run for several more years, and when he tried again, he failed again.  A momentum was beginning to build, though, and the next year he was back, and he finished this time, then repeated the achievement the next year and the year after that.  When he was twenty seen, he won the race, first place, but perhaps even more impressive is what happened next: he kept running, every year for a total of sixty one years, with only one other run not completed because of a race day injury.  He ran his last full race at the age of 84.  His statue, called “Young at Heart,” shows two runners, with Johnny the elder holding up the hand of Johnny the younger, declaring victory across time.  Ring them bells, Johnny, one for every year!

But where was I?  Oh yes, accountability.  Eight chapters in eight days, and anecdotal ninth in the dog days of summer and then, suddenly I am on the eve of my first big race.  Tomorrow.  Twenty six point two miles, all in a morning run.
And where did the time go?  The training, like the journal writing, was less than perfect.  I did progress to a 22 mile run to weeks ago, but I had once had higher aspirations.  It was my intent to reach 26 miles three weeks ahead of race day, to consistently run five runs a week and to hit a 9:30 average pace for a four hour run.  It became harder to fit the longer runs in, though, and even short runs were a challenge during some very active work weeks.  I will still finish this effort, but with an adjusted goal of four and a half hours, and I am resigned to the possibility of a little walking towards the end.

I had higher goals for this journal, too, but maybe this is as it should be.  I though I might have completed a definitive, publishable marathon book, but I know I’m not quite there.  I’ll keep writing, though, just as I will keep running.  Today, in fact, just before I sat down to write this final paragraph, I signed up for the next one: the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, June 2016.  And you can hold me to that.

I’m afraid to stop running.
It feels too good.
I want to stay alive.
— Johnny A. Kelley, age 70

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast!
And when I run I feel his pleasure. 
― Eric Liddell, as quoted in Chariots of Fire (1981)

Saturday, November 26

Anecdote: On My Way To The Run

Other than the Thirteen Mile poem from last year and not counting the preface, added later, everything in the first eight chapters of this journal, fifty two pages of moleskin scrawl, was written over the course of eight days, one chapter a day.  A hundred days later I m beginning chapter nine.  The run goes on and the goal remains.  But what happened?  Yes, I am still running, and there are stories to tell.
After the 5K run with my niece and nephew, I ran a half marathon in Milwaukee, then another in Mackinaw City, Michigan, then back to Madison for a third half, where the preface notes were inspired.  I also trained wherever I found myself over the summer: in San Jose, California, along the Guadalupe River; in St. Louis, Missouri, along the Meramec; outside of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, up and down the Sugar Hills; into the farmland west of Champaign, Illinois; back and forth between New Glarus and Monticello, Wisconsin; and along the James River in Richmond, Virginia.  I found trails near home, too: up and down beachfront bluffs in Lake Forest, through the streets of Waukegan and then, my most regular route, a ten mile stretch along Skokie Highway.
I went through four pairs of shoes, trading my well-worn Adidas for a pair of cushy Brooks after Milwaukee, then switching to Saucony shoes after the Brooks started cutting into the top of my foot, then a pair of backup New Balance lightweights after the Sauconys couldn’t dry out fast enough after hot summer runs.  I gave the Brooks away to Joey, another nephew, who found a more comfortable fit in them.
I ran with family: brother Dan, visiting from Prague; sister Anne, when I visited Champaign.  I also encouraged and was encouraged by nephew Joey, Dan’s oldest; niece Allison, who is also running her first marathon this fall in Des Moines; and nephew Tilo, a sub-five minute miler, talking about trying a half marathon next spring.

I stayed healthy.  Mid-stride I was stung by a bee once, but that was the worst of it.  As the miles increase it’s been tougher to keep the stamina up, but legs are in place, feet aren’t complaining and muscles have been recovering quickly.  And I’m doing what I can to keep in shape: learning to run with a water bottle; starting a pre-run routine of planks, lunges and squats; maintaining my weight, with more attention now to supplementing the calories than limiting them.  And the run goes on and the goal remains.
Distances are increasing, too: There are still over two months to go before marathon day, and I’m up to 18 miles with some walking, 17 miles all running.  The half marathon times over the summer have been up and down but balanced: 1:52 in Milwaukee, 2:14 in Mackinaw (a trail run with an extra end stretch), 1:53 in Madison.
It was my intention, though, at the beginning of this journal, to write daily about running.  I did not expect to run every day and had generally settled on a 3-4-5 standard: three runs a week was passing, four was progressing, five was taking it seriously.  But I had hoped that daily writing would serve to encourage the run and keep holding me accountable.  In one sense, it did, I suppose.  These first eight chapters have been read and reread, even rewritten once with an editor’s eye and onto cleaner pages, and the words have kept me going.  My own words have held me accountable, the words of others have continually inspired me and the word of the run keeps resonating.  The run goes on and the goal remains.

It is too bad that I couldn’t have been more disciplined as a writer these last few months, even as I learned that every run, every day, has a story to tell.  Surely there is more to say about that bee sting or the trail run or the runs with my sister or my brother.  So much could be said about the backdrops across the country, each giving me different stories to tell.  Maybe, in time, I will share some of these experiences, but it will be harder now, with time having passed.
Today, though, coinciding with my return to the journal, I have a story to top all others.  It was a beautiful day.  I set a good pace and reached a new distance.  Along the way I also got hit by a car - but the run goes on and the goal remains!
Let me tell this one moment by moment.  I woke up at 5:30 am out of habit, and it was still dark out: daylight hours are waning quicker than I want them to.  This gave me time to hydrate and do a few stretches and, as it turns out, to start working on the first part of this journal entry, summarizing the last three months.  I wasn’t out the door until 6:45, but the run started right in front of my house.  It was a perfect 55º outside, dry and not too windy, and steady cool and cloudy was the forecast.  I set out on my usual path, a biking and running trail that passes just across the street from home.  It runs north a mile, then forks with a three mile straightaway or, my preference lately, a longer route to th west that loop back southward for an overall twelve mile path.  I have been building up my distance here, not yet getting to the end of the trail before turning around, but I can see that this trail will make the approaching marathon distances easy to manage.

My goal today was to run 18 miles, meaning a turnaround after 9 miles, or maybe a little longer southward with a three mile shortcut option on the way home.  My pace goal, with the cool temperature and a good buildup routine in the last few days, was to keep under 9 minute miles for at least four miles, then sub-9:30 for another 6 or 7 miles.  It is good to understate these goals within goals because it feels so much better when you blow them away.  By comparison, I ran a 7:30 first mile yesterday, but that was a shorter run overall.  And so it went: mile 1: 8:10.  Mile 2: 7:50.  Mile 3: 7:55.  My pace slipped a bit a I went, but I didn’t slow to 9 minutes until mile 10 and I kept it under 9:30 for miles 11 and 12.  So far, so good!

I kept going past the nine mile turnaround point, deciding a good walk at the end wouldn’t be a bad thing, and at mile 12 I reached the end of the trail.  It was not the absolute end, though, if I didn’t mind alternative paths: the dedicated off-street runner/biker trail now yielded to sidewalks and a few busy intersections.  I was on Lake-Cook Road, roughly ten miles south and two miles west of home, and instead of turning around I decided to veer east into these alternative paths, expecting to eventually find quieter northbound roads back home.

This meant crossing a big six-lane intersection first, then crossing two ramps to an underpassing expressway, but it was now 8:30 on a Saturday, still relatively quiet, and the stoplights and traffic were all in my favor.  I didn’t even have to stop.  My pace was still sub 9:30, so I could see a new PB —personal best —ahead for the 13.1 mile split.  Split! Wow, my distances are actually getting to this point: not just a half marathon plus a little more, but one stage and then the next.  I was expecting a sub-1:52 now, and the adrenaline was starting to pump as I reached the next road a block east of the expressway interchange.

As I approached the intersection, a black sedan was pulling up to the main road from my left, ready to turn westbound. This was a small, two lane road with a stop sign, and the car came to a stop just before I reached the street. I thought the driver saw me, but apparently she was looking eastward to check for oncoming traffic.  There was an SUV 70 yards east, but I guess she figured she had time, so she gunned the accelerator just as I was passing in front of her, hitting me straight on and throwing me ten feet into the road.  The vehicle contact wasn’t so bad —a mark on my extended left hand and a scrape on the side of my left leg —but I landed on my ass and right elbow: ow!

I remember looking skyward for a moment, thinking it was a good thing I didn’t hit my head.  But then I got up, a little tenderly, then walked over and leaned on the side of her car.  She was just opening her door, and I remember thinking, maybe I could ask her for a ride home now, as the run was apparently over and I was twelve miles down the road.  But then I remembered that personal best I was pursuing, so before she could even say anything I waived her off, told her I ws okay the turned back to the sidewalk I front of me and started to run.
I didn’t get very far, though.  That SUV driver had now stopped and he was out of his vehicle and running toward me.  “Not so fast,” he said.  “Are you okay?” Yes, I said.  “Are you sure?”  Yes, I was sure, and I started blathering on about that PB and the distance I had in front of me.  “Hey, I understand,” the SUV guy said.  “I ran Boston.  But we should call you an ambulance.” That surprised me, had not occurred to me.  I looked myself over an saw the skinned elbow and scraped leg and felt that sore butt, but I smiled and again assured him I was all right.

By this time the sedan driver was approaching me, asking the same questions and expressing the same concerns and even offering to give me her name and number.  I said no, don’t worry about it, and I showed her my elbow.  “Look,” I said, “this is the worst of it.  And I’m in the middle of a long run with a great time going and I’d just like to get back to it.”  And I shook her hand and thanked the SUV guy and started running again.
Half a mile down the road, even with the setback, my 13.1 mile split was still under 1:54, and I kept running another three miles before I stopped at a Panera for some water.  Oh, I was sore to be sure, and I was still about six miles from home, but I gave it a good five minutes at Panera then started on a slow 17 minute walk for the next mile.  Then I  started running again, an easy 10 minute pace for a mile and a half, and after that I walked a half mile, ran a mile, walked another mile, ran a little more and finally walked the last two blocks to home.
With only that brief traffic stop (!), I had run 16 miles straight and 19.1 miles overall: deliberately, the distance of my two day race last May!  With the walking miles, my distance was 21.8 miles and my time was 3:45.  Which means, at a 9:30 pace without any walking, my 26.2 mile time would be 3:59 - a sub  four marathon! Even with the walk time, if I could run those last four and a half miles I would finish in 4:27.  I can do this!  But I will try to avoid being hit by any more cars.
Just before I turned back to my run after shaking the sedan driver’s hand, I noticed she was finally smiling.  “This’ll teach you to run on Lake-Cook Road so early in the morning,” she said, awkwardly.  She had been pretty hook up by what had happened, maybe even more than me, and I knew she was only trying to lighten the mood.  I smiled, then looked over at the SUV guy —the Boston marathoner —and saw that he was smiling, too.

  ...This doesn’t stop us.  And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston.  That’s what you’ve reminded us —to push, to not grow weary, to not get faint, even when it hurts.  We finish the race.  And we do that because of who we are and we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water.  Around the bend, somebody’s there to boost our spirits.  On that toughest mile, just when we think we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up.
—President Barack Obama,
       April 17, 2013.

Friday, November 25

TWL, Lines 418-423: Thunder To The Lesser Gods

418 Da
419 Damyata: The boat responded
420 Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
421 The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
422 Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
423 To controlling hands

419. THUNDER’S THIRD DISCIPLINE: This is the third DA, after lines 401 and 411. Damyata means “Control yourself,” what lesser gods understood in hearing “Da.” See note 400.

DADAISM: Apart from any meaning heard in what the thunder said, the da da da passage also evokes the concept of Dadaism, a pre-surrealist art movement that began in Switzerland in 1916 and was reaching its peak at the time of The Waste Land. The movement, which ranged from visual arts to literature and poetry to theater, spurned the bourgeoisie reasoning and hard logic that were at the roots of World War I and instead placed a value on abstract nonsense. In contrast to Eliot’s objective correlative theory (note 417), compare this with the ostensible “gibberish” of the jazz movement (notes 130 and 433).  See Eliot’s comments, in The Lesson of Baudelaire (1921; see note 76): “Dadaism is a diagnosis of a disease of the French mind; whatever lesson we extract from it will not be directly applicable in London”; and again in James Joyce, Ulysses, Order and Myth (1923), in which he criticized another critic: “Mr. Aldington treated Mr. Joyce as a prophet of chaos; and wailed at the flood of Dadaism which his prescient eye saw bursting forth at the tap of the magician’s rod.”

420. THE BOAT RESPONDED: See line 280 (Elizabeth and Leicester, on the Thames barge) and note 280 for more on oars.

421. CALMNESS: Compare the calm sea with the calm night after leaving the Chapel Perilous (see note 388) and the calm day of a riverside wedding in Spenser, Prothalamion (see note 176).