“My Hero” by Billy Collins

It’s startling how Billy Collins pierces through the verbosity of prose to the core of an emotion. Since I discovered “The Lanyard,” poems like “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant” and his new work “Cheerios” and “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl” from Aimless Love have found their way into my scrapbook. “My Hero,” below, made me smile with its twist on perspective.

baby gopher tortoise

Just as the hare is zipping across the finish line,
the tortoise has stopped once again
by the roadside,
this time to stick out his neck
and nibble a bit of sweet grass,
unlike the previous time
when he was distracted
by a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower.

(photo via The Nature Conservancy)

“Normal Day” by Mary Jean Irion

farmher woman hay bale Marji Guyler-Alaniz

Normal day, let me be aware
of the treasure that you are.
Let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before we depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest
of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may,
for it may not be always so. One day
I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands
to the sky and want, more
than all the world, your return.

(Farmher photo by Marji Guyler-Alaniz)

Minnesota poetry walk

One brisk, golden day, my friend Shona and I set out to realize one of my longtime dreams: tracking down my favorite Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ever since I first read about the public-arts project years ago in the Christian Science Monitor, I’ve wanted to stroll those sidewalks myself.

Judging from the project map, we could park just about anywhere in St. Paul and find a pocket of poetry within a five-block radius, though I knew I probably wouldn’t find all of my favorites in one place.

In my head I pictured taking my time to wander and then stumbling serendipitously across the poems I wanted to see—but it was pretty chilly that day (at least for my Bay Area self), so we were on a mission! I ended up either having my eyes glued to the sidewalk immediately in front of me, shunting fallen leaves with my foot, or looking around the quiet streets with their stately trees and century-old houses while Shona stopped to point out poems I’d breezed right by.

Still, we did pretty well.

Untitled by Kevin Walker

Second Love” by Carlee Tressel

Untitled by Esmé Evans

Bad Day” by Caley Conney (this example is a bit clearer)

Let’s Talk” by Sean Fleming

If I had to choose a favorite, though, this one would be it: “Meadowlark Mending Song” by Margaret Hasse. We did spot one example of it, but I like Andrea’s shot better.

And I did mark #7 off my 2012 bucket list after all! But next time I’ll aim for spring and the cache of poems on Selby and Laurel at Western Ave.

• It’s sort of like Twitter for sidewalks, only more concrete: Each poem has to be 150 characters or less. (via Minnesota Public Radio)
• On sharing the magic of poetry. (via Twin Cities Daily Planet)
• This video brings Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk to life. (via City of St. Paul)
• A slideshow featuring some of the stamps and a few of the poets. (via Weekend America)
• A St. Paul poet’s commentary. (via Minnesota Public Radio)

The Bay Area hardly knew summer this year, it’s been so cool. Even so, I can hardly wait for autumn…in Minneapolis! Made good on a Delta airfare sale, so this fall I’m going to visit an old friend who moved there and finally, finally get to check out Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk myself, hopefully among the turning leaves. Pumpkin patches and bike rides around the lakes (if it isn’t too chilly) are also on the itinerary, yay!

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I can’t believe it’s already mid-September! It seems like I was just barbecuing and celebrating the 4th of July. The summer months passed way too quickly for me, so I missed out on a number of my favorite warm weather activities, including enjoying ice cream at my favorite shop, playing mini golf, and even picking out fresh produce from my local farmers’ market. Thankfully, summer doesn’t technically end until Friday, September 21, so I still have a little time left to do these things.

The fall will likely whiz by too, but I don’t want to have a single regret about missing autumn activities, so I created a Fall Bucket List to keep me healthy, happy, and ensure that I fully enjoy everything the season has to offer.

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“The Lanyard” by Billy Collins

I was lounging on the couch between shows on the local public-television station when Billy Collins‘s wry reading of “The Lanyard,” recorded for the PBS series Poetry Everywhere, first captured my attention. His delivery cracked me up, especially because I remember weaving lanyards myself at 4-H camp and not really knowing what to do with them.

Here’s the text of the poem.

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

(video via PBS Arts; text from The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems)

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

I first read those last two lines of Mary Oliver‘s poem “The Summer Day” when The Power of Introverts author Susan Cain posted it as a June 2 status update on her Facebook fan page. “How do YOU answer Mary Oliver’s question?” she asked.

That’s just the kind of question I like to ponder.

In the meantime, here’s a hand-lettered version of the poem by San Francisco–based artist + illustrator Lisa Congdon: Day 178 of her 365 Days of Hand Lettering.

Remind me to read more Mary Oliver. After reading Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in The New York Times’ Opinionator, I want there always to be room for poetry in my life.

“Ode to the Artichoke” by Pablo Neruda

It’s a poem about an artichoke, so of course I had to check it out. :) Only just heard of it as I was reading An Everlasting Meal on the flight home from Alaska.

“Oda a la Alcachofa” por Pablo Neruda

La alcachofa
de tierno corazón
se vistió de guerrero,
erecta, construyó
una pequeña cúpula,
se mantuvo
sus escamas,
a su lado
los vegetales locos
se encresparon,
se hicieron
zarcillos, espadañas,
bulbos conmovedores,
en el subsuelo
durmió la zanahoria
de bigotes rojos,
la viña
resecó los sarmientos
por donde sube el vino,
la col
se dedicó
a probarse faldas,
el orégano
a perfumar el mundo,
y la dulce
allí en el huerto,
vestida de guerrero,
como una granada,
y un día
una con otra
en grandes cestos
de mimbre, caminó
por el mercado
a realizar su sueño:
la milicia.
En hileras
nunca fue tan marcial
como en la feria,
los hombres
entre las legumbres
con sus camisas blancas
de las alcachofas,
las filas apretadas,
las voces de comando,
y la detonación
de una caja que cae,

con su cesto,
una alcachofa,
no le teme,
la examina, la observa
contra la luz como si fuera un huevo,
la compra,
la confunde
en su bolsa
con un par de zapatos,
con un repollo y una
de vinagre
que entrando a la cocina
la sumerge en la olla.

Así termina
en paz
esta carrera
del vegetal armado
que se llama alcachofa,
escama por escama
la delicia
y comemos
la pacífica pasta
de su corazón verde.


Of the English translations I’ve seen online, so far I like this Phillip Hill version best.


The tender-hearted
dressed up as a warrior,
erect, it built itself
a little dome,
it kept itself
its armoured leaves,
beside it
the raving vegetables
began to frizzle,
they turned themselves into
tendrils, bullrushes,
touching bulbs,
below the ground
the red-moustachioed carrot
the vine
dried out its shoots
through which wine climbs,
the leafy cabbage
took to trying on skirts,
to scenting the world,
and the sweet
there in the garden,
was dressed as a warrior,
like a grenade and proud,
and one day
assembled with its fellows
in large wicker baskets,
it walked
through the market
to make its dream of
come true.
In ranks
it never was so military
as at the market,
the men
among the vegetables
with their white shirts
of the artichokes
the serried files,
the ordering voices,
and the report
of a fallen crate,

but then
comes along
and with her basket,
picks out
an artichoke
she isn’t scared,
she scrutinizes it, considers it
against the light as if it were an egg,
and buys it,
tossing it
into her bag
jumbled together with a pair of shoes,
a cabbage and a
bottle full of vinegar
when entering her kitchen
she plunges it into a pot.

Thus ends
in peace
the enlistment
of this armed vegetable
called the artichoke,
after which
leaf after leaf
we undress
its deliciousness
and eat
the peaceful substance
of its green heart.

(poems via Sideways Station; photo via food52)