Category Archives: poetry

A song and a sermon of beans.

While some of us are still gathering in the harvest, I don’t think it’s too late to post about my garden beans. I have been working on a bean story since last summer, which I thought would be the end of my pole bean career, or at the least, the end of growing my favorite Blue Lakes in two-foot high vegetable boxes; I found myself swaying and tottering as I would stand in the boxes in order to pick them, trying not to stand on the basil plants, and it was unnerving.

So this year, I grew bush beans for the first time ever, but they were terribly disappointing. They had a very short peak of productivity, and instead of the fear of breaking my back falling out of the planting box, I knew the reality of slow backbreaking labor, bending over the jungle where the beans were even harder to find than when strung up on twine. I’m going back to pole beans, and will just have to figure something out to make picking safer.

More recently I harvested the Painted Lady perennial runner beans that I’ve told you about a few times. This year they produced so heavily from the five or six plants in the corners of my boxes, that I have enough to make a pot of soup, and I plan to create a recipe just for them.

In the time of harvest I found that Les Murray wrote a poem about beanstalks. In the title he mentions broad beans, which is one of the names I’ve heard for fava beans, which I also grew this year. However, his description of his beans does not match what I know of favas. It sounds more like regular green bean pole beans. So maybe in Australia they use different words. In any case, he highlights many aspects of this favorite garden vegetable in a joyful and celebratory way.

THE BROAD BEAN SERMON

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight

appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …

Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.

-Les Murray

Spanish Musica pole beans 2018

I take succour from pudding and poems.

Sunday there was a big bowl of dead-ripe bananas in the parish hall, for the taking. Maybe they had been left from our church’s monthly hosting of the overflow from the local rescue mission. The program started up again last week for the fall and winter.

I couldn’t resist bringing home a couple of bunches, which I put in the fridge while I hunted for a fast-friendly recipe to use them in. Since then I have very much appreciated the pudding I made, eaten as warm as possible as I try to shake the chill that has descended on me and my house.

Do I never weary of writing about my shivering? Evidently not. My flesh and bones are crying out, “Do something!” And I occasionally respond in new ways… but I suppose it is typically a variation on a story of sun and food.

On my outing to the library I was able to shed my wool sweater. I was picking up a collection of poems by Les Murray, whose name has popped up here and there for months now; I see that he died just this year. When I eventually checked, what do you know, I didn’t have to search farther than my neighborhood branch to find New Selected Poems. It was lunchtime when I got home, so I took a little bowl of Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Pudding and some other snacks out front to eat on the bench. And I sat longer, to be warm, and perused my book.

In the garden the sun is shining, and I can even get hot in my flannel shirt. But indoors this morning I had carried my breakfast on a tray up the stairs to one of the temporary storage rooms (a.k.a. bedrooms), the eastern one where I could sit with the sun on my back. I have been reluctant to turn on the furnace, because of all the empty spaces in the walls and ceiling of the room that is still not out of its demolition phase. I didn’t want to try “heating the great outdoors,” as my father used to put it.

In my library book a surprising number of poems got my attention by their accessibility and themes, and then made me happy by the evocative images and philosophical musings that are so satisfying. Which to share first? By now you will know why I chose this one to end today’s story:

SUCCOUR

Refugees, derelicts – but why classify
people in the wreck of their terms?
These wear mixed and accidental clothing
and are seated at long tables in rows.

It’s like a school, and the lesson
has moved now from papers to round
volumes of steaming food
which they seem to treat like knowledge,

re-learning it slowly, copying it
into themselves with hesitant spoons.

~Les Murray

Stay upside down, and be silent!

DIVAN

I’m a slave of the moon. Speak only moon to me.
Speak of candles and of sweetness or don’t speak at all.
Speak of gains not losses, and if
you don’t know how, never mind. Say nothing.
I went crazy last night. Love saw me and said,
“I’m here. Don’t shout! Don’t tear your clothes! Be still!”
I said, “Oh, love. It’s not that I fear. It’s something more!”
“That something more is no more. Don’t say a word!
I’m going to whisper secrets in your ear.
Just nod your head and say nothing.
A moon, being made of soul, appeared on the path of love.
Ah, how delicious it is, a journey on the heart’s path! Don’t speak!”
I said, “Oh, my heart, what moon is this?” Love pointed and said,
“This one’s not right for you. Pass by in silence!”
I said, “Could this be an angel’s face? Could it be human?”
“It’s neither human nor angel. Hush!”
I said, “What is it? Tell me! You’ve turned me upside down!”
“Stay upside down, and be silent!”
You’re seated in this house filled with images and illusions.
Get up! Don’t say a word! Just pack your bags and leave!
I said, “Oh, my love. Be like a father to me.
Isn’t this the face of God?”
“It is. But by your father’s soul,
Hush! Be silent! Don’t say a word!”

-Rumi
1207-1273
translated by J.W. Clinton

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been trying to put into words how it was for me, releasing Monarch butterflies who had emerged from their chrysalises two or three hours before. It was the most exciting thing yet to happen in my garden, that’s for sure. I had an rush of adrenaline stretching over the several days it took for all four caterpillars to finish their metamorphosis into creatures exquisite and huge. They were huge by comparison with the tiny pods from which they’d unpacked themselves, and their delicate design and bold colors were revealed in all their glory by being seen close-up and still in their mesh cage, waiting for their wings to dry.

I watched them as they hung and dried. When the time was right, I followed the Monarch website instructions: Move your finger toward the head of the butterfly, and it will climb on. Lift it out… I got a phone video with one hand while carrying the first Monarch to a flower I chose because it was both a known Monarch favorite nectar source, and purple to contrast with the insect’s colors.

That one was fully dry and not hungry yet; it wouldn’t step off my hand onto the blossom, but as soon as a breeze came by, it flew. I looked down and the second butterfly was climbing out of the cage and fluttering away. As one friend said, “It’s like being present at a moment of creation.” Indeed. And that was a little much to take, the reason for my intense feelings, and why this Rumi poem resonates with me. An insect, a moon, a grain of sand… anything might bring you there.

The next chrysalis wasn’t due to open until the afternoon; I deadheaded coneflowers nearby and met with this mantis, who I think was probably the same one I had encountered a few days before. I was friendly and he looked at me; I took his picture in full daylight. Then my neighbor stopped her car in the street and said out the window, “Isn’t it a little hot to be working out here?” I checked the thermometer and it was 93°; okay, I will go indoors for a while. Once in the house, I felt something on my head, and brushed it off… the mantis! Hey, fella, I know you like me, but you belong outside… So I gently carried him out, with my bare hands this time, being so comfortable/familiar with the creature. 🙂

The third butterfly’s wings were still a little damp when I released it in the afternoon; that same neighbor had come over for a cool drink in the cooler indoors, and she stayed to watch. And before the Monarch was dry enough to fly far, the little girl next door was able to come and get close to the action. I was really happy that it worked out for me to share at least a little bit of this wildlife event with other humans.

Following Rumi’s imagery, on my path in just one week’s time I have had encounters with 1) the moon and the mantis,  2) newborn butterflies walking on my hands and 3) a mantis who likes me. Somewhere inside I was going crazy and shouting, and also trying to listen to that voice saying, Hush!

This whole experience certainly jolted me out of my waiting doldrums. A word from another friend helped calm me down: She told me that mantises eat butterflies, and I laughed as I guessed the mantis “mind” as he looked so friendly-like at me: This large shape carries the scent of those juicy Monarchs I like, but I don’t see how to get my mouth around it….

At least one of the butterflies hung around the garden for a few days, giving me more opportunities for picture-taking, and to say a more leisurely good-bye. These were the babies I’d collected as eggs and raised for more than a month; I’d invested a lot of time in collecting milkweed leaves for them and cleaning their cage. It seems now a small price for the reward, though I could wish my responses were more like quiet joy and not so emotionally exhausting.

More recently, a building inspector was here and needed to write a note for the contractor, so I invited her to sit at my kitchen table, from which she immediately saw my garden and calmly gushed over it. I told her about the joy my garden gives to me, and about the Monarchs, too. She said, “It’s like the first garden….” Well, yes. Isn’t this the face of God?

They lack nerves, and the tiny interior.

In this poem I recently encountered, the poet doesn’t say whether he himself believes in Platonic forms, only that “they” claim to know that this principle orders the minds of angels, and what the effects of its working is. It’s my understanding that Plato’s idea of forms is not in accord with Christian theology; one writer on the subject claims that “Maximus the Confessor remains to this day the single most important figure in Orthodox cosmological thought,” and that “his doctrine of the logoi of things can in no way be reduced to a static world of Platonic forms.” There is no Huge Principle, but there is Almighty God, the great “I am.”

Another thing I wonder about is the location of the “tiny interior” mentioned; I should think it is more in the heart than the brain, this place where the Maker shares His secrets. Both of my wonderings are based on my slight understanding of philosophy and theology; what I do feel more certain of is that angels are basically very different from humans. Christ took on human nature, because it was we humans who needed His solidarity with us, and His quickening of our dead spirits. But having been created “a little lower than the angels,” we were “crowned with honor and glory.”

Whatever all of the attributes of angel nature may be, it is given to us humans to enjoy the senses and their joys, which in the following poem by C.S. Lewis are seen as guards against the richer angel-type experiences that we could not in our earthiness bear. I see these sensory experiences as much more than that, and where the poet evokes the way they can fill our hearts to overflowing, such as when we “drink the whole summer down into the breast,” isn’t he describing more than a purely sensual experience? Quite possibly a thankful, prayerful heart can know mystical secrets of the trees and stones, as their secrets would be not other than whatever the Creator in kindness might reveal of Himself in and through them – and beyond.

ON BEING HUMAN

Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archtypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.

The Tree-ness of the tree they know — the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth’s salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves’ fall and rising sap;

But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
— An angel has no skin.

They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang — can angels measure it?
An angel has no nose.

The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf’s billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
— An angel has no nerves.

Far richer they! I know the senses’ witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb’d sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.

-C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Fr. Mark Kowalewski for introducing me to this poem.
(said Mr Homegrown)