Remembering Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

This is a photo I took of a farm that was once a thriving dairy farm just down the road from our farm in Northwestern Wisconsin.  I worked in that barn helping milk a herd of 80 cows and putting up hay in the loft.  Some 30 years later I revisited and this was all that was left, side boards flapping in the wind.  Bankers closed on the farm for debt, and the family who’d owned it for generations moved to town and did what they could to get by.

Remembering Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

By S.W. Cosgrove

Can you can go home again?
You can go to the place you once knew,
and it will be there
Just not as you remembered, not really

Prepare yourself with vague, misty memories of farms,
green hills, deep woods, and shimmering ponds, eagles soaring above
A big river pulsing over the rocks, under bridges, wandering through riverine sloughs
Catfish lying still on the bottom, unblinking, wary of the hook

The old river still runs deep, still carrying its waters to the sea far away
But the hills have been leveled and covered with subdivisions,
the woods cut and thinned with no eagle nests towering above
The ponds filled and blacktopped

Yes, you can go home again, but
it’s not your home, anymore
It’s home to others who may one day return there
looking for their old home
And it will be there, but not really

Fly Away

cherry crumb cake

Fly Away

S.W. Cosgrove

While I was reading an essay on essays, sipping and inhaling the fragrance of a smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, the charry liquid washing down the last of my cherry crumb cake, a fly landed on the cake dish.

There were just a few scraps left, some crumbs and a drop or two of sugary cherry paste.

My first impulse was to flick the bothersome insect away, intruder, pestiferous fly.

But as I watched the little creature wax his translucent wings hopping over the plate, tasting here and there, I thought – lucky fly! What a find on this quiet evening: cherry crumb cake.

I watched the fly’s pleasure and greed at his unexpected, most wonderful treat. Possibly the best meal ever in his short life.

And I thought – that damned fly has as much integrity as any creature on this earth. Certainly in this room. Just earning an honest living and enjoying a nice supper, including desert. Cherry cake crumbs.  Pursuing a life of integrity.

He finished his cherry crumb cake while I finished my tea, then off he flew.  Fortunately, he didn’t send any of his comrades to finish the job.

I poured a whisky and returned to my essay on essays.

Balvenie12SB

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge – Robert Burns (1759–1796)

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge

When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev’ning, as I wander’d forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem’d weary, worn with care;
His face furrow’d o’er with years,
And hoary was his hair.

“Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?”
Began the rev’rend sage;
“Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.

“The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride;-
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev’ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.

“O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours-
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives Nature’s law.
That man was made to mourn.

“Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want-oh! ill-match’d pair-
Shew man was made to mourn.

“A few seem favourites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap carest;
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev’ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro’ weary life this lesson learn,
That man was made to mourn.

“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

“See yonder poor, o’erlabour’d wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho’ a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

“If I’m design’d yon lordling’s slave,
By Nature’s law design’d,
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow’r
To make his fellow mourn?

“Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!

“O Death! the poor man’s dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow
From pomp and pleasure torn;
But, oh! a blest relief for those
That weary-laden mourn!”

Dharma. Billy Collins

Dharma by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

Rain Light – W.S. Merwin

Photo: S.W. Cosgrove

 

From W.S. Merwin’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2008).

RAIN LIGHT

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

“My Heart’s in the Highlands” Robert Burns

Robert-Burns-012

Arvo Pärt, Else Torp, and Christopher Bowers

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

Bluebird. Charles Bukowski


there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold. By William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

“Solitude” by Rainer Maria Rilke 

Solitude
Rainer Maria Rilke

Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening;
from plains, which are distant and remote,
it goes to the sky, which always has it.
And only then it falls from the sky on the city.

It rains down in the in-between hours,
when all the crooked streets turn toward morning,
and when the bodies, which found nothing,
leave each other feeling sad and disappointed;
and when the people, who hate each other,
have to sleep together in one bed:

then solitude flows with the rivers . . .

“Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry

QUESTIONNAIRE
by Wendell Berry

  1. How much poison are you willing
    to eat for the success of the free
    market and global trade? Please
    name your preferred poisons.
  2. For the sake of goodness, how much
    evil are you willing to do?
    Fill in the following blanks
    with the names of your favorite
    evils and acts of hatred.
  3. What sacrifices are you prepared
    to make for culture and civilization?
    Please list the monuments, shrines,
    and works of art you would
    most willingly destroy.
  4. In the name of patriotism and
    the flag, how much of our beloved
    land are you willing to desecrate?
    List in the following spaces
    the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
    you could most readily do without.
  5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
    the energy sources, the kinds of security,
    for which you would kill a child.
    Name, please, the children whom
    you would be willing to kill.

With thanks to https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/08/14/wendell-berry-questionnaire-amanda-palmer/