explications, Nomad's End, Poems

Close Reading the Wood-pile

About this time every year, when the leaves begin to fall and the soil is perpetually wet and cushiony, I begin to long, strangely enough, for comfortable measurements. The three deer who’ve visited our lawn came back this second morning, so that’s a start. The tiny, unrecognizable bird (sparrow? finch?) fluttered in and out of the green down of a dense cedar pine. She disappeared into the brush, gone long enough for me to miss her, then darted back into sight without a “word to tell me who [she] was.”

Scanning the autumn woods and contemplating birds and future snow, I spot a recently constructed woodpile and recall Robert Frost’s poem “The Wood-pile.” Like my fluttering finch and grazing deer, I’d like to be “someone who [lives] in turning to fresh tasks” enough to forget the handiwork raking leaves, snapping photos, tracing straight lines. Enough to read the landscape with the mind to “go on farther.”

This close-read of the poem appeared in the winter 2007-2008 issue of Umbrella: A Journal of Kindred Poetry and Prose.

the wood pile

In the often overlooked poem “The Wood-Pile,” Robert Frost explores the human life cycle, particularly the process of aging. The speaker is in a middle stage of life, about to embark on the winter of old age, which corresponds to the setting of the poem. Because the speaker is “out walking” in this cold setting, “far from home,” he is transplanted and in an uncomfortable environment. The reader can surmise that a transformation is likely to take place here. The first scene’s elements, “hard snow,” the view of trees “all in lines” that were “too much alike to mark by name or place” give a bleak and uncertain sense to the scene. In this manner, nature is discomforting. It is only the “hard snow” that keeps him there, as the culmination of his life work in old age will give purpose.

He encounters a bird; the bird leads him to a woodpile bound by a tree and a stake. We can read that the bird’s literal purpose is to show dissimilarity between man and bird and the misunderstanding that occurs between them, largely due to the bird’s innocence or naiveté. Bird and narrator are separated literally by a tree: “He was careful/To put a tree between us when he lighted.” Metaphorically, they are separated by age and wisdom. The bird represents a youthful figure, being “small” and foolish, taking “everything said as personal to himself,” as one unsophisticated in the ways of the world might do.

Similarly, like a young person, the bird mistakenly thinks the speaker is after his tail feather. The white feather, in contrast to winter’s white, could be taken as a symbol of innocence. Like the trees that are “too much alike to mark or name a place by,” the bird gives “no word to tell me who he was.” Both the tree and bird’s identities are lost in anonymity. Before the speaker is able to forget the bird for the pile, he must let the bird lead him there. These lines serve not only as transitions, but as thematic devices. Perhaps in his own younger days, he might have gone the way of the bird, but now does not wish the bird “good-night.”

With his description of the woodpile, the speaker contrasts earlier images by stating “not another like it could I see.” Unlike the trees and bird, the decaying woodpile is unique. He also moves from living images to the “dead” woodpile, and here the poem takes a dramatic turn. Frost states, “It was older sure than this year’s cutting,” telling us that the woodpile represents the declining years of life. A pristine quality prevails near the pile as “no runner tracks…looped near it.” And: “The wood was gray and bark warping off it/And the pile somewhat sunken.” Such lines evoke an aging man, his hair grey and his head balding, his body and bones sloped drooping. The vine, like a man’s work, wraps or consumes his life, a theme that echoes in the last lines. The growing tree and falling stake contrast, and represent what holds the aging man—his living familial ties and his cane.

At the emotional fulcrum of the poem, the poet looks at what has come before—the bird, the pile—and works toward a contemplative resolution. The final lines are the antithesis of what has come before, showing us there is purpose. On the one hand, the poet asks what kind of person could leave such art idle, while on the other asserts that art has a function of its own. In aging, we often think our usefulness will decay and we will be abandoned by “someone who lived in turning fresh tasks.” But Frost does not leave the pile “far from a useful fireplace” without final value. Though abandoned, it “warms the frozen swamp.” In a remarkable reversal of common thought, Frost conjectures that it may be in the winter of life when we find fulfillment. He certainly concludes that work and art have persistent, smoldering meaning, even beyond a living end.

 

 

Uncategorized

Companionship and Inspiration

Finding your muse

Amy Nawrocki

Sing to Me
Sing to me, Oh heavenly Muse,
Sing of the sea, “wine dark” and full of mysteries;
Sing your generous musings into my untamed ears,
Guide me to places where islands peek out and crest from the ocean’s swell of waves.

Speak to me of sailing, foreign speaking travelers, roads and pathways winding and      steep, gravel covered, tree-lined and mountain rich, those which frame
the ocean’s mighty blue-black plentitudes in their sights.

Sing to me of gannets; the birds of prehistory captured in flight, white winged with sun-touched caps and eyes blue as the empty sky.

Sing to me of porcupines, earth dwellers of the spiny quills, shy and clover-munching; Sing of rabbits tramping through forests, stealing a moment to look out and survey the
open path, only to scurry playfully into the underbrush.

Bring to my ears the far-away call of the coyotes, watching over the mountain…

View original post 77 more words

Poems, Uncategorized

Lifting the dead

When I switched from squats to deadlifts a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was a little sad to give away one metaphor–carrying myself out of a burning building–for that of another–lifting the dead. But I got over it pretty quick, metaphorically at least.

And I could say that my efforts are wrapped around notions of becoming a new, better, stronger person by disposing of that old, “dead” self. I could say that with every lift I’m fighting off the terrors of a bleak, immobile future. I could say that weight lifting allows me to lift away a yolk of self-doubt and emerge, 82.5 pounds later with superpower insight and unwavering badassness. But that’s not the case at all.

squatrack 1

You won’t believe me, but I do it for words.

Squat: to “thrust down with force,” (modern English) from the Old French, “esquatir” (to flatten) by way of Latin “cogere” (compel).  Crush, crouch in hiding.

The origin of “deadlift” apparently dates back to the Roman empire, to soldiers lifting the dead off the battlefield.  A literal origin, we could say.

Lift: from Old Norse “lypta” (“upper room, sky air”) and Middle English “luft” (“air, sky, heaven”).

And also this: Dead:  of water, “still, standing,” from Proto-Germanic.

img_20180819_122722_493

I do it because poetry is strong and words matter. So, this too:

Fitness

On a good day the bar is clear, cage
empty, uncluttered. On a good day
I have to stack my own black disks
and clip them tight. One solitary
bough waits for me to strap it onto
my back and climb the mountain
of steel and circumstance.

I brace, measure my grip, shoulders
strong and lithe, and command muscle
to contract. No chalk, no gloves, no talk,
no audience of men, no breath besides
this one. In the mirror I see her,
the one who devours concrete,
chase the past away with stinging arrows.

The Comet's Tail, Uncategorized

Award winning medical narratives

Thanks to poet Cortney Davis for her review of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory posted in LitMed: Literature Arts Medicine Database sponsored by NYU Health. This is an excellent database which curates the human condition. Cortney’s poetry collection Taking Care of Time is also featured on LitMed. I’m proud to be included as one of the featured authors. Here is an excerpt:

This little book (little both in page numbers and in its 4×6 inch dimension) is a beautifully written contemplation not only of what happened to the author’s memory during and after illness, but of memory itself, its twists and turns and mysteries.  Is memory reliable?  Nawrocki notes how the memories of family and friends sometimes didn’t jive with the official documents: “I toggle between the subjectivity of other people’s memories and the objectivity of chest x-rays and EKGs” (page 27). And if eleven people write about an event are they all telling the same story? “At least eleven people tell the story of Amy on June 18th when I arrive in ‘soft restraints'” (page 19).  At book’s end, the author writes, “Memory is a thing; remembering is an action, ongoing” (page 46). In these pages she gives us a wonderful story, a memory of a time with no memory, in poetic language, with compassion and eloquence.

In other news, The Comet’s Tail was awarded the Mind Body Spirit Gold Medal from Living Now Book Awards, which celebrate the innovation and creativity of newly published books that enhance the quality of our lives.

Purchase a copy of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory at Homebound Publications, Amazon, or your favorite independent bookseller.

Nawrocki Broadside 6 (2)

The Comet's Tail, Uncategorized

Scars and How We Wear Them

 

“I’m looking for a soap dish. . . . ” This is how I begin “Giving up the Chokehold,” an essay about searching and about finding. What I find first is a necklace, actually a bunch of them, “chokers I haven’t worn in years.”  One, is woven into a braid, “a thin zig-zag, like trim binding from an old sewing kit. I try this one on. As it’s supposed to, it chokes me.”

Scars, no matter where they lie on our bodies or if we can see them, have a way of silencing us with their visibility. At the very least, they shape who we are. Sometimes we wear them as badges of pain; sometimes we wear them as badges of victory. How to get from one endpoint to another is what that found necklace helped me discover.

When I think back on it, most of the time spent on cover-ups and self-consciousness is rooted in a worldview that I’m not ashamed to hold. There are others in the world whose scar stories are much more heroic. I don’t think my story is heroic because everyone has scars . . .

Hear the full account, here

“Giving up the Chokehold” picks up about 28 minutes into the third part of the Episode One of The Vanguard Podcast.

animal animal photography avian beak
Photo by Ibrahim Nasouf on Pexels.com
Poems, Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Why We Walk

The_Funeral_of_Shelley_by_Louis_Edouard_Fournier

Byron and Shelley

As we trudged along the varied paths
of the Highland Way you did not let go
to cry, though legs ached with pain
and skewed nerves slipped out of place
screaming for you to stop.

Our last night before we go home,
I read Trelawny’s Recollections
of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron:
Percy’s funeral muddies my mind,
but I cannot unhinge the sable-eyed rival
or the torture of a lame and disfigured foot
that shamed Byron all his days. How skilled
we are at pushing our deformities into
the deepest alcove then turning away from them,
lest they outpace and overcome us.

A red-haired boy—more than a boy—
a young man—travels with us
on the flight back home. His father
who is grey and wears glasses
accompanies him. I see that the boy
is blind, and think he is—how
to say this kindly—lame of mind,
though as I watch him and his father
pace back to their seats, I see that he is
purely sightless, and I feel cruel for thinking
it was something more. All this time

I thought that it was me we were walking for,
the mess upon me and the volume of days
yet unwritten tensing with uncertainty,
smudged with hieroglyphs of caned figures
and the imposing arc of wheels.
Waiting out the rain in Philadelphia
my head slumped in exhaustion, your legs
extended in a futile stretch, I grasp
what it was we were really walking for:

the German girls whom we’ll not see again;
for Gerry, our sturdy guardian, agile as a buoy,
flecks of white in his hair and a harness of years
on his back; for the moments between the rain;

what every boy’s blindness wants to possess;
for Byron’s feet and the contents of Shelley’s coat pockets
washed up on a shore we haven’t yet visited
and may not ever walk upon.

The poem appears in Reconnaissance, published in 2017 by Homebound Publications. Louis Édouard Fournier, The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, oil on canvas, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons