THE STORKS OF EDAM Jonathan Aldrich
This book is dedicated to Ed Douglas great friend and teacher
Appreciation is given to the following publications in which these poems first appeared: “The Beloit Poetry Journal”: “The Blot”; “Puckerbrush Journal”: “Generation,” to which xvii has been added; “Summer Lines,” an anthology of five poets: “The Father,” “For Mother’s Day” Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan Aldrich All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form without permission, except for brief quotations used in reviews and critical articles. Rights to the poems in this collection are reserved by the author. Cover Art: Alison Hildreth, graphite and ink wash on rice paper Design: Alina Gallo Original Photography: Jay York
Bakery Studios 61 Pleasant Street Portland, Maine
CONTENTS Christmas Letter 7 The Father 8 Two Painters 9 Bedtime Reading to My Son 11 From the Beach 12 The Storm-Petrel 13 The Blot 14 The Loved Ones 18 The Storks of Edam 19 For Motherâ€™s Day 20 Generation 23
C H R I S T MAS LE TT E R Suddenly the childless couples I knew have children heading for college. A baby I knew is taking a wife. Th e p o e m s I m e m o r i z e d i n y o u t h a r e g o n e . I t â€™s t i m e t o c h a n g e m y l i f e . No one has learned to live snugly. To o m a n y w a r s a n d h u r r i c a n e s and corruption in high places. Much lower down, my cards at bridge are ludicrous: no kings or aces. An d y e t w h a t m a k e s t h i s h a p p i n e s s I feel when I survey my wife and home and children and a Sunday snow falling like meditation? Finally who can say what grace is?
T H E FAT H E R Le t m e t a k e y o u b y t h e h a n d , o l d g e n t l e m a n . T h e r e m a y b e a f e w s t o r i e s w e h a v e nâ€™t t o l d each other and the hour is late now. Both of us are growing old (and you are a good deal older than I am). Th e r e i s n o o t h e r w a y to the shore than by the trees. It is better than you think to be blind. Te l l e r o f t a l e s , o f b e a u t i f u l l o n g s t o r i e s , where are you going, and how? Something is still asking us to find my soul again, we have so much to say. Quieter quieter here, it is a land o f w a t e r s . Le t m e t a k e y o u b y t h e h a n d .
TW O PAI N T E R S i. Constable Nobody painted clouds better than Constable, his off-hand watercolors of clouds over Hampstead, Sussex, and the flat countrysides, so lightly unassuming, unlike the more official studio-driven oils that fight and fight for stature. An d h e c o u l d b e a m u s i n g in small domestic battles, such as the note he left to his home-delivery milkman: â€œT o m o r r o w p l e a s e l e a v e t h e m i l k a n d w a t e r i n s e p a r a t e b o t t l e s .â€?
ii. Matisse “ Pa i n t b r u s h i n o n e h a n d , r a g in the other!” one competitor brags. But if you simply dab the errors off your canvas and dance off waving a rag at people left behind who dangle in the dazzle of your brilliance, your dance carries you nowhere. Matisse would say: “If I find a weakness in the whole I work my way back into the painting through that weakness. I re-enter through the breech a n d r e c o n c e i v e t h e w h o l e .”
B E D T I M E R EAD I N G T O MY S O N R e v e r e n d B a b b i n g t o n’s d e a d . I t i s n’t f a i r - - a n i c e o l d cleric like that, discomforted, debonair, who should have enjoyed the party instead. He was sipping a dry martini when he keeled over, leaving a genuine query as to cause. It might have been simple infirmity. Or suicide. Or murder. It could have been accidental b u t H e r c u l e Po i r o t d o e s n’t t h i n k s o , n o , a n d w e d o n’t t h i n k s o e i t h e r .
FROM THE BEACH Because y o u a r e c o m i n g home to me t o d a y the stripe of a luckystone runs through the sky.
T H E S T O R M - PE T R E L As i f h e h a d m u c h t o g o t h r o u g h he alighted on the stern of our boat and looked around. Sharply. (Momentarily, nothing moves.) Small and black with a whitish rump and square tipped tail--we knew. H e d i d nâ€™t l i n g e r , a l l t o o soon was off to skim the waves.
T H E B LO T Herman Rorschach (1884-1992) was the son of a painter. He began his clinical studies inspired by Justinius Kerner’s Klecksographien, a nightmarish collection of notes and visual images that ironically (considering Kerner’s suicide) had given rise to a popular, lighthearted game that we see being played by young Hermann and a student friend, Konrad, who also came to enter psychology. When Rorschach died as a relatively young man, his unfinished theories were taken up by various schools in directions that, by the evidence, he would not have intended. The poem begins with my (the writer’s) imagining young Hermann in bed at night.
I La t e r h e m u s t h a v e t h o u g h t something twittered at the night window, briefly discernible like a rustle becoming itself, it whirred and rested on the windowsill, jubilant, moonlit, whatever it was, a folded greeting with purposes it yet declined to say fully, some hazily huddled apparition in the Zurich night.
An d t h e s e blossoms falling? From the trees? I left off wanting to know an answer decades ago whether we had bats or blossoms tucked to our sycamore limbs as night came on.
II In darkness did he get up and reach his hand to the small spirit there? Something may have moved or spoken. A confrontation? a quirk of breeze under the quaint tassel? phenomena a boy could take for token joy on such a night, as childhood closes, and lie dreaming of a journey equal t o t h e b e a u t y o f h i s f a t h e r â€™s p a i n t i n g s ?
But why do I speculate when I can simply say it was-and make it just as real as the darkening air we move through, the lost puddles, spring, new buds we had forgotten?
III In a corner of the classroom at breaks Hermann and Konrad are playing Klecksographie. Li t t l e H e r m a n n a n d K o n r a d a r e l a u g h i n g t o d a y . Somewhere a tall teacher watches where formal curtains hang light in the spring sun. I t w i l l b e y e a r s b e f o r e K e r n e r â€™s s a d b o o k of blots and verses that he left behind, of ghosts and monsters, after his wife died and he died, will flutter open.
An d w h a t g a m e did I play--the name? It may have been Jackstraws, pulling a long stick loose without budging another, even the slightest quiver and you were gone.
IV So he became a serious handsome man who set ten shapes for our speculations and died too early. Th e n e v e r y t h i n g c h a n g e d : h e h a d i n t e n d e d statistical elements--how many answers, details or the whole picture, kinetic or still, and so on--not to invite ourselves or a lost part of ourselves inside, not his idea,
and yet after his death, others began to flow into his images, or seemed to, releasing here or there something to know of light and dark and longing.
T H E LO V E D O N E S Gay bones dance in the harbor. Th e i r s h i p i s c o m i n g i n . Th e b o y s w e a r l a c e , t h e g i r l s w e a r anything not has-been. Wa i t e r s i n t h e t a v e r n setting up for lunch snicker or knit their brows. T h e y d o nâ€™t l i k e t h i s b u n c h . But gay bones dance in the harbor shaking boobs and buns. A new world is coming and they are the loved ones.
THE STORKS OF EDAM This is the best but last day of visiting our son and his wife in the Netherlands. Our rent-a-car passes indolent turf where tulips will bloom later in warm weather. We stop, as a half-finale, in the village of Edam, the windows blank, shops shut, no one about. Thereâ€™s a squawking of invisible birds. We walk along a small slow-moving canal to see--possibly--the square that will sport a summer festival of cheese. Briskly before us, our son and daughter-in-law, handsome, childless, holding gloved hands, look happy. I, too, feel happy but almost childless, our son a grown man and rising musician. Beside me, from a tall tree, a shaggy-feathered bird I take for a stork swoops and glides to the far side of the canal--before returning. No one has spotted him but me. Now I notice great groups of gathered sticks like burrs in the trees and a few watching bird heads. The cool sun is falling as we return along the dark canal; a barely perceptible mist has come. I see the same stork sitting, embedded in a tangled tree; ahead, bare branches, clotted nests against the sky.
F O R M O T H E R ’S DAY I got my anima when small from one no longer here at all. Dearly I loved her, my good mother. I never wanted any other. She sang some pretty songs to me and showed me sensitivity and love for art and artistry-though later gave me growing pains b y w r i t i n g b o o k s o n Wi l l i a m J a m e s , away so much it was my curse to have a dedicated nurse I d i d n ’t r e l i s h p l a y i n g w i t h . Th e h o u s e f e l t e m p t y a s a s i e v e until those writing years were done and I became the favored one. A j o y i t w a s ! An d w h e n s o m e o n e asked at the door, “Is Mummy in, my boy?” apparently I said, “Ye s , n o w t h a t W i l l i a m J a m e s i s d e a d . ” To d a y I r e a l i z e m u c h i s g o n e , t h a t s h e w o n ’t p o s s i b l y r e t u r n , b u t w h e n I f e e l i t ’s a l l u p h i l l I can remember in her will she left me optimistic books. Ph i l o s o p h y ’s s w e e t e r t h a n i t l o o k s .
G E N E RAT I O N i W thought he was his own son, young w. W h a t â€™s g o i n g o n ? He sent young w to Spain when the occasion arose. He imagined a rose in the hair of young w2 if she could be found there. He would pay for the rose one way or another--please. O please be ours h e â€™d s a y , if occasion arose.
ii Th e c h a r a c t e r s m a y s p e a k as the curtain rises. L o s p e r s o n a j e s … Ac t i o n begins in midstream anyway, the audience catching up a s i t l i s t e n s … Lo s p e r s o n a j e s , los personajes… A play should have a theme we can state simply; eight minutes in, an audience should feel the direction of things and the probable outcome. Lo s p e r s o n a j e s p u e d e n h a b l a r …
iii Yo u n g w s a t c o m f o r t a b l y o n a veranda in Sevilla remarking the senoritas. As h e w r o t e t o t h i s f a t h e r : Estoy cansado ahora, pero !que milagro estar aquiÂĄ Son los siete y ya hace mucho calorâ€Ś But how little his father knew of the colors and culture o f An d a l u s i a - essentially nada! Moreover, this letter will send old papa to el dictionario ha ha.
iv As editor-in-chief of The Daily Sun W put much on his son w, for w was the only one. He wanted w to shine, and had many thoughts and notions along this line. Sometimes he wondered if w was a pansy because the boy didnâ€™t date around town, but he knew this couldnâ€™t be true and basically he wanted w to marry and settle down. After all, W himself was getting older. But w spent much of his time taking photographs and putting them in a folder. Perhaps the boy could turn his photographic skills to advantage? one could always use some attractive travel pictorials in the Sunday supplement instead of news. W loved to chat with his son, he knew there was something special between the two, yet always, after a spell of banter and lingering quiet spells, they fell quiet as sea shells.
v I n t h e Pl a z a d e s l o s Ve n e r a b l e s w cut a fortunate deal and looked down on orange trees in a small rectangle diagonally cobblestoned, where two restaurantes set their white and dark green tablecloths and wooden chairs, and the windows were lacy-iron scrolled (so no one could get in and steal?) and lanterns hung above the windows, red flowers on windowsills, at night a guitarist plucking out s o m e An d a l u s i a n f o l k s o n g w r e c a l l e d from an old French movie long ago. Near sleep, from not afar, he heard the great cathedral peal.
vi Clouds hung over the dull metropolis where W ran his newspaper. Pe r h a p s h e ’d n e v e r r e a l l y said enough to w on how to live!--always his impetus would cool, cool as the rain t h a t r a i n s “o n t h e j u s t and the unjust fella. Except the unjust fella d o e s n ’t g e t w e t because he stole t h e j u s t ’s u m b r e l l a .”
vii So w let the days drift by in Sevilla, fate lifting over the river Guadalquivir each day like sunrise just as the sun rose high and dreamlike over el rio Guadalquivir a beauty would mystify, lie deep in the brown bones of Sevilla below the decorative squares and narrow alleyways, the minarets and pilasters of black filigree, the orange trees and warm barandas and flowerpots, the glazing whitewashed houses, the white doves.
viii W had hoped his son would find a livelihood in Sevilla. La l a l a , a n e w attitude in Sevilla from what he left behind. But his son was only dancing and eating food and drinking wine in Sevilla. Wa s t i n g t h e t i m e o f d a y a n d u p t o no good in Sevilla. Ever the same old kid-robbing him blind!
ix Certainly when w had flown to Spain it seemed the right thing. W had watched the plane pulling away at 10:02--then back to the old office. Okay, you tally up pros and cons and make a choice. “ S o w e s a i d g o o d b y e t o t h e b o y , h e’s o n a s s i g n m e n t ,” s a i d W , c o v e r i n g . Evening. After a bath and martinis he drew out his Rand McNally atlas and measured the water between here and Spain: 3 1/2 i n c h e s . O h y e s , h e ’d f o u n d t h a t a t l a s on remainder, “cheap at half the price” as the joke goes, he remembered the day…
x O n c e t h e y ’d s p e n t a l o v e l y t i m e together long ago--a run of classic film noir in the livingroom, a bluish flicker filling the room with nightly old-time murder movies, Double Indemnity for one, the quintessence of deception…like the time when Fred MacMurray arrives and a neighborly song i s d r i f t i n g t h r o u g h h e r w i n d o w … “ T a n g e r i n e …” her eyes of green. If you knew the song you knew the answer, and W sang to the movie: “ O h s h e ’s g o t t h e b o y s o n t h e r u n , But her heart belongs to just one, H e r h e a r t b e l o n g s t o T a n g e r i n e …”
xi Down to the darkened evergreen and firs and rocky shore of New England far across the warm edge of Spain (as an early sunlight over Barcelona moves to warm the western sector) W is dreaming and w is dreaming, a n d t i e d t o t h e e a r t h â€™s turning and the water between them W deepens and w again is stirring without knowing where he is. Where, after all, is anyone on a single planet in this universe of many?
xii If w dreams in the dark a.m. he wakes to remember repartee, some watery flow of images without much color--more like the old film noir he had shared with his father long ago--but now each dream unreeling either clear scenes mysteriously connected or mysterious scenes connected clearly. What should he prefer?
xiii No one can know the color of the sea, if it is turquoise gray or green or blue or only colorless at heart, seeing it vary so above. No one say exactly why it varies so, or how, or what it is a variation of.
xiv As w went riffling through literature-cum-translations of the country he found Nasin cand’ as prantas nasen, No mas des froles nasin… by Rosalina de Castro, writing in her nineteenth century verse of Galicia up northwest: I was born when plants were born, / in the month of flowers I was born, / on a dawn soft and gentle, / on an April dawn. But where, for w, is that lady of olives under the wide blue skies of Andalusia, where is she? As if the roses…or not…the roses?…thus and thus until, to a toe-tapping scenario, an evening comes for w and, with it, love.
xv Curtain up! and flashily here in the spotlight half a dozen young flamenco dancers stomping to guitars and dizzy castanets go dancing round and snapping castanets, all bright in color, costume, swish of thigh and toes, the cante chico and soleares leaping loose and tight and energetic as a bullfight, while of the pretty dancing girls one in particular brought to mind the unnecessity of all this noise, and yet--and yet--
xvi --after the interval watching this girl, he felt the lingering wingbeat of an underthought until a gathering answer hit him all at once: o f m a k i n g f o r h i s f a t h e r â€™s D a i l y S u n (to satisfy his father) a photographic layout--yes, of the full flamenco scene in Andalusia focusing on the life and dance and aspirations of a single dancer (call her w2 )! And so his fate: to go backstage and ask.
xvii And she agreed! A n d n o w h e s a w h o w a l a n d ’s b e a u t y w i t h a g i r l ’s b e a u t y b l e n d s . Workdays went by, went by, went by, click of the shutter, click of the shutter, no raincloud in the future, text and photos lined his walls until he had t h e “w h o , w h a t , w h e r e , w h e n , w h y” that newpapers impose, he had it all, but w sent nothing to his father as he and w2 turned more than friends.
xviii In their ritual time together high in his room midday (the blinds half-drawn in the midday heat) how easily over and over the lips of her mouth to the lips of her thighs O! the peppery scent of her skin awakens over and over and finally spent they lie as the orange trees below them ripen O!
xix Back home, W felt an inclination to sit and smoke on the back porch one evening. Christ, I got you over there. So make it pay! T o n i g h t h e ’d p u t t h e S u n d a y e d i t i o n t o b e d , a fine religious spread. Now he noticed, before he lit his brier pipe and blew smokerings up, how an odor of phlox or something p e r f e c t l y s w e e t r o s e f r o m h i s n e i g h b o r ’s g a r d e n . Perhaps he might have liked to walk in that garden idly, say, like a bodhisatva under this drifting sky. Tonight, if he could bounce o n e i d e a f r o m a s t a r t o w , h e ’d s a y Listen, my boy, my boy, we CHOOSE to fail or to take responsibility.
xx w and w2 are like one lover strolling the intimate loops and bends of the old barrio back of the river (not to encounter Carlos or the friends of Carlos) forever side by side, and w2 preferring these anonymous loops and bends (not having quite untied herself from the fiery Carlos) a n d h a p p y u n d e r t h e t o u c h o f w â€™s c a r i n g , happy under his touch, the weather mild and the light varying in early October so. Not yet a mother she loves to walk with w, carrying his child inside her from one turn to another.
xxi Another languid night. Warmer. Alone but never lonely now, w (nearly home to his Plaza des los Venerables) saw in a far corner a shadow change as anything can change, or not, whatever, the knife went into him as into a watermelon. He heard a rushing intake of oceans gathering suck of ocean waters joining one to another again as they have always done, and farther off could see himself gone falling falling from the--
xxii It is another day, another year gone by--or more than a year since w had died. (Like waters moving, everything happens and flows on.) Home in America old W has taken the baby gently from Angelica--his ancient housemaid--for a moment: the baby, as ever, watches curiously. W says nothing although he smiles-f e e l i n g e v e n h e â€™s r e t u r n i n g a s m i l e . It is on nights like this he looks down at the small child in his arms and into her dark eyes.
Jonathan Aldrich has published poems and stories in various magazines, has won an Academy of American Poets Award, and is the author of four volumes of poetry, along with two limited editions of hand-set chapbooks illustrated by Alison Hildreth. Hildreth is a prolific artist with works in many museums and private collections. The front and back covers of this volume are details from #34 in her new series â€œForthrights and Meanders.â€?
All money collected by this edition goes to the fund for the new library in Tenants Harbor, Maine.
Poetry by Jonathan Aldrich