Settling In

full of passion
I scoffed at
for less
than perfect.
No second-best
for me.
I’d do it
or not at all.

realizing the gravity
of the situation,
knowing things
inevitably settle
in their own time
no matter
what we do,
I still fought
to hold up
my end
of the bargain.

In the end,
suddenly seems
not half-bad,
standing silent
as the meaningless
slips away,
mere sediment,
distilling to
pure essence,
aqua vitae.

needs to be,
in the end.


I’m in the midst of a rather hectic but fun family-oriented long weekend here in Tacoma. I haven’t taken nearly as many pictures as I’d intended, but here are some dramatic pictures taken last night at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo during Zoolights, an annual event on our calendar that everyone agreed seemed even more spectacular than usual this year.

Here are a few of my favorite shots taken with my hand-held Canon Digital Rebel using available light:

There’s just no getting around it, the elephants are probably my favorite animal at the zoo.

Though I had to agree with Leslie that the figures surrounding the aquarium were also rather spectacular:

Undoubtedly, though, the most ooohs and aaahs all night were received by the Zoo’s brilliantly lit center tree:

Robert Lowell’s “Returning Turtle”

I should have known that as soon as I pronounced that all of Robert Lowell’s poems seemed too despair-ridden for my taste, I would find one, and more, that managed to find at least a little joy amid life’s gloom. Most of them seem to center around his daughter Harriet, though it’s certainly dangerous to speculate too much on the exact causes of joy in anyone’s life.

Whatever the reason, I found this poem, among several others in the section entitled For Lizzie and Harriet, rather uplifting after the constant barrage of despair in earlier poems:


Weeks hitting the road, one fasting in the bathtub,
raw hamburger mossing in the watery stoppage,
the room drenched with musk like kerosene “
no one shaved, and only the turtle washed.
He was so beautiful when we flipped him over:
greens, reds, yellows, fringe of the faded savage,
the last Sioux, old and worn, saying with weariness.
“Why doesn’t the Great White Father put his red
children on wheels, and move us as he will?”
We drove to the Orland River, and watched the turtle
rush for water like rushing into marriage,
swimming in uncontaminated joy,
lovely the flies that fed the sleazy surface,
a turtle looking back at us, and blinking.

It’s hard not to believe that returning the turtle wasn’t the idea of the narrator’s young daughter Harriet, since there’s little in earlier poems to suggest such concern for others. No matter whose idea it was, though, the very act of setting the turtle free, the act of caring for another living creature, seems to bring him an “uncontaminated joy” seldom seen in any of his other poems.

It’s the kind of futile and meaningless act that can renew our faith in mankind. Seen in the light of all the injustices that take place daily in the real world. It’s hard to make too much of such acts of charity. Still, they seem to offer some slim hope that our youth’s natural concern for those weaker than themselves might eventually grow to make this a better world.

Unfortunately, such optimism is short lived in Lowell’s poetry since the last book of poems entitled “The Dolphin” turns back to darker themes, perhaps because it was written after Lowell’s divorce and remarriage.

Robert Lowell’s “The Worst Sinner, Jonathan Edwards’ God”

No doubt about it, Robert Lowell is a brilliant poet who offers considerable insight into modern life. Unfortunately, most of what he offers is insight into the negative aspects of modern life, which, as we all know, are considerable. Though those insights may well be true, in the end one cannot thrive on negative truth alone. Indeed, such insights may well lead to madness, divine or otherwise.

Here’s an example of one of many powerful poems that stand well on its own:


The earliest sportsman in the earliest dawn,
waking to what redness, waking a killer,
saw the red cane was sweet in his red grip;
the blood of the shepherd matched the blood of the wolf.
But Jonathan Edwards prayed to think himself
worse than any man that ever breathed;
he was a good man, and he prayed with reason-
which of us hasn’t thought his same thought worse?
Each night I lie me down to heal in sleep;
two or three mornings a week, I wake to my sin-
sins, not sin; not two or three mornings, seven.
God himself cannot wake five years younger,
and drink away the venom in the chalice-
the best man in the best world possible.

Anyone who’s read Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” or any of his other powerful sermons would immediately be struck by the accuracy of this portrayal. There is something brutal in the very nature of man, some blood element, some violent streak, that has surfaced from the very beginning our history. We may well be by our very nature, sinners. And, yet, how can one simultaneously be a “good man” and the “worst sinner?”

Who of us in our own twisted sense of self-importance has not at one time considered himself the greatest sinner of all? Seen in the light of Edwards’ vision, we are all sinners, daily sinners, perhaps even worse sinners than Edwards himself, seven days a week.

If I read the end of the poem correctly, even Jesus, “God himself,” became a “sinner” when he donned human flesh, and even he “cannot drink away the venom in the chalice” though he be the “best man in the best world possible.”

If there is no hope for such as these, then, what possible hope is there for the rest of us? Certainly we are beyond redemption. Unfortunately, read as a whole, that is more and more the message I’m getting from Lowell’s Selected Poems.

The sections entitled History and Nineteen Thirties are replete with examples of sinners and sins committed throughout history, as suggested by these lines from the opening poem entitled, “History,” “History has to live with what was here,/ clutching and close to fumbling all we had -/ it is so dull and gruesome how we die,/ unlike writing, life never finishes.” Everyone from Alexander the Great to Stalin is portrayed in their full sinfulness. Even poets like Robert Frost are not spared the harsh spotlight of fame.

While it may be the perfect poetry to bring our recent elections to an end, it is not, so not, the kind of poetry one wants to read heading into the holiday season. I will be finishing the volume as soon as possible, hopefully later today.