Posts Tagged ‘William Stafford’

[with poetry by William Stafford]

Limbs in the water, shrubby but clean across the stream, three weeks along no change in the heap. Grassy Creek backed up to meadowbank, no flood. Felled beech, bark gnawed away, most but not all. Incisored branches laid straight, unshifted, uneaten. Two brass shell casings, .380 auto.


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After the first mile rhythm kicks in. Metronomic footfall. Downbeat rimshot, trekking poles. Syncopated squeaking pack straps (or is that my right knee cartilage?). Inhale . . . Exhale . . . Inhale.

All this rhythm discombobulates at the first uphill. Cross Grassy Creek on Hurt Bridge (named for the land donor, not the ensuing incline). Switchbacks, elevation, what is this jazz riff, 7/4 or 5/2 or both at once? Knee definitely squeaking. Inhale . Exhale . Inhale . Exhale.

Leveling out again, buck up, it wasn’t even half a mile. Here’s a turnoff and sign – spur trail to Grassy Creek Winery. Tempting . . . .

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I like you with nothing. Are you
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown – still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won’t forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can’t tell what you say
when it’s the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head, where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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Wherever God has sent me,
the meadowlarks were already there.
++++ from Put These in Your Pipe

Today’s poems are from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press, 1998. The book contains poems chosen from all of William Stafford’s books from 1977 through 1991 plus a lengthy section of new poems from the last two years of his life. It includes the poem he wrote on the morning of his death.

This is a book you can simply open to any page, sit down, and listen to Mr. Stafford’s voice. It’s a book you can read straight through page by page and discover his deep connections: to the earth, the world, the daily, to you. William Stafford grew up on the Great Plains, lived in the West and Northwest, but especially he lived in the moment and in the particulars of place. He lived through World War II, Korea and Viet Nam as a pacifist. He taught, he argued, he encouraged, but most especially he felt deeply.

I’m reading the book in both ways, meandering trail of pages but also skipping about, bushwhacking. I’m hearing a voice that challenges my heart, pries it open, offers to heal.

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You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face –
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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For a Daughter Gone Away

When they shook the box, and poured out its chances,
you were appointed to be happy. Even in a prison
they would give you the good cell, one with warm pipes
through it. And one big dream arched over everything:
it was a play after that, and your voice found its range.
What happened reached back all the time, and “the octo,”
“the isped,” and other patterns with songs in them
came to you. Once on the Yukon you found a rock
shaped like a face, and better than keeping it, you placed
it carefully looking away, so that in the morning when
it woke up you were gone.

You aw the neighborhood, its trees growing and houses
being, and streets lying there to be run on;
you saved up afternoons, voluptuous warm old fenders
of Cadillacs in the sun, and then the turn of your thought
northward – blends of gold on scenes by Peace River . . .

It was always a show, life was – dress, manners –
and always time to walk slowly: here are the rich
who view with alarm and wonder about the world
that used to be tame (they wear good clothes, be courteous);
there are the poets and critics holding their notebooks
ready for ridicule or for the note expressing
amusement (they’re not for real, they perform; if you
take offense they can say, “I was just making
some art”); and here are the perceivers of injustice; they
never have to change expression; here are the officials,
the police, the military, all trying to dissemble
their sense of the power of their uniforms. (And here
at the end is a mirror – to complete the show for ourselves.)

Now, running alone in winter before dawn has come
I have heard from the trees a trilling sound, an owl I
suppose, a soft, hesitant voice, a woodwind, a breathy
note. Then it is quiet again, all the way out
in that space that goes on to the end of the world. And I think
of beings more lonely that we are, clinging to branches or drifting
wherever the air moves them through the dark and cold.
I make a sound back, those times, always trying for only
my place, one moving voice touching whatever is present
or might be, even what I cannot see when it comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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