CENTO


Is a writer guilty of writing a patchwork (cento) of other authors works or opinions? Probably. The very act of communication introduces us to ideas not of our own making which we develop and embellish until even the original purveyor has trouble recognizing or claiming as his own.

Nobel-prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot’s observation is relevant to centos:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds is theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”

Two examples of centos; The Oxford Cento by David Lehman and The Dong With the Luminous Nose by John Ashbery

Those of us who read or watch a lot of movies see centos in everything. Haven’t you thought to yourself “Oh, I read that in F. Scott Fitzgerald,” or actually knew the next line of dialogue in a movie? They say there is nothing new under the sun, and only so many stories to be told. Just tweak them a little and you may have a best seller. Just be sure to do a good job of your pilfering.

Touch the Earth
“Touch The Earth” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In rummaging through the books of poetry in my library looking for a particular one, I came upon a book of James Kavanaugh with an inscription from my daughter in 1979. I had forgotten it and I’m happy to have discovered it again.

The following poem is NOT a Cento, but it does have a relation to those who touch the earth.

TO THOSE WHO WALK EASY ON THE EARTH
by James Kavanaugh

To those who know:
that the desert flowers will bloom
when the oil rigs are silent;

that trees will again stand tall
over the ashes of forgotten wars;

that no one can take away the sunrise
or the smells of spring.

To those:
who walk easy on the earth.

THE SECRET


AUDREY MABEE

THE SECRET

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(Through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what’ I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

poem by Denise Leverton
image: Audrey Mabee

Where’s the wisdom? We’ve lost the information.” t.s. eliot

GOD’S SPECIAL CHILDREN


My cousin Kendall passed away this past year at the age of sixty-one years as we count chronologically, but he never grew up. Kendall was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and had Down Syndrome. His parents, my aunt and uncle, lived over seas for thirty years, and nothing much was being done at that time anywhere in early education for the mentally handicapped or the parents. Abnormalities in a birth always come as a surprise to parents happily looking forward to a life filled with so-called normal expectations, but to older parents living in a third world country, Kendie’s birth was heartbreaking and unexpected.

Their initial and common reaction was to take the blame. “what have I done?” “How could I have prevented this?”

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
The average IQ of a young adult with Down Syndrome is 50, or equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9- year old child, but this varies widely. Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life, ideally from birth on. In the past, the life expectancy was about 30 years, but now it is about 50 or 60. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans, occurring in about one per 1,000 babies born each year. It is a lifelong condition, but with care and support, children who have Down syndrome grow up to have healthy, happy, productive lives.

Fortunately so much has changed in public acceptance of the mentally challenged. A hundred years ago, these people were kept in a back bedroom, and lived out their brief lives alone and unseen. It was assumed that they were incapable of learning, and even their existence was kept a somewhat shameful secret.

Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. My daughter earned her college degree in the study of the mentally challenged, some of whom had Down Syndrome. Specialized education is a wide open field and now some children with Down syndrome are educated in typical school classes. Some individuals with Down Syndrome graduate from high school and a few attend post-secondary education. In adulthood, about 20% in the U.S. do paid work in some capacity with many requiring a sheltered work environment.

Kendall’s life fell in the middle of an “enlightenment” period in that though he was ubable to participate in an early-childhood education in Saudi Arabia, he was later sent to a school in the U.S. where he lived throughout his life. He never grew beyond the size of a 9-10 year old, and he was always cheerful and happy as a small child, with a big smile lighting his face when he was pleased or when he recognized a friend. These people live at the very pinnacle of innocence. It is we who need the education to accept them for what they are, God’s Special Children

About 35 years ago, a friend with two young sons called early one morning to tell us of the birth of a fourth son. This family prided itself on building good health, strength and athletic ability. Each was proficient in sports. As Dr. Advice answered the phone, I caught a slight change of expression as he said “Maybe God thought you needed a cheerleader for your basketball team.” He had promptly diverted the conversation from one of mixed feelings into one of positive anticipation. Their fourth son had Down Syndrome.

At the time the University of Washington had a concentrated study of the condition, and the mother of this child went there from California and learned what was being done to educate babies from birth. Instead of waiting for several years before teaching basic skills, Blair began immediately being prepared to live in the mainstream of society. Before speech, he was taught sign language, which hastened his communication skills.

As soon as possible, Blair’s mother took him into school classes and introduced him, explaining to the students that he had Down Syndrome and what it was. When old enough, he was enrolled in school and treated just as any other student. He was never made to feel “different” or out of the loop. His mother organized a baseball club made up of mentally challenged children, which developed their concept of team play, and their natural joy in physical activity. She even went to members of the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team and appealed to them for pieces of athletic equipment, which they gladly donated, taking the little team under their wing.

To see Blair today, with his show of confidence and compare him to Kendall, a lot can be attributed to his early training.

Years ago, when Blair was about 5, I received this poem from one of his older brothers while he was a student at U.S.C.

My brother Blair, was born with Down Syndrome, a form of mental handicap. December 1990

BROTHER, by Sean Hogan

Brother so kind, how can it be?
Brother “What happened? How come he can’t see?
Brother I’m sorry; you will never be like me.
Brother your life will set me free.

Mother please, the blame will never be known.
Mother in this life, the harvest can not be resown.
Mother worry not so much for him.
Mother cry more for me and Tim.

Father others expectations may run too high.
Father friends will come, fear, and say goodbye.
Father they say patience and time can only tell.
Father without you, his life will surely be Hell.

Grandpa, has Peter now become your best Friend?
Grandpa, how come you never stayed till the end?

(As Peter denied the knowledge of knowing Christ, Grandpa tries to deny Blair’s existence and relationship to him.)

THE SECRET LIFE OF DAISIES


garden gate 3

When I heard that daisies have a secret life, I decided to set out immediately to discover what it is. How dare this common garden dweller have a “secret life”? I soon found out that daisies never tell. Not to be discouraged, I proceeded at once to retrace my steps and lift a few stones along the way.

Through the garden gate to the little haus in the bottom of the garden, I peeked inside to see if there were any trace of a daisy. On my way I found marigolds, geraniums, pelargoniums, roses both prim and not, but not a daisy.

Little House

Painters, sculptors, poets and writers from all over the world have celebrated the garden’s beauty, mystery and frustration it can bring.
red winged blackbird 2
The robin’s song at daybreak
Is a clarion call to me. Get up and get out in the garden
For the morning hours flee.

I cannot resist the summons,
What earnest gardener could?
For the golden hours of morning
Get into the gardener’s blood.

The magic spell is upon me,
I’m glad that I did not wait;
For life’s at its best in the morning,
As you pass through the garden gate.

I peeked inside and found sunflowers, pots of ivy, mementos from a misspent youth, a few ragtag animal pictures, but not a daisy in sight.

little haus2
This little corner of pleasure bringing comfort to a tired gardener is where I ponder the important chores of my day.

little haus

Out the door, I see the trees are budding, and Spring is nearly upon us. Charlie lounges comfortably on the warm brick, unaware of daisies and their secrets.

221

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom, they just open up and turn toward the light, and that makes them beautiful. Jim Carrey

Gardens heighten nature’s wild language by simplifying it, by sieving its complex messages to extract a choice kernel; a subtle flow of time; a boundary that is and yet isn’t; a balance born of imbalances. We amplify natures messages when we build a garden and in turn the garden awakens us with those thoughts. Sitting and reflecting, drawn into the garden and out of ourselves, we find we are aware of familiar things in ways we weren’t before, granted, if only for a brief moment.

A pleasant hour spent in this garden with its scent of sweet alyssum and roses, laughing at the flight of angry hummingbirds fighting over a single feeder and at the end, not a daisy in sight. Daisies really DO have a secret life.

THE NAMING OF CATS


catss 2

THE NAMING OF CATS, BY T.S. ELIOT

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all,there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkstrap, Quazo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But the CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable, effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

T.S. Eliot was the inspiration and wrote the lyrics for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical CATS. It was based upon “OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS”. Old Possum was the name Eliot used for himself in playing with his godchildren.

220px-BookOfPracticalCats

ON SUNDAYS


rice paddy

ON SUNDAYS

On Sundays students who can afford to,
take English lessons to work

for parents who work
in English because English

is where the money is. But
she doesn’t teach English, Sundays

she walks two miles deeper
from the building, where she lives

with other teachers, to find
students weaving bamboo baskets

while watching younger siblings, then
walks between rice fields to

rice fields to find their parents.
And waits. At break or lunch

under a tree, she listens to them
say, the words don’t feed

the stomach. Yet she comes
so that by evening, when they arrive

home, they find her in the yard
drawing words on the dirt

while students work and watch
and say. Then they eat dinner.

Over rice and yam, boiled water
cress and salted radish, they find

other things that feed the stomach:
the height she’s gained with mud

sticking to her thongs; or, as the children
say it, their heads thrown back

in open-mouth laugh, the bamboo snapped
at her weaving; or the way “l”

is tall and skinny, and then “b”
is “l” with their father’s stomach. Soon

her students come to class
because the teacher is nice

and parents don’t want her
to walk so far on Sundays.

(Poem by Nhan Trinh)

RAINY DAYS


Mabee Image: Audrey Mabee

RAINY DAYS

My mind works as it has been trained to—
With logic, rhyme and reason.
But the world is an extremely silly place,
And I cannot expect any of these things.
The darkest voice calls to me from within,
And I try to ignore it, to distract myself.
I try to quiet my mind, to shroud it and keep it
from whispering its cruel realities to me.
Cover my ears with your hands and protect me
like an umbrella from the torrent
of rain that only falls to me.

A THIRD HAND COUCH


SOFA

A THIRD HAND COUCH

What is in everyone’s living room?
Couch, sofa, divan or at least
Something to sit upon.

We had wedding rings and silverware
and a rented maroon something
which belonged to Aunt Helen.

Father talked old Harry Hal
out of a salvageable relic
just for the fun of the bargain.

Dirty, torn and uninviting
With stuffing reaching out of horsehair
Yet for 20 bucks it was his gift.

Second hand stores hold mysteries
Unbeknownst to most who
shy from pursuing a treasure.

Suddenly beside the wedding ring
and the silverware
We had a someday couch or sofa.

The antique relic meanwhile
fermented further in the dark
enclave of the in law garage.

The tack man came with bolts of
Green velvet and transformed
the orphan with magic. And reborn,

the foundling proudly lived again
in another living room where
it took pride of place.

One day, green velvet faded and
looking a bit shabby, it knocked on the door
of the wedding ring and silverware.

The tack man came again with bolts
of color for figureheads of polished wood.

Where is the next someone who has
Wedding rings and silverware but
nothing to sit upon?

A TOAST TO JOHN BARLEYCORN


Edouard_Manet_006Some of us refer to this season as “Fall”, while to others it is “Autumn”, I suppose it depends upon which part of the country one comes from. At any rate, the season between summer and winter prior to the 17th century was referred to as harvest season, and wheat, corn and barley were at their ripest before the winter freeze. The hops too were ready for harvest, which incidentally provided the raw materials and may led to the making of more flavorful beer, since the hops provided the “seasoning” or flavor to the beer.

I have written before about the year during the War, when Oregon’s hop crop was in dire prospect of drying on the bines for lack of harvesters. The city of Grants Pass, Oregon actually closed down banks, shops and postponed school openings. The entire town came out and picked the crop. I was one of the high school students who faithfully arrived at daybreak and stripped the bines of their glory.

hops2

The process of barley harvesting was revered and even mythologized. The song or poem “John Barleycorn” is primarily an allegorical story of death, resurrection, and drinking. The main character, John Barleycorn, is the personification of barley, which is attacked, beaten, and eventually dies—or as we prefer to think of it, grown, reaped, and then malted.

After John Barleycorn’s death, he is resurrected as beer, bread and whiskey, a reference some say, to Christian transubstantiation. There are many different versions of the story, which began appearing around 1568. Scottish poet Robert Burns published his own take on the story in 1782. In the British folksong, John Barleycorn is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whiskey. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

170px-The_Brewer_designed_and_engraved_in_the_Sixteenth._Century_by_J_Amman

Countless versions of the song exist, and though it wasn’t the original, Robert Burns version became the model for most subsequent versions of the ballad. In later years, the words were put to music and one of the most famous of these is by the band Traffic on their 1970 album, “John Barleycorn Must Die”.

An early English version runs like this:

There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try;
And these three men made a solemn vow; John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
Til these three men were satisfied John Barleycorn was dead.

Jack London gave the title John Barleycorn to his 1913 autobiographical novel that tells of his struggle with alcoholism.

220px-Edouard_Manet_-_At_the_Café_-_Google_Art_Project

As truly sad as I am for the death of John Barleycorn, I am happy to say that this years’ harvest has provided the opportunity for many Octoberfest celebrations. We were guests at a local Octoberfest two weeks ago, where eight different beers were sampled, after being served by authentic “German” frauleins dressed in charming costume, and pretzels, German sausage, polka dancing and music got the blood flowing.

220px-Oktoberfest2
Munich Octoberfest

The two paintings were by Eduard Manet, At the Cafe

SECOND CHANCES


stairway “Heavenly Stairway” Original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

SECOND CHANCES

Ask the way to the river.
Don’t go where others lead you.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.

You can’t go back
to come to this place

where inkstained
marks on a kitchen door

show where the top
of your head once reached.

Life was warm and safe
on top of the hill, but

childhood trust in strangers
took your childhood.

Don’t go back to sleep
Girl with golden hair.

Sometimes all someone needs
is a second chance.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.