Your great grandma Billie, my momma, knew so many poems by heart that they would sometimes just jump out of her when she was emotional. The words of the poems expressed how she felt better than her own words.
This is one I heard very often, a poem William Wordsworth wrote about 150 years ago. It is about rainbows, but it is also about trying to carry the wonder we feel as children into our adulthood. I have chosen it to accompany some lovely rainbow-colored flowers in our neighborhood.
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man;
I have always loved making gifts. You great grandma Billie taught me to sew, and I have made baby quilts and wedding quilts for friends and family. I have sewn goofy dolls, Covid-19 masks, and helped with Auntie Katie’s wedding huppa.
I have baked tons of celebratory cookies and rum balls, peanut butter balls, and Bundt cakes for Kosher luncheons. I have even knitted scarves and hats, for those who wouldn’t be upset about a few dropped stitches.
And now I have something new I can make and give to friends: Art Journals!
I just sent my dear friend Pat a journal, a book built from scratch via lessons from Ruth Inman. It is filled with silly poems, by me and other people. It has thoughts and thanks and bits of art to make her smile.
There isn’t another one like it in the whole world. It was made by the ME I am right now for the Pat that she is right now. It has politics, pets, wine, art, and memories of travel.
I love having a new way to show my special people how much I love them!
With the Corona virus having another spike here in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown has called for a ‘pause’. We are not going out to restaurants, even for take out. Our big weekly adventure is grocery shopping. But we do go out for a walk every day, and the leaves have been absolutely inspirational. So I am playing with poetry again.
Once I got to the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, I had intended to head right back home, but my Dad’s voice whispered “Go home a different way, so you see something different.”
So I continued across the bridge to the Westside. The pedestrian walkway has recently been finished and makes for a very pleasant, if warm, walk between the bridges. There were more adventurers out and about.
I found Poet’s Beach, a side path lined with stones that are carved with poetry written by students, years ago.
It is loud, because it is right under the double decker Marquam Bridge, but worth a read and a visit.
By this time, my feet and my phone batteries were telling me it was time to head home. I decided to cross back over the Hawthorne Bridge. I love the views of bridges from other bridges!
Of course, political statements are everywhere. I liked this re-purposed public service message.
You can see a lot of Portland from bridges, too. Joggers, cyclists, the Burnside Bridge and the Convention Center are all in these shots.
Once I was back on the Eastside, I realized I was hungry, and came upon Asylum, a food Court on the site of Dr. Hawthorne’s Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. This much-respected institution stood from 1862 to 1883. It closed when the good Doctor died and burned to the ground a few years later.
The space has a steampunk cartoony vibe, with trash containers that made me laugh, and really tasty food.
I had pot stickers from the Thai place and enjoyed some people and art watching.
Once I was fed, I still had a mile walk, all uphill, to get home. I paced myself, admiring gardens, appreciating shade, and visiting with nice folks. I had done what I had intended to do, walked a total of 6.2 miles, and it felt good.
By the way, as you can tell, Portland is not “in flames”. We are fine. The protests are being exploited by the President and his allies who want to use Portland as an excuse to use strong arm tactics against his political enemies. He is lying.
I woke up Tuesday feeling the need to take charge of something, to get out and DO.The weather was predicted to be cool in the morning and get really warm by noon, so whatever I was going to do had to happen early.
So, right after coffee and before Grandpa Nelson was out of bed, I headed off for a long walk through the Fall sunshine. I headed toward the river. This is sort of cheating because it is all down hill, but the neighborhood is wonderful.
I found this poem by Jellaludin Rumi framed in a safe place. I liked the sentiment, but also the way my reflection got into the picture. It made this idea of “being human” even more human!
I continued through Ladd’s Addition and into the more industrial part of the Southeast. This fabulous mural, with live plants for hair, was painted by Fin DAC and is called “Attitude of Gratitude.” The building houses a fancy Cuban restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above, and the main office of Solterra, a company that makes vertical planters like the lady’s hair.
The area by the railroad tracks and warehouses is a bit run down, but in the bright sunshine, with the river and West Hills just beyond, everything looked pretty.
After about an hour of solid walking, I found the Willamette River! On this sunny day, it was busy with kayakers, jet skis, and motorboats, all dancing on the sparkling water.
Tilikum Crossing Bridge is the newest bridge in the city and my absolute favorite. It was built in 2015 just for transit and pedestrians.The blue of the sky and the white cables made for a lovely sight. Mount Hood, just sixty miles away, was barely visible through the haze to the East.
I spent quite a lot of time on the bridge, soaking up the breeze and the sunshine.
One of the shops I love most in our little Sunnyside neighborhood is called Noun, “a person’s place for things”. It has a delightful collection of curated second hand things and newer artwork, and is temporarily closed, of course. But it has a wonderful new window display that has taught me new things.
In the window is this hand lettered and sewn paper creation that looks like a quilt with writing on it, and I got to stop and read it the other day. It is called Nobody Passes and it goes like this:
The day is set, like a stage for feet
With a ridge of white clouds painted high
Across the canvas of the sky,
With pavement gleaming and too clean,
A shimmer of grass that seems too green,
And houses alert in every side,
Showing a stiff and conscious pride.
The day is a stage and life is a play,
But nobody passes down this way.
I was intrigued, and looked up Helen Hall online. She was born in 1886 and lived in northwest Portland. When she was about twelve, either because of a fall or scarlet fever (history is slippery) she became paralyzed and could only get around by wheelchair.
Since her house was a typical Victorian with steep, narrow stairs, Helen spend most of the rest of her life in her upstairs bedroom. When she got older, she started taking in sewing work that she could do from home. Her sewing machine was set up by the window so she could look out.
She started writing poetry, mostly about her work and what she saw happening on the street outside her window. Her poems became well known, and were published in The Nation and Sunset, among many others. Her poems were praised and “true” and “poignant”.
Hazel died in 1924 at the age of 38. Her home, at 106 NW 22nd in Portland, still stands and is on the National Register of Public Places. There is a small park next door, and seems like a good place for us to visit,once we can go out and visit.
I love learning new things about my wonderful city. I hope you get to come see me real soon.
Here I am again, playing with Shakespeare! One of his more famous Sonnets is Number 29, which starts, “When in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes…”. It talks about how hard it is to be down on your luck and jealous of other people’s successes, and how nice it is, in those hard times, to have someone in your life who loves you best.
Inspired by our current global mess, here is my take.
Parody of Sonnet 29
Now in disgrace upon the global stage Our once-proud nation fumbles forward, blind Led by a man-child driven by bent rage Fueled by the remnants of his tiny mind
In Germany their leader knows the facts And South Korea quickly got the jump But here the scientists all got the ax If, in their knowledge, they spoke anti-Trump
But there is hope out in the country wide In folks who want to keep their fellows safe We can be careful, even stay inside, E’en when the confines of our houses chafe
To save ourselves from tantrum throwing men, We need to be the grown-ups, once again
By now, you know I love writing silly poetry. I like learning new forms and playing with the rhyme schemes, discovering which words fit the pattern and the meaning.
You also know I love tardigrades. These tiny animals are about the size of a comma on this page. They are found in forests and are also called water bears or moss piglets. Scientists have studied them and found that they can survive intense heat, years of being dried out, and even the vacuum of outer space.
So, there is the mystery. WHY would an animal on Earth have evolved these features? What ELSE can they do?
It is their mysterious origins and almost cute “bear-like” features that have inspired our friend Betsy Streeter to do a series of drawings that celebrate their versatility in cartoon-ish hyperbole. You can find more of her work on Instagram @betsystreeter or email her at tinyletter.com/betsystreeter.
Her drawings, in turn, have inspired me to write a parody of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 about the little critters.
We got to walk through the neighborhood yesterday, on our way to Whole Foods for groceries. Our last two days of bright sunshine have encouraged all the flowers!
The bees are going nuts, too, though they were skittish and wouldn’t let me get close enough to take their pictures. However, this solid brick of azalea blooms was very patient.
Up on Ankeny Street in a poetry box, I found this very personal poem. If I had seen it on Mother’s Day, it would have felt cruel and bruising. But today I am stronger and can see it as beautiful.
Feelings are such delicate balances between joy and melancholy, sweet memories and frightful hauntings, it is a miracle we maintain as well as we do. I only really appreciate joy when I have pulled out of a dark hole and can sigh with relief at my freedom.
I went out for a walk to the grocery store the other day, and took some pictures of our fabulously colorful Portland spring. There were not many people out, because of the shutdown, and the combination of uncanny quiet and lush flowers reminded me of something and tickled in the back of my brain.
I just figured out what it was.
There is a poem called There will Come Soft Rains, by Sara Teasdale. She wrote it 1918, in response to the horrors of World War I that the world was living through at the time. The Spanish Flu, spread by the movement of soldiers and lack of health measures, swept across the world at that time, killing 63,000 American soldiers, more than the enemy‘s weapons did.
Sara Teasdale was feeling as some of us are now, despairing of our capacity for self destruction, and the poem tells of the beauty of nature that will go on when mankind has finally wiped itself out.
There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night, And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Our country has lost, so far, 72,000 people to Covid-19. It is so sad that it hurts to think about it. But most people are doing what they can, staying inside, wearing masks, sending help to family and neighbors, supporting the doctors and nurses. We are being our best selves. This is how we will survive.
And then we can get out into the springtime again.