Friday, October 28, 2016

My response to Dover Beach

One of my favorite poems is Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. I hesitate to say this because it's such a downbeat poem. Oh my God, I swear, if Mr. Arnold had a pistol nearby when he completed it, it might have been all over.  In these latter days of an endless and endlessly downbeat election season, I can relate more than ever to the downbeat view of the human condition found in Dover Beach. "Darkling plain" indeed.

The poem is short, less than 40 lines, and very accessible. And yet it has so many layers and echoes for such a short poem. There's a good chance you read it in high school. It's called "the most anthologized poem in the English language." If you're not familiar with it, it's worth reading. Even if you've read it, it's worth re-discovering. Here it is:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43588

I've been carrying this poem around in my head for a while now. The thing is, as beautiful as it is, and as evocative as it is, I couldn't disagree with it more. So in addition to the words of the poem, I carried THAT thought in my head for quite a while. Somehow, Mr. Arnold got it fundamentally - if beautifully - wrong.

Well, as I carried this thought around, something happened, as things do. This mulling turned into a poem - one that actually started out in response to something else - but somehow in the end became a response to Dover Beach. Here it is:

http://markbohrer.blogspot.com/2016/10/almost-whole-poem.html


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Almost Whole (poem)


Almost Whole


The sea runs tonight.
The moon is almost full.
Stand with me at the narrow straits,
where the Merrimack meets the tide.
Gaze across the bay, under the gibbous night,
watch at anchor, how the island rides.
Against the dark, it plumbs the deepening sea.
Breathe in the cool night-air, and look!
Even the wind on the water moves to the lunar pull!
Keeping her date, the moon rests on our shoulders.
Starlight gleams from a distant shore.
Moon-blanched rocks stand above the flood,
the Joppa Flats are gone. Salt-marsh birds rest in the reeds.
Tonight they hide, choosing to let the tide work its force.
Keeping her promise, on her ephemeris, the moon moves,
the waters rise, and our river changes course,
bearing in the salt, a salve for the wounded.
Tonight we receive the tide’s ephemeral and ageless balm.

In this long arrival of life, I am reached
by a tide that stands full at the strand.
The water lies full at my feet, cresting
where I stand, where I am, cresting the shore.
Good comes in, comes in, to me as to each,
retreats and then, calls out, have some more.
In this run, ebbs strife.
Good flows in, arriving, and arriving.
It is enough. I take, I sample, I store.

Tonight there is no retreat,
no gliding taking in the wash of the strand,
no draw of the tide, no grating roar.
Tonight the same salten sea rises within;
the same ocean river courses the inner shore.
It runs in this temple, in these freshets and veins.
Tonight it arrives, bearing the same cure.

I am not as wounded as I thought 
no knife to withdraw.
I am speechless, struck dumb to my shallow core
by the depth of the sea that surrounds.
The breath of the sea-air touches my face,
sea and stars go still; wind and water, no sound.
From afar, tide and moon in silent tune embrace.
I see no struggle, no pain, no sadness, no sorrow –
no need. The moon is almost full.

What if I am standing at the waters of Charon,
in range of his searching eye? The ferryman, ready on his raft,
ready with his constrictors, his leathers, his binds,
gliding by, on the dark river Styx, silent, his eye all hunger –
what if he found me with no want, no hunger, no need?
What if he turned downstream?
Tonight, the ferryman turns his eye,
and misses one.
Ready with his constrictors, he turns from me,
and I unwind what was taut.
The cord of discord is loosed, prevented, undone.
I have finally gone to school. I have finally learned
how to be untaught.
What I have is enough.
The night-air is sweet. The tide is full.
The darkling plain but reveals
the glimmering light of the stars.

October 2016, North Andover Mass.



Postscript: My Response to Dover Beach

One of my favorite poems is Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. I hesitate to say this because it's such a downbeat poem. Oh my God, I swear, if Mr. Arnold had a pistol nearby when he completed it, it might have been all over.  In these latter days of an endless and endlessly downbeat election season, I can relate more than ever to the downbeat view of the human condition found in Dover Beach. "Darkling plain" indeed.

The poem is short, less than 40 lines, and very accessible. And yet it has so many layers and echoes for such a short poem. There's a good chance you read it in high school. It's called "the most anthologized poem in the English language." If you're not familiar with it, it's worth reading. Even if you've read it, it's worth re-discovering. Here it is:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43588

I've been carrying this poem around in my head for a while now. The thing is, as beautiful as it is, and as evocative as it is, I couldn't disagree with it more. So in addition to the words of the poem, I carried THAT thought in my head for quite a while. Somehow, Mr. Arnold got it fundamentally - if beautifully - wrong.

Well, as I carried this thought around, something happened, as things do. This mulling turned into a poem - one that actually started out in response to something else - but somehow in the end became Almost Whole, and a response to Dover Beach.

Monday, September 5, 2016

De-versification, or news of my divestment from The Vintage Book Of Contemporary American Poetry

I watch your angels
dance on the head of a pin.
I wait for music.

When I play your verse,
angels dance; my heart stands still.
The shoe never drops.


September 2016  North Andover, Mass.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The 5th of July - a poem


The 5th of July

On the day I was born,
my mom stood on the battlefield.
Not a woman for dramatic entrances,
and even though her doctor warned,
she went, she didn’t want to miss the tour.
She went to hear the old historian,
to stand amongst the crowd in the morning dew,
to stand in the blue and gray dawn,
feet hurting, waiting expectantly.

I listened as my mom retold,
in the voice of the woman guide,
words that carried us past the span of the living,
how we came to stand upon that field,
words that summoned the watch-fires
of a hundred circling camps.
In the mist, we felt the eyes of soldiers watching,
eyes that told of fateful lightning and swift sword.
Hearkening the sounds of battle to our ears,
I was there as the historian spoke.

No longer a field, but the place of a battle.
No longer a field, but the place of rest.
For some, all ended here.
No longer a field, but the place of victory
and defeat, paid the same, with lives and blood.
No longer a field, but now a place.
The historian spoke, as she pointed to the high ground,
“See the stones and granite markers on that crest.”
Resting stones and markers we saw on the hilltop,
as if in marching columns, they passed from our sight.
Unspoken, unsaid, but not unseen,
known at least by some,
these stones pave the road of freedom.

No longer a field, but a place to walk
in peace, from this day forward.
No longer a field, but a place to stand,
a place to stand and see one other,
a place to know,
to know we are brother and sister to one another,
brother and sister to those who rest on this field,
brother and sister bound by those who have gone before.

They fought on the 4th.
On that day, some laid down their task.
Their work brought us here.
Do we know
we were summoned by their call?
We stand on their field.
It’s the 5th of July.
They brought us this far, but could go no further.
The unfinished work is ours,
their unspoken call is heard.

Today is the 5th of July,
the day we were born.

Mark Bohrer
June 2016, North Andover Mass.


POSTSCRIPT
The 5th of July – The Story Behind This Poem

I walked around Ridgewood Cemetery on Salem Road this past weekend. It was the 7th of July, but in my mind I went there with thoughts of the 4th of July just past, as I walked and looked at the American flags. It made me think about those who served our country. Patriotism is not a simple thing. Those who serve when called by our country in time of need do so whether they support or even fully understand the purpose of the call. They serve. For those who died in the Civil War, just reading their names, ages and where these men died made me think about their sacrifice. Here are just a few of the names that I saw:

William W Rea 1862 20 yrs old, Harpers Ferry
Charles Scott 1864 31 yrs. old. Salisbury NC
Wm. H. Hardwell 1863 24 yrs old (stone too worn to read location)
Andrew J. Fish 1863 31 yrs old. New Orleans
Samuel G. Phelps 1864 28 yrs old. Andersonville GA
Charles M. Bridges 1862 31 yrs. old. Natchez Miss.

Who were the volunteers? Who were the conscripts? Some of the cemetery stones record this part of their stories, but many only list their ages and where they died in service. What purposes guided their service? What did their families and townspeople come to understand about their service and sacrifice?

Sometimes being a patriot is taking a stand that brings revile and scorn, sometimes for life. Our town's best example is William Symmes of North Andover (then Andover). He broke the stalemate on Massachusetts approving the US Constitution, against the specific direction of town meeting. A lawyer and civic leader, he left town shortly after he cast that vote, never to return, even for his father’s funeral.  Civic patriots are worthy of note as well. 

Patriotism is not simple. I was left with the feeling that all we can do to honor their sacrifices is how we live, and the stands we take. That's what I thought about in this poem that I wrote a few years ago. The poem started in that same cemetery at the annual Memorial Day ceremony. The taps from that ceremony still echo for me.

July 7, 2018  North Andover, Mass.

P.S. Here's the story of North Andover's William Symmes: https://tinyurl.com/williamsymmes

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Door Opens (a poem for Mother's Day 2016)

A Door Opens


The bright day spills around the shades
drawn between the morning and the early afternoon.
In the darkened room,
the boy sits up on the bed,
naptime, tucked in, awake, waiting.
The door opens, a smiling face appears.
“See you later alligator.”
The face disappears, the door closes, a laugh is shared.
The game at the door is played between mother and son.
“After a while crocodile.”
Each open and close of the door
brings another laugh to share,
a smiling watch, an eager wait for more.
This is the playful game
of a mom and her five year old,
and how not to get a boy to take a nap.

There was love in your eyes
and you were looking at me.
I gazed back with the same playful joy,
knowing how much you cared about me
and how much I cared about you.
The door opens and closes.
Laughter and smiles are shared.
Playful joy and love fill the scene.

A look of joy across the room between mother and son
becomes a look across the years.
A gift you laid up for me now appears, fifty years on.
A gift you laid up for me is given today.
“See you later alligator.”
There was love in your eyes
and you were looking at me
with your gift across the years.
“After a while crocodile.”
When I was five and you were thirty-five,
with me at the start and you in the middle,
between the morning and the early afternoon,
with the bright day spilling around the shades,
a door opens between a mom and her boy.
So much love,
so much love yet to come.

Mark Bohrer
Mother’s Day 2016  North Andover, Mass.
Even though she passed away in 2006, just this spring my Mom gave me a gift. This is the poem about it. Happy Mother's Day to all moms everywhere.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Into The Mystic Pint (or My Ode to Guinness)

Into The Mystic Pint

Ah, The Guinness.
Another fine draw of the mystic pint.
Whether ‘tis nobler when poured in the glass,
or when poured down the throat,
‘tis a question to ponder indeed,
said one barrister to the other.
But ‘tis not such a conundrum
so worthy of debate at the bar
as long as there be
another bottle on the wall, of said bar.
Or even better
another keg in the cellar, of said bar.
And at said bar, what a fine judge you are!
Truly noble indeed!
Yes, thank you, dear friend,
I would take another draw.
‘Twould be a mistake to ponder further.

Ah, The Guinness!
Another fine draw of the mystic pint!
Magnificently we will flow
into the mystic indeed.

Mark Bohrer
January 2015  North Andover, Mass.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sign Says: No Returns (poem)



The Sign Says: No Returns

Life is a gift
that
someone else picks out for you.
And now you’re thinking –
Will this fit me?
And what if people see me wearing it?
But you sigh –
Yes I saw the sign,
so now it’s mine.
Can I regift it?


May 2015  North Andover, Mass.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Second Fiddle Speaks Out

The Second Fiddle Speaks Out

The fiddle rests lightly,
cradled under my chin,
resting on my neck and skin.
I draw the bow
and the vibration in the bow
vibrates the string,
and the string, the wood of the fiddle,
and the wood, my neck.
We vibrate.
We’re hummin’ the same tune.

Before the concert,
the maestro looked at me.
I heard him speak,
but the words tripped
on their way through my ear.
What I heard was something
else, but
it was more wonderful
just the same.
So that’s what I played.
Everyone looked on in amazement.


Mark Bohrer
November 2015 Andover, Mass.