Dame Edith Sitwell

Glad to be back after a long absence. I’m thinking of myself as the DJ on WPAM:  Poets Read Poetry is the show’s theme and the individual poems, the tunes.

At last night’s meeting our topic was “Poems We Don’t Understand.” That left the field wide-open for interpretation. Andrew wrote something brilliant on the subject of understanding. If I can get a copy I’ll place on a future blog.

Andrew brought in this poem:

Bells of Gray Crystal

Bells of gray crystal
Break on each bough—
The swans’ breath will mist all
The cold airs now.
Like tall pagodas
Two people go.
Trail their long codas
Of talk through the snow.
Lonely are these
And lonely and I ….
The clouds, gray Chinese geese
Sleek though the sky.

Dame Edith Sitwell

We felt no need to understand this in the traditional sense. Frank commented on the emotional richness of the descriptions; Jo enjoyed its great sounds and we all agreed that it was a beautiful poem in an enigmatic way.

As Andrew read it aloud I thought about Dame Edith Sitwell: I remembered seeing a Beaton portrait of her in profile: the severe, angular face and sharp nose accentuated by the high, baldly Gothic forehead above shaved and thinly penciled brows. Now what mattered to me were the long, thin fingers that bore her signature: a collection of massive aquamarine rings.

My mind went then to an experience one summer in Rio. During a long Champagne and Samba party I  went outside to a terrace where I stood, transfixed, as the misty atmosphere surrounding primordial looking mountains and sea  turned  otherworldly shades of blue in a turn of color that signaled dawn’s approach.

Then, riding back to my hotel I was struck by the look of the surf lapping the sand at Copacabana in the early morning light. Crushed aquamarines.  The word aquamarine made me think of Edith Sitwell. Funny, to have the eccentric, aristocratic poet on my mind as surfers walked toward the first wave of the day and coconut vendors, who had slept beside their carts all night, stirred and stretched, at the insistence of intensifying sunshine.

Before collapsing into bed for I wrote in my Rio notebook: crushed aquamarines.



Jo brought this to “Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of.”

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering

there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death

I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.

Then nothing. The weak sun

flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive

as consciousness

buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being

a soul and unable

to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth

bending a little. And what I took to be

birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember

passage from the other world

I tell you I speak again: whatever

returns from oblivion returns

to find a voice:

from the center of my life came

a great fountain, deep blue

shadows on azure seawater.

By Louise Glück

When I moved from the city to the country I learned that the deer eat most flowers.  I loved the deer and didn’t want to fence them out.

I discovered I had the perfect soil, light and terrain for irises. They became my passion. I planted dozens, in every color. I lived for late May, the seasonal peak—perfectly in sync with Chinese artists for whom the flowers represent”the dancing spirit of early summer.” I even went to the International Iris Festival in Florence, Italy (the iris is the city’s emblem) to see acres and acres of the colored blossoms I adored.

On the morning of my mother’s funeral I did not want to leave my house. I did not want to see my mother, dead, in a box. . I did not want to say good-bye to her, ever.

As I approached the door, I could see a family of deer waiting outside, in silence, near our car. “They’re here to help you,” Barre said. They did.

And the impossible happened:  one iris bloomed in the freezing November air.  Named “Immortality, the color of the moon, and big enough to fill my hands held together like a beggar asking for alms.  I remembered that in ancient Greece, the task of the goddess Iris was to lead the souls of dead women to the Elysian Fields. That awful morning she appeared dressed in white and filled the air with a fragrance as warm as it was sweet. Thank you.

The Moon

Andrew brought this poem to our group the night our theme was “Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of.” He wrote it in the archaic Albanian spoken by his family. He then translated it into English. Hearing him read it aloud was remarkable: before I heard it in Albanian  I could sense the beauty the words contained, even though they were rough and strange to my ears. My intuition was probably more at work than my brain.

The Moon


Mu lurree ktu


Put shochk


Put gyehgen lullaht

Chuh thonyun

Koosh tu doh?

Ooh tu doh.


The Moon

Left me here


To watch

The wind

Listen to the flowers

That say

Who wants you?

I want you.

Andrew Accario

The poem is so pure. So full of love and hope.

Hope is my bridge between winter and spring.

As our group gathered in my living room this winter, as Andrew read, I could see the base of an oak tree heaped with stones and empty acorn shells left behind by the squirrels. But, I knew that underneath that rugged crust, lilies of the valley waited. Now tall and green, their creamy white flowers bring the scent of dignified innocence to the warm May air.

Happy Birthday, Baby


Poets group meets tonight. One of the poets, Jo, has a birthday today. Same as my late husband. He would have been 70 today. I buy a cake for her. I could have baked one, something really good, Julia Child, with Calvados and apples, a clafoutis. Real. But instead I want a birthday cake that looks like one. Sometimes you need that symbol. I buy one with the pinkest pink roses and an almost neon Happy Birthday. Inside: strawberry cream. Go all the way. We may sing. It’s gray, so gray outside. Let’s light the candles, too.

I love Jo’s poems. “Loss,” is one of my favorites. Perfect for me today. Thank you, Jo.


I have lost a bird, I have lost a tree.

I have lost a city. And a state.

I have lost money. I have lost land

with a blue heron and a green pond.

I have lost flat fields and mountains.

Lost a river. A sea.

I’ve lost a father, old friends.

A child. A husband.

Now, I must lose the memory of you.

I nearly have it. Your crisp edges slip.

It’s almost done. There. No, not quite.

Jo Pitkin


My birthday present for 58 years was my mother telling me the story of my birth, the morning I was born. She’d start: “It as a hot June morning. Close. Not exactly raining, a fine mist…. At 7:42 the nurse said, ‘Mrs. Pearce,’ you have a beautiful baby girl.” We would both cry a little on our ends of the phone. At least, I did. Or her voice would break a little as she said, “And you were. You are….”

My husband was adopted. There was no story for him. There was no where. No who. No known face that saw him first. I want to research the weather on that day, the phase of the moon, anything to know him more.

My wedding present from his adoptive mother was this poem. She kept it framed above her desk. When she gave me this poem she gave me her son.


To my death from my birth,

I am thankful I am on Earth.

I am glad I am not an orphan


That I have a real home

and toys galore.

I am thankful for things

that are mild

For everything tame or wild.

I am thankful for this modern age

And for life of humans at any stage.

I am glad I go to school

Because if I didn’t I’d be a dumb fool.

Barre Littel

Grade 5

Happy birthday, baby.

Memories of Snow

Sandor Csoori

Memories of Snow


As soon as I raised the first shade in the living room this morning the words “memories of snow “ came into my mind the way the melody of a song catches one’s  brain and refuses to leave. I went to my bookshelf and searched the familiar chaos (I can always lay my hands on what I want…) for Sandor Csoori’s book of poems, MEMORIES OF SNOW. I couldn’t find it. But I did find his selected poems translated by Len Roberts.

Sandor Csoori. How was I to know that the small, intense man standing in front of me, the man with the mouth line a vertical line and eyes as hypnotic as Houdini’s, was

Hungary’s foremost poet? In the late l980’s things like that happened to me. As the writers from Eastern Europe came to us at PEN, free at last to travel, we welcomed them with panels and discussions, platters of pastrami and roast beef, cases of wine and stacks of boxes filled with Entenmann’s cakes. They were hungry, they were thirsty for food and conversation and books and information.

Another thing I didn’t know about Csoori was that he had been forced to shovel both the bodies of humans and animals when, as a war-shocked 15 year-old, he returned to his village in 1945. He then endured a 45 year Communist clamp-down of his country. Nevertheless, I sensed a deeply alive romantic nature behind his eyes when we met.

At the time I was too busy buying cakes and cases of wine to read his poems. Now, today, I watch the Hudson River, as ice floes like splattered polka-dots all sliding south along a roiling stew the color of iron, and as snow flies around my house, I have the time to read some poems. “My Winter Kingdom,” is worth several re-reads during the stormy day.

My Winter Kingdom

I cannot run on ten paths,

I cannot die ten deaths,

Well, then, I’ll wait for that special one

Which sinks me to the depths.

Winter, my kingdom,

is a snowflake kingdom only;

my departing on a hundred paths:

a lone departure only.

Sandor Csoori

Translated by Len Roberts and Laszlo Vertes

Later, as I survey the snow heaps, my imagination lets me have a moment with my iris bulbs: they sizzle and bump, buried deep inside the white covered black earth…Flambeau, Sunset Cymbal, Little Mary Sunshine.

Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of


“Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of,” was to be the theme of tonight’s meeting of the “Poets Read Poetry” group which has been cancelled because of the weather. The slush became thicker. The air over the river turned as opaque as heavy tracing paper. We were scared.

I had planned to make blog #3 a report of our meeting. But I can’t. OK. This will give me more time to go over my choices for the next time.

More time. More time alone in the house surrounded by ice and wind and rain. More time to listen to Red Garland play “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).”         More time to eat the truffles that were a Christmas gift. More time to listen to Rick Margitza play, “Widow’s Walk.” How does a young guy like him know how this feels? He’s so good. So black velvet and longing, digging deep. So good, I’m going to Paris in April to hear him work his tenor sax four nights in a row.  He’s that good.

Time to go over my poems.  Time to cut and staple them into tidy little packets for the group. I read a stanza of “Aegean Melancholy,”

…The long lament of the woman,

The lovely woman who bared her breasts

When memory found the cradles

And lilac sprinkled the sunset with fire!

By Odysseus Elytis

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

One I must include for the Poets Read Poets group in case they outlive me and attend my funeral–the favorite poem of my middle-life.  I want it read there in whatever big church hosts my farewell. Yes, it’s an unorthodox choice for such an occasion, but those who know me well will know that romance–having it, losing it, finding it again, trying and trying has been a major part of my life. Why not my death, too?

Half an Hour

I have never had you, nor I suppose

will I ever have you. A few words, an approach,

as in the bar the other day—nothing more.

It’s sad, I admit. But we who serve Art,

Sometimes with the mind’s intensity,

can create—but of course only for a short time—

pleasure that seems almost physical.

That’s how in the bar the other day—

Mercifully helped by alcohol—

I had half an hour that was totally erotic.

And I think you understood this

and stayed slightly longer on purpose.

That was very necessary. Because

with all the imagination, with all the magic alcohol,

I needed to see your lips as well,

needed your body near me.

C.P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Yannis Ritsos understands desire, too. I love those Hellenes! The brain, the body, the heart, the soul, the living, the dead, the sea, the olive, the church, the brothel. Thavmassia! (Wonderful.)

Keeley gets it with his translation, in just two lines from:


….He doesn’t look at her.

He lights up his cigarette. His hand holding the match trembles.

These Greeks have warmed my ice-bound house. They are not the first.


Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day. My Valentine is a friend. We are not sweethearts, but pals. I sat next to her for 15 years at the PEN office. More time than I spent with either of my two husbands.

We’re pals who have shared each other’s romantic turmoil. Our romantic fields leveled now by age and death.  I ask her to be my Valentine. She invites me for drinks at the Russian Tea Room. Perfect. The room is red. The bar is lined with aged sweethearts, couples toasting their love with vodka and bite-sized bits of blinis.

My friend and I lift our drinks to a better year. Then she gives me a gift from the lingerie store, Agent Provocateur. I accept the slick pink shopping bag. “No, please!” I think…no garter belt or push-up bra, no matter how fabulous, can fix me now.

Thank God, it’s better. A thick book, THE GREEK POETS: Homer to the Present. Edmund Keeley, the renowned translator, says “Hello,” she tells me.  Then, the two of us part: kissing each other’s perfumed cheeks, flower scented hair, embracing in view of the drinking, eating sweethearts.

The Metro North Train is abuzz with holidaymakers returning home. Lots of red sweaters and mittens, exhausted colognes overcome by sweat, dozing husbands who missed their Sunday afternoon ballgames but may score later as a reward for their city trip.

A disaffected young man in a suit and tie shifts a limp red-rose encased in a plastic sheath and a miniature cheesecake in the shape of a heart to make room for me on the seat beside him. Is he coming or going? That rose will get him nowhere.

I open my new book in the commotion. I’m sucked in, instantly:  Aratus, “Burdens of blood and war shall bow their backs.”  Philes,”The drink cooled me down/as it flooded the fire in my heart, /so that, moving closer, I seized/your boiling heat to warm my shivering body.” Kazantzakis, “You’ve drunk and eaten well, my lads, on festive shores, /until the feast within you turned to dance and laughter.”

The conductor punches my green ticket but I’m way gone. Back to one of my summers in Crete, I’m on the back of my lover’s motorcycle tilted close to the road on mountain curves, my arms around his torso, my face hiding in the safety of his hair. Here life is filled with death. It’s the truth.

Later, the long driveway seems especially so in the ice cold car. The empty house stands larger, quieter than when I drove away from it at noon.