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.

 

 

Nomad's End, The Comet's Tail

“un-memories”

 

In my latest book, The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory, I ponder the nature of memory–what we remember, what we forget, how our identities are built by and shaped by memories.  While I can’t recreate any single memory into a perfect film of the past, I can stare at the open sky of existence, trace the collective particles, and sculpt them into meaningful shapes.

A review of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory is just out from New Pages. Here’s an excerpt. Please click the link below to read more.

“. . . memories and un-memories push against each other throughout the text, the tension between them driving the narrative and forming some of the book’s most vital and memorable moments.”

New Pages

Nawrocki Broadside 2 (2)

The Sky’s Version of Truth
So what about the laziness
of light, taking its sweet old time
getting to the eye. The sky
having no reason to be false
teaches memory, a peek
of what old people must have seen:
Cassiopeia learning to dance, Orion
earning his bow, Taurus deciding
to charge. A navigator’s dream.
What the eye catches is an old light.

What we rely on most is thriftiness.
Whatever speed it takes,
the open road is just dotted lines
a tree’s last goodbye to summer,
just lament. It’s a different kind
of blindness—seeing too much
seeing with the heart, light alone
or a blade of grass.
Loving the blindness, the eye sees a pattern:
the round dome of sky,
the traffic of night, ad infinitum.
Connect the dots the sky is saying.

I see a banjo, the spokes of a wheel,
the claw of a crow catching me. Maybe
a duck-billed platypus playing the trumpet.
I can almost hear a star’s last sigh.
Perhaps legacy is spelled out
the way memory returns to you
so many years later: you remember
the leaves, the rain, the sound
of a breath stopping three rooms away.

This poem appears in Nomad’s End, published by Finishing Line Press, 2010. Order your signed and personalized copy here.

Nomad's End, Poems, Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

The Perils of Bedtime Reading

With A Brief History of Time occupying the top spot of my pile of bedside books, I’ve had space and time on my mind lately. So, four poems (small input, I know) toward a unified theory of the universe.

The Sky’s Version of Truth

So what about the laziness
of light, taking its sweet old time
getting to the eye. The sky
having no reason to be false
teaches memory, a peek
of what old people must have seen:
Cassiopeia learning to dance, Orion
earning his bow, Taurus deciding
to charge. A navigator’s dream.
What the eye catches is an old light.

What we rely on most is thriftiness.
Whatever speed it takes,
the open road is just dotted lines
a tree’s last goodbye to summer,
just lament. It’s a different kind
of blindness—seeing too much
seeing with the heart, light alone
or a blade of grass.
Loving the blindness, the eye sees a pattern:
the round dome of sky,
the traffic of night, ad infinitum.
Connect the dots the sky is saying.

I see a banjo, the spokes of a wheel,
the claw of a crow catching me. Maybe
a duck-billed platypus playing the trumpet.
I can almost hear a star’s last sigh.
Perhaps legacy is spelled out
the way memory returns to you
so many years later: you remember
the leaves, the rain, the sound
of a breath stopping three rooms away.

 

Time Travel

The summer after the diagnosis
we visited their beach house on the Cape,
taking the route through those warped
highways, drawbridges, and rotaries
made for delirium.

What to talk about with my mother’s friends
but the growth of children and the palace
of sea breeze, while the bug zapper
murdered hordes of bugs. What to say
of radiation treatment? What to say
of closure, that our meeting here
is the beginning of goodbye.

That night I met neighborhood kids,
joined them for bonfire and beers,
and dreamt of snakes.

 

After the First Kiss

Venus enters the fourth chamber,
meanders like a comet
through the claret landscape.
Finding it pleasantly blood filled,
she maroons and takes in the scope,
settles where the black holes leading
to outer galaxies close and open
mechanically, leaving no light.

Reclining with the boon of ancient history
pulsing like a red giant around her,
it’s no wonder she feels safe here
in the calibrated darkness. It is time,
she thinks, to postulate the theory,
time to introduce a little magic
into this hollow topography.

And with the red shift, she exits
taking with her tales of time travel
and the red fire of oxygen.
Slipping past the mouth’s gate,
she exchanges the good air and leaves
the secrets of human love.

 

While Constellations Sleep

I press my lips against your cheek,
brush a loose strand from your head,
and fold into midnight blue slumber.
Night watches over its sleepyheads
as a dim light trickles between the slant
of the curtains—perhaps the moon,
perhaps a lonely streetlight peeking in,
searching for companions to embrace.
The kittens tiptoe in, waking me to gaze
silently out the window. But I cannot see
the stars tonight; Orion’s belt brightens
someone’s sky beyond the clouds, beyond
the glossy shell of New Haven’s bubble of light.
The dippers are out of reach, the dragon

has slowed his brutal tail, resting above
the horizon. But I see the constellations
of your face even as you sleep. Wishing
to rescue light from the galaxies you dream,
I trace the pattern of your eyelashes and
telescope into the nebula of your love.

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Nomad's End, Poems, Signed Copies, Uncategorized

Not entirely idle

Happy Fall! Here’s a poem from Nomad’s End, published by Finishing Line Press. Purchase a personalized signed copy of the chapbook by clicking here . I’ll pick up the shipping!

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Occupation of Autumn

Afternoon on the last day of September
begins with sun shifting across
the tiara of sky. The equinox has passed
and autumn carefully plots
her revenge against the vacancy of summer.
Bulbs await planting, else
the vernal daffodils won’t appear,
and soon the cascade of burnt orange leaves
will need raking. But for now
the lists of unaccomplished tasks
grow like unweeded sprouts
left to frolic in the dormant flower boxes.

Yet we are not entirely idle
and do our own plotting, opening
the screen door, filling the feeder.
Anticipating migration, it dangles
under the porch overhang, filled
with kernels for sparrows and squirrels.
When they exit for afternoon naps,
the feeder flutters in the soft breeze:
a mirror ball, a festival of white patches
kaleidoscoping in a living room lightshow.
The day continues shifting; soon
the dance of light will vanish
as surely as the frost will come,
purposeful in its vocation.

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Nomad's End

Late Comers

A poem from Nomad’s End, published by Finishing Line Press, 2010.

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Amateurs

What logic is in the spray of water
on our faces as the speed boat takes us to shore
in the late September evening. Our crew
moves along volcanic wreckage—a cast-iron skillet
melted and covering the land with a thick, black sheath.
Retracing Darwin’s steps, we encounter
marine iguanas creeping out of the tide
on inch-legs, sunning the skin of their necks,
as two wide winged albatrosses fence
with long beaks. As they dance, we search
for proof, follow footprints to the cliff
where the balloon-throated frigate bird blooms
in red love. We stumble upon two tortoises
mating in the forest under the ground cover
green and thick with storm-tossed debris.
They sing praise for 200 years of love. They know
what late-comers we are to this world, amateurs
attempting logic, dance, reproduction.
We’re just spectators, ruffling in the leaves,
horsing around, standing hitched
and still on this earth.

Nomad's End, Poems

From Nomad’s End, Finishing Line Press, 2010

Before Your Train Leaves

a handful of minutes need to morph
into their shape, crust like atoms
becoming a molecule and tell a story
with thrift. No time to dawdle.
Back-story, established by your eyes,
advances the plot, though I am more interested
with the syllables of touch than
the tactility of speech. We pool
into the sparse bed and handle
each other like pottery clay, mold ourselves
into familiar shapes. I smooth
your back as moments hoof between
the walls of the room. They assemble
in the sphere of a clock above our heads.
Before your train leaves, the hands
will complete their circle; our story
will end as most do, with goodbyes
filling the grooves between scripts.

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Nomad's End, Uncategorized

Until Nomading Ends

Giving up the shell can be hard, but so worth it. After nomading, we find home.

Abandonment

Naked, the crab forgets
his hermit ways, creeping
in the oyster underworld,
brushing against minnow fins
and ugly red claws, until
nomading ends, and a home,
spiraled in calcium, appears.

A watery cosmos of green
awaits the refugee shell;
the sea is populated
by old dwellings, discarded
by molting crustaceans, spit out
for sand diggers and souvenir
hunters, strangled by a scarf
of seaweed or broken
with gravity’s axe, swung
by the long hand of the moon.
From Nomad’s End, 2010 Finishing Line Press

 

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