Something Old, Something New

The field fallow for fifty years

Does not open to rain right away

But takes its time in the slow days

Of age that fly by, the days marked

By the rise and fall of sun and moon.

The moon taking the greater impression


This field has taken care of others all its life,

So far. All its time it has been a caretaker

Never grown its own crops. So how can the

Seeds not planted grow? How can the life not

Lived look in the mirror when what’s

Been the view all these years were others’ needs.


Think a minute in the still white mind

Take a moment of the apron’s cloth, know

The Larch for what it is, see the water pouring

Into the kettle. Watch the egg bounce to the boil,

Take into your sweet hand the spoon stirring gently

And do not lift the veil of loneliness but dwell

In the land of you and promise to love.


this must be shared – from Mary Oliver

Leda and the Swan


From Mary Oliver’s book, Winter Hours

The Swan

Years ago I set three “rules” for myself. Every poem I write, I said, must have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose. If a poem to my mind failed any one of these categories it was rebuked and redone, or discarded. Over the forty or so years during which writing poems has been my primary activity, I have added other admonitions and consents. I want every poem to “rest” in intensity,. I want  it to be rich with pictures of the world. I want it to carry threads from the perceptually felt world to the intellectual world. I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy (not my life – not necessarily! – but the life of my formal self, the writer).
I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)
“The Swan” has some of these qualities. It has as well a “secret” humor; I was watching geese not swans when I began the poem – that is, thought of the poem, felt it in concept, and wrote down a few lines. Since I had only recently written a poem about geese, I thought I would intensify the poem’s display, and make something even fancier than wild geese out of the beautiful bird shapes I was watching. I thought this fairly funny, and I remember it was therefore with a certain light-hearted pleasure that I proceeded with the description. Though unknown as a fact to the reader, I don’t wonder at all if my mood attuned me more finely than otherwise to my work – I am sure it did.
The form was no problem – long sentences and short lines, a little enjambment to keep things going (the swan is in motion) but not too much, so that the lines, like the swan’s movements are decisive, and keep their dignity. Take out some commas for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (in words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time – invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty, and to configure in his or her own mind what that might be. Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would keep the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem. And, that’s all. The final phrase – “touch the shore” – is vital; it is a closure yet it is also a moment of arrival, and therefore a possible new beginning.
The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room, inside a building. My poems have all been written – if not finished at least started – somewhere out-of-doors: in the fields, on the shore, under the sky. They are not lectures. The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it. If the reader accepts and thinks about its question, “The Swan” accomplishes what it set out to do.

The Swan

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating – a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers –
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company –
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

painting, “Leda and The Swan”   Pam White


Saying “I love you” is the least
balanced thing I do. In order
to bring the words to mind, nevermind
to mouth, I have to distance myself from
you and the rainbow inside of me who want
everything perfect and resonable and true.
I have to make up lines as I go along, assuage
the person in my right who says I’m wrong,
give the person that I see who is you a chance
and not look too closely through it all.
And way more important than anything
is not to look too closely at me –
just get close enough to it all to feel
the warmth we share, then open my mouth:
I love you.


In the field there is the tree I call “The Singer.” She is so out there, so full. Each of her years is a display of prosperous and prodigious longevity. Her limbs have fallen several times, she has no discernable trunk, no core, she’s all out to her edges. Still and evermore open to the winds and covered with apples when it’s her time to be in fruit, same for blossoms. She is a tree to emulate. A tree for the future.






Remember This

Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


Here I Am

I have left all my colors behind.
Pallets stacked, brushes clean, knives pared and separated
tubes blown, pencils sharpened and stacked.
How thick the live Now. How fine the live Now.
Walking free and waiting to be called, my mind is cloven,
split off from the sticks of color, oils, jars, paper in shreds and stacks.
I am intact.
Everything is out. Behind me.
I am ready.

The Animal Inside

The lively world of our emotions, fears and responses is like a great forest with its fauna. We experience those feelings as though they were wild animals bolting through the foliage of our thick being, timidly peering out in alarm or slyly slinking and cunningly stalking, linking us to our unknown selves…                               Paul Shepard

The animal inside is outside too.
The wrangler, the poet, the fireman
all live in the animal world of the amygdala,
thriving in daily contact with themselves.
Connection takes more thought, perhaps involving
the cortex, but who’s counting?
When I am who I am, who am I?
Humans love these witticisms. I am human.
I indulge in a sundae of disconnected thought
irreverent and showing such a care of words
that I could be a pastor of the craft were I to study
more but the animal inside won’t let me.

all images and poems   Pam White












Here I Grew

Up on the limestone banks the patterns I see are centuries lived
by no one I know. Small bugs and sea creatures, occasional fish
tell me life was different, that I wouldn’t be able to breath here as I am.

But I breathe here as they did once. I walk upon land they knew
as water and the water I look to, the river, creates canyons in
what they knew as air.  I don’t feel close to their remains even

as I sit bone to skeleton. They escape my ability to grasp so many years
even as I watch the crow fly who perhaps has known them as
well as me. The sun I know has seen all, even as I watch it set.

photo taken by my nephew David Mesker  

A Beautiful Shore

Way up by the river bend at its very tip
is called Beau Rivage, beautiful shore.
Here you can see across the river to its
farthest bank and down to where the bridge
crosses and up across to where the factory pushes
smoke twelve to fourteen hours a day.

To get here I had to cross the mouths of caves, go
through tangles of crooked, thorny vines, release myself
to the rhythm of the limestone cliffs and flats

The river’s edge keeps me to the rock.
I know the pull of the current, the water thrusting
around a rock, curling to the banks in a whirling pool
where I lose my senses. I keep to the rocks
whose contours suckle my bare feet, whose sandy flats
give me my wit, whose ancient sea is my core.


I Caught This Morning

I caught this morning, morning’s minor moment
in light and shadow, in slight wind a tiny, minuscule really,
spider, more air than not. There was not a moment of stillness
for me to play with. I had to take the day
as I found it.
Beauty and Valor come together in
this brave body toiling all night
within the dew while I slept.

Is (s)he separate from all that beauty?
Does her work bring pride, accomplishment, the way I see it.
I tremble to catch it whole, while she
sits centered in her final (likely) work –
I wake to the fields and flowers,

bushes and trees; acres filled with amazing gifts of spider time where I stand in this morning.